Don’t let the festive PR surroundings fool you; a Chevy Venture narrowly finished Michael Clark’s motorcycle experience features a little early. Click image to enlarge
By Michael Clark
You’ve probably heard the expression, “they came out of nowhere”. Usually, the phrase is attached to an insurance form dealing with a fender-bender. The response attempts to justify the post-melee of traded paint and mangled metal, that the offending party materialized through some form of space-time continuum to inflict the current damage. “Nowhere” is never very far away. It can be an adjacent lane, an approaching cross street, or a suburban driveway. “Nowhere” is simply the place that you didn’t look. That’s why you never saw it coming.
On a motorcycle, you are the Mayor of your own personal town of Nowhere. You are constantly looking for possible dangers. Reflective piping, flashy helmets, and proper riding technique are all designed to make one be seen. Of course, you can only be seen if someone is actually looking. I’ve spent the summer cautiously passing the ‘cages’, usually to find the driver engaged in a cell phone conversation or chicken nugget dip. The modern automobile has become an extension of the office, the home, and the local greasy spoon. Glass and sound deadening material can reduce the din of my Yamaha Virago test bike to that of white noise. Just ask the white Venture.
I met the minivan heading south on Henderson Highway, crossing the intersection near McIvor. I was riding in the curb lane, observing the dominant position. I didn’t like the Venture from the start, which probably explains why I’m still here. The van was in love with the dividing line, a courtship I had observed for the last few blocks. I was hoping it was just a momentary lapse of reason, that the Venture would snap out of its daze and observe its property lines. I dropped the Virago to third, twisting the throttle to move past. I didn’t get very far.
The Venture wasn’t wandering; it was assuming my space without an eviction notice. No signal, no hesitation. I gave the Virago a hefty counter-steer, darting to the right. “They must see me now,” I thought. It was wishful thinking. I blasted the horn; the Venture refused to alter course. I still had some shoulder left, with a high and potentially painful curbed section approaching. There wasn’t enough room to squeeze around the Venture, and the move appeared to have Las Vegas odds attached. Even if I was successful enough to get ahead of the van, my sudden appearance in the driver’s line of sight could have caused a panic swerve, which might mean topple-time for yours truly. Time for a clean brake.
The emergency stopping procedures from the Gearing up course weren’t the first things that popped into my mind when I hit the binders. It was that gold-fleck banana seat wonder with the three speed gearbox from CCM, circa 1979. It may not be a coaster brake internally, however I knew what would happen when I applied too much rear brake. Lockup. Too much front brake, and I could be experiencing another ride: over the handlebars. Add to this mix a healthy shot of panic.
My stop was quick, with just enough rear over-braking to induce a polite side step as I came to a halt. My heart pounding, I looked ahead to see if the Venture had at least tapped the brake pedal to make sure I wasn’t on the roof rack. It had already blended back into traffic, which whizzed past the Virago without a care in the world, nor a nod to my escape from pavement smear. I was mad. Normally, I’m as cool as the Dave Brubeck Quartet. As I took five, I envisioned what many a rider must conjure up in their minds as to what should happen next. Find the Venture, force it to the side, and deliver a slap of my gauntlet glove to the forehead of the clueless. Unfortunately, the Criminal Code tends to get in the way of these fantasies.
I still wanted to talk. Perhaps not to the Venture, but to those who administer vehicle driver training. What needs to occur somewhere in future curriculum is a chapter in the handbook entitled “How Not To Have A Vehicle/Motorcycle Collision”. Those who partake of the Gearing Up courses are fully aware of where we should and shouldn’t be on the road. The cars have no clue. In a way, it is hard to fault someone for something they couldn’t possibly know. How could you know what was never taught?
I waited for my heart rate to drop below 90 before I ventured off into traffic. I needed to decompress, so I headed to The Road With No Name. (See Part 11) With the median temperature at 25 degrees Celsius for the better part of the summer, there was usually a trail of salty brine from my Joe Rocket jacket on the roadway behind. Today was sunny, but the mercury had only made it to 12. I had to pull over to close my four vents on the jacket. That’s when my face shield started to fog up. I was fine when I was moving, with the helmet vents keeping the roadway clear. A jar of anti-fog solution is definitely on the shopping list.
I started to wish I had zipped in the quilted liner as I pressed on. I was getting as air-chilled as the chicken breast in your grocer’s freezer. What was curious was how useless jeans are for any form of thermal containment. As I pulled into the driveway to dismount, I felt the pins and needles sensation that I hadn’t felt since winter fort construction and wet snow pants. I could hardly move. I’m glad I found out in the driveway, instead of in a leave-the-bike situation where I may not have been able to budge.
How cold was it? The mirror in my kitchen tells no lies. As I ambled past, I noticed these two pointy things on my chest sticking up through the fabric of my t-shirt. I could have sworn they were just for decoration.
Read Michael Clark’s entire series! Learning to ride a motorcycle: