I met my wife for lunch in Marina del Rey about a week ago at Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch (good, but it was better last time I was there in the 90’s — and bigger). Afterward, she wanted to go to have some coffee at $tarbucks, so she drove over there in her car and I followed her on my bike.
We passed a Harley dealership along the way, and you all know how it is — you have to look it over as you pass: check out the scene, see what’s parked out front, what can you see in the windows, wonder if you should go in and buy something you don’t need, like a 2010 Street Glide or something. You know, the usual. So I’m doing this as I ride by and there’s a guy pulling out of the parking lot and it looks like he’s wearing a patch, so I’m checking him out and trying to get a better look at his back to see what club he’s with.
Then I happened to glance eyes-front again and–
Traffic had stopped. Not slowed down, but stopped. Stopped dead. And because I had been so busy eyeballing the guy pulling out of the dealership to actually watch where I was going, I was coming up on all the now-parked cars waaaay too fast, and I was going to drill my wife dead-bang center in the rear. (Pun definitely intended.)
Major pucker-factor set in. I grabbed a handful of front brake, stomped down way too hard on the rear brake, locked up the rear wheel, and my rear end started kicking out to the right. I found myself skidding sideways toward certain pain.
Time stopped. Well, maybe not stopped, but it definitely slowed way the fuck down. I’ve found that whenever I get in a pucker moment like this on the bike, my mind races through all the possibilities, projecting “Here’s what’ll happen if I do this, here’s what’ll happen if I do that,” etc… I can run through a dozen possibilities in a split-second, charting out all the possible outcomes up to and including lying in hospital beds with various limbs in casts. I can even feel the pain of each potential injury. It’s a talent.
So in the first oh-shit moment of realizing that my wife was stopped dead right in front of me and I was going to, uh, “take her from behind,” I could see that it was inevitable. I played it out in my head, from grabbing all the brakes I could, to slowing down as much as physics would allow but still not nearly enough, to slamming into the rear of her car anyway, crumpling the front forks, and getting launched over the handlebars like a tubby, middle-aged, doesn’t-pay-attention-at-critical-moments rocket. There was no escaping it: I WAS going to hit her, I was going to hit her HARD, and there was nothing I could do about it. I ran through all the possibilities and they all ended with a crunching sound and me flying over the trunk and crashing through the rear window.
So I just sat there for a few interminable milliseconds, frozen, skidding toward the rear of my wife’s car with the rear wheel drifting out further and further to the right, the bike starting to want to tuck under and low-side, and I waited for the inevitable to happen in complete and utter passivity.
Then a voice spoke up in the back of my head. It told me not to be an asshole. It told me to not just be a passenger, but to DO something. “Don’t just watch it happen,” it said, “Do SOMEthing.”
Well, okay. That was solid advice. So it occurred to me that taking my foot off the rear brake so I could stop skidding sideways might be helpful. Also, steering the front wheel away from certain collision with the car could be a plus. So I did both those things.
Now, releasing the rear brake in a slide like that can have a downside: a high-side. And that’s almost what happened to me — but in a good way. When I finally got off the rear brake, the rear tire suddenly caught traction and jerked the bike upright, but just enough to get me back over the center of gravity. It also snapped me out of the drift I was in and swung the rear wheel back around behind and in line with the front wheel. And since the front wheel was now aiming around the car instead of into it, that redirected my momentum around the car. So almost high-siding worked in my favor — but I don’t recommend trying it at home.
The end result was that I missed clipping the rear bumper by maybe an inch. The way the back wheel was drifting out and then snapped back around when the tire caught traction, it was almost as though I were tracing the rear of the car. The bike straightened out just as I was about to hit, then flirted around the left corner of the bumper so closely that I thought I was going to lose my leg on it. Then I was around it and flying past my wife’s door and wondering how the hell I had missed nailing her.
I made a U-turn and circled back to pull up next to my wife, laughing like a maniac, feeling like I had just cheated death (again). When I pulled up next to her, her eyes were as big as saucers. “I’m SO sorry!” she said. “That was totally my fault!”
And that’s when I made the real mistake: I told her it was my fault and explained what happened. You’d think 15 years of marriage would have taught me not to argue, especially when I started out winning…
Lesson learned: Know when to shut up, watch where you’re going, and if you’re going to almost crash your bike after you’ve already almost killed yourself crashing your bike, don’t do it around your wife.