My life didn’t flash before my eyes. There wasn’t time for that. In fact, the moment of impact came with no warning at all. Replaying the experience in my mind hundreds of times since, I’m confident I wouldn’t have done a single thing differently. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how much training you’ve had or how fast your reflexes are, they can’t help you.
Riding home from a barbecue with friends on a warm summer evening, I was cruising below the speed limit – there was no place else I needed or wanted to be at that moment. I was riding a race red Yamaha R6 with a matching armour reinforced leather jacket and a new full-face helmet. I’d wager to say I was more visible than the average rider, but it didn’t seem to matter. The bike was also fitted with a Yoshimura aftermarket exhaust that made the high-revving engine anything but subtle. So much for the “Loud Pipes” debate.
In the blink of an eye, the black Honda Civic that had been stationary and seemingly unoccupied on the side of the street initiated an abrupt U-turn without any warning or use of turn signals. One second it was parked, the next – BANG! The sound of the impact echoed in my ears, along with the first words my Gearing Up instructor at Humber College wisely told the class on our first day, “You’ll never go out on a ride expecting to go down, so dress accordingly.”
“Oh my God, are you okay?” yelled the passengers who had been sitting in the back of the car as they raced toward me, also shaken. “I think so,” I responded. The truth was, I didn’t know. I was in shock. Chest pounding, heart racing, hands shaking, I surveyed the bike first and myself second.
Plastic and metal debris strewn across the road, the sedan’s now crumpled front bumper and quarter panel had crushed the nimble crotch rocket’s fairings and turn signals, sheering the exhaust pipe cannister clear off the back of the bike and onto the road. Now unmuffled, the engine bellowed smoke and roared loudly, while my ears rang from the unmistakable sound of vehicles inadvertently colliding.
Shockingly, unlike my beloved motorcycle, my right leg remained intact. Rather than sliding on a pair of sneakers that would have been more temperature appropriate and comfortable to walk in, I had opted to spend the extra time to strap on my full-length Alpinestars SMX-5 motorcycle boots . The right boot’s reinforced plastic ankle protection flexed, absorbing the brunt of the impact, while the toe slider snapped right off. Wearing them may have cost me extra time before, and some comfort during the barbecue, but it might very well have saved my leg. The favourable result of a split-second decision made wisely.
I’m one of those guys who always waves when passing an oncoming rider and am frequently surprised how many bare hands wave back. Admittedly, I didn’t always suit up for every ride. Excessive heat, laziness, vanity. For whatever reason, sometimes it’s just plain inconvenient. But I always wear the proper riding protection now. Because you know what else is inconvenient? Broken bones, amputations, and skin grafts.
The bent, mangled exhaust pipe of the R6 is now displayed prominently in my front hall, across from the closet where my motorcycle gear is stored. It serves as a stark reminder that I should always remain alert, but also dress for a potential slide, not just the ride. If the unthinkable ever does happen, there won’t be time to zip up a jacket, tighten that chin strap, or rethink your choice of footwear. You can’t always determine the events that will unfold before you, but you can do your best to ensure you’re prepared for the worst.