All motorcyclists have their favourite roads, for all kinds of reasons. One of the all-time favourites in southern Ontario is Hwy. 507, about a half-hour north of Peterborough, which heads up toward Haliburton.
It’s a popular bike road because it’s winding and relatively little-travelled. On weekends, it can fill with sport bikes and the police know this; there’s a sign at the south end that warns of the fines if you’re caught speeding. On one summer day in 2017, three riders were killed when one motorcyclist, part of a northbound group of 11, crossed the centre line and hit two southbound riders. They were all men in their 40s, with families, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It is a pretty popular area to motorcycle. A lot of turns, a lot of winding road, nice area up there,” said OPP Const. Joe Ayotte, talking to Global News last month. “We’re just asking motorcyclists to take their time in the area, and also reminding other motor vehicles to be cautious that there are a lot of motorcycles in the area.”
David Rusk wrote about Hwy. 507 in Cycle Canada magazine’s First Person column last year, when he rode up to visit the site where his friend Al Royer was killed on his motorcycle. “Twisting through southern Ontario’s cottage country this fabled jewel is rife with blind corners that offer thick forest or deadly rock as run off. Add the ever-present threat of wildlife and it’s plain to see why so many of us have been judged there,” he wrote, and then referred directly to his friend. “A horror found him that evening and like so many of our lost no one will ever know why.”
At the site of the crash, David found some small pieces of Al’s black-and-silver Honda Fireblade in the grass and he was struck by the full understanding of what happened.
“I saw where it all went wrong in those black marks and curse my imagination for drawing it all for me in my mind. Like a slow-motion movie, I saw my friend die,” he wrote.
“The realization and sharp inhale as the chain snatches wildly and the noise that makes. The huge eyes and a scream choked down to a grunt as muscle memory tries to save it all. The sublime violence of energies breaking free from control and finally the acquiescence a moment before the end.”
That column was published in March 2018. Last month, David Rusk was killed on Hwy. 507. He was riding alone. Nobody saw his Honda RC51 slide into the right-side ditch on a left-turning curve; a homeowner spotted pieces of crashed bike on his driveway and discovered David’s lifeless body smashed against a tree.
“He knew the dangers, and he admitted to going fast,” says his partner, Lisa Downer. “He knew when, where, how – it was just one of those things. A lot of people think the way the curve was, there was a car (approaching him) that was just a little too far over the line and David had to compensate. By the time that car went around the bend, they wouldn’t even have known that David went off, because the sightline’s gone. Or it could have been an animal, or a bit of gravel. You just don’t know.”
There were no skid marks on the road. Like so many of our lost, no one will ever know why.
David was an experienced rider who’d got back into motorcycling just three years ago; he was 52, but had put bikes on hold since his 30s when he went out west to work on the oil patch. He was still working in Alberta as a fuel truck driver but came home for two weeks every month, and when he was home, he loved to ride his bike. It was surely a release from the regimen of the truck. He was proud of his bike, too – he showed it at the Spring Motorcycle Show on the Red Carpet Display, where it was awarded the runner-up prize for Asian Sport Bike.
“David was so confident,” says Lisa. “Sometimes, I would think, oh, don’t be too confident, but he was a safe rider.”
He was a fast rider, though. He posted video on YouTube last year of riding on Hwy. 507, where the helmet cam shows his speedometer. “A decent pace on the 507 in central Ontario, Canada,” he wrote in the description. “Typical Ontario roads..bumpy,.. keeping me in check.” His average speed on the near-deserted road was above 160 km/h, more than double the speed limit, and at one point it shows an indicated 199, where the digital display tops out. At such speeds on a public road, there’s little room for error.
So it would be easy to dismiss David Rusk as just another speed freak, killed by his own excess. Yet the stretch of road on which he died is unremarkable: some switchbacks headed south, followed by a shallow rise and then a gentle turn to the left, barely a curve at all. Of all the challenges on Hwy. 507, this is not one of them.
Surely there’s been a mistake? Surely the directions given to this site were wrong? Except there in the ditch, half-buried in sand, is a small shredded piece of plastic, painted black and silver in the colours of a Honda RC51.
Now Lisa is left to try to make sense of it all, and of course, there is no sense to it.
“I sit here and I try to think – what’s it all supposed to mean? What am I supposed to learn? What am I supposed to do with this? I feel like there must be something.”
In recent years, David had begun writing about his motorcycle passion – for Toronto’s Spring Motorcycle Show magazine, for The Riders Mag, and for Bikelife.com. You can read some of his stories here and here, and Lisa hopes to gather some of his writing into a book, so that he’ll be remembered by readers for years to come.
In BikeLife, he wrote about the feeling of going just a bit too fast around a corner, when “All your precise actions mutate from the serene to panic and caresses turn to stabs at the controls.” On the top of his gas tank, he had a sticker with the words “Look Lean Believe”. “Look and it will happen. Lean and believe in your tires and bike, believe in you. Look to save yourself,” he explained.
David Rusk was cremated last month in his leathers. We’ll never know for sure why he overshot the curve that day, and Lisa will probably never know what it’s all supposed to mean.