The instructors in my Experienced Riders Course gave us a statistical break down from which direction motorbikes are most likely to be hit. Not surprisingly, the front and front quarters had the highest statistics and most discussions centered around it. Accidents from behind, or called your "Six" had only garnered about 3% and the instructors glossed over that not much "real" danger comes from that direction.
My jaw hit the floor. I took great umbrage to the easy dismissal of watching out for your rear. Three weeks before class I might not have given it much more thought. But two weeks before class Oilburner had been rear-ended on his motorcycle and I was still reeling.
As motorbike pilots we have all encountered someone turning in front of us. In your case, hopefully it did not involve and metal or asphalt kissing. Though I know that some here have.
We are all aware of our front and always try to keep our eyes peeled. We know we are invisible. It is easy to keep our eyes peeled for dangers in front of us. We are looking in that direction anyways.
For me? My closest encounters and near misses have always come from behind. A direction we can't watch nearly as easily or nearly as frequently. I would just like to recount two incidents that will hopefully help you with being aware of your surroundings at key times.
I may have mentioned in passing about Oilburners accident before. It is a story that hadn't yet written itself and therefore hadn't been recounted here.
We were supposed to be on vacation. We had taken two weeks off and meant to haul the dogs and travel trailer up to Maine. A week before vacation my dog was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and had started on chemo. We decided to cancel the vacation travel, but take the time still and just hang around locally. We weren't sure how she would respond to the chemo and didn't want to stress her.
It was another one of those heat wave summers and was unbearably hot. We had been camping locally and decided to cut that short when our other dog wasn't responding well to the heat. Taking her to the vet, she was diagnosed with Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia from a vaccine she was recently given.
This vacation isn't going as planned.
So Friday of that first week sees us all back at home. Oilburner and I decide to jump on the bikes for a leisurely ride across town to a motorbike gear shop. The time is currently the beginning of Sept 2008 a little after noon. I had just taken ownership of my BMW two weeks ago. I hadn't ridden it, except a couple miles around the neighborhood. We were on vacation remember? Oilburner was on his purple Harley Davidson 883. Such a great bike.
I hadn't yet transferred my blinking brake lights from my Suzuki and was feeling a little vulnerable. Oilburner and I were chatting through our helmet communicators and I "thought" I had seen the guy behind us stop.
I was wrong.
I suddenly am aware of Oilburner yelling "What the FUCK?!?" through the communicators and this black wall sliding along my left side, pushing Oilburner away, like a bug in the bow wave of a boat. Thinking the guy behind us had stopped, I assumed it was the guy behind him that was causing this accident. I'm watching Oilburner being pushed forward and this moving black wall sliding past, just waiting for an impact to me. I'm wondering what it will feel like. Will I be pushed forward or will it be a glancing blow that will just knock me over to the right?
Oilburner is gone. Replaced by the sparkling black death star. He was impacted hard enough to send him into the minivan we were behind (while Oilburner was engaging his brake). A minivan we had stopped about 6 feet behind. Hard enough to bend the forks and peel steel back. The black wall hadn't stopped yet and impacted Oilburner a second time. It was too much. Oilburner was a dirt bike rider of old but he couldn't hold onto this anymore. I remember seeing his helmet rolling off to the left, what little I could see over the hood of the black wall. In actuality he had "stepped off" the bike and let it lay down. He stumbled a little but remained on his feet, in the opposing lane of traffic.
I'm sitting astride my bike, untouched, and in complete shock. The entire time I'm watching this occur, and waiting until I feel that push that makes me a participant of this nightmare and no longer a witness. I am listening to a litany of incomprehension and outrage as Oilburner experiences all of this. My eyes are wide, my mouth is hanging open, and I can't figure out what to do next.
I figure I need to get off my bike. I just can't figure out how. I can't just put the kickstand down and dismount. That black wall is that close. I cannot lean the bike onto its kickstand! I consider just falling over to the right and tumbling me and the bike over. But the dirt shoulder is quite a few inches lower than the edge of the asphalt and there is a very large puddle of murky water right where I would be landing.
I finally work out that I should ride the bike forward 10 feet where the shoulder is the height of the road and it is covered in grass. I don't like riding on grass. I've only been riding 3 months by this time. On a very new to me bike that I didn't have any time on, and I felt was extremely tall and top heavy. I didn't care what happened to the bike, I just couldn't figure out how to get off the damn thing and get to my husband.
By the time those brain synapses finally function and get me dismounted Oilburner has lain down on the pavement to the right of his bike. And one young ass is running around waving his hands in the air (yes, one was clutching his cell phone) screaming "The brakes failed. The brakes failed!"
All the time I was forced to listen to Oilburner get hit, Oilburner now has to listen to me screaming at this idiot that his brakes did not fucking fail. See, that black wall was a BMW X5 only a year or so old.
I slowly realized that my "conscience" was talking to me in a low voice. My conscience is telling me to call AAA for his bike. At the time I didn't question. I was on auto pilot and there wasn't any way I could think for myself. I didn't call the police. I didn't call our good friend 5 miles away. I didn't take off my helmet and talk with Oilburner. I called AAA. What a frickin dipshit I am!!
Later...when I realized what I had done I asked Oilburner why he told me to call for towing. His response was "to give you something to focus on." He figured it would calm me down and keep me from killing this kid.
Kid he was. He was all of 19, and he called both of his parents who came rushing to the accident site.
Emergency response was quick, though there was confusion on their end about who should respond. East bound traffic belonged to the city and westbound traffic belonged to the county. :) Go figure. The good news is that the hospital was right in front of us. The bill for the ambulance had one mile transportation charge. The EMT's mused that this was their new record.
Oilburner was OK, just mild whiplash in his lower back. Physical therapy helped that. The bike was totaled, the kid was distraught and his father rode a Hyabusa. Hopefully this incident and his parents taught him a lesson about cell phones and driving. I don't know if the kid was texting or talking. I just know he didn't see us. If we hadn't been there we are 95% certain he would have rear-ended the minivan anyway. No one knows how I escaped unscathed. I wasn't any farther to the right in the lane than normal. The X5 had a good hole in the bumper from the Harley on the drivers side, so the SUV wasn't too far to the left. We just don't know. But we are grateful.
It was extremely difficult for me to get on the bike after that. But I did. And I religiously analyzed my "Six" approaching stop lights/signs for many months. Now can you understand my outrage in my class two weeks later?
The second incident was graciously provided to me on that slow moving, scenic Blue Ridge Parkway trip we just completed. It occurred on the first day we were on the parkway (so the second day of the trip). This one a$$hole felt the need to turn this scenic parkway into his own private Daytona 500 race track.
I led most of the distance and kept any tails on Oilburner in my sight. While we were clipping along a little over the speed limit (a very little in honesty), I tuned into people who might want to go faster and got out of their way at the first opportunity. I wish some people would have done that for us.
In this instance we were behind one of those oblivious drivers averaging 35 (in a 45 zone), without any chances of passing. Someone came up on Oilburners tail and hovered there.
After maybe 10 miles the lead car must have spotted something shiny and finally pulled off. We surpassed the speed limit again and the SUV stayed on Oilburners rear.
It took a couple miles for the next turnout to come up. It happened to be on the left and happened to be just over a little rise, and happened to have a fairly straight stretch of road which just happened to be a "no-passing" zone.
I appropriately signed my intent to turn and get out of this guys way. Just as I was preparing to turn I hear Oilburner in the helmet communicator yelling "Whoa!!" and hear his horn honking. I can't see the SUV in my mirror and suddenly see a gold wall passing on my left with the sound of a screaming engine wound up as it flew by. This all occurred in the span of about 2 seconds. The ONLY reason I was not already committed in the turn was because of some traffic cones and people milling about at the entrance of the overlook. I shudder to realize that if I hadn't paused for that split second I would have been turning across the left lane as that SUV accelerated to pass. There wasn't anyplace for that SUV to go, or if he even would have had time to respond.
I'm still going over the situation in my mind when Oilburner expresses his desire to go after that son of a bitch. I'm not shaking or in shock. This wasn't really a "near miss" or anything. But it could have been. Or it could have been much worse. Another fraction of a second, and while I know Oilburner wouldn't really "go after" the guy, I decide to.
Yeah, I know. Not a good idea. But this guy needs to understand just how close he came to taking my life.
He is already into the next curve when my throttle hand catches up to my thoughts. I whomped on the throttle and off I shoot. I am up to 75 mph before I catch the guy. When I slow to match his speed (and keep a safe distance behind in case he wants to retaliate by slamming on the brakes) we are doing about 70 mph. I lay on the horn and just flip the guy off. Oilburner has caught me by this time and is telling me the error of my ways. He takes the quickly flashed brake lights as a sign that the driver "understands me". I don't take it that lightly.
I back off and try to find my zen. That is rather difficult when I am scrutinizing every turnout for that damn vehicle. We considered calling the park rangers or the cops. But that probably won't do any good. I take solace in my daydream of finding this a$$hole in some turnout, taking my helmet off and using it to bash his fucking head in. However, I would be happy with just denting every panel on that SUV and breaking all the windows. That guy is lucky I never saw him again. But his license plate is burned in my memory and I will keep an eye out. And according to Twitter, I am not the only person that has had a run in with this vehicle and driver.
I'm reliving these instances to impress upon you how important it is to be aware of your surroundings. I know you are, but sometimes we need a refresher. In a Stayin' Safe class Oilburner and I took while at the Georgia Mountain Rally (local BMW rally), the instructor pressed us on to look at our six before braking or turns. If someone isn't paying attention to your actions, you might get in trouble. As for tailgaters? Try to keep the emotion and ego in check and just pull over for a break. I was honestly trying to do that. I wasn't trying to police this guys speed. I just didn't realize that he wanted to drive 70 in a 45 zone.
Stay Safe out there everyone. I want you around for a long time to come.