The Grace of God and Anti-Lock Brakes

by bj max

Gruetli-Laager, Tennessee was named after a meadow in Switzerland by immigrants who settled here in the early 1800’s. Its a sleepy little town, passed out might even be a better word, and if you pull off the road and cut your engine all you can hear are the birds singing. There is no Wal-Mart, no Walgreens, no Home Depot, no traffic, no crime and as best I could tell, no people. Suffice to say, that Gruetli-Laager is not an exciting area. For the locals anyway but for a couple of lucky motorcyclists, Gruetli-Laager turned out to be one of the most thrilling places they would ever visit.

Middle Tennessee is a pristine landscape with friendly people, smiling dogs and red tail hawks that watch over you from their lofty perches atop telephone poles. Beautiful rolling hills and pastureland all dotted with small communities. Communities like Hurricane, Elkhead, Estill Springs and Gruetli-Laager. In the fall, it’s reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell collection. And since this was a Sunday, there was no traffic. It was a great day to be alive.

At Gruetli-Laager, we pulled into a little store hoping to find gasoline and some clean restrooms. But a sign in the window informed us that there were no public restrooms on the premises. So we circled the lot and got back out on the highway and began pulling through the gears. Just as I shifted into high, a yellow blur appeared out of the weeds from a roadside ditch. Before I could react, we slammed into this big yellow dog. He ran right out in front of us. Never even looked our way. In an eye blink we were awakened from our sleepy morning ride and life suddenly became very interesting.

Impact speed was roughly fifty MPH. I grabbed and stomped for all I was worth and held on. My wife clamped her fingers into my shoulders so hard they left an imprint that could still be seen the next morning and I felt her tuck in as she had been advised to do in such an emergency. The collision threw the motorcycle sideways and the dog got wedged against the front wheel. We were now dirt tracking down a two lane blacktop on a motorcycle with a trailer attached that weighed over half a ton. We were out of control and going down.

It’s amazing what your brain can do and how many signals it can send in a split second. For instance, I actually thought about my wife during this crisis and was saddened that she might get hurt. I also noticed that my knee was outside the fairings edge and somehow my brain found the time to send a signal to pull my kneecap out of harms way and I did. All this while simultaneously processing and sending hundreds of bits and pieces of emergency information to even the most remote of my extremities. My brain even slowed the frame rate in my minds eye down to a manageable speed so everything could be handled in an orderly fashion without confusion and panic.

Behind us were eight of our friends on four motorcycles and several keyed the two-way and tried to transmit a warning. But by the time we heard their transmissions, we were already in big trouble. They began braking hard and scattering in all directions to keep from running over us.

Nothing to do now but try to stay with the bike and ride it out. Right? But then, for some reason that I can’t explain, probably the desire to do something, anything, I pushed on the left handlebar. I thought I felt a little control coming to me. Wishful thinking? I pushed a little harder and the motorcycle bucked violently and went up and over the dog, ejecting him from underneath us in the area of the right footpeg. At this point I felt the bike trying to right itself so I pushed a little harder on the handlebar and to my utter amazement, the bike popped up and we were suddenly and inexplicably running straight and true.

Elation. Exhilaration. Joy. Happiness. I can’t describe the feeling I had at that moment. Just ahead was a newly paved parking lot so I banked in and rolled to a stop. Naturally, our friends were concerned about us and they dismounted and rushed over. The ladies main concern was my wife and I, while the guys’ main focus was the well being of the motorcycle proving that men and women really are different. We were fine and remarkably, the only damage to the bike was a plastic running light lens cover that was knocked loose. A screwdriver fixed it in two shakes.

I was slapped on the back and lauded as a great motorcycle rider and my wife hasn’t kissed and hugged me so much since our wedding night. For a few fleeting seconds I felt like a hero. It was a good feeling while it lasted, but it wasn’t true and I knew it. I had very little to do with that save. Very little at all. Why would I say that? Because no matter how hard I braked, I never chirped a tire. If our motorcycle had been equipped with conventional brakes, the wheels would have certainly locked up and we would have skidded into a long slide and eventually crashed or even worse, we could have been high sided.

I’ve read letters to the editor in various magazines recently that denounce anti-lock brakes and make claims that just aren’t true. Some complain that you have to know how to operate anti-lock brakes or you could get yourself into more trouble than if you were using conventional brakes. Bull. In the situation described above I just grabbed and stomped as hard as I could and the anti-lock computers took over. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. And modern day, anti-lock brakes do not pulsate as some have charged. If you took a spin on my motorcycle you would never know that it was ABS equipped unless I told you. Today’s ABS is a modern day wonder and without a doubt, the Grace of God and those fabulous brakes saved out butt.

Happy Trails.


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