Lucky Break

Story by Clinton Smout//
July 1 2009

I knew it was going to hurt long before I landed on the ground. Falling off motorcycles seemed so much easier when I was younger. You would think that the more experienced we riders become, the chance of falling off would decrease. I started riding just after gasoline replaced steam so I should be incredibly talented by now.

I have heard voices in my head for a very long time. One voice is quite young—brave to the point of being foolish—and manages to rationalize stupid ideas and decisions. I guess that is my ego’s voice. The other more experienced voice is now fifty-years-old. It’s my voice of reason, wisdom and caution. My two voices fight constantly over most things I do. Not out loud. That would be crazy. Deciding which bike to buy, or how many cookies to have, is a pretty chaotic battle in my head.

Last July, the younger stupid voice was quite loud when my sixteen-year-old son passed me on his bike. I should have said to myself, “Wow. Look how fast and smooth Ian is now. I am so proud of him.” Instead I said, “Look at that punk! He’s only been riding for ten years and he’s faster than I am. Come on let’s catch him.”

The pain was intense, as was the bruising of my ego. I didn’t actually crash, but instead, put my foot down to avoid tipping over. I thought I broke my leg. Luckily it was just a torn meniscus membrane in my knee.

Now I can honestly say that you never appreciate your armpits until you are on crutches. I wasn’t able to ride street or dirt bikes for a month. I kept a low profile at work, not wanting to greet the students taking the rider training course as the ‘chief instructor on crutches.’

As our population ages like me, our health care system is very busy so I found out. From the time I tried to get into see a knee specialist to surgery it would have been over one year of waiting. I was lucky that I could fit into cancellation times for an MRI at 3 a.m. Lucky again that I was available when they called to fill a surgery cancellation. Most of all, I feel lucky to have received expert care without paying a cent (except for my fancy aluminum crutches). The same MRI, meeting with specialists and an operation would have cost over $20,000 in the United States.

I am back riding again, both street and dirt. At fifty, with a less than perfect knee, I find the ride much more comfortable if I stretch before riding. As an instructor, I’m lucky to be able to ride five days a week and it only takes me a few minutes to warm up by gently stretching using my bike. Before I get on, I lift one leg up onto the seat. Then I try and bend down touching my chin to the knee of my straightened leg. After switching legs I sit on the bike, hands on the bars and elbows up. My neck and shoulders feel better after trying to stretch my chin first over to the clutch side grip and then over to the throttle. My third warm up stretch is putting my fingertips onto the grips and gently bending them backwards. Lastly, I roll my neck by trying to touch my shoulder with my ear. I am told that you want to avoid aggressive stretching. Keep your warm up gentle and don’t push anything that hurts.

If you are hurting during the ride, pull over and walk it out. My right knee now locks up after an hour in the same riding position. I have to stop and stretch it out. Many of us buy a bike that our eyes love in the showroom only to find that it doesn’t fit us ergonomically when we are riding. Sit on the bike for as long as you can in the showroom. Imagine sitting for hours in that position. If your knees are around your ears, then your leg muscles will be screaming at you long before you need to fuel up.

I was really close to buying my dream bike last year. It was the fifty-year anniversary, yellow special edition Yamaha R6. My buddy, Dave, from Parker Bros. Powersports in Toronto took the bike in on trade and knew I had the Kenny Roberts jacket that matches the bike. He let me test ride it and my ego loved it, but the old voice kept speaking louder about how all the weight was on my wrists unless I was accelerating. No problem the ego said, ‘keep accelerating’. Sure and we won’t have a license to ride with said the voice of reason. I took the bike back to Dave and bought a used FZ1 that fits me perfectly.

I now have a fancy knee brace, which is like the upgraded suspension in my ‘new to me’ bike. The previous owner put progressive fork springs in the front and upgraded the rear suspension. Like my improved suspension, the knee brace protects me in case I bottom out. If your bike wallows around on corners and dives down too much when braking or over bumps, maybe it’s time to visit your dealer. You might just need new fork seals or fresh fork oil. Suspension components gradually weaken over time so you might not notice the reduction in ride quality.

Do you think our egos can cause accidents? My injury taught me a few things.

1) I think that we sometimes ride over our skill level to keep up with others.

2) Sometimes we buy the wrong bike or riding gear by listening to the wrong voice.

3) Sometimes we tell ourselves we can still do things that we used to do as younger riders.

4) Sometimes we show off and then fall off.

I hope to be riding and talking to myself long into old age. I am sure that the best therapy for the voices in my head is to go riding! MMM

Ride safely!

Clinton Smout, Chief Instructor

Canadian Motorcycle Training Services


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