RECIPE FOR ROADKILL (and the importance of what you wear)
It’s been a long time since I crashed a motorcycle. 45 years? Something like that. I’ve ridden tens of thousands of kilometres with the occasional scary moment, or stationary dropped bike, but I’ve been lucky enough to avoid crashing. It’s hard to claim that it’s all good management or skill. Luck plays its part as well, up to a point. All good things must come to an end eventually.
I do a lot of big-distance miles on my bikes. Always have. I ride a lot at night or in the early hours or late evenings. I accept the risks that are part and parcel of doing that and try to prepare for it in the best possible way. Good bike, good tyres, good lights and good riding gear are a natural function of endurance riding. So is fatigue management and ride-time selection, and even the choice of lower-risk roads when I can. It’s a system that has worked for me for many years. That is, until the sunrise hours of Sunday 7th April.
I took an early start out of Mansfield, Victoria with the intent of riding home via Wagga for a happy birthday lunch with my daughter. The temperature was pleasant-enough. The road was smooth but narrow and walled with scrubby trees and high embankments scattered along its path. There were light patches of fog and the sun wasn’t quiet fully up. I safely negotiated the first twenty or so kilometres from Mansfield to the B300 Midland Highway and the road to Benalla. It was getting light around dawn and my spotlights were becoming less-effective. No big deal. The sun would be at full brightness soon. I had already recognised the ‘critter-potential’ and had washed ten to fifteen kilometres off my speed in the 100 zone.
Deer are a problem on the B300, so I was extra-wary of them as I peered into the cone of light and prepared to brake for anything that might step out into my path
My LED spotlights were effective in the pre-dawn light as the intense white light tends to ‘light-up’ the shiny fur of all-sorts of critters, but particularly the kangaroos and wallabies that invariably stand a bit taller than the wombats and foxes. Deer are a problem on the B300, so I was extra-wary of them as I peered into the cone of light and prepared to brake for anything that might step out into my path. My secondary LED lights shine to the road verges, so I was well covered for visibility ahead.
An on-coming vehicle way off in the distance was generating its own cone of light in the now faint morning mist. Another set of good spotlights coming my way. We both dipped our lights to avoid blinding each other as we approached, but the lightening sky would soon make our auxiliary lights redundant. The road was fairly straight with a slight rise in the middle and a gentle corner at each end. The verge was narrow. The embankments beyond the verge sloped gently upwards on both sides of the road. I was in a miniature valley but felt comfortable with the view ahead.
Perhaps I should have left my spot-lights on a little longer. Perhaps, but I didn’t want to blind the on-coming driver. The large buck kangaroo appeared in front of me in an instant. It was clear he had come down off the scrubby embankment at full speed. It was clear that I had not seen him coming. It was clear that my failure to keep my lights on high for that one or two more seconds might now work against me. My later review of the scene indicated that I had done everything right and reasonable. Sometimes, that isn’t enough.
I saw the Roo directly in front of me and within touching distance on the other side of my windscreen. It was a split-second of awareness that this wasn’t going to be a good outcome. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. It didn’t happen in slow motion. The brightly lit tan-coloured hide shone glaringly against the BMW’s LED low beam, but only for a brief moment in time and space. The Roo was looking where he was going. The other side of the road must have been inviting or maybe there was a pack of Dingos on his arse. He was moving at full hop. I was moving at almost 90 kph. The collision was inevitable.
There are times in your riding life when you have close calls. Near-hits or near-misses. Call them what you will. I call them ‘Oh-shit’ moments. I didn’t have the time to say or think the ‘O’ in this ‘Oh-shit’ moment. The impact was more audible than visual. I heard the thud of the muscular body against my bike. I heard the shattering of plastic as the bike disintegrated in front of me. I heard the heavy crunch of the bike as it hit the road. I heard the grinding crash-bars as the bike spun away from me. My visual senses returned as I slid to a halt behind my now quiet bike. I had a flash-back of the last metre or two of the big BMW sliding down the road, pirouetting on its now well-worn crash bar. I remembered looking up while sliding on my back. The sky was getting quite blue now, but stars were still visible.
I lay there for a moment and then stood up. The medics would say that adrenalin kicked in. There was no pain, and nothing appeared to be wrong with me. I was still on the road. The bike was half-on and half-off the road. We had crossed to the wrong side and that was disorienting for a moment. The scratch-line of metal crash-bars was clearly visible down the road. The road was covered in pieces of plastic. Big panels and shattered remnants. We had only slid ten or twelve metres. The impact with the Roo had washed off an awful lot of speed. I saw him limping away at the top of the slope he had come from. ‘Bastard Roo’ I said to nobody.
The truck that I had dipped my lights for shot past as I waved him down. He slowed and turned around and came back. I was thankful for that. A young lady in a small car also stopped. I think she was in more shock that I was when she realised that the dark shape on the edge of the road was a motorcycle. Together we righted the bike. The truck was a Tip-Top Pantech and the contractor had a large hydraulic lift platform at the rear. We rolled the bike on, lifted it up and rolled it into the back. I collected the shattered remnants of my bike and joined him in the cab for the drive back to Mansfield. It felt good to talk about ‘lucky-escapes’.
It was clear that I had missed seeing the kangaroo. It was my fault. The claim would be ‘At-fault’ as far as insurance goes. You can’t sue a kangaroo. The scrubby slope down to the road didn’t help. The narrow verge of clear ground didn’t help. The reduced speed of travel didn’t help. My thoughtful dipping of high beam and spotlights didn’t help. The speed of the Roo didn’t help. In the world of risk management, we talk about ‘consequence’ and ‘likelihood’. The treatment of risk is a function of treating one or both of those things. I could have reduced the likelihood by staying in bed a little longer. I could have taken a different road. I could have travelled even slower. I could have travelled faster and not been at that place at that time. It is what it is. I was there, and it happened. The likelihood was high, and I accepted the risk. We all do.
The consequences, however, were envisaged and even planned for. I wear good gear when I ride. As the adrenalin hit wore off, I started to feel the soreness growing in my hand, wrist, elbow and hip. The impact with the Roo had been hard. The impact with the road had been hard. Why was I still around to talk about it? I looked at my riding gear after returning to Mansfield and parking the bike in front of the Police Station. I was hoping that they would have a compound where the bike could be stored until collected. It was interesting to note that they didn’t care about my accident and had no need to log a report. Single vehicles, no significant injuries and no other persons involved don’t rate a mention in the statistics. They were happy that I was ok, particularly given the state of the bike and my riding gear.
It became clear in subsequent days that ‘luck’ had played a part in my accident. The bike had taken the brunt of the hit of a very large Roo full on at the headlight. His shoulder had smashed the plastics, framing and spotlights forward of the headlight and then the headlight itself. His head had taken out the screen and instruments. His lower body and legs had stripped the forks of the fork-covers and mudguard. Part of him also took off the right-side tank covers and flicked the wheels out from under me. The hard hit with the road destroyed the right-side crash-bar and pannier bag. The initial impact had obviously jarred my right hand, wrist and shoulder. They were sore from the deceleration loads against the handle bar. The road impact was mostly taken by my right elbow and hip. Both were bruised and sore.
The consequences of the road impact were only reduced because of my gear. My gloves stayed on. My boots protected my ankles. My lovely BMW jacket was shredded and torn at the right elbow. The quality elbow armour had a small hole worn through it, but it had done its job in the hit and slide and I had no bloody grazes. Thankfully, the armour also stayed in-place at my elbow and had not moved inside the jacket. My BMW pants have hip armour. It’s a must. It stayed in place and allowed the outer material to shred on the coarse bitumen but protected my hip. Bruised and sore? Yes. Broken skin? No. The impact protection provided by quality gear cannot be underestimated.
I spent just enough time sliding on my back to tear some small holes in the rear of my jacket and to graze the back of my helmet. Back-armour saved my spine. The helmet would be throw-away regardless of any visible impact. I could do little to change the likelihood of this occurring, but I could do an awful lot about changing the consequences if it did happen. I walked away from a 90 kph hit with a kangaroo that stood as tall as my screen and weighed anything from 100 to 120 kilograms. I am under no illusion that a less-central impact with the bike may have had a much more damaging effect for me.
More importantly, I am comfortable in the fact that I spent a lot of money on quality gear that saved me considerable pain and suffering as a consequence of the impact with the road. Luck plays a part. I was lucky that the road was relatively straight, and I didn’t slide into Armco fencing or trees. I was lucky that there were no on-coming vehicles close enough to hit me as I slid across the wrong side of the road. I was lucky that I was wearing gear that did what it was supposed to do. No, that wasn’t luck. That was planning for the accident that could happen any day I get the bike out.
The initial impact with the kangaroo did an awful lot of damage to the bike. That in itself may have been enough for a write-off. The kicker was that a frame bracket that holds all the front-end bits in place was bent in the initial impact. The secondary impact with the road was taken mostly by the crash-bars. They did their job and saved the engine. Unfortunately, they also transferred the impact loads to a frame mounting point and bent the frame in a second place behind the engine. The bike is a total loss. The jacket, pants and helmet I was wearing are also write-offs. I’m stiff and sore, but ok. I’m sad that my lovely bike is no more.
Footnote: So, what’s the ‘Recipe for Roadkill’? There was a very large and very dead kangaroo beside the road near my accident spot when I went back to Mansfield to collect the bike two days later. He was a big buck. He was relatively fresh. He had significant facial damage and body cuts. Roos hit by cars will often wander off and die of shock and internal injury later. They don’t wear good gear with crash and impact protection. That could have been me. Wear good gear people. It may save you from serious injury or worse.