When you start riding a motorcycle, you'll find no shortage of friends, family or even total strangers to tell you how dumb and dangerous it is. And the fact of the matter is, they're mostly right. There are all kinds of statistics on how much more dangerous riding a motorcycle is than driving a car. People say, it's not if you crash, but when.
When I got my motorcycle license in the summer of 2017, I had, of course, heard all of that. Still, I'd already made up my mind. This was something I wanted to do. Yes, I would always try my best to mitigate the risks through proper rider education and good riding gear, but I just had to accept the possibility that one day, maybe, I would crash.
Thanks to some excellent instruction from the Honda Rider Education center, I've had few close calls when riding on the street. The training made me cautious and aware of my surroundings. But education isn't everything, and you can only prepare so much before something bad happens.
My "something bad" happened exactly one year ago in Long Beach, California. I had just picked up a motorcycle for review in Irvine, and decided that since it was getting dark, and because it was super windy and cold, I'd take the coast highway back up to my home in Los Angeles, rather than the freeways. I'd done this many times before; it's one of my favorite leisurely rides.
Somewhere near the start of the Vincent Thomas Bridge that links the Port of Long Beach with San Pedro, a blast of wind hit me -- late January and early February regularly see incredibly strong winds here in Southern California -- and I lost control of the unfamiliar motorcycle I was on.
I was blown out of the slow lane and into the concrete highway divider -- no amount of countersteering helped -- where I was subsequently hit by another motorist who couldn't slow down quickly enough. It was a total and complete accident, but had things happened even slightly differently than they did that night, I very likely might've died.
The incident has weighed on me heavily over the past year. And because I'm in the business of reviewing motorcycles and covering bike culture, I feel like it's my responsibility to show both sides of the coin. Riding a motorcycle has been the best thing I've ever done for myself, in terms of both personal satisfaction, as well as making friends in the giant, disconnected city I call home. But it also has a dark side that's important to acknowledge.
After I hit the concrete divider on the Vincent Thomas Bridge, I was hit by an SUV and launched into the air. Somewhere along the way, I lost consciousness. I came to on the inner shoulder of the opposite lane of traffic, with a small crowd of amazing people trying to help me. Of course, I was pretty dazed, but I was able to talk to the people around me while I waited for the ambulance, and one person -- an off-duty nurse -- even called my wife while I was being loaded up.
I was taken to a nearby emergency room where I was amazed to find out that I hadn't broken a single bone, and even more amazingly, I didn't have any cuts or scrapes, either. I single-handedly credit this to my riding suit, the Aerostich Roadcrafter (more on this later), which I was adamant be taken off me properly, rather than cut off.
After a thorough checkup, I was brought to a bed to rest. I asked to see my helmet and was shocked to see that it was cracked pretty severely, and that the crack was so deep it went all the way through the liner. The helmet did its job, and while I ended up a bit concussed, it had spared me from serious injury.
After a CT scan and another checkup, I was discharged later that night.
Having proper motorcycle riding gear is essential. Looking cool is nice, but a full set of functioning human body parts is way cooler. The only reason I have no lasting injuries is because I was smart about what I chose to protect myself with.
As with any helmet, this was a one-and-done situation. Even if my helmet hadn't been severely cracked, a severe impact causes the energy-absorbing foam liner to deform, saving your brain but destroying itself in the process. I wore a Schuberth S2 full-face helmet, and it was certified to the ECE 22.05 standard. This is the same standard that MotoGP requires its racers' helmets to have, and while there is a lot of debate about DOT versus Snell versus ECE, it's not hard to pick a quality helmet that fits you well if you do your research.
The helmet -- in addition to performing its energy-absorption trick -- did a couple of other important things during the crash. The exterior vents that protrude and help gulp air while you're riding sheared off when they hit the ground. This prevented them from catching on the pavement and causing rotation of my head and neck. The Schuberth anti-roll-off system (AROS) prevented the helmet from rotating forward and off of my head.
I wrote the company a thank-you letter the day after my crash.
My riding suit and its many, many pieces of internal armor did its job, as well. The thick Cordura nylon exterior prevented my skin from contacting the road surface. The knee armor stopped my leg from being crushed by the SUV that hit me. The back brace prevented my spine from bending the wrong way as I landed on the concrete barrier.
Wearing something that's designed to survive a crash is important. Regular denim jeans won't last long if you slide on the pavement. A fashion-oriented leather jacket might fare better than nothing at all. However, without energy-absorbing armor in it, you're likely to still suffer injury from an impact with the pavement or even another vehicle. My boots and gloves, both motorcycle-specific, did their job and didn't get too beat up in the process. I'm still using both today.
People often tease the "all the gear, all the time" (or ATGATT, as it's known) crowd for being a little preachy and pedantic, but believe me when I say, the safety benefits are absolutely worth occasionally being too warm or looking like a weirdo. I've always been fairly religious about gear, but with this experience under my belt, I will never get on a motorcycle without properly gearing up first, and I recommend you do the same.
Ever since I got my license, the one thing I'd never been sure of was how I'd react following a crash. Would I want to keep riding? Would I be able to keep riding? Would I hang up my helmet and stick to four-wheeled vehicles from then on out?
Despite waking up as one giant bruise-colored human on the morning after my crash, I found the answers to those questions quickly and decisively. I had to keep riding. I'd have gotten on a bike that morning had I been in less pain. And while I knew there would be some recovery time both mentally and physically, I knew I'd be back on two wheels as soon as I could.
With time, the bruises healed, the hematoma went away, and I found my way back onto a motorcycle for a group ride. It had been three months since I'd been on a bike, so I was a little rusty and nervous at first, but within an hour, I was leaning it over and revving the air-cooled engine out. It all came back, and felt as natural and fun as it ever had.
I haven't stopped riding since. I continue to try and self-educate by reading books on riding, by going out and practicing basic riding skills (like threshold braking or slow-speed maneuvering) and by generally making good choices when I ride. The crash may have given me reason for pause, but the joy of riding ultimately prevailed.