A real pain: two weeks after the crash

I was buoyed by the amazing outpouring of messages on Facebook, SMSes, comments and kind emails. It made me think what a gorgeous bunch of people I know.

Microsoft kindly replaced the backpack that gave up its life to save mine
Figure: Microsoft kindly replaced the backpack that gave up its life to save mine

It’s been 2 weeks since my motorbike accident and I don’t feel much better yet. I have pain in my collar bone, thankfully my knees and elbows are fine now, and my gravel rash is fine, but nothing is like the pain in my ribs. Weirdly, a week after my accident, my right side went black and blue and gave my wife, Anastasia, a real fright. I am healing, but slowly.

I’ve discovered Anastasia was quite traumatized by the accident. It happened very close to our house and she came down and saw multiple ambulances and a crowd of one hundred people looking at me lying on the road. There was even one loud mum pulling her son out of bed, saying, “Look! This is why you don’t ride motorcycles!”

Anastasia asked the ambulance crew if they were taking me to the local Prince of Wales hospital in Randwick and was told, “No, he needs the trauma unit at St Vincent’s”. She got a big fright from that, and later she told me she was thinking the worst – that I was dead or going to be a paraplegic. We traveled separately to the hospital and once there, they kept her waiting for more than an hour and a half. She thought they were waiting for a counselor to come and give her very bad news.

I am out of bed and I can walk a little bit. Since I’m in pain, I figured I may as well be in pain at work, rather than lying at home as instructed. The difficult part has been getting to and from the office. I never realised that there were even bumps in Sydney roads, apart from the occasional pothole, which I think I must have only noticed a few times a year. Now I’m excruciatingly aware of every discrepancy in the roads’ surface, as even the slightest bump sends jolts of pain through my ribs.  It’s given me new empathy for people who are sicker and older than me who have to get around on uneven bumpy roads.

Andrew Coates drove me home from his user group in the city the other day – he has a real talent that I didn’t even know about: he can find every pothole from the city to Coogee! We were on a Skype call organizing speakers for the next NDC Sydney and everyone on the call could hear me howling in pain with each pothole he nailed.

I think in my last blog post I gave some “alternative facts”. When I went back to the accident scene, I saw a nasty skid mark, which made me rethink what probably happened during the accident. Lying in a hospital bed without a memory of the accident, it’s easy to justify that you’re an expert rider and the only way you could have had an accident is to intentionally throw the bike down. This rationalization made me feel better because I didn’t want to think that I locked up the wheel. I think now I probably got spooked by a car coming out of an intersection and grabbed a fistful of brakes, lost the front wheel and ended up rolling down the hill.

The guy who saw me at the intersection gave me a call and described it to me as, “Adam, it was like a Hollywood movie unfolding in front of me! There was this big unmanned bike sliding towards me with sparks coming out of both sides, smoke everywhere and the bike engine was going crazy, roaring its guts out. Behind the bike was a motorcyclist rolling down the street.”

Although he said the engine was going crazy, I don’t think that’s likely –  I think the roaring was just the normal sound of the bike (it is extremely loud!) and it had been modified by the shop I bought it from to make it even louder and more impressive (or maybe the roaring was just me screaming in manly pain)! 😃

My advice:

#1 – You shouldn’t buy a bike without ABS braking

#2 – If you’re riding a bike, especially a new bike, you need to learn its quirks. Find a good spot like a racetrack or even an empty parking lot, and start practicing. Accelerate to 40km/h and brake reasonably hard at the exact same spot each time. Rinse and repeat until you have reduced your braking distance as much as you can. You should be able to sense when the tires are on the edge of locking up, and if they do lock up, let it go. All good riders should be able to slow down and find an escape route. Alternatively, go to a riding school, pay a professional instructor for a day’s one-on-one training session on their off-road track with your bike.  They’ll correct little things that you aren’t aware of, that could be a life-saver one day

I always knew that the handling of my big bike was horrible but it never worried me too much because I’d never had to use it in an extreme situation. Obviously if you’re upright on the bike and you’re on your brakes, you can slow down a lot faster than a bike that is just sliding down the road.

#3 – Always wear protective gear. A few anti-motorcycle people have said some mean-spirited things which have gotten back to me – some about riding a bike at all, some about what an idiot I was to ride without protective gear. I get it that a lot of people have super-strong opinions about motorcyclists. That said, the second criticism is fairer than the first.

I almost always did wear protective gear – but of course one the time I most needed it, I didn’t. My office is undergoing renovations at the moment. Through a series of bad luck, my gear was mistakenly packed into a box and put in storage and the renovation has gone on longer than anybody expected. Like most disasters, this was a series of mistakes that nearly lead to a tragic outcome for me.

So these are my lessons learned the hard way:

#1 – Get a bike with ABS brakes

#2 – Practice the limits of your bike’s braking regularly

#3 – Always wear protective gear

I hope this advice is useful for other motorcyclists. Please, don’t put yourself or your loved ones through a serious accident.