Monday, August 29, 2011

Watch your Six

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.

We ran our errands and were on our way home.  We pulled up in the queue at a stop light, maybe the fourth position back from the light.  We were sitting there side-by-side, he on the left, me on the right.

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.


  1. Lori

    You need eyes in the back of your head and the confident ability to use the accelleration and agility of the bike to keep out of harms way - just like a little bee buzzing around is how I envisage it.

    If you ever watched Charley and Ewan on Long way Around, it was not until Canada that Ewan was rear ended by some dozy 19 year old dring a SUV - so oil burner is in good company!

    Still enjoying the crocs(tm), N

  2. Lori,
    That's one of the most beautifully-written, powerful and honest bits of writing I've ever seen about an accident. I think most riders would have been there in spirit with you and Oilburner after having read that. I wish every rider could read it to experience the confusion and emotions following a shunt.

    It's only been since I've been doing my IAM training that I've started to use my mirrors almost continuously. Also, when coming up to stationary traffic, positioning yourself slightly to one side in case of a rear end shunt.

    Sincere congrats on your post - absolutely superb.

  3. Troubadour has taught me to be hyper aware of my six. It seems in this area there are always accidents that are rear-enders. We try to leave at least a car length in front of us when stopping to give a bit of a buffer zone and if stopped in construction I put Max's hazards on hoping it will help as well as pumping the brakes.

    All we can do is keep a constant lookout for the asshats out there not paying attention.

  4. Lori,
    A very well written piece. I've been working diligently for the last month on being aware of what's going on around me and I mean all around me -- all 360 degrees around me.

    I have two areas on my commute where while the street is only one lane each way, there is room for someone to pass on the right . . . and, some do. They are often far exceeding the speed limit as they do this. Talk about dangerous. It really gets my dander up. I can't race after them like you did, but of course, there is no need to. Why? Because at the next light there I am right behind them. They saved no time and created a deathly situation while doing it. The best I can hope for is that they will linger slightly before starting up when the light changes so I can beep my horn at them. Oh well, sometime childish is as childish does.

  5. what a scary story. I am glad that the Oilburner got away and you weren't clipped. Poor little Sporty. What an asshat! I try to keep an eye on the rear traffic but with so much stuff happening in front of you it is difficult, and best is to grow some eyes in the back of your head.
    Gosh, all the thoughts that went through your head. I can only imagine how I would feel and react if this would happen while I ride with hubby. Shit. Fantastic write-up! Thank you so much.

  6. Agree with all the other comments, a great write up of two very frightening events. I try to keep an eye on what's coming behind me due to experiences with hazards coming from the rear.

    Once on a bicycle on a mountain road with logging trucks, I saw a truck approaching from behind when a chain broke and a log came loose. I dived into the ditch as a small log brushed over me and my bike. (The driver did stop and come running back). Another time, a teenage rider in our group was hit in the back of the head by the mirror of a passing van. (The van didn't stop and sped away).

  7. Lori: I have to agree with the others, one of the best blogs you have written. You described the emotions and feelings us bikers feel brillantly. Well done.

  8. Steel Cupcake: I just couldn't imagine something happening to someone I cared about, in front of my eyes and being powerless to do anything about it. I mean what could you do even if you caught up to the driver ? Your interpretation of these two incidents made me feel that I was right there inside your helmet, so graphic were your words but glad that you are both Okay

    Riding the Wet Coast

  9. Hi Lori,
    Started reading here thanks to a link on another blog. Good stuff here! I actually sent a link for you blog to a good friend of mine that is thinking about learing to ride. This will be some good info for her and something for her to keep in mind.

    BTW...I live just west of ATL by Hiram. in the HELL could ANYONE not see a PURPLE HARLEY!! My good friend and riding partner rides an 883 Sportster too. Wrote up a really funny review of my ride on it for the FJR forum a few years ago.

  10. Hi Nikos!

    Eye do have eyes in the back of my helmet. They just don't see very well. Maybe they need glasses? (Just find any picture of the back of my helmet and you will see.)

    I like you bee simile. Good way of looking at it.

    Yeah. We've watch LWR. I can't believe Ewan was so calm talking with the stupid kid.

    Glad the crocs(tm) are ravishing the continent. :)


  11. Hi Geoff!

    Thanks a lot! That means so much to me. I really wanted people to understand the situation. There was the fact that I still had to ride my bike home without Oilburner. And the reel played over and over and over in my head for 3 days straight. But the incident itself was enough.

    So...elaborate...why do you use your mirrors so much more now? What has IAM taught you? Teach us!


  12. Hi Trobairitz!

    Remember when we have chatted about the pros and cons of helmet communicators? This is the time that I alluded to when the communicators weren't all that enjoyable to have.

    I'm glad you are hyper aware of your six. People think I am crazy because I am too. But I don't think it is a bad thing.

    Do you have blinking brake lights for Max? Like the Hyper-lite brake lights? I highly recommend these things!

    Stay safe out there!


  13. Hi Circle Blue!

    I'm sorry you have to deal with crazy idiots like that. I've had people pass in the turn lanes! It just kills me that people are so self-centered and rude...especially when they are just racing to the next light. I don't understand either.

    And I wouldn't even have a clue how to make yourself safer in that situation. I mean, it isn't like you can move over or anything.

    All I can say is please be safe. And honk little Billie's heart out. :)


  14. Hi SonjaM!

    Yeah, it was an interesting experience. That damn clip played over and over and over in my head for days.

    It just kills me still that I absolutely couldn't figure out how to get off my bike! I mean, I used to be an EMT, but you don't usually figure about coming on the scene of a family member. I was just so shocked. But it is over now...

    Until you hear what Oilburner did today... I'm trying to convince him to write a guest blog.

    And yes, poor Sporty. Oilburner loved that bike. The color was so deep and vibrant. And it was fast! Such a shame.

    I hope that you never have to experience anything like this with hubby. And hopefully you will do a better job confronting the situation than I did :). Like when you held it together getting whacked by that board on Nella.


  15. Hi RichardM,

    I'm devastated to hear of the girl in your group being hit by the mirror. Was she OK? That is serious business. We had a friend killed on his bicycle in January this year. Cars and Motorbikes are bad. Cars and bicycles? Worse.

    I am seriously glad that you were able to mostly avoid that log. That would be scary! Were you or the bike damaged?

    On the MS ride this year I saw a bale of pine straw come off a trailer and miss a bicyclist by about 20 feet. That one had me thinking...

    Just have to be so darn vigilant! Thanks for sharing. Gives more ideas on things to watch out for, doesn't it.

    Be safe!


  16. Hi Raftnn!

    Thank You! Kinda like your write up on your employee Alex. Just a general reminder to keep your head about you.



  17. Hi Bobskoot!

    You said it! It is so difficult to watch something unfold that you cannot do anything about. I just kick myself that I lost it so easily and completely! My EMT training had definitely left me that day. But family vs stranger are very different situations.

    I know, I know...wasn't anything I could "legally" do if I had caught up to that driver. That is why I backed off. But it still soured my mood for quite a few hours. I just couldn't seem to let it go. Took some wonderful strawberry martinis that evening to get over it. ;)

    I hope you never experience this! But I am glad that I was able to convey the happenings so well that you were there in spirit.



  18. Hi RayW!

    Thank you for stopping in. But I don't want to scare your friend off with the first post that she reads! LOL. Please explain to her that these are avoidable situations if you are aware of your surroundings. But that is also what good friends like you are for when she does get on the road to gain experience.

    Hiram is a nice area. I've liked it every time I've gone through. Good people. Ever eat at Benson's Grill at 1856 Hiram Douglasville Hwy? Great Philly Cheesesteaks!

    Yeah, you wouldn't think someone could miss a purple Harley do you?

    Where is your review on the Harley? I know what my opinions of them are. LOL

    Thank you for taking the time leave a comment and pass my blog on.


  19. Hi Lori!
    My review of the ride on my friend's Sportster can be found here: was all in good fun. But I do love to give him a hard time about his bike. He can sure ride the heck out of it though. He's up over 30,000 miles on it already. I need to ride mine more to keep ahead of him. LOL


  20. for my other friend that is wanting to start riding. She used to be an EMT also and is really good at keeping calm even in that kind of situation. And with two boys she had a lot of experience keeping calm in the midst of family emergencies!

  21. After reading through your post I'm telling myself to breath deep and slow.... Ok, my anger about the idiot drivers is going down a bit.

    I want to suggest three things if you should ever catch up to the guy that passed you;
    1 - before you even get close, power down your cell phone completely.
    2 - change your clothes and dispose of the 'soiled' ones when you are done.

    3 - thank you for cleaning up the gene pool just a little bit.

  22. Lori:
    No damage to me or the bike. This happened thirty years ago and I was riding uphill (as usual) so not going very fast. The teenager hit with the mirror, not so lucky. She was in in and out of the hospital for almost a year before being able to continue on with life. They never found the driver of the van.

  23. Lori:
    In answer to your question, by using your mirrors effectively, you can not only see where vehicles are relative to you, you can also see their positioning and movements which might indicate a potential threat. If they're close enough, you might also see inattention through talking to a passenger, on a mobile phone etc. This enables you to plan your position for best outcome.

    Your mirrors also have significant blind spots (get someone to walk behind you to see just how big they are. Because of this and the training I've recently received, I now do a huge amount more physical shoulder checks and lifesavers (a full rearward glance)before changing road position or at motorway on and off=ramps etc.

    Hope this all makes some sense!

  24. Lori:
    In answer to your question, by using your mirrors effectively, you can not only see where vehicles are relative to you, you can also see their positioning and movements which might indicate a potential threat. If they're close enough, you might also see inattention through talking to a passenger, on a mobile phone etc. This enables you to plan your position for best outcome.

    Your mirrors also have significant blind spots (get someone to walk behind you to see just how big they are. Because of this and the training I've recently received, I now do a huge amount more physical shoulder checks and lifesavers (a full rearward glance)before changing road position or at motorway on and off=ramps etc.

    Hope this all makes some sense!

  25. Holy crap, Lori!

    Take it easy! I've been in your shoes before. I was never hit from behind, but I was tailgated pretty hard on the way to work one day and literally stopped in the middle of the road, ready to pull my helmet off and then I don't know what. I was furious, he was that close. Instead, this guy just pulled around me and laid on the gas. He had a motorcycle sticker in his rear window. Seriously.

    These days I go pretty zen about things, if someone wants to go around, I make it easy, just slow down and pull way over. It's saved me a lot of hassle and stress. It took a few pissed off affairs to get that straight - though the texting affair sends me mental.

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life