The quick and the dead

On any dry summer day, Ontario’s Highway 507 will be filled with sport bikes. It’s a smooth, wide road with fast sweepers and some tight corners, heading north-south for about 40 kilometres beside Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, north of Peterborough and just a couple of hours from Toronto. Hwy. 507 is one of a dozen or so roads that are on every “must-ride” list for the region.

Just west of Peterborough, on any summer day, there’s a good chance that Canadian Tire Motorsport Park will be filled with sport bikes, too. It’s a smooth, wide track with fast sweepers and some tight corners and it was packed this past weekend with the double-header final races of Canadian Superbike, among other series.

There were crashes on both stretches of asphalt, and they were very, very different.

On Hwy. 507, at about 12.30 pm on Sunday, the OPP report that a northbound motorcyclist, one of a group of 11 riders, strayed across the centre line on a curve and hit two southbound riders, who were part of a group of three. Right afterwards, another northbound rider hit a car that had stopped at the scene, and yet another northbound rider went off into the ditch.

Three riders were killed, all men in their 40s with families, and another is still in hospital. It’s unclear from the initial reports which groups they were in, but it’s likely two of the dead were the southbound riders initially struck. It doesn’t really matter. They’re dead. The assumption is that the northbound rider was travelling too fast for the curve and went over the line. The southbound guys were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The previous day, on the track, CMG’s old adversary (and new friend) Jacob Black was racing his Kawasaki Ninja 300 and heading for fifth place when he misjudged his speed through the curve on slightly damp asphalt. His front tire slid out and he went down. He bruised his shoulder and banged his head hard enough to send him to hospital, where he was given a CT scan for a suspected concussion and then released.

Jacob wanted to get back on his bike and race the next day but his wife Stephanie – who is far lovelier and more sensible than him – would not let him. So he sat out the race in a bit of a grumpy mood, with his wife and daughter, but is already planning for next season.

See the difference here? The circumstances were similar, if not identical: riding fast through a corner for the sheer thrill of it, but carrying just a little too much speed. On the track, there are basic rules and hay bales, but on the road, there’s nothing except patrolling police and the hope that’s nobody’s coming the other way. The outcomes could not be more different.

There are risks with everything in life, but you can minimize those risks. If you’re going to speed, don’t ride faster than you can see and dress properly. And if you’re going to speed, do it on a track. If you make a mistake, you might end up having a grumpy day on the sofa, like Jacob. You don’t want to end up dead.

12 thoughts on “The quick and the dead”

  1. I ride the 507 often (almost every weekend). I know every crack, bump, patch and inch of that road. I live near by and it’s realistically the only interesting way to go north. I think the problem is when the squids from T.O. go there it’s pretty much nearing the end of their riding day by the time they get there. They are likely tired and don’t have their “A” game on and likely planning their return home to complete a long day (for a crotch rocket). The 507 is no place for other than FULL concentration, riding mentally fatigued is a recipe for disaster. Living near by offers some advantage in this regard. If you don’t intimately know the road (even racers know the track intimately) then please slow down until you at least know what your doing. Happy Apexes.

  2. I remember finding 507 back in the early ’80s when it was little more than a cottage road – narrow, up and down, and very twisting, but paved. It’s been widened and considerably improved since then, but if improvement means speeds are higher and it draws in the squids, I’m sure many residents would prefer the old days.
    Crossing the line is a frequent hazard in the California canyons and the Appalachian backroads. It’s not just bikes – a truck did the same thing on the weekend and took down another rider not far from this fatal collision. Responsibility goes both ways: Be prepared if you’re riding fast, and be prepared for others to be travelling fast, or just to be distracted.

    1. I’m a resident on the 507. In summertime, when I stop at the end of my driveway at the road, I turn down the radio, wind down my windows and listen for bikes. If I hear one/some, I wait. I can’t always tell how far away the bikes are and I once had a very close call. The stretches just to the south & north of me are full of driveways; many of them climb upward to the road, so some residents (not me) feel they must “take a run at it” to enter the road. Yikes. Not a recipe for safety — on both sides! I feel for the victims and their families, but I am VERY PO’d with the cowboys on sport bikes — it is ALWAYS sport bikes — who endanger me, my neighbours and others on the road. The OPP do what they can when they can, but time and personnel are in short supply. It pains me to hear of these fatalities and serious incidents (I can’t really call them “accidents”) so regularly. The 507 is a fun ride/drive. Please enjoy responsibly.

  3. It is hard to imagine how bikes that can go over 250 km/hr could cause any accidents … if you don’t have an imagination. Having run that road many times at excessive speeds, I finally figured out that no matter how skilled you think you are, luck is not a constant. I am lucky to be alive. DO IT ON THE TRACK!

  4. Even the ‘take it to the track’ refrain gets some racers a bit hot under the collar as they are expecting other riders to exercise common sense and discipline when racing in such close proximity.

    My heart goes out to families of the deceased in the aftermath of this entirely preventable tragedy.

  5. Back in the ’80s, there was a photo in Another Motorcycle Publication of someone who fell off a TZ750 at 170mph at Willow Springs, and was bruised and a bit scorched but basically unhurt. His leathers were ruined after he’d slid a great distance through the sane and bushes near the track.

    I saw a motorcycle at a bike boneyard around the same time: It was a “Yamaha Exciter 185” which was a very mild ‘entry level’ street bike. It had a broken turn signal. The rider was dead: He’d banged his helmet on a curb and broke his neck when he fell down at about 15mph.

    This shows how much safer is a track than the street, in almost all cases: With a few exceptions (IoMTT, NW200) the track is the ONLY place where anyone can use a modern sport bike (or even a scrambler or small bike like the RC390) to anywhere near its capability with reasonable safety. All the protective gear in the world can’t protect you from signs, Armco, curbs and the typical Canadian driver. Motorcycle riders generally DON’T die on racetracks: They die on the STREET.

    You wanna go fast, scrape a peg and brag to your buddies? Get some track time and get OFF the street. When on the street, keep the speed down to where you have enough margin to recover from either your own or someone else’s mistake and assume they are ALL trying to kill you.

    I rode the 507 way back in the ’80s and it is/was a fun road, but there was no other traffic and I wasn’t trying to set a record.

    BTW, Loud Pipes Lose Rights.

    1. I concur, entirely. The OPP told me to take it to the track. Best advice, EVER. I did, had a blast, rode fast (not as fast as others), rode safe. That highway is not the place to ‘exercise your Sportbike’.

  6. I have a bike, I am an ER doc, and I have a cottage halfway up that stretch of 507. I have randomly happened across 3 separate bike accidents in my time travelling that road, and they all have been as a result of high speed and a riders misplaced confidence in their skills. Cell phones and beers on the dock are a common ingredient in the cars. Early afternoons are the most important periods to avoid that road on a weekend as typically that is when the panicked “out of beer” runs to Buckhorn or Gooderham take place…run the road on a weekday or very early in the day and you are significantly less likely to die.

    1. True words.

      A friend of mine lived near Catchacoma for many years and said all the drinking culture mixed with powersports and driving home that he was getting caught up in was messing him up so that was a big reason he left.

      Personally I got smacked off the road at 4 p.m. on a Saturday north west of Kinmount on a backroad to Miners Bay. He was 50% on my side of the road coming over a curve/crest. We walk a hundred yards to a house so I could call the OPP and the home owner recognizes this fellow. I overhead him whispering behind me to the driver “oh man, you been drinking again?” And his girlfriend looked like she wanted to tear him a new one.

      Putting the pieces together, he was probably drinking all day with his buddies somewhere near Kinmount, realized he had to pick up his girlfriend from work at a lodge over on #35 and borrowed a car from one of the other guys. At least the OPP arrested him on the spot as soon as I finished giving my statement.

      Another time it was 10:30 am on a Monday on the edge of Sutton when an oncoming driver wandered into my lane a few times and on the third cross over I went to the shoulder to avoid the inevitable head on, The right side tires caught a rut and shot the car back on to the road sideways until it folded around a tree. That friggin’ hurt. The stuff I’ve seen in cottage country and it’s miraculously towed and tidied up in the blink of an eye.

  7. Having ridden the 507 many a-time it’s an 80kph at max’ speed limit but any, repeat, any bike could easily cruise the road at 100 with very little effort. The folks that caused the crashes had to be FAR above 100 or horribly scary riders.

    1. I enjoyed the 507 during the week when I lived out that way. I’m a very moderate rider. Plus there are lots of places along that road too where if you’re solo like I am most of the time and go off the road, no ones going to see a trace of you or your bike. The first time I ventured on the “fabled” 507 I was in my Plymouth Voyager, LOL. Like you say, at legal speeds it’s just a nice diversion but you can’t day dream either. I’ve seen vans ground up against the occasional rock cut – did it all on their own.
      Yes the northbound folks last week were excessive in speed, to put it mildly.

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