Tip me over....but don't pour me out! 5 tales of me tipping over motorcycles...

Remember when you first started learning how to ride a bike? It’s a struggle to keep your balance and if you start to tip over your first instinct is to jump off the bike, hands first, planting your wrists against the ground with force, while your skin is soaking up the gravel, one tiny pebble at a time... and then you run crying the whole way home? Well, when you’re on a motorcycle do NOT do that. Nothing will go well if you try to jump off a 700-pound metal beast with flammable liquids between your legs and think that you’re going to be able superman your body farther than your bike will land. You can’t fly. Your bike can. You won’t win. The best thing to do is opposite of what your instinct might be – when you start to tip over, think of the bus lady yelling the rules at you on the first day of school. “Keep your hands and legs IN the bus (aka on the handlebars and foot pegs) while in motion”. And motion includes that of tipping over. At least on my Suzuki and my Victory, the bike is meant to protect the rider.  And it DOES if you remember the school bus golden rule! 

 My first love, Suzi --- I still remember, very clearly, the first time I ever tipped over a motorcycle.  I had a brand-new Suzuki 800, roughly two weeks old. In that two weeks, I had managed to drive it all the way from the Twin Cities to where I lived at the time about 30 miles west. That might not sound like far, or like it was a tough go, but it was all metro riding. So, TONS of stop lights and accelerating and traffic. I killed the bike at every stoplight because I didn’t quite understand the workings of a clutch. That was embarrassing at the time, but hey I made it home A-Okay and not in the form of roadkill. My uncle was gracious enough to help me learn how to ride and he rode with me the first few times just to make sure I had a security buffer between me and the traffic behind me going 60 miles an hour. So, when I killed the clutch and needed to restart my bike in a panic, I wouldn’t be run over while sitting still, sweating and violently pushing the start button only to realize I didn’t have the clutch pulled in. One of the few rides after he left me on my own, I had a great ride, didn’t kill the bike once! But then, as I get home and I pull into my driveway... There I went.  Toppled over sideways. In slow motion. I pulled into the driveway, which involved turning the wheel, going over a bump between pavement and the curb, and then gradual incline of a driveway… in second gear. Never go THAT slow in second gear. The bike started puttering and I panicked. And then slowly tipped over to the left. It was embarrassing but I was OK, and the bike was OK. My ego however was borderline intact as I quickly stood up looked at both directions to see if any neighbors saw me. Clear! Realizing that nobody had seen that disaster, I put my superman self underneath the bike, using my butt and back, in the way that I was told to pick up a bike and I, 1-2-3 PUSH it up (it worked!!) and then quickly flung it over with such force, it kept on going and fell over on the opposite side. The glimpse of a proud moment of getting the bike upright by myself, quickly faded into sheer horror.  So now not only had I had the success of tipping over my bike for the first time, I also got 2-for-1 bonus round of doing it again. I guess this is how you learn but it sure was not fun. The second time that I had tipped my bike over, within one minute of the previous time, I quickly learned to put down the kickstand. So, this time when I super-heroed the bike back upright, it was going to stay that way. I learned that day, that if you’re going to tip over a bike it’s best to tip over to the right side, so that when you pick it back up at least the kickstand has your back and will help you out. Provided you remember to put the kickstand down before up righting the bike. Lessons learned. Not always pretty but live and learn. The first tip over was fine - not a scratch or dent in the bike. The second, in the same minute, didn’t fare quite so well. I dented the mirror and scraped the handlebars. Now there was PROOF that I dropped the bike. Ugh. It was a huge blow to my ego- not only that I dropped my brand-new bike twice, but now there was evidence, and ‘horrible damage’ as I remember thinking at the time. It takes a LOT muscle work to get 700 pounds of steel up-righted by one person. And when in a sheer panic, I used every muscle and motion possible to get the bike upright before anyone saw, but in that hustle, I clearly didn’t use correct lifting procedure. It took me roughly 6 days before I could stand upright fully again. Lesson learned: Always downshift to 1st gear when turning slowly. And if I forget, at least hold in the clutch all the way. Also… ask for help. It hurts WAY less.
Ah, the short lived, never loved Harley Switchback

Fast forward and 80,000 miles and another 2 bikes and along came ‘Tipsy #2’. Pretty solid track record of remaining upright considering the length of time and mileage in between!  This time, I side planted in conditions that a motorcycle really should not be riding in the first place. Imagine that! Me riding somewhere where a cruiser motorcycle really isn’t meant to ride! So, there I was on my Victory Cross Roads in the middle of BFE Texas. It was April. We left MN in sleet and as we rode south, instead of nicely turning to sunshine, it just turned to slightly warmer rain. 12 hours of precipitation, in various forms, no exaggeration. We got to our destination (a friend of a friend’s house) in the countryside of Texas, with tons of acreage on either side of the mobile home. While it is likely an amazing view in nice weather, in storms, it just offered better insight of the beating that was about to occur. 



So as the clouds turned darker and darker, and as the wind picked up faster and faster, we were all dodging our bikes under whatever cover we could find, which included a mini-shed, and a lean-to on the side of a horse barn. Good enough! With sirens blaring, our phone alerts going off like crazy, we weren’t going to let a little rain prevent us from having SMORES around an open fire! Nope! We would simply take the fire and smores indoors. And so, amid tornado warnings, high winds, and blaring alerts, we cranked the tunes, cracked a beverage, and busted out the blow torch and marshmallows. It was a classy scene. 



Fast forward to the next morning, when the rain finally subsided, there was now not only a ½ mile long driveway to tackle on the way out… but it was now MUD. Slippery, clay like mud. And a LOT Of it. Back to my point on tipping over….

 When it came time to leave in the morning I literally walked the entire half mile long driveway to figure out where the best path of action would be- aka where the least amount of thick mud was located. Mud and motorcycles are not the best combo, so I thought I would walk it to see with and less slippery as part was and then hope for the best. Yes, I was shaking my head the whole way, knowing the odds were against me.  I put on all my leathers because I just had this feeling that it wasn’t going to go well.  So, I make the walk up and down and I think that I have the best path for us. If I start off on the left side of the driveway, FAR left, then go up the lip to the grass area just past midpoint, and then swerve over to the right at the last minute to avoid the really big mudhole that would suck me in no matter what I try to do – I think I can make it out!  So, I share my plan with Shelly and off we go. I make it down the middle, then to the far left, then up the lip to the grass, (feeling good so far!) but as I was coming back off the grass, onto the mud driveway to cut to the right before the sink hole, my rear tire didn’t like the angle at which I returned to the mud, and instead of having full control at 5 mph, my rear tire convinced my front tire, who then convinced my throttle hand that I should CRANK the wheel a little tighter. So instead of dodging said mud hole, I managed to throttle into it and crank the wheel right as I got there. I probably could have driven through it, had there not been a tightly knit, rusty barbwire fence 5’ ahead of me, with a whole herd of cows on the other side. As though I had enough time to make a choice, I dumped the bike over. On the left side though, because I forgot all things learned from the first and only time I side planted to the ground... lol   I bet I was within 20 feet of making it to pavement and on the road scoff free. But not this day!  So, ‘dismounting’ the bike (I DID keep my school bus promise from 1st grade) and standing up half covered in a thick layer of mud, I realize quickly that there is a 0% chance I was going to get this bike up right by myself, wearing cowboy boots, which as you may know, offer ZERO traction.  So, Shelly parked her bike and the other girls came running to the near end of the driveway laughing hysterically of course, while also saying “YOU WERE SO CLOSE!” As though I wasn’t aware of that fact. The bike went upright with the help of 3 of us – she started right up, and while the driver (ME) was not keen at the remaining 20 feet of the driveway, both driver and bike did successfully make it off the mud wrestling road and back onto pavement. As I hit the pavement, and I hit the throttle, I know looked like a biker who pooped my pants, but only on one side. Off I went, towards dryer weather ideally, all the while, big chunks of mud were slapping me in the back (and in the back of the helmet) as if to mock me that ‘I was so close’ to making it out. Shelly was behind me and backed off quite a way, apparently not wanting to resemble the Orbitz gum commercial.  Lesson Learned: Mud is an obstacle course not meant for cruiser bikes.

 (Here is the driveway when we arrived... gravel, no big deal. Now add 5" of rain in 12 hours...)
 

Tipsy #3. Fast forward precisely one week after the Texas debacle, I go to back the bike out of the garage to go for a ride. I don’t even remember where to. I always park my car far enough away from the garage so that I have ample room for backing the bike out of the garage without backing into the garage wall or my car. But this time the neighbor is also parked behind the garage (rare). And he has a Brand-new jeep, complete with dealer plates still intact. Instead of just moving my car and then easily backing the bike out in a straight line, nope… I thought I had plenty of room to weave between the garage wall, my car’s front bumper, and the neighbor’s shiny new jeep.  Well, I misjudged the length and mass of the bike and next thing I know, my rear end was aiming right for the neighbors brand new Jeep which I did not want to hit. So, I turned the handlebars hard to miss the jeep, when just at that moment, my front tire went from the garage floor to where it meets the driveway, at the lip of the garage and sure enough over I went. This was now the most embarrassing tipsy ever... because I had no space to get the bike upright on my own without completely taking out the neighbor’s new jeep. I hit my car a smidge but didn’t so much care about that. Off I went to go knock on my neighbor’s door to ask him for help. Mind you, my neighbor ALWAYS shakes his head at me when I tell him where I am off to next. And his parting words are always “Stay out of trouble and be safe!”. Now here I was, shoulders slumped, walking to see if he could help me get the bike upright. He did, and all was well in the world. Lesson learned: Just move the dang car and back straight out. Its FAR easier.  (No evidence of this tipover..)

 But one week after the Texas Tip Over, the memories remain vivid! My shiner one week after the Texas Tip Over:
Tipsy #4: Several thousand miles later, and many, many states away (Utah), I continue to forget the conditions in which my bike was not meant for. By now, I have ridden on more gravel roads on the bike than most do in cars in their whole life and survived. “What could go wrong?” is a common thing that crosses my mind. And when I say it out loud, people usually roll their eyes and shake their head. Yet, they typically STILL follow me! So, on a trip in which I wanted to check out all the National Parks in Utah, we found ourselves at one of the last ones. I stopped to check out an overlook with a killer backdrop, literally, for a few photos which my mother will surely LOVE (she is NOT a fan of heights… I on the other hand am obsessed with seeing what’s over the edge). 

After hiking around the overlook, dangling my feet over the edge for a few photos, and just stopping to take in the amazing scenery, I walk back down to the bike… and notice a vehicle coming up from behind us… where a little windy, gravel road seemed to appear out of nowhere. Wouldn’t it be COOL if this road led to where I just hung my feet over?? I must find out… and so away I went, with Shelly shaking her head and probably wondering why the heck she continues to follow. The little gravel road was half gravel, half fine sand, depending on the switchback of the moment. That’s right, switchbacks on gravel and sand… on two wheels. I didn’t care. I wanted, er, I NEEDED to find out where this mystery road went! So instead of turning around midway, I just kept on going. I made it to the end which led to even more amazing views and scenery, and only one other vehicle was way back there. It was a Subaru, pssh... not even a challenge for that guy (also from MN)! I started back down the gravel sand road, taking it slow around switchbacks in anticipation of oncoming traffic. But I also wanted a picture of this insane road that I was riding on… on two wheels. And, well, that’s where lesson #4 comes in. Don’t take photos with one hand while steering a bike around switchbacks of gravel and sand with the other. Because just as I went to snap a photo, my front tire clipped the edge of a boulder unearthing from below and sent me into a spiral. I am not even sure how it happened, but next thing I know, my bike is now backwards, facing Uphill, under a tree, on top of a big rock, with the headlight smiling at Shelly as she slowly crept around the switchback… and then hit her brakes.

<-- Skid Marks -->

<--Looking up the road (backwards.. same way the bike landed)


This is the direction I was going originally-->

 I was laughing, it was all I could do. I knew I was a fool for thinking I could make it while taking a photo, but kept circling back to “What could go wrong?” Well, once again, Shelly helped me upright the bike. It was a bit beat up this time. I broke the right-hand crash bar off the frame – it hit the bulging boulder I spoke of. I had gravel in my pipes, in my floorboards, and everywhere gravel could get into. I bent the floorboard – but I DID keep my hands and feet ‘inside the moving vehicle at all times’ and the bike took the brunt of the fall versus my body, which I was thankful for. Also, in case you were wondering, my phone was fine. LOL. I get to the bottom of the windy road and stop in the viewing area where most tourists chose to accept their scenery as is (vs take silly narrow, windy, sandy/gravel roads), and I take a few minutes to inspect and fix my bike the best I can. And off we go. Lesson Learned: One handed photography while riding on 2 wheels through sandy/gravel switchbacks is a REALLY BAD idea.  At least I had tools...

Tipsy #5: Sturgis. Half my fault, half not. Having just finished a 12-hour ride through South Dakota, where there is a straight road and not much to look at for over half the state, we arrived in Sturgis. As noted in previous posts, we took the off the beaten path exit, gravel, of course, to get to the back side of the Buffalo Chip, which then is .25 miles from our camp (versus fighting traffic all the way through Sturgis). Having made the 9-mile gravel exit without issue, we approached the Buffalo Chip campground, where the road turns back to pavement, and an area which is ALWAYS a zoo.
There is a temporary traffic light at the main intersection (pavement) to help keep accidents to a minimum and allow traffic to flow. But what I didn’t see, as I was watching the bike and trailer just ahead of me as they approached the light, was the STOP SIGN (where gravel meets pavement) a mere 10 feet prior to the stoplight. Apparently, the guy with the trailer didn’t see it either because he SLAMMED on the brakes, causing the trailer to shimmy as he came to a quick stop. Being just behind him, I hammered the brakes (granted I was going all of 10 mph), but I was still on the ‘gravel meets blacktop/pavement’ patch and as my brakes locked up my tires, my tires kicked out the gravel, met the pavement, and over I went. It was that or I hit the guys trailer. So, the bike went over. On the right side, at least. But this one was a doozy to my bike, because there was a slight ditch to my right. So, the momentum took my bike over and the TOPS of my bags took the brunt of the hit to the gravel/pavement below. My headlight, front fender corner, and floor board also suffered damage (all fixable).  I managed to cut my hand/elbow just a bit on gravel, nothing more, and since I only had my leather vest on, with bare arms, I considered myself lucky. (I again followed the golden school bus rule for motorcycles!) Poor Shelly had to help me upright the bike, again, and off we went the last .25 miles to camp. The last .15 miles was a gravel driveway that had me on edge, but I made it to camp and was VERY happy to park my bike, which was now going to require cosmetic surgery to fix the Tipsy #5. Lesson Learned: Leave more room between me and the bike in front of me to slam on the brakes and veer out of the way if need be.

  

Some might think that landing a motorcycle on its side 5 memorable times is  A LOT. But, in perspective, between my Suzuki Boulevard with 70,000 miles on it (which I still have to this day); a short-lived Harley with 15,000 miles on it (that I put on it anyways); and my Victory XR with 112,000 miles on it (all mine) … I would say that 5 Tipsy’s in 197,000 miles (or 1 Tipsy every 39,400 miles) isn’t half bad!  *Disclaimer: I am not including Tipsy’s that have occurred on my dual sport bike… because it meant for riding over difficult surfaces and tipping is half the fun*


Comments

  1. Love the work you put in to write such entertaining and yet truthful tales of bike life. Kudos to you for sharing!

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  2. I like your writing style. I felt as if I was there to witness, and enjoy with you and your posse in the camaraderie that was shared. Your outlook on life is refreshing, finding the best in ail situations. Along with your friends too. You're one cool and happy- go- lucky woman... peace.

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