Let’s Wad a Bike
by Pat Hahn
It started innocently enough. It was a strongly-worded and heartfelt thread on the mn-sportbike.org list about protective gear. It turned into a super-crash-a-duper event that was fun for the whole family. But it was a bit of a surprise.
The list gets onto all sorts of great discussions: safety, rides, roads, politics, roadracing, tweaking, performance, you name it. This one originated several times, made a start, then fizzled. After learning of yet another innocent nubile passenger who died or was seriously maimed riding behind some organ donor, we’d had enough. “Let’s do something about this.” But what could an Internet group do? Usually all we do is talk about stuff like this. Can we actually do something to make a difference?
I’d always stuck with the paradigm of jumping out of the bed of a pickup truck. If you had to, what would you want to be wearing? If the truck was stationary, I would probably not think twice about it. Sandals, shorts, T-shirt, sunglasses–those are all the protective gear I’d need.
But what if the truck was moving at, say, 5 mph? I probably still wouldn’t think too hard about it, though I might trade the sandals for some sneakers. A pair of gloves wouldn’t be a bad idea. The risk at 5 mph with a controlled jump onto a predictable surface isn’t too scary.
But what about 15 mph? Hmmm. I’d still go with sneakers, though high tops might take some of the mystery out of the result. I’d also probably be wearing jeans and probably a jean jacket or leather jacket. Definitely some leather gloves. Headgear? Maybe.
At 25 mph, I start thinking hard about my safety. I don’t know if I even would jump out of a truck moving 25 mph, but if I had to, I’d be wearing some sturdy shoes, heavy clothing, and a helmet–just in case.
What about 50 mph? Even at that slow speed (relative to the speeds at which we frequently ride or drive) I wouldn’t do it without a full protective suit of leather or armor and a full-faced helmet, with an extra sturdy pair of gloves.
It’s this analogy I use when debating with people about the need for good protective gear, and it was this approach I first took when we decided we wanted to ‘do something.’ “Let’s throw people out of the bed of a moving pickup truck!” It seemed like a cool idea that would draw the attention of both motorcyclists and the media to protective gear. Kent Larson immediately volunteered to jump.
From there, Joe Birchhill (“Birch”) volunteered to crash a bike, too. Sure, it would look cool and make a point to jump from a truck, but wouldn’t it be better to throw a bike down so it’s more realistic? Damn straight it would be. What better way than to wad a perfectly good motorcycle, you know, for science? You’re in, Birch. Scott and Dani Ellickson donated a motorcycle for the cause, Andy Goldfine donated an Aerostich for the cause, and about 20 mn-sportbikers donated their time to help pull the event off. Mark LaMere at the Dakota County Technical College donated the driving safety course for the morning. Tom Day donated his time and expertise and is currently hard at work editing the two hours of footage donated by an interested cameraman, courtesy of Julie Hartley and the kangarooproject.com. It’s all evolving into an educational video to be used by the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center and will maybe even show up on cable TV on “Motorcycling Minnesota.”
So how’d it happen? After thinking about it, we decided to skip the truck jump and instead take advantage of Birch’s willingness to be a crash dummy and combine it with some other demos: emergency swerving and braking around a brain-dead cager. Robin Ogle planned to try to kill Kent and his RC51 with his pickup truck, and Kent was to show the crowd the best way to deal with it. After warming up the crowd, Birch would then hop on this old puke of an enduro (sputtering and billowing smoke the whole way) and toss it in the middle of a freshly-watered right hander. Oh yeah, just to add to the suspense, Jessica Madsen (dressed in high heels, Daisy Dukes, a tank top, denim jacket, and sunglasses was going to go along for the crash, you know, to show just how much difference proper gear makes when you’re tumbling on concrete. She was all blonde hair, knees, and elbows, and while we didn’t want to see her get hurt, it was all in the name of safety. So that’s how we came up with our demonstrations.
Next, we went to work rounding up riders to come out and watch. In addition to soliciting our friends, colleagues, and other clubs, four mn-sportbike members went out looking for squids, who, if you know where to look, are not hard to find. Darwin Holmstom worked with the cameraman, interviewing the crowd about protective gear, while Robert Ogden and Jessica went head to head with Blake Stranz and Tom Gallagher–Robert (dressed as your typical squid in his squid shorts and Oakleys) and his “girlfriend” Jesse (in her well-exposed summerwear), Blake and Tom decked out head to toe in glaring Aerostiches. “If you KNEW you were going to crash, which outfit would you rather be wearing?” Darwin managed to piss off a couple people and get some great interview footage with Rafael Demay and Steve Bauman about crashing. We saw scars and road rash. Chris Hawkey from KFAN warmed up the crowd over the loudspeakers and narrated the whole event with help from Missy Wyatt, an MSF instructor.
Kent’s demonstration went flawlessly. As he rounded the last corner, Robin leapt out into the roadway in his F150, trying to put an untimely end to Kent’s ride. On the first pass, Kent whonked the horn, slowed dramatically, then did a three-point swerve around the front of Robin’s truck. Discouraged but not defeated, Robin backed up for another go at him. This next time, he really gassed it and jumped right into Kent’s path. Again, Kent layed on the horn and this time brought the bike to an enormous smoking halt, rear tire in the air briefly, just shy of Robin’s A-pillar.
After clearing the flight path, the Rosemount Fire Department wet down the apex for Birch’s demonstration. After giving interviews to Channel 4 and Darwin and telling the crowd what he was planning, Joe and Jessica took off, Joe in a brand-new, black-on-gray Aerostich and Jessica in her Daisy Dukes. As anticipated, Jessica made Joe stop the bike right before the future crash scene and got off, shaking her head and looking rather flushed. Apparently, even at 30 mph, she was worried for her skin. Smart girl. I wish they were all that smart. Birch took off again in a cloud of smoke, made another circuit, then came buzzing and smoking into turn 15. He leaned it over, leaned in, and….
CRASHHHHHHHHH the bike went sliding down the road with Birch sliding and tumbling after it. After lying briefly on the pavement, Birch got up, dusted himself off, and gave the crowd a hearty, “Tadaaaaaaaaaah!” While the bike monkeys worked to get the enduro started for another pass, Birch showed the crowd what was left of his suit. It held up pretty well for a 30 mph crash, but the back was sort of scorched, the butt was worn and hot, and one of the elbows was torn open to the armor underneath. It still looked good, but can you imagine the road rash that the suit absorbed? You can go see what’s left of the suit at the State Fair, or after that, on the Rider WearHouse wall of fame.
Once they got that little pig running again, Birch headed out for another try at it, this time at about 40 mph. It looked a lot like the first one, except when the bike hit the ground, it bounced and tumbled, as did Birch, on his arms, chest, back, butt, and elbows. SMASH! CRASH! SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH! It was quite a piece of work. Grinning broadly, Birch jumped up again and ran to meet his fans. The bike was much worse for wear and tear, headlight flopping in the breeze and the rear end wobbling its way back to the parking lot. I don’t know how many more miles that sad little thing will see, but at least it went out in style, in front of two TV cameras and a crowd full of onlookers.
The suit was trashed, but still in one piece. It needs repair, but is still wearable. It did its job perfectly, absorbing the impact of two crashes. The crowd loved it, and loved Birch’s commentary, and he was treated to a few generous rounds of applause. Jessica looked relieved that she hadn’t been on the bike when it’d gone down, and made a good case for thinking twice before getting on a bike dressed for a day at the beach. Karl Repohl and Jason Bishop looked glad that they didn’t have to use a fire extinguisher on either Birch or the bike.
To their credit, Channel 4 ran an excellent piece on the news that night detailing the event and the message from Birch and Minnesota Sportbike. With a little luck, the video will be useful to build a half-hour documentary of the event and perhaps a video news release for next spring. With a lot of luck, the squids and their girlfriends and the sleeveless wonders who think they don’t need a helmet because they’re not going to crash saw it and got the point, too.
So what’s left? Watch out next year. The gang at mn-sportbike.org is already planning something to make this year’s event tame by comparison. They’re a great bunch of people, and looking for ways to make motorcycling better. If you want to check ’em out, they’re easy to find on the web. Stop on by, meet some folks, and maybe learn something.