When you’ve crashed as many times as me, you get to learn a few things. And contrary to popular misconception, it doesn’t always hurt. In fact nine times out of ten, you can pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and live to ride another day; even when you have a really big one. I’ve had some super-fast, super-painless crashes. But I’ve also had some super slow crashes that really, really hurt. So what’s going on? I thought, in an effort to shine some light on this extraordinary paradox, I’d take some time to analyse some of my most painful crashes.
High-sides can happen at any speed. I’ve had some fast ones and some slow ones. Once I high-sided on the first lap of a race at Croft. It was a bit damp, and as I got on the gas coming out the hairpin, my ZX-10R drifted sideways, suddenly gripped and threw me over the ‘bars. I’m assuming I was doing about 30mph, but I don’t know because I can’t remember any of it. All I can remember is waking up in hospital with everyone laughing at me because I was asking the same three questions; “Where am I?” “What’s happened?” and “Is the bike ok?” (the bike was ok, by the way).
The problem with a high-side is that they have the potential to fire you a long way into the air. As this one did. And as we all know, what goes up, must come down. On this occasion, I came down on my head. I must have given my foot a smack too, because there were a few broken bones in there as well.
I might not have been going fast enough to damage the bike much, but the fact that I obviously got so much ‘air’ meant I damaged myself a bit once I hit the ground. That’s why high-sides are to be avoided at all costs, particularly when you’re not going very fast!
One of the slowest crashes I’ve ever had was in a carpark in Keynsham. I was doing no more than 3mph. The problem was, when I put my foot on the floor, it quickly decelerated to 0mph, but the rest of me didn’t. The instant speed differential was too great for my leg, and promptly snapped it. Tib’ and fit’ gone in one hit; I even heard the crack.
On that particular day, I was totally ill-equipped to be riding a motorcycle (I was certainly lacking any sense). The trainers and jeans I was wearing were never going to afford any protection should I have fired myself off the back of a KTM SX-E5. And they didn’t.
The real reason I ended up with such a messy leg had very little to do with speed, and a lot to do with the fact that I wasn’t dressed appropriately to ride a motorbike, even if it was only a kids bike. But the reason I wasn’t dressed properly, is because I knew I wasn’t going to be going very fast on it… despite the fact that I’m very aware things can go wrong at any speed. In the end, it comes down to my own stupidity. The slow crashes usually do.
A long way to fall
Every now and then, you come close to crashing but just get away with it. There’s one particular time it happened to me that springs to mind. I had a bit of a spin, got bucked out of the seat and managed to stay on but had to take a bit of a detour across the grass. It’d been damp to so I took it really steady on the grass, but not quite steady enough. I wasn’t doing more than 10mph when the bike slipped from under me and I went down.
Because of the fact I couldn’t carry any corner speed (on the wet grass), I was bolt-upright. That meant I had a long way to fall, and enough time to put my arms out in front of me. I don’t know what I would have injured, if anything’ had I not put my arms out, but the fact I did meant I sprained both my wrists. Luckily, nothing was broken, but I was fairly incapacitated for the best part of a week.
When you fall off the side of a bike when you’re cornering fast, on lovely dry tarmac, you don’t have far to fall. If you’re doing it right, you won’t be far off the ground anyway; you might only have a few inches to fall. But when you’re going really slowly and carrying no lean angle whatsoever, you’ve got a lot further to fall, and that’s why slow crashes can really, really hurt.
Expect the unexpected
If you’re trying really hard, or going really fast, whether consciously or not, you’re half bracing yourself for a crash. But you’re not when you’re dawdling along, minding your own business. One day I was doing exactly that when a car pulled onto a roundabout and side-swiped me. Propper T-Bone. I rolled over his bonnet and ended up in a big pile on the floor. There were no lasting injuries, but there were plenty of big, yellowy-purple bruises all down one side and I spent a day or two throwing up with mild concussion and a banging headache.
That crash might have been a bit more painful if I’d have been going a faster. Although if I’d have been going faster I might have avoided being hit in the first place, who knows? Anyway, that’s beside the point. The point is, I wasn’t going very fast at all, but I still got seriously knocked about.
So I suppose the moral of the story is this: don’t be complacent. Just because you’re going slowly doesn’t mean you’re not going to crash. Slow crashes can hurt just as much as fast ones, and they can often hurt a lot more, too. So be careful, put the right kit on and watch out for wet grass, bad drivers and everything in between.