What Went Wrong

You never for­get your first high-side

Motorcyclist - - Contents - —Zach Bow­man


The Vir­ginia De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion had been kind enough to cut a col­lec­tion of grooves in the as­phalt, the kind that warn of an im­pend­ing bend in the road. I ripped over them at the shal­low end of fifth on my ’82 GPZ750 in a full tuck with the throt­tle pinned af­ter pass­ing three ve­hi­cles on a dou­ble-yel­low straight. There wasn’t space to haul the thing down be­fore the 90-degree left. My vi­sor filled with guardrail as I grabbed the brakes. Time elon­gated. I worked the rear caliper and tried to toe the line be­tween trac­tion and de­cel­er­a­tion. It worked. Then it didn’t. It’s al­ways sur­pris­ing how quick a high-side hap­pens, like a mid­con­ver­sa­tion slap at a cock­tail party. One mo­ment the uni­verse is play­ing by the agreed upon rules, and the next you’re slid­ing through the gravel in a cas­cade of Kawasaki and pride.


It was day one of a 10-day ride from Ten­nessee to Maine, and my buddy and I were cov­er­ing miles like men pos­sessed. We’d been on the bikes since be­fore dawn and hadn’t stopped for more than fuel and a Snick­ers in that time. It was hot, the val­ley floor bak­ing un­der an Au­gust sun. When a pair of driv­ers turned a 55-mph coun­try road into a 25-mph plod, fa­tigue and de­hy­dra­tion helped forge a molten ball of im­pa­tience in my gut. The heat from the air­cooled in­line-four came claw­ing at my leathers, and when I fi­nally spot­ted what I thought was a long enough gap to pass my buddy and the two loaf­ing cars, I went for it. The mov­ing air was a long and per­fect kiss on my skin. The plea­sure didn’t last long. I hadn’t been back in the right lane for more than a sec­ond when I rode across the grooves in the road.


Gam­bling the en­tire trip on a sin­gle, un­nec­es­sary pass was stupid. I was wound up with the ex­cite­ment of break­ing away from the office and not think­ing about the days of rid­ing ahead of us. The GPZ was my first bike, and I’d been rid­ing a lit­tle more than two years with­out in­ci­dent. It was a per­fect thing, the en­gine glossy black and the tank re­sprayed with blis­ter-red paint from a Dodge Viper. The orig­i­nal Kerker pipes didn’t have so much as a scrape on them. Nei­ther the bike nor I would ever be the same. Sure, it started up once I righted my­self. Yes, I rode it all the way to Ni­a­gara Falls, but the GPZ would wear the marks of that beat­ing un­til I sold it—just as I still wince with the pain of torn ro­ta­tor cuff all th­ese years later. It’s a good re­minder of how lit­tle pa­tience mo­tor­cy­cles have for the fool­ish.

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