Motor Bikes - the art of crashing

California You have to love them, it's the excitement, it's living sculpture, rebellion, freedom. It can be a little dangerous and, with just a few exceptions, I've broken every bike I've ever owned. I started riding rather late in life at 30. My girlfriend at the time wanted one, I knew loads of people who lived and breathed them and I just thought, why not ? I think there is a sound track on one of the GTA games where the male radio announcer says 'All any man wants is to wear leather jackets, crash motorbikes and have a one on one with ..' - he's probably summed up the whole male ethos.

Yamaha RSX100 My first bike, it never seemed to use any fuel and it seemed to run like clockwork but then, 3 weeks after buying it, it just stopped in traffic and wouldn't restart. Had I bought a lemon? It turned out I'd just run out of fuel ! There's something about simple reliable machines that make you love them. After a year I went to a garage to buy a large spanner to adjust the chain. I figured I ought to do some maintanence on it but I was sidetracked by a...

Honda VFR750 It was the back tyre that caught my eye, for those days it was huge. I asked for a test drive and, not being stupid, they wouldn't let me drive and instead put me on the back with one of the garage hands driving. I was hooked the moment it started up. I'd say the bike was 3 times heavier than my last bike, 10 times more powerfull and about 3 or 4 times faster. I believe the exact same model was raced in some transatlantic race the previous year and won - maybe it wasn't the best progression from my trusty learner bike.

The bike was delivered to my place and I drove the neighbours crazy by going slowly round the block 50 times doing left hand corners and then another 50 times slowly doing right hand corners. I had the bike a couple of years and ended up driving it like a lunatic. I think I managed to go faster on this bike than any other - 150mph down a small B road - this wasn't a sensible place to do that speed but I figured I could see all the junctions so why not. Inevitably I managed to have 5 major spills on the bike and, though it was built tough, eventually I had to say it was the end.

I filled the insurance form (a non fault accident for once) and everything seemed to be progressing fine. Then we moved house and things were left. A year later I passed the house and saw the wreckage sitting outside my old house and thought it would be best to finish the claim ! I rang the insurance and they said no problem, just have the bike brought in and they'd pay. I went back at the weekend and found the bike had gone! and of course it was no longer insured now.

I couldn't believe anyone would take it far concidering the condition. I decided to check the local lockups and there it was, resting in the last one I looked in. It had had all the panels removed and the steering lock drilled out. I didn't feel bad about having the bike stolen concidering I'd left the remains dumped at the side of the road for the best part of the year. I moved the bike elsewhere and had it collected the next morning. The insurance people paid up and didn't ask any questions about the panels or missing lock.

At work I qualified for a company car and, after talking with them, I was amazed they would give me a company bike instead...

Moto Guzzi California
California It seems I could have almost anything - bikes were still cheaper than cars at this point. I went allong to the Harley shop but they didn't give test rides and, to be frank, I didn't like their attitude. Ducati's were probably a little to delicate for me and the Japanese bikes were ... just to Japanese. There was a Guzzi shop not to far away and I popped over just to have a look.

I must admit I loved this bike the moment I saw it - that laid back look, the crash protection bars to protect it (and me), hard lugage which actually looked good on the bike, the foot boards. Everything on the bike was simple and there for a purpose. I asked if I could sit on it - they said why not take it for a ride ! Talk about a different attitude to the Harley shop! I drove off into the lunch time traffic and immediately found it was very different to the VFR! I couldn't get it out of 1st gear for the first mile - it has a heel and toe type gear change and you need to be very firm with them until they are run in (about 20K miles!). The braking seemed very week until I tried the foot brake and then nearlly went through the bike's wind screen. Despite all this I headed back to the shop knowing that I'd found my bike.

It could commute, it could race other bikes (if you were very brave) and it could tour. It had a front screen and lugage space, it even had crash protection bars. It even did 50mpg and would cruise all day at 80mph without making you feel tired. I did a couple of round the UK tours on the bike and had a great time.

I crashed them a lot though but, because they seemed to be built from solid iron, it never seemed to bother them - may be sometimes I'd get a small scratch on the bars. I did once manage to bend the front forks - I hit a mini head on and embeded the bike right through the bonnet of the car - and even then I personally thought I could have ridden the bike home.

I was once going down the motorway and started to feel very ill, truth be told I felt quite ill when I set off. I saw a sign for a service station - it was only 10 miles down the road but the traffic was nose to tail in every lane. Even so I moved out into the outer lane and was rolling along at about 90mph. Oddly there were lots and lots of motorcycles coming the oter way and every single one of them smiled and waved - I felt terrible with my stomach churning but still felt I had to give a cheery wave to each rider. I was only a mile away from the service station and giving yet another cheery wave when my stomach wreched. One moment I was siting upright in nose to tail traffic all moving along at around 90mph - the next I was throwing up uncontrollably down the side of my bike. It's amazing how fast the vehicles behind get out your slipstream. I walked into the service station feeling and looking like shit. On the positive side at least my helmet was an open face.

I'd heard all sorts of stories about reliability but every Guzzi I'd had worked brilliantly. I did once have the heel and toe gear change fall off - I stomped on it as I was joining the motorway and it came clean off the bike. I did think for a moment that I might be able to just ride home in 4th gear but figured it might be a pain through town so I stopped at the side of the road and went back to look for it. It appeared the nut that held it on had worked loose over the years and had probably never been tightened. I ended up using a wooden twig from a tree and some binder twine to hold the gear lever on and continued on my way. Must admit I forgot about my little repair because the mechanic came out to read me the riot act when he looked the bike over 8 months later. I did also start to loose the front wheel bearings while riding along - though admitidly after yet another crash. I would be riding along fine when all of a sudden the front wheel would lock up for a moment and then release. It only happened once every few days and at completely random times. I took the bike to the mechanic and he just replaced the bearing but he was shaking his head all the time - I think he felt that I should of been kept away from his beautiful bikes.

My best crash was going along the A23, near the Oval. I was banked over and overtaking 3 lanes of traffic when a car up ahead did a very brave U turn. No problem I thought, I'll just squeeze in behind it however this car then collided with a few others and the road was now full of spinning cars. I could see there wasn't a gap anymore, I was still banked hard over from the bend and braking would have me sliding into the 3 lanes of traffic -I decided to just hit the cheapest car - an old datsun that was already spinning in the road. I hit it just behind the back wheel and was a bit surprised when the rear end of the car just exloded into bits - the bumper flew off to my left, the boot and panels to my right. I went through the screen of the Guzi and was now doing a handstand on the bars with my feet above my head. My only problem now was I was still travelling around 40 mph! I also seemed to be be going diagonally across the traffic lanes and I had absoloutly no control of the bike. I could however see the drivers in all the cars behind me staring at me in disbelief and ramming their brakes as hard as they could. For a moment I thought I was going to fall infront of the bike and then run myself over, which would of been very embarrassing, instead I went up the kerb and into a wall. I landed next to the bike with the bikes wind screen still wrapped around my neck. I felt fine but my heart was almost bursting out my chest. A pedestrian was running up to me but I held out my hand to say I was fine. He didn't even ask me how I was, he just said "mate, that was the most ammazing thing I've ever seen". Needless to say I just rode the bike home and ordered a new screen from the garage.

Kawasaki 750 Cruiser
Kawasaki 750 cruiser This bike was a lemon. I bought it 2nd hand in the USA with the aim of touring the country for 6 months but it barely lasted a week before terminally overheating. I was riding through death valley when it suddenly went completely dead underneath me - I had to wait 2 hours before someone went past - the guy was driving a large lorry and we couldn't get the bike onto the back so I asked if he would tow me. I soon worked out that this wasn't a good idea. The only rope I had was for the camping and so it was pretty short, I couldn't see anything but the back end of the lorry. I also made the mistake of tying a knot so it was impossible to get unattached. I presume if I did fall off then the lorry driver would find out when he eventually stopped and got out.

Any way we made it to Barstow. A garage said the charging system had burnt out and volunteered to recharge the battery for me. I spent the evening in a pretend country and western bar watching people square dancing or fighting depending on how much they had to drink. I felt miserable.

The next day I set of back to San Fransisco, The battery was fully charged, I'd removed all the lights so all the electricty that was left would just be used for the spark plugs - the garage owner had no idea how long the charge would last but thought I might make it 500 miles. Just after leaving Barstow an oil seal overheated and blew out and so now oil was starting to spew from the side of the engine. I was now feeling very depressed! I plugged the leak with tin foil and string! I then had to ride the bike at no faster than 40 mph (so it didn't overheat). I also had to ride the bike at an angle of roughly 45 degrees to stop the oil from comming out, there were no lights etc and I had to ride roughly 500 miles. It was a dismal ride.

Kawasaki Ltd 440
Kawasaki Ltd 440 I had no money left and this was the cheapest bike I could get. I set off on grand tour knowing that this was one of the smallest bikes I'd ever owned. The previous owner had driven it 50 miles a week and kept in garage and now I was planning taking it 200 miles every day and parking it in deserts and mountains. I learnt to love the bike, it was honest, it made friends with everyone and it allways (well nearlly allways) worked.

I only managed to crash this bike once which, concidering the milage, wasn't bad. I'd been driving down the pacific coast just looking out and watching the waves crash onto the beach. It really was a beautifull site but suddenly the road noise just stops and everything goes silent ! I looked down and discovered I'd driven off the side of the road and was now flying through the air and about to land on the side of a steep slope heading down to the beach. The landing wasn't very skillfull but I managed to stay upright and, after a small break to gather my thoughts, I managed to drive slowly back up the slope. Actually thinking about it I also managed to flip the bike completely while driving the bike up a steep cliff path with the aim of camping at the top - the path got a little too steep near the top and I seemed to be under the impression I was riding a mountain goat - I gassed it a little too much and the front wheel came off the ground, sailed over my head and then the whole bike was sitting on top of me.

I was camping at the base of the Rocky mountain chain and waiting for a storm to pass. My tent was being lashed with rain and the gusts brought the roof of the tent down to my nose at times. After 3 days of sitting in my tent I got bored and went out to find some rain gear. A fishing shop seemed to have what I needed so I packed up and headed up into the mountains, at least it couldn't get any worse. The first 100 miles was just lashing rain and huge gusts of wind made worse by the logging lorries that would tear down the mountain roads - the wind these things created as they shot by you managed to tear all my rain gear apart until eventually there was nothing left and I was soaked to the skin. At least it couldn't get much worse. The rain slowly turned to snow as I climber higher and the temprature plumeted. My jeans started to freeze over and I couldn't feel any of my limbs now - I didn't even feel attached to my body any more. There was no point in stopping and camping as I'd just be camping in snow on the side of a cold mountain. Another 100 miles passed by and at least I felt sure it couldn't get any worse. I was wrong. The steady fall of snow stopped and was replaced by huge gusts of wind - soon I was being pelted by hail. Another 100 miles before I arrived at the camping ground I was aiming for in the Rockies, I dismounted and staggered over to the attendant to pay my money. I asked where the showers were, the thought of a shower was the only thing that had kept me going. He proudly replied that this was a natural campsite and that there were no showers. I was saved by two other bikers that had been riding in the same storm and had arrived the previous day - they had a huge fire burning and were cooking platefulls of sausages while drinking whysky. It was just what the doctor ordered and I joined them by their fire.

Another time I was riding along through the woodland by the side of the Missippi. I couldn't understand why all the vehicles coming towards me had their headlamps on as it was nearlly mid day. Up ahead it did seem to be much darker but I just couldn't see why. It turned out to be a huge swarm of love bugs - one moment you're riding in clean air, the next the air seems to be made entirely from swirling insects. The bike and I were totally covered in a thick layer of the creatures - they even seemed to be crawling around on the inside of my goggles, you felt like screaming but knew the moment you opened your mouth then your lungs would be full of the creatures too. It wasn't long before I was out of the swarm and I stopped to try and clean up but I was completely coated in the damn things - every inch of me seemed to be crawling. I don't mind insects but this was just too much for anybody.

When I'd just about finished my trip the bike was beginning to fall to pieces - the battery was shot, the steering wobbled and everything squeeked as we rode allong. I dropped into a motorbike shop on the Appalucian trail and asked if there was anything I could do to make it last a little longer. He asked what I was doing and I told him about the Rockies, Canada, the pacific coast road, the deserts and mid west, the Keys and now the east coast route. He thought for a while and then said "you know what you're problem is ?" , I looked at him expectantly, "you're just having to much fun". He had a point.

Some bikes fill you with emotion and opinions but this bike wasn't one of them. I bought it when I returned to England and it suited my needs fine. I even used it on my honey moon, Clare had been all over the world and I knew she didn't want to fly anywhere so I naturally thought - a biking/camping trip to the Outer Hebrides! The weather wasn't perfect - on driving past Lock Ness it was raining so hard you couldn't see the Lock let alone the monster. By day 3 of the honeymoon we were nearlly divorced and I had to comprimise by staying in bed and breakfasts every other day.

I only managed to crash this one once and sold it on eventually to a dispatch rider...

BMW GS 1100
BMW GS If the germans were asked to build the perfect functional bike this would be it and that is probably what they were asked to do. It was a fantastic bike around town with all its low down power and grip, the suspension is very unusual but it works well and the brakes are ABS so you end up allmost ignoring the road surface. It's not pefect though - there is wind noise and buffeting around 75 mph and it doesn't crash well.

I was hit while driving allong through London traffic, I guess no faster than 40 mph when suddenly a car U-turned from the other side of the road. I didn't even have time to hit the brakes and instead colided with the bikes handlebars, the cars windscreen and finally the road before coming to a stop. I tried to turn to see the state of the bike but I simply couldn't move. That wasn't a good sign but I could wiggle my fingers and toes. The police were there instantly and cordoned of the road with me laying in the middle of it while we waited for an ambulance. Unfortunately it was christmas eve and there were no ambulances free so I just lay there in the road surrounded by the police who didn't want to move me but certainly kept me entertained. It was lightly snowing but the bike suit kept me quite warm but the police looked absolutely frozen. 2 fire engines stopped and asked if they could help - a copper asked "can you light a fire?". At one point they were going to call in a helicopter to remove me - I was quite looking forward to a helicopter ride. After 2 hours 30 min an ambulance arrived and I was taken to the hospital. It turned out to be just broken ribs and I couldn't move because the spinal muscles had gone into spasm to protect the spine. I was quite relived but it still hurt. It also turned out the car driver wasn't insured.

Gilera runner 180 SP
Gilera Runner 180 SP I was given this scooter while the BMW was being examined. I initially thought that it would be so embarassing to drive allong on a scooter after so many years on big bikes but I loved the thing. Within 10 minutes of riding it I was laughing away thinking this was the best fun I'd had in years. The only issue with this particular machine was the local youth who all wanted to nick it.

Concidering the bike was raced for every minute of the 4 years I owned it - it came away looking allmost brand new. I did have one small knock in Brixton - 3 large gentlement were crossing the road - they saw me and stopped and then just as I was passing them one of them jumped out in front of me and went straight over the handle bars. While laying in the road I reached across and pulled the keys out of the bike immediately - I could only think this was a very masochistic way of stealing a bike. The chap jumped up and helped me of the ground then picked the bike up and appolgised profusely (how wrong can you be about people!). He said he wasn't hurt but when I got home I found the screen had broken, the ABS plastic was broken in the fairing and the front disk brake was bent - they obviously build people tough out in africa.

Considering this bike was raced every day of it's life (5 years) I think it did very well. One day I was going along and the bike would suddenly shimmy from side to side. I stopped and looked the bike over but everything seemed fine. It happened again a mile or two later but I still couldn't work out what was wrong. A motorcycle dispatch rider pointed out the problem a few days later - "you do know your back wheel is falling off mate?". I'd had the rear tyre replaced on the cheap at a local garage but it appeared they'd forgotten to put the bolts back that hold on the wheel!

Another evening I had a chap catch me up at the lights to tell me my brake lights weren't working. I thanked him. He then commented that he noticed the problem that morning - was he stalking me?? - to escape this conclusion he laughed and said he didn't get overtaken by scooters often (he was riding 1000cc race bike). A few days later I had a motorcycle dispatcher tap me on the shoulder - "do you know your battery's fallen out?" - I looked at him as if he was mad but sure enough, my battery was now dangling by the wires against my exhaust! I realised the bike was reaching the end so I exchanged the scoot for my vespa. Must admit though, this was one of the most fun bikes I've ever owned.

XJR 1300
You can just see this bike in the photo above, it looks like it's hiding behind the scooter but in reality this bike was a monster in every sense of the word. I made the mistake of walking into a bike show room and saw this one at a great price. It seemed to be a cartoon of a bike - huge engine, huge tyres and not much else. I bought it straight away and rode it home. It was very easy to ride with a low center of gravity and as much power as anyone could want - it was a bit like sitting astride a Saturn 5 rocket. It was great just sitting on it at the traffic lights with the engine shaking the windows of the cars on either side and when opening the throttle it allways felt like the carbs would suck in small children.

I managed to crash this one comming back from tennis. I managed to lock the front wheel when a chap ran out into the road and ended up with the bike on top of me sliding down the road - did I mention it's quite a heavy bike. Sadly I was only wearing tennis gear at the time and, while the bike was quite easy to repair, I took a little longer and my track suit was definitely ruined, if it wasn't ripped then it was stained red. I ended up at the local hospital where they scrubbed all the grit out of my skin - they do this with a scrubing brush and it's not very comfortable ! then they tried pulling my big toe into shape - I think I'd broken a few bones down that way - this was particularly uncomfortable. I'd recommend that if you're planning on crashing - wear bike gear!

Vespa 200 GT
I sat on one at the motor show in the London Docklands. It seemed to offer just about everything I needed - good economy, good luggage space, it looked great and could hit 80mph flat out. I even felt like singing Cliff Richard songs while sitting on it.

I bought one from my local scooter shop and so far I'm quite pleased. You feel a lot more mellow when riding it rather than wanting to race everything and anyone as on the Gilera. It's also much quieter - the gilera was just too loud (the little holes in the exhaust didn't help). The only real problem has been the metal build of the machine - it's good for adding some weight to the ride (sprung to unsprung weight ratio - if you car about such things) but it was also very easy to nick. My poor machine looks rather uncared for - a dent in the front where a chap dropped his bike on mine in a bike park, a dent on the back when I dropped my lock. Next I had an ammusing accident while overtaking a set of slow moving cars - the car infront pulled over to let me easily overtake so I raised my hand to say thanks, the next car in line also pulled over so I left my hand off the bars with the intention of saying thanks again - sadly this car wasn't letting me past but was just manouvering to do a U-turn and it knocked me clean of the bike. I guess if I had both hands on the bars then I might have stayed on but one hand gives you no controll in an emergancy and down I went. Another little accident occurred when turning left near some traffic lights - the cars on the right were waiting for the lights to change and the light was on gree for turning left. Everything seemed fine until a car door opened just as I was passing - I found myself in a shop doorway with the scoot on top of me - yet another big dent in the side. The bike was now 4 years old and it failed it's MOT due to a motor mount failure. Perhaps it's time for another bike?

The little things I like about the bike are :-

  • a plastic bag hook on the front - a little thing but so usefull
  • electric button to release seat - I can now leave the engine running and grab my waterproofs
  • light is always on - I now just forget to turn on the lights on the XJR because it's not automatic !
  • it seems to have a personality

I'm currently doing up my Vespa - I have no mechanical knowledge so it's definitely a voyage of discovery. I'm being helped by the very enthusiastic Modern Vespa forum and Doug in particular. Considering the poor girl has had 2 crashes and probably only had one service in 5 years I don't think this is bad. So far I've done everything myself except the clutch spring and the motor mount bearings :

  • changing the oil and filters (20)
  • cleaning the air filter
  • getting a new battery (50)
  • fitting a new spark plug
  • fixing some holes in the exhaust and spraying it in BBQ paint to keep away rust
  • replacing the belt and rollers (40)
  • replaced the clutch spring which had broken (10)
  • changed the motor mount bearings (70)

When it was all done the scoot felt like new.

Vespa 250 GTS
I was so impressed with the last scoot that I bought the latest model - it's a very good bike. So far no dents in it but I'm sure it's just a matter of time. I still have the old bike just in case I manage to write this one off ...

It had just started to rain after a long dry spell, so it was very slippery on the roads. I was overtaking a long queue of stationary traffic coming up to a traffic light. There were also two bikers moving very gingerly to the front. I just gave everyone a load of space and moved up to the front. Just as I overtook the front bike it suddenly turned right across me - no indicators, no checks, not even a turning for it to go into - I squeezed the brakes and ended up sliding along the road after the Vespa. Oh well, at least she's been christened.

It wasn't long after when I was moving through four lanes of dense moving traffic. Everything seemed fine but suddenly there were cars slamming on their anchors as a drunk pedestrian ran between the vehicles. I'd almost come to a stop when they ran straight into me. My front fender broke away in one direction while a half full beer can rolled off the other way. Remarkably the pedestrian jumped right up, nearlly colided with another vehicle and then chased after the beer can. The scooter had a broken fender and a large dent in the front but what can you say? Now all I have to do is fix up the fender, pull out the dent in the front panel, replace the side cowling from the previous accident and perhaps put a nice sticker over the scratches. Perhaps I just need to ride a little slower.

Stories to add: lovel in USA, USA bike trip, put in details of every bike crash and what was learnt, zen parking.