Mood: “Living On a Thin Line” by The Kinks
“Wes Mantooth” joined the Asylum on May 24, 2005. Then a rising senior at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, my aspirations contrasted with my classmates’ quite professional intentions. I devoured Proficient Motorcycling, pondered the gyroscopic effect, and aced my Basic Riders Course (s/o Motorcycle Safety Foundation!). They interned at Goldman Sachs, learned to speculate, and gleefully rocked their first power suit/skirt. I dreamed of keeping down the front post-apex; they, of flipping billions. My focus was misplaced, perhaps, as more than a handful of my fellow Quakers now have enough offshored to purchase a Ducati V4 R, private lessons from Andrea Dovizioso, and the Mugello Circuit itself because (raises pinky, sips seal pup tea from ivory tusk cup) renting track time is for plebes.
But hey, spark one for many miles and countless smiles! A decade and a half on two wheels is worth a flog of the piñata accounting for the developmental curve of 20-something males. Early in my riding career, my decision-making on a bike mirrored a college freshfolk’s first 48 hours after tearful parental goodbyes. I rode as if unacquainted with consequence. Zero excuses. Indulge me as I (chronologically) deconstruct Earth’s four successful attempts at pulling me closer:
- Ride: 2006 Triumph Daytona 675 (See featured image above).
- Gear: Full-face helmet, leather jacket, summer gloves, Dainese jeans (Kevlar), Timberland boots
- Location: Mulholland Highway, Santa Monica Mountains, Southern California, U.S.A.
- Breakdown: Like many yutes, I confused riding fast with skillful riding (remember kids, you don’t have to be in a hurry to be on time!). Trailing a plodding but technically proficient middleweight naked, I decided to pass at the end of a downhill straight preceding a deceptively tricky uphill left-hander. The turn greeted Young ’Tooth with a generously sized gravel patch just as my compressing suspension asked more from the stock Pirelli Dragon Supercorsas. The alacrity and dispatch of my movement necessitated a deftness of touch to evade disaster. Alas, I was (am!) #NotRossi. I was wet behind the ears. Hello gravel, it’s not a pleasure. Bowels clench. Loss of traction, is that you? Evacuation. Good day, pavement! Splat! My bad on the mess.
- Outcome: Lowside; rashed right fairing; no significant injuries; change of the proverbial drawers required.
- Riding Boots Are For Suckers
- Ride: 2006 BMW R1200GS
- Gear: Full-face helmet, leather jacket, ADV gloves, fashion jeans, and Chucks
- Location: I-405N Exit 55B (Wilshire Blvd) off-ramp, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.
- Breakdown: After evening revelry, the not-actually-exorbitant cost of a taxi was more than my gainfully employed self could fathom. It’s only a few exits on the 405, I remember thinking. My decision endangered myself and, potentially, others. Shameful. As it happened, I failed to negotiate the lazily increasing-radius off-ramp located less than a mile away from my then-GF’s spot.
- Outcome: Lowside; rashed right cylinder guard; rashed right ankle; rashed right foot; then-GF forced to scrub off and tweeze away bits of asphalt, dirt, and sock from karma’s hickies (laughable insurance meant a preventably high cost for an ER visit); then-girlfriend’s pristine bathroom redecorated with The ’Tooth’s blood . . . she remains a gem to this day.
- Red Means Stop
- Ride: 2008 Ducati 848
- Gear: Full-face helmet, leather jacket, summer gloves, fashion jeans, over-the-ankle boots
- Location: 15th and P. Streets, Washington D.C., U.S.A.
- Breakdown: A late-night ride pursuing l’appel du vide begat a missed red light and a meeting with a BMW 3-series. Time slowed to ¾ of however we normally perceive it as I Superman’d through the intersection. Hello, pavement, my old friend.
- Outcome: T-boned; murdered Duc; no significant injuries; $$ to fix the 3-series and $$$ to pay off the totalled 848; final “riding-like-a-bunghole” lesson learned.
- Mud + Tourances = 😱
- Ride: 2015 BMW R1200GS
- Gear: Chelsea FC shirt atop body armor, motocross gloves, ADV pants, SIDI Adventure boots
- Location: Unknown fire road, Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia, U.S.A.
- Breakdown: Days after near-Biblical rainstorms, I deemed it wise to attack various dirt trails in the Appalachian Mountains . . . on Metzeler Tourances. While a capable all-around tire, they are not mudding’s huckleberry. At a reasonable clip, I approached what I believed to be a puddle. The Tourances met expectation. My riding ability (lack thereof?) could not make up the deficit.
- Outcome: Lowside; no damage to bike; Earth and right cylinder engage in battle with a severely sprained ankle as collateral damage.
Escaping my first crash unscathed was a combination of luck and preparation. I rolled the dice by over-riding my abilities and I paid the accordant price. The correct gear limited the damage. Crash two? Because I decided to wear Chuck Taylors, imbibe, and not call a taxi, the injuries to my ankle and foot were preventable and wholly self-inflicted. Zero excuses. If I believed in miracles, that was crash three. I am without a clue as to how I survived, let alone walked away without a limp or a colostomy bag. With crashes two and three, I courted death and almost circled the bases. I’m just relieved nobody else was injured or worse because of my foolishness and disregard for others.
As for crash four, had I not been wearing my SIDI Adventure boots, the Beemer’s right cylinder would have snapped my ankle. Say what you want about sprains vs. breaks, but a lifetime of basketball has my ankles malleable like Gumby. I’ll take a month walking like Fred Sanford over a hospital visit, a cast, and crutches any and all days. Before that ride, crashes one, two, and three crossed my mind; I dressed accordingly and saved myself some bone(headed) trauma.
Simple enough, right?
Humans are adaptable. In the early 1900s, motorcycle racing was a grisly affair. As a result, the Isle of Man TT made helmet-wearing compulsory in 1914. Today, this can happen and everybody walks away intact. We’ve long known that gearing up keeps you safer than not. How we protect ourselves and others changes with new information and new technologies.
To aspiring or new riders questioning the cost and efficacy of full gear and needing further proof, I have always offered this advice: “Try sprinting as fast as you can and swan dive into the pavement.” Thus far, not one has obliged.
Each time we ride, we never know. We mitigate the risk to ourselves, our passengers, and our fellow motorists with what we wear and how we ride. Just beneath, there is a simple truth that drives us: existence is better with, and on, a motorcycle. Selfishly, I want you all to maximize the number of potential days on which to spend a bike. Why is that selfish? Well, wherever I am, the sound of an approaching bike brings a smile to my face. My mind takes me back to age four and the potato-potato-potato of my neighbor’s rickety old Harley. I place myself in the shoes of whichever rider glides by and find a moment of happiness because I know that they’re feeling it, too. We dress for the crash so we can ride again.