Another Death by Carlos Alvarez

It's become a regular occurrence around here. Maybe it's just the season for it. Losing three riders in 6-7 weeks is a bit much. I hadn't posted about the other two, but will note them later in this post. Today I'm writing about a totally preventable death, caused by ego, lack of experience, ego, and lack of equipment. Oh, and ego was involved.

The rider had just bought an R6 (which has taken over for the CBR600 as the newbie/squid bike of choice). I don't know how many miles he had on it, but he'd only had it a couple weeks. No MSF, no other riding experience.

We left Tucson headed toward Patagonia. This route features a nice set of fast sweepers, along with a couple of tighter corners best experienced at 80-100. We had four people with us we didn't know well, two were experienced and two were not. We gave the usual talk about speed, knowing the corners, etc. We had a rider with a radio who agreed to bring up the rear no matter how slow they were, so everyone could feel comfortable going their own pace.

The R6 rider had a video camera on his back seat, taping our ride and some of the antics behind him. This also meant he thought it was appropriate to do stupid things, like riding down the middle of the pack at high speed, and passing the car in front of us on the right--just before the car made a right turn. That's when I decided to have a talk with him.

When we stopped on a lookout point on the road to Patagonia Lake, I basically told him he was going to die. I asked him to take it easy, get used to the bike. Offered an afternoon in a parking lot with some cones. He wasn't really hearing it. Another regular tried the same, with no apparent effect. Then one of his friends tried to talk with him, said he was getting too cocky with such a powerful bike, and asked him to back off and just follow the group.

He left the lookout point a few minutes later, to go retrieve something that fell out of his backpack. Meanwhile, we hung out, traded riding stories, etc. I had a talk with his friend on an EX250, who was also worrying me. He wasn't doing stupid things on purpose, just had no experience and not much for natural skill.

Sitting on the guard rail, I heard the R6 coming back. I told the group that we'd better move, as this was the spot where he was going to end up when he crashed. Josh, who had talked with the rider also, gave me some shit for being so negative. I think everyone else thought I was joking, but moved anyway. The R6 shortly came around the bend and up the hill to our right at about 45-50 MPH. Half-way through the curve, he panicked for no apparent reason, stood it up, and headed straight across the curve toward the rail, with the rear locked up. He low-sided just before the guard rail, and the bike bounced off of it into the road, exploding into pieces of plastic. The rider ended up against one of the wooden posts that support the rail, bent over backwards at a 90 degree angle around it. From my distance, it was obvious it was over for him. A couple of us who have EMT training tried resuscitation, but it was mostly for the benefit of the other people. He was gone instantly. Broken back, massive internal injuries. It became too dangerous to work on him, as he was aspirating large amounts of blood and fluid, so we called it at 4:53.

Would a $100 back protector have saved his life? No way to know for certain, but I am 90% sure it would have.

Would the $160 MSF class have saved his life? I'm pretty sure it would have, as he should have learned the proper use of the front brake instead of the rear. An experienced rider would have no problem stopping that bike in the distance he had available, but obviously not on the rear brake only.

As I later looked around at my fellow riders, I noticed an alarming lack of proper equipment. Thin, non-motorcycle jackets were the standard. People wearing Mechanix gloves, or none at all. Low-top tennis shoes seem to also be part of the motorcycle fashion. I was the one funny-looking guy in full leather with armor at every possible spot, a back plate, and proper gloves. Did talking to them do any good? Who knows. Some people actually whined about the price of good motorcycle gear, but nobody answered when I asked if they'd spend $100 to avoid ending up like our friend did that day.

Three weeks ago we lost another rider. He was experienced and talented, but his monstrous ego told him he was far more talented than he was. It was so well-known that his nickname was "faster-than-me John." When I first met him, he proceeded to let me know that his CBR929RR was faster than my XX. Whatever, I was not interested in finding out.

John was racing another XX down a long straight we frequent. However, at the end of that long straight is a stretch of shitty pavement, a lack of street lights, and a curve. The XX rider is another guy with huge ego, and neither of them could ever let the other pass. So they hit the curve way too fast, and John somehow went wide and hopped the curb, right into a telephone pole. He basically exploded inside his skin. There wasn't a single unbroken bone in his body. The skull was so mangled that I didn't know who he was for about an hour, until someone told me.

The 929 was split in two. One half of the bike went on each side of the phone pole. We estimated his speed at around 120+, though we don't know how much he slowed down (looked like he was on the brakes). There was no safety gear that could have saved him. In fact, John was the only other guy who regularly wore full leathers and all the proper gear. But his helmet exploded on impact, as hitting a pole at 100+ is not what they are designed to do.

Finally, there is the death of Mike. Everyone loved Mike, he was a great guy. Not very smart, but a good rider. Mike had no ambition and no money, so he was known as "half-bike Mike" for a while, with his missing bodywork on his CBR600F. Later we called him "stitch", as he attached all the bodywork with zip-ties through holes he drilled in the plastic. He couldn't really afford tires, so he used whatever he could scrounge up as take-offs and mount himself. Same for most other parts on his bike. Even brake fluid was recycled! He'd blown off a few tickets, and the cops had confiscated his license plate and written him more tickets.

Mike was taking some back roads (to avoid cops), when a drunk midget (also on back roads to avoid cops) did a left turn in front of him. Since Mike couldn't afford a visor on his helmet, who knows if he had decent visibility or not. He hit the drunk's SUV and sailed over it. His piece of shit helmet, which was not the proper size, came off. Mike died a few hours later of head injuries. His passenger, wearing no helmet, survived. He was in a coma, then a blubbering idiot for a few weeks, and is now making a painful recovery.

Two totally preventable deaths. One that may not have been preventable, except that Mike's cheapness casts a shadow on it. In addition to deaths, we've had quite a few injuries in the past year, most of them due to a lack of equipment.

Take the guy on the Hayabusa with no gloves, a t-shirt, and floppy shoes. Severe road rash on his arms and hands, multiple lacerations to same, and a mangled ankle. All easily prevented for just 5% of the purchase price of his bike.

Well, this post is already very long. If you've hung in here with me this long, please, think about your riding. You're probably not as good as you think you are. Have you bought all the proper gear? No, not "the best you can afford," but the proper gear PERIOD? Sell your bike, buy a cheaper one, and buy the right gear. Are you riding around with a $100 helmet because you can't afford a good one? Sell the bike. Got gloves out of the tool box or from Sears? Does your jacket say "Wilson's Leather" on it? If you can't afford to dress for the crash, you can't afford to ride.