March 18, 2012

Slip and Slide; crash testing Zorak


I spent Saturday morning running through the Santa Cruz mountains on the way to meet up with a "True Grit" rain or sun ride with a group of hardcore motorcycling enthusiasts. They will often ride in gnarly conditions to learn more about available traction while practicing advanced bike control, and just to have a good time challenging the weather while most folks stay inside (roads are typically more empty, almost no bicyclists, etc). Unfortunately, I didn't quite make it to the starting point of the ride and ended up calling it an early day. I crashed.

I had been having premonitions of a crash for about the last week, no doubt brought upon by reading through a couple crash threads on Barf and watching numerous youtube vids of people losing it on Mulholland in LA (plus some Ghost Rider vids for good measure - hey, I like to have some background media streaming while I go to sleep). I'd been feeling like I'd overstepped my boundaries a few times, not because of any fear exhibited on previous rides, but simply because I had been "enjoying the ride" so much lately, tearing through tires and achieving wear patterns on the front that I'd been unable to on different machines. My finesse and ability to trail brake had greatly improved as I spent more time on the bike, and the front Michelin PP 2CT had progressively gotten better and better as the tire wore into a sharper "V" shape.

I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I mentioned this to my riding buddy when we met up that morning at the Chevron on 19th/Junipero Serra - that I was going to "take it easy and ride slow today, because I didn't feel like pushing.". Did I psyche myself out before I had even turned a wheel this weekend, or was I preparing myself because of my gut feeling? I consider myself to be a very competent and experienced rain rider, and the more extreme a road, the more I want to conquer it. I am comfortable with splitting lanes, tight spaces, and putting the machine where and how I want it to be, and I've become something of a mountain specialist over the years. I have learned over time to trust my instincts and have developed a feel for traffic patterns and road conditions that has kept me safe for many years and many miles, both commuting and "recreational riding". Maybe it's because I'd just written about Rain Riding that I felt encouraged or emboldened to tackle the mountain yesterday, after 5 days of heavy rain had fallen on the Bay Area.

Another Barfer just posted a video of the True Grit ride that day. This is the slush that I managed to "avoid" by falling down just as the Skyline was transitioning from cold and wet, to fully frozen and nasty!

I've been reviewing the crash event in my mind's eye for the last two days, because I feel it's very important to analyze everything. Lessons can always be learned and that's what makes a crash valuable in the long run - understanding how and why it happened, and considering possibilities if I'd been able to do something differently. It also lead to some contemplation about the amount of trail that I've got on the current bike (I'm at the maximum with my rear ride height at its lowest configuration) , and I re-checked my settings to see if there was anything out of the ordinary. Crashing is humbling, and it's an excellent reality check.

After having been involved with, and repairing so many crashed bikes in GP, it's fairly simple for me to quickly deduce any and all safety concerns and what is "mission critical" for the machine versus what is simply cosmetic damage. I spent years in motorcycle dealerships rebuilding crashed bikes (police bikes, too), so it's just another part of the game . . . .

Ride, Rinse, Repeat = insert unspoken "Repair" anywhere in the order - it just goes without sayin' - and for a gear head, it's half the fun. The other half is using it!

I apologize for the quality of these pictures; my hands were pretty wet and it was storming, so I didn't get many (and the ones I did are pretty lame; didn't even remember to use the HDR functionality). I wish I'd had the forethought to take my time setting up some better shots of the area, and the 1" of hail buildup that was on 35 (about 5 miles worth according to others that were riding that day). It must have looked magical. I'd already removed my helmet and the hail and freezing rain coming down made for an unhappy Liam, plus, I'd managed to fall into the large puddle with patches of ice floating in it, so pretty much it was a miserable time to be standing around taking pictures.

How it all went down:
A few seconds after I picked myself up off the ground, I starting walking over to Devin and he literally jumped when there was a loud thunderclap that felt like it was just a few corners away. BOOM! The skies were grey and white, and I hadn't even noticed any flashes of lightning until that moment. We ducked under the car port of the home at the corner and waited while the hail really started to come down. I wanted to have a smoke, assess any body damage to myself, and observe my heartrate, which remained remarkably slow despite the adrenalin rush that had to have happened when I hit the asphalt. I think I was more frustrated with myself than anything, because we were in process of pulling off the road because Devin thought he might have had a rear flat because he had no feeling with it. A few corners earlier on a very gentle right hander at moderate acceleration I had the rear step out on me, wiggle wiggle squirm, but assumed it was standing water or maybe a bit of moss/algae making that area slick. The temperature gauge on my trailtech read 54 degrees at that moment, so I wasn't expecting any ice further into the mountains.

Coming around the left hander (Swett road) at about 35mph est, I noticed Devin had slowed and was pulling off the road, so I gradually started to stand the bike up, plan my exit strategy, and began aiming towards the crest of the corner just before the apex. I felt the front wheel lose traction as I backed off the gas and I felt like I started to fall in to the left. It wasn't a full tuck, because the tire didn't fold into the turn (left), it was just a slide - but it caught me by surprise because it was happened faster than I anticipated. What made it odd was that both tires seemed to lose grip at roughly the same time, so I didn't have a clear sensation of one wheel going a different direction than the other - it just felt like the entire bike was moving diagonally towards the outside of the corner. I instinctively counter-steered a little to try and bring the bike inline and more upright and I felt the front wheel regain traction and help stand the bike back upright. I was then headed straight, towards the large puddle of slush just over the crest (raised area at the outside of the corner) but I was moving faster than I wanted to. I'd lost about 3/4 the width of the lane having started the slide from just outside the area that a car's left tires would be traveling, and probably about 5 bike lengths (checked the tire marks in the slush afterwards). I applied the front brake and began slowing, standing up a little on the pegs because I was preparing to ride into and through the puddle (made up of uneven potholes). About 2 feet from the white line at the edge of the road I lost traction again at the front again, and this time the bars instantly went full lock to the right. WTF! I didn't think I'd pulled the brake lever that hard, but I looking back, I have noticed my bike does have a tendency to headshake more than I'd like because I don't have a steering damper mounted (reason for this is because I don't believe a motorcycle needs one, and I like the action of the bars moving when I lift the wheel on bumps and over rises. I'm now reconsidering . . . and have plans for a unique mounting design that will accentuate the overall look of the front end). I'm also wondering if the cold temperatures and wet gloves could have numbed my fingers to the point where I didn't have accurate feeling in them, and over braked for the situation. I was wearing rubber/latex gloves underneath my winter gloves to help insulate my hands and keep them dry (a trick I learned from the racetrack - you never see professional riders using winter gloves, do you?).

I released the brake, cursed in my helmet, but wasn't able to straighten the bars as I went over the crest - and continued sliding completely forward while the bars were still turned. The camber of the up/down crest meant that my bike (still at full lock right) was going straight but down hill with camber to the right this time. I still thought I was going to be able to save it. I straightened the bars and tried to apply the front brake again, but I don't think I gave the tire enough time to bite in, or didn't didn't read the bike's feedback well enough to ascertain how much traction was available, because touching the brake immediately brought the bars back to full lock right. Again!

I finally regained traction when the bike's frame slider dug into the ground , right mirror folded back and handlebar digging in and adding a small twist to the whole event. @&*#$%@%^*!@%&#%)@#%$*MuthaFu@#$(*(&#$(*!!!!!!!! Sigh. Deep Breath, damage control, self control, next steps.

I superman'd my way off the bike, landing mostly outside the puddle on my palms and basically belly-flopping onto the ground. If I'd released the bike earlier, I probably could have jumped and tucked into a ball, or landed on my feet a little bit, but I held on until the bar hitting the ground caused me to let go and sail (bounce) away. With all the concentration I was giving towards keeping the bike on two wheels, I didn't not have any mental currency to spend on bodily preservation, but years of mini-moto crashes and a lot of dirt crashes had prepared my body for what was to come. Relax. It's always a shock when the moment comes, and by moment, I mean the point in time when everything slows down. For me, this was during the crossed up slide I had going over the crest - things felt like they were moving with such agonizing slowness. I distinctly remember asking myself if I should straighten the bars or just try and ride the bike forward with the bars to the right as I was already doing. I did manage to get them straight, if only for a split second, but I out rode myself and probably rushed the moment because at that point, the bike wasn't tilted towards the ground. Lesson learned, relax more if possible.

I immediately got up, stood the bike up from the ride side (so awkward, and then reaching over the seat to pull out the kick stand, oh soooo awkward), and started walking away towards Devin. We stood under the car port for about ten minutes watching the hail and increasingly heavy rain come down, and once I'd finished my cigarette I got out my iphone. Just getting it lit was a chore, with my smokes in a damp box, inside a plastic sandwich baggy, with wet fingers. Bic lighter was in my back pocket in yet another sandwich baggy. iPhone was in my upper chest pocket in a sturdier ziplock bag, around a thinner non-sealed sandwich baggy. Wallet was double bagged, haha. Got baggies?

The view from the carport was actually pretty nice. Note the moss on the tree. This section of Skyline Blvd is just about the start of its own micro-climate. There are several tricky corners that I know to watch out for, but in the dry/warm, this curve can be taken at freeway+ speeds.


That's ice/snow/sleet/slush in these pics. I don't know what you'd call it, because growing up in Hawaii the only similar substance that I know of is Shave Ice.


About ten minutes of hard rain had washed much of the hail away. They were the size of BB's, and they stuck together. Perhaps it was a case of running over a hard floor covered with marbles? Both gloves were damaged, the palms were roughed up and I tore the left thumb. They still work, though, so I'll probably just stitch up the tears for now. Finding the right gloves is difficult, because my palms are a lot wider than my fingers are long (block hands), but the water-proofing of these is gone so it's time to start the search.


Brushed some hail off my seat and checked the temperature gauge on the Vapor Trailtech . . . which now read 43 degrees. Windchill would bring that number down.


Ice puzzle in the puddle of doom:


I've already posted this photo before, but it shows the fold up/breakaway foot peg (and my once pristine brake lever tip). I've since angled the peg to fold up at closer to 30 degrees back instead of perpendicular to the ground.


Everything performed as expected or better than :)



1) The frame slider took most of the hit, though I lost just over 1/2" in length when comparing it to the undamaged left side one (thank goodness I had them mounted - I don't like the way they look so I had taken them off for the bike show last year, but put them back on once I started in the hills again). A new set is on its way; 21 USD shipped, eBay.

2) Carbon/Kevlar cover took the initial hit and some of the slide, and underneath, the outer clutch cover sacrificed itself to preserve the main clutch cover (keeping oil in the bike and debris out!). New outer aluminum cover is 32.68 USD, Ron Ayers. Carbon cover will be made in-house, by me :) and should be ready in a day or two.

3) CRG foldable front brake lever . . . . well, this part is simply going to be sanded smooth and scotch-brited. Some scars are good. As my old friend Martin (Mar-teen) would say, "Skoch-BREE-teh, Skoch-BREE-teh, Skoch-BREE-teh!".

4) Renthal Dual Compound Kevlar grips . . . 16.25 USD, Ron Ayers. I used some dykes to snip off the frayed edges and it looks fine. A quick shot with the air pistol and the grip is rotated so the damaged area isn't visible on the bottom of the handlebar.

5) Upgrade time! Plastic throttle tube from an '06+ R6 will be used to replace the '07 CBR1K one. This will act as a cheap quick throttle (60 degree turn (1/6) versus 90 degree turn (1/4 turn). 17.47 USD, Ron Ayers.

6) I have a spare rear brake lever already on the bike, but it's anodized back, so this "mis-match" will help make sure that I repair the original silver one and get it back on the bike. I'll machine up a new lever tip on the lathe to replace the broken one (or possibly source a folding tip from a motocross bike). The metal bearing the lever rides on is actually quite common and used on skateboards . . . should be just a few dollars to replace the bearing. 3 USD estimate.

7) Stainless Steel mounting bolt for foot peg . . . in my spares box at the garage. Probably less than 3 dollars.

8) Roll pin for the breakaway foot peg, 17 cents, haha. Already knocked the broken one out and replaced. No real damage to the peg itself or plastic spring retainer. These are available on the 1098/1198R model Ducati's, and Desmosedici's. The pegs are ergal/hard anodized and the mounting base is titanium. Very easy to adapt to most brands of rearsets (can be adapted to fit on stock rearsets, as well).

9) Handlebar got ground a little, but this is almost undetectable. I'll smooth the rough edges with a file and sand it smooth. To insure it doesn't happen again, I modified some nice rounded delrin endcaps to fit the Easton motocross bars. A little extra crash protection never hurt anyone. Free.

10) Ducati Street Fighter/Monster mirror got scuffed up. I'm still deciding whether or not to sand it down and media blast it. The left side bears the marks of several SUV/Truck mirrors from lane splitting, so I'm not too concerned with keeping these pristine.

Total: 93.57 USD.

The long handlebars did their job and kept the bike from laying on the frame and tank. The frame slider helped. The footpeg folded up and absorbed kinetic energy. I had added three washers to the mounting base to extend the peg out slightly, 1) to keep my heels off the exhaust pipe when riding, and 2) when the peg is folded up, it's still outboard enough to keep the exhaust pipe and muffler off the ground. I might try to design in some additional protection for the large clutch cover, perhaps something similar to the Yoshimura case savers. This is just another reason I prefer Street Fighters to full on race-replica Sport Bikes . . . It's like riding a giant BMX and there are no fairings to get destroyed!


The damage to my gear was pretty light, also. The rain on the ground meant less friction to tear my textile clothing. My pant's right pocket zipper broke off and the thigh got a little rashed; my vest got
the worst of it, with a ground down button and some cuts through the ripstop nylon material. I'll consider patching it, but I'll probably stitch it up with a needle and thread and call it a day. Gloves, as mentioned, are pretty thrashed, so they'll eventually be replaced. I'll probably start to keep an eye out for another vest, too, maybe something tactical based?


I re-aggravated an old wrist injury from Stockton Motorplex and bruised my right palm. I have some muscle soreness at the front of my right shoulder which feels like I tore something, and some small deep bruising of my upper right femur where it meets the hip socket. Actually, my whole body is a little stiff and sore, but these are the things that stand out. A little ibuprofen and I'll be good to go.


I'm satisfied with this crash. Not happy, but satisfied. The conditions were tricky (Devin and I walked the crash scene and ran our boots over the ground - SLIPPERY, with slush everywhere)! The crash-worthiness I built into my ride worked as I wanted it to, and I rode out (yeah, to *$'s, hahaha).

Street - 1
Liam - 0

I'm fine, the bike is fine (will be back to awesome by week's end, waiting on parts). Do I feel bad about crashing? Not really. I know from experience that the unexpected is bound to happen. I'm not perfect, but I try pretty hard to be the best that I can be. I'm proud I was out there in the first place, and maybe a little embarrassed that I didn't make it cleanly through the day. I do consider myself to be very lucky that the damage to myself or my bike wasn't worse. I'll have a few hours fabricating a new carbon fiber clutch cover guard to think about Why I Ride, and I'll keep this memory in the back of my mind to remind me to stay vigilant when the conditions are changing and nasty. Most importantly:



Hey, we have matching frame sliders now!

Update: I went back the following weekend to retrace my route, through pouring rain and cold temperatures . . . enough that there was still some hail/slush on the road in more than a few corners. I did notice that I was putting more pressure on the bars through the corners than I had thought, probably because I wasn't using my core strength to support my bodyweight when I was hanging off the bike while trying to keep it as upright as possible. Rider error #1. Second rider error was misjudging the conditions and moving at too fast of a clip. When I re-rode the area this past weekend (granted, in lighter rain and slightly better conditions), I noticed I was traveling at 45+mph through most of the sections, so I now believe I was probably riding at this pace the weekend I crashed. I did try to run a few corners at lower speeds, and it was just too uncomfortable and awkward to poke along. Keep at it, keep it on two wheels, and never stop questioning and learning!

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