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I'm writing this for a few reasons: #1: This appears to be a pretty mature board that has a certain level of respect for the road. #2: There's something to be learned from every crash. My hope is that some others get to learn from the mistakes of others (ie: me).

The Date: April, 2004.
The Bike: 1995 Kawasaki ZX11
Riding Experience: appx 42,000 miles over 3 years + a day at Jason Pridmore's STAR School (HIGHLY Recommended)

I am an "all conditions" rider. Wet or dry, cold or warm. As long as it's over 32 degrees I ride. I do not fear the road: I respect it. Every road is ridable under the right conditions & gear. (Heh, ever watch motorcycle ice racing? Now THAT'S racing!)

Back to the crash. I was commuting from Anaheim Hills into downtown Los Angeles at 6pm for a business meeting. It was clear, sunny, and 85 degrees. Conditions were perfect. I was just coming off of a Jason Pridmore STAR School day (two days prior) and was feeling really, really good about myself and my riding. I was on the 105-110 Carpool super-overpass and had just reached the top apex of the connector. There was NO traffic. I was moving at about 85mph (don't gripe dog about the speed, this is standard cruising speed on SoCal highways.) and was fully aware of my surroundings.

Now let me tell you about the carpool connector. It goes from the leftmost lane and arcs about 100 FEET into the air, HIGH over all the other freeways below. This connector is well over 1/2 mile long. It's concrete, lightly banked and heavily raingrooved. Coming down the ramp there is a merging lane - a carpool to carpool merge lane.

At the top of the overpass I make my gradual right turn and start coming down the ramp to the 110 freeway. To my left I see a car, Ford Taurus I think, about 100 yards ahead of me. If I maintain my current speed we will both end up occupying the same space - which, as any physics teacher will tell you, is not a good thing. Two choices stand out in my head:

1. Nail the throttle and blast past the car at 120 + (trust me, on a ZX11 this is so stinking easy...)
2. Brake a bit and let the guy in.

Now I wasn't in a particularly aggressive mood that day so I opted for the later. Two fingers on the front brakes, maybe 40% braking pressure. I bring the pressure up to around 60% pressure and then all hell breaks loose. The front wheel locks up at somewhere around 70 mph and I am slammed to the ground in a millisecond. I land on my side and start to roll/tumble down the road at a violent pace.

At 70 mph the bike was moving at approximately 96 feet per second. On impact I started rolling, as best I can figure, at a rate of around 30 tumbles per second. I stopped rolling some 150+ yards later, face down in a fetal position. My glasses were resting on the inside of my faceshield. I got up on my hands and knees and looked left only to see my ZX11 still sliding down the ramp. I looked right - thankfully no cars were coming. And I immediately knew there was something very, very wrong with my ankle.

And I vividly remember my mental thought pattern:
1. Front tire locked "Oh nuts" went through my brain. Exactly those words.
2. Hitting the deck "This is going to hurt".
3. Tumbling at 70 mph "Remember when I was young? I used to look at the dryer and think about climbing into it and having my sister hit the spin cycle. Guess what? It's over-rated." (seriously, that actually went through my head.)

I got up and staggared off to the side of the road. Mind you, I'm still on the super-overpass, some 75 FEET off the ground. A couple seconds later a car appears at the top of the ramp and I can see two guys (Hispanic, nice guys too) chatting away with each other before the driver hits the brakes and immediately pulls over.

The driver makes one comment "Dude, it sure is a good thing you were wearing THAT jacket! I would never have seen you without it!" - I was wearing a Hi-Viz Aerostich Roadcrafter.

I'm seriously shaken here. I know I'm amped on adrenaline and I have about 20 minutes before whatever pain I'm in truly sets in. Time for damage assessment.

The Gear:
1. Shoei RF1000
2. Held Steve Gloves
3. Aerostich Roadcrafter Jacket (With Vanson 4-plate back protector retrofitted into place)
4. Firstgear leather overpants (no armor) over jeans
5. BMW GoreTex touring boots.

Immediately I know something is wrong with my right foot. It's not broken, but soemthing is very wrong with it. I don't dare take the boots off - better to keep whatever is wrong tied up in the boot for support.

The Jacket: Aerostich & the Vanson back pro saved my bacon. The left arm was shredded straight through the top layer of 1000d cordura but did not penetrate the secondary layer of 500d cordura. Left shoulder patch was blasted free, but did the job. The back of the jacket looked like I encountered a knife fight: there were several 6-8" long serations horizontally across the back of the jacket. The Hardshell Vanson Back Pro saved my back from any impact damage.

The gloves: I landed palm first on the ground. The impact of the fall was so severe that a nickel sized patch of skin was literally blown off the palms of both hands like a deep blister popping. You can read more about the gloves at my website: http://www.lengtheningshadows.com/HeldSteve.html
Bottom line: these gloves did their job.

The overpants: prevented any roadrash, but they blew apart on 3 seams. I won't buy Hein Gericke stuff again - the seams just don't cut the mustard. Also, my knees took a pounding - armor would have been a big plus. However there was no lower body damage.

The Helmet: my head NEVER touched the ground. Seriously. Go figure. Not a scratch anywhere on it.

The Boots: The BMW GoreTex boots lacked ankle supports ala Sidi Vertabrates or A* race boots. Somehow when I landed I torqued the snot out of my foot to the extent that it tore the ankle up. Excellent boots but they weren't designed to take twisting crashes like that. I have since replaced the boots with BMW Transition Two's - which look like Roller-blades in the way the ankle supports are.

Other than the foot and my palms, the ONLY other damage to me were a couple of rug burns on my elbows where the jacket shifted under impact and a rug burn on my knees where my jeans shifted under the leather pants.

So yeah, I walked away from a 70 mph freeway crash with little more than a couple of rug burns and a bunged up foot.

Crash Analysys:

1. This was 100% rider error. I braked too hard for the given conditions.
2. Concrete has MISERABLE adhesion characteristics. Rain Grooved concrete has even worse adhesion characteristics. Remember this. I flat out misread the road. There was no oil or debris.
3. My gear saved I disagree. I'm a Gear Nazi. A firm believer in ATGATT.
4. ABS would have saved my bacon in this exact situation.
5. Unless your name is Rossi or are blessed with a kind angel, if you lock a front tire at speed you are going down. No male bravado BS here - I was down and on the ground instantaneously. There was NO chance for any reaction time.

The Kicker:
the concrete. I had a chance to walk the area of the crash while I was waiting for the cops, the ambulance (which drove right past me - go figure), and the tow truck. Remember how I said the concrete was raingrooved? Go to your kitchen and grab a fork and look at the tines on the fork. I'm not kidding when I tell you the rain grooves were 1/8" deep, razor sharp, and looked like the tines on a fork. Post analysis on my tires (fresh Bridgestone BT020's with 1000 miles on them) showed several DEEP cuts across the tread on the front tire. When I applied the brakes, I was essentially trying to brake on top of lengthwise razor blades. The tires cut and lost traction.

But what actually caused the ultimate lock-up was an expansion joint in the freeway that was 1.5" high (necessary for earthquake movement here in SoCal). As I was braking I hit the expansion joint which unweighted the front tire JUST ENOUGH coming off it to lock the tire. There simply wasn't enough available traction to get the front wheel rolling again. I was instantly down.

Moral of the story: learn to read the road my friends. Prior to the crash I had absolutely no idea that concrete & rain grooves meant drastically reduced traction.

I have spent the last 40,000 miles of my riding career learning how to read roads. I've learned how to guage road conditions by ambient tempurature, types of tires, asphalt, debris, color, and more. I've learned that polarized glasses don't work on a motorcycle as they hide the reflections caused by tar snakes and deeper standing water. I've learned that shadowed curves are dangerous early in the morning because they may contain dampness or frost early in the morning, and often have leaves that can't be seen through a dark shield. I've learned that green means moss and that moss is stupidly slick.

There's much to learn in riding. The truth is that we enjoy a sport that has a very steep and often deadly learning curve. Ride safe, and ride with enough margin for error on the street to get home safely. Save the true heroics for the track.

Peace.
 

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Thanks for sharing your experience. It's interesting how a crash like that can turn a rider into a safe riding fanatic. I'm much more safety conscious after I crashed three years ago.

I don't generally trust freeway concrete, especially the stuff with rain grooves. I'll be sure to trust it even less in the future.

And you should consider sharing this story on the Motorcycle Safety Forum at http://www.msgroup.org

Oh, and you need to get a Ducati. ;)
 

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Fantastic post, thanks for sharing. I am going to put a link for this in "Crash Analysis: What did you learn?" since that thread is stickied.
 

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Excellent write up. It takes a lot of huevos to really dig deep and figure out where things went wrong (i.e. where we screwed up), but without that we can never progress as riders. Too often I see young guys just blaming their crashes on the other guy, the road, the squirrel, whatever and end up learning nothing.

Sounds like a truly horrific crash, but the gear did what it should.
 
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Thanks for an excellent crash analysis. [clap]

I have now read it a couple of times and the second read I found myself acknowledging the stuff I've already experienced for myself, and more importantly taking heed of the stuff I had no idea about. I had no idea about the perils of polarised glasses, nor about the lack of traction on concrete roads. Here in Australia we do not (AFAIK) have groved concrete, but all the rest very much applies.

Thanks again.
 
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