3-2-1 You’re Down. Now What?
by Victor Wanchena
It was a gray morning. The sky still heavy with rain continued to wet the roads. A strong wind blew from the northwest. Despite this, I was optimistic that it would be a good days ride. I was traveling westbound on a South Dakota highway taking in the quiet rural surroundings. In an instant I found myself sliding sideways thinking, “I won’t recover from this one.” In a blink of an eye I was down on the pavement sliding. As I slide towards the ditch I watched as my motorcycle began to tumble, destroying itself in short order. I came to a stop and instantly stood up. I did a quick self-check, all body parts attached and still functioning, no pain or obvious bleeding. About then a wide-eyed couple in a pickup rolled to a stop staring at the debris field my bike had just created. I had just had my first significant crash on a motorcycle.
As a rider with over 10 years and 150,000 miles of riding experience, I had never had a real crash. When first learning to ride I had a couple of slow speed tip-overs that had resulted in only scratches and a bruised ego, but here I was in unfamiliar territory. So many things raced through my mind; what to do, where to start. I did not like this feeling and have no desire to experience it again.
As the spinning wheels on my bike slowly came to a stop I was already on the phone to the local police. The first rule of a crash is stabilizing the situation. I appeared to have no injuries but that should always be the first item to attend to. I had already made sure that the ignition switch was off and that fuel was not pouring out of the bike. Thanks to an ever-expanding cell phone network, I was able to reach a 911 dispatcher despite being miles from the nearest town. After relaying all needed information to 911, I did a more thorough check of myself but could not find any injuries. So far, so good.
The bike was in the ditch and was not in the way of traffic and with the help of the Good Samaritan couple I picked up the pieces and debris from the bike from the road. I walked to the point in the road where I had lost control. The road was heavily rutted and in those ruts was about an inch of standing water. I had hydroplaned in the water.
Now I began the process of notifying my wife. Never an easy thing, she worried but I reassured her that I was uninjured. Being a couple hundred miles from home I began to work on a way to get my once motorcycle, now modern art sculpture home. I had actually been successful in getting the bike upright and then starting it. The thought of riding home flashed through my head but it was in far too dreadful a shape to even consider that.
Fortunately I was able to contact a friend with a trailer and pickup that lived close, by South Dakota standards, thus saving me from arranging a long distance tow. This is where roadside assistance is a must have for traveling any distance by motorcycle. A deputy sheriff arrived and filled out an accident report. This may seem unnecessary since it was a single vehicle accident with no injuries but most states require an accident report if there is damage done in excess of a certain dollar amount and your insurance companies will want a copy of this report. With the help of several friends I was able to transport the bike back home and deliver it to my dealership. The shop was closed when I arrived but to let them know I was okay I left a wise-ass note that read:
“Hey Brian I’m getting a check engine light, not sure why. Could you have Earl take a look at it?”
With the bike now delivered to my dealer, I began the process of submitting my claim to the insurance company. Each company has different procedures for making a claim but the basics are the same. In my case I called my agent who took all the relevant information and gave me a claim number. These numbers are very important, as you will be asked for it every time you call with questions. Within a couple of days an adjuster contacted me about the claim. We went through the basics about the bike and the extras I had added, all recent service to the bike as well as the overall condition. Here is where I learned a couple of good lessons. My bike was almost always dealer serviced. This was invaluable in proving that at the time of the crash the bike was in first-rate mechanical shape. When the adjuster spoke to the mechanic he was able to convey that my bike had been well cared for. My habit of saving receipts really paid off. When I was asked by the adjuster to account for the service work and extras on the bike I was able to clog their fax machine with a stack of receipts. I cannot over emphasize the benefit of saving receipts. They are prima fascia evidence of a motorcycle’s value. Any time you do anything to your bike, save the receipt.
After several days the adjuster called to give me the news. The bike was a total loss. I knew this already from speaking to the shop. She gave me a figure. Here was big lesson number two. You do not have to accept the figure the adjuster gives you. Don’t think that you can simply say no I want more, but if you have enough evidence to support a higher claim payout, you can argue for a larger settlement. In my case on the advice of others I did a little homework. First, I found several discrepancies between the various retail price guides for used motorcycle values, they ranged considerably. Next I called various dealers locally to check the prices of comparable used machines. I also read my policy line by line looking for all benefits afforded me. In hindsight I should have done this as soon as I started the policy. Many adjusters are not as familiar with the intricacies of motorcycle values and you, as the insured, can help guide them to find the fair value of your motorcycle. Armed with this information I was able to negotiate with the adjuster for a higher settlement. Among the things I discovered in my policy was that replacement of my helmet was covered but not any other riding gear.
The Lessons Learned
I taught myself many lessons in this whole ordeal. Some were hard to accept and some were the product of good advice. The toughest lesson I learned was also the hardest to take. Looking back on the factors that led to my crash, I am left with the fact that I was over-riding the conditions. My over-confidence in my riding abilities was my fatal flaw. Sure there were environmental factors that contributed but if I would simply have been more aware of the conditions I was riding in, the entire episode would have been avoided. The best thing I could have done was slow down. Despite the fact I was doing the speed limit, I was clearly going too fast for the conditions. This was by far the hardest for me to accept. No one else was at fault; I alone could have prevented it.
The next lesson was one I already knew but was very reinforced by the crash. Always be prepared. I was wearing full gear at the time of the crash: an Aerostich Darien jacket and pants, Sidi On-Road boots, an Aria Quantum helmet and elk skin gloves from Aerostich. Thanks to these items I walked away from the wreck without a scratch. I was quite literally uninjured. I don’t believe that I would have perished if I had not been wearing these items but they did save me from a long and painful recovery. The large abrasion on my helmet was very sobering. I had always worn these items with the understanding that they would protect me in a crash and I can only say that I was extremely happy with the way they each performed. Too often we must make choices about riding gear based solely on the manufactures’ claims. I can say unequivocally that the above items worked as promised. My support of these companies will be continued and increased.
Lastly, read, know and understand your insurance policy. There are many subtleties in the language of your policy that can mean the difference between coverage and nothing. For instance, my policy covers extra equipment but you must inform your agent when those items are added. My adjuster was unaware that the helmet was covered until I pointed it out to her. Make sure you keep good records of everything and don’t be afraid to do your own homework when it comes to getting a fair settlement. In the end, you are the only one with your best interests at heart.
Though I wish I had never experienced this, my hope is that the lessons I learned can be of benefit to others. The very best way to avoid all of this is to ride smarter than I was that Sunday morning. But when and if you do find yourself involved in a crash, remember that being prepared saves you from great pain or worse afterwards.