A Learning Experience with a ’99 Honda CBR600

Early in March last year, I fell off a motorcycle. Skillfully, for the second time in succession, it was someone else’s bike which went skidding away up the road on its side. It was memorable being conscious of tumbling along the road, yet somehow familiar from watching helmet cam crashes on televised bike racing. There was an issue with the front brakes; somehow, in second gear, I managed to lock up the front wheel and throw myself off the bike. The net is I bought the bike, which I was test riding, a black track only ’99 Honda CBR 600.

At the time I thought I had cut my knee a bit, and that was all. However, as the adrenaline wore off in the Accident and Emergency Room, I was pleased I had come. I had been wearing jeans (now spectacularly ripped and bloodied) some little tennis shoes, leather jacket and the venerable Senna replica helmet, complete with fully tinted visor, and new scratches. As a Brit, it still feels surreal that even in ER, the first question they have for you is about insurance, as your blood drips onto the floor.

The different medical folk attending to me kept asking was I on the freeway ? I thought I had only been doing about 30mph, however, revisiting the spot, the skid mark was 8-10 feet long, so I think actually I was doing closer to 50mph, maybe more. The whole experience has been something like that; it looked one way at the time, and rather different in the rear view.

The extent of my injuries were knees sufficiently bashed for them to give me crutches, general cuts and bruises, and the tip of my little finger on my left hand broken. I didn’t even realize that until they told me about it. “You’re stoical‚” they said. No-one has ever called me that before. The fact is, I am not in the least bit stoical. I was just in shock.

At home on the sofa, immobile, I coped with the pain better than those of you who know me might think I would, but only because I was dosed up to my eyeballs on painkillers, although without really realizing it. The hint was I happily watched daytime TV for two days after it happened. The first weekend I was off them properly, I became less mobile, so much more gyp did I get from my right leg. Having been through this once, in future I would better know how to manage this process, and I would come off them earlier, I think. Secondly, I now believe, for any biker, as important as the leathers and your helmet, is knowing how to do bandages properly; the time to learn isn’t naked in the bathroom after your shower, appalled by the sight of your own blood. Truly the worst moment of the entire experience was realizing I had done the bandages wrongly, and thus all the bandaging gauze material had become as one, welded to the open wound which was my knee. That day, I had to have a little lie down between changing my left and right knee, until the hot spinning feeling went away. Third, the US medical system is structured to minimize costs for the insurer; they do the minimum they can to avoid a lawsuit. They avoid making suggestions for future treatment, since that will cost the insurer. My attitude was to “lie back and think of England” and relax while I healed. Instead, a proactive approach is needed, you need to ask – whether it be drugs, physiotherapy, or the next check up. Had I known these three things, I could have made a far swifter recovery than I have. Wearing knee protectors in the first place would have meant I was barely hurt in the first place.

I always imagined that atrophied muscle was something which occurs to people in comas. It would seem not. By sitting around for a week or two with my leg up, I have caused all the muscle to atrophy – you can see the difference from my left to my right leg by eye – and the knee to stiffen up. Each morning, going down the flights of stairs out of the apartment building I live in, it is a test of will to force the knee to bend. For a time, I had a ridiculous comedy limp. If you remember the 80s British TV comedy, ‘Allo, ‘Allo you know the limp, it was a carbon copy of Herr Flick’s, the Gestapo officer.

The Domestic Front:
Riding motorcycles is hard to justify in the face of a frightened, non-riding spouse. However you slice it, you are exposing yourself to additional risk. While you loll, junked up on painkillers on the sofa, she has to shop for you to get bandages and antiseptic and prescriptions, and then come home and prepare you food. Inevitably, patience wears thin. Like my mother with my teenage hangovers, my wife, completely justifiably, was lacking in sympathy from the outset, since this injury was self inflicted. A work colleague, a recent grandfather, told me ‚”you need to decide if you’re 35 and married, or 18 and single.” All the time you ride uninjured, you don’t need to justify what you do; even my wife had begun to soften, and acknowledged that it was “sexy.” Once you get hurt, and other people either have to help you, or feel obliged to help you, then, Bigad, you need to justify it. Worse, they have you immobile on the sofa, unable to get up go out and forget it. Best not to get hurt and have to look in the mirror at what a selfish ass you are, that’s my suggestion.

A year on from this, and I now have a much clearer idea why I went down. Prior to this test ride I had had two track days. One of the main lessons emerging from these was how much more powerful sportsbike brakes were than I had ever realized. Practicing braking on Sunday mornings in empty car parks on my other bike, an 05 Gixxer 750, I had been astonished at the braking distances. From 30 mph, I could stop in two car park space widths! The Gixxer is garaged, and was praised at launch by the bike press for the power and feel of its brakes. The CBR is 6 years older and at that time had been living under a tarpaulin parked on the streets of Oakland in the rain for some months. The brakes were in need of attention. Critically, however, there is also a “half-witted Summers” element here – my grip on the handlebars. Racers use one or two or three fingers for brake and clutch – never all four. Sloppy road riders don’t need to learn that co-ordination – we often use our fingers all together. But not anymore.

I was confident the CBR would be the track bike I was looking for; I stepped over it with a cup of coffee inside me and a ride around the block, make sure it is what he says it is and square away the money attitude. The first block, I left it in first. The second block, I short shifted, and gave it some beans in 2nd. It has hot cams and a big rear sprocket, and thus is pretty lively; by the end of that block, when I went for the brake test, I could easily have been doing north of 60mph. The combination of my recent late, heavy braking experience, the old, grabby brakes on the CBR, and my stupid grip on the handlebars was the cause, I believe.

Note to self: sportsbikes, to be handled with care.

Thanks to The Fabricator for repairs and expert analysis.