Everyone who rides long enough will eventually have a "get-off" (the term used by motorcyclists too superstitious to say "accident" or "crash"). When that day comes, riders will inevitably sit home that evening and ask themselves the common question: "What did I do wrong?"
Such is the case with my latest get-off. I slid my R1 into the dirt on US 129, the infamous "Dragon", just below Deals Gap. The bike is borderline-totalled, and as I wait for the word from my "good neighbors" at StateFarm, I've been asking myself constantly what I did wrong to cause this accident.
As I think about it, the question becomes more like, "What DIDN'T I do wrong??" The Chernobyl-esque series of mistakes leading up to the accident incorporates about every mistake one could make in that situation. One of these factors alone may have caused me to slow down and take it easy. A couple may have induced a panic but could have been saveable. But with all of these mistakes together, I was WAY overdrawn and was doomed to end up in the side of the mountain.
So let's have a look at what I did wrong. Hopefully, other riders can use this as a guide for what NOT to do.
1) RIDING IN THE WRONG PHYSICAL/MENTAL STATE
We had been riding up and down through the Dragon all day. Riding HARD. I had been trying to incorporate a lot of the things that the faster riders had been trying to teach me. On my last run down, though, everything finally "connected". I felt the so-called "rhythm" of the ride and found myself moving smoothly from corner to corner at speeds I had been afraid of only yesterday. I had found "the zone" and had the best ride of the day.When we stopped at Deals Gap, I could tell that being in "the zone" had taken its toll. After that ride, my entire body felt like Jell-o. I was giddy, the adrenaline surging through my veins. We sat down and took a 15 minute break, then decided to head home. I knew I was beat. But instead of just putting home like I SHOULD have, I decided to challenge the road again, not wanting to "waste" the rhythm I had found. Unfortunately, that rhythm had already left me and I was completely exhausted. When I tried to force myself back into that rhythm, my mind and body just shut down on me. I'm almost certain that riding in this state led to all the other errors I committed leading up to this get-off.
2) NOT KNOWING THE ROAD
We had been riding Deals Gap for four days now. We had made numerous passes along the stretch of 129 between the Gap and the Overlook. By now I was starting to develop a rudimentary recognition of the area. I had a feel for what each corner was going to look like and what was "coming next" through each of them.The problem is that the Dragon extends for about a mile and a half both above the Overlook and below the Gap. We had come to the Dragon mostly from the north and only came down past the Gap twice in our time there, both times to head home and at a much slower pace. Had I known that the right-hander I was coming out of was the first half of a switchback, I probably wouldn't have gassed it as much exiting, which would've given me more time to react. But I was...
3) TRYING TO FOLLOW A FASTER RIDER, INSTEAD OF THE ROAD
The "fast guy" was leading the way home. I knew that normally there was no way I could hold with him, and hadn't tried to chase him for the whole trip. This time, though, I knew he was riding off-pace, and with the adrenaline running, I was anxious to challenge myself to keep up with him. I actually DID keep up with him through the first few corners.Even at a reduced pace, though, I wasn't at the skill level or in the mental state to be following his lines through the corner. I should've rode my ow ride, selected my own line, but instead I fixated on him until he just "disappeared" into the corner. By the time I looked through the corner (like I should've been doing from the beginning), I had no time to develop a site-picture. This was probably compounded by....
4) FAILING TO ADJUST TO THE ENVIRONMENT
When coming to help me with my bike, one of my fellow riders almost ran off the road in the same place I did. It wasn't a hard turn, and this guy was on a cruiser taking his time. The problem was that the sun had shifted so that the line of shade from the trees was right at the corner entrance, causing him to lose vision just for a split second. This, combined with target fixation, was surely enough to throw me off, in my fatigued mental state and adrenaline-fueled keep-up mindset. He, of course, made it through the turn, because he wasn't....
5) TRYING TO USE GAS TO COMPENSATE FOR SKILL
Yeah, I got caught with that one as well. Less-skilled riders (read: me) have a tendency to brake HARD before the turn, then flick the bike over quick and get HARD on the gas after the turn to pick up speed. Since I didn't know the road, I was probably winding on pretty hard to keep behind the lead bike out of the right hander, forcing me to carry way too much speed into the left-hander. And of course the R1, with its 1000cc engine, is only too happy to give me the gas I asked for. This extra speed led me into the big mistake of....
6) BRAKING HARD THROUGH THE TURN
I had been practicing light "trail-braking" that day, since I discovered it would let me carry more speed into the corner. I was being extra-careful earlier in the day to make sure I was out of the brakes before I reached any significant lean-angle and definitely before I reached the corner apex. And it WAS working...I was carrying more speed making a smooth transition from brake to gas instead of relying on the bike's abundance of torque to clear the corner.The reason it bit me here is that I was physically and psychologically drained. I'm not completely certain, but I'm very suspicious that when I came hot into the left-hander, I attempted to scrub off the speed and didn't have the presence of mind to release the front brake as I leaned the bike. I noticed the bike simply FALLING OVER, instead of leaning in as it had in previous corners all day. My best guess is that the front wheel tucked under heavy braking. All this is a result of...
7) INSUFFICIENT OR POORLY FOCUSED ATTENTION
Even now, I can't get a clear picture of what happened. I remember seeing the lead rider get off the bike and disappear into the curve...then my sight picture goes blank. I remember the bike falling over, then I remember tucking and relaxing so I didn't break any bones. If I had focused my attention through the turn, I probably could have cleared that corner. I didn't know WHERE I was going. I fixated on the lead rider. Everyone knows this is a bad idea, since if that rider goes off, you're likely to follow him. Well this time, the rider in front cleared the corner with ease. But as a result, as soon as he disappeared into that corner, I was completely lost. I should've been looking through the turn. What I should NOT have been doing was...
8) TRYING TO TEST LIMITS ON A PUBLIC ROAD
The guys I was riding with, they've been riding for 20+ years. They've done multiple track days, and the pace that I think is "fast" that they run, they run with relative ease.On the street is no place to be trying to run with track-bred riders. They don't ride FAST, they ride SMOOTH, and speed comes naturally. Yes, they preach the "ride your own ride" line and are always fine with waiting at the next gas-stop, but my ego wouldn't let me take advantage of that generosity. I wanted to be with the pack, and that kind of mentality, especially on a public road, is a recipe for disaster.The result of this day was that my 2007 R1 was totalled. It wasn't actually even beat up that bad. If your frame is scratched in an accident, though, the bike shop typically estimates what it'd take to take everything off of your old frame and put it on a new one. Labor for that usually totals the bike. (And you thought it was the plastics that were expensive!)
I took the rest of the season off. It gave me some time to think. So far, I seem to be learning my lessons well. The same group of riders is travelling to the Dragon again this May, but I'm not going with them this year. I'd rather wait for a track-day.