10/31/08

A Stich In Time

It's funny that I should title this post that, since it's so long overdue, but better late than never, I suppose. It's also not a misspelling, though I sympathize with folks who would assume so.

The Stich in question is more properly termed a 'Stich, as in Aerostich Roadcrafter One Piece Motorcycle Suit, an amazing piece of textile engineering wrought by one Andy Goldfine, an avid motorcyclist who decided two decades ago that there ought to be a riding suit available that wasn't made of leather or waxed cotton.

Andy's suit is fantastic — waterproof, windproof and darn near pavement-proof 500 Denier Cordura® GORE-TEX® Fabric, 3M Scotchlite™ reflective strips to make sure cars and trucks can see you, zippered vents under the arms and across the back to keep you comfy in most all temperatures, umpteen pockets to hold maps and gloves and the like, and, perhaps most important of all, TF2 impact pads at the shoulders, elbows and knees.

I've had mine for a couple of years now, and enjoyed the weather protection, visibility and astronaut/fireman vibe I get to exude wherever I go. And sure enough, when my pal Tom got into motorcycling earlier this year, I hinted strongly that he ought to get himself one too. (I stopped just short of insisting, since the suit cost more than half what he'd paid for the bike itself. In fact, for certain long trips I recommended that Tom ride my bike instead of his own, even though his is really cool.)

So Tom ordered himself an Aerostich. A gray one, like mine, but without the fluorescent yellow accents. (I guess he just felt he couldn't quite pull it off.) It took awhile to get here, since Tom's a sizable fellow, and the nice folks in Duluth can only turn out about 150 of these things per month, total. Tom's had to be made special.

*****

Five weeks later, it arrived. A few weeks after that, I got The Call. Calls don't come much worse than this one, right around nightfall:

"Colin?"

"Hey, Tom, what's up?"

"Uh, I think I just wrecked your bike."

Now, this is bad across the board. I liked that bike a lot, of course, but much more urgent is Tom's uncertainty. He *thinks* he wrecked it? What happened? He sounds groggy and confused. What's broken? What hurts?

"I hit a deer. I think I was going about 50 or 60. Nothing seems to be broken that I can tell. I'm kind of dizzy."

So he's done the roadside body-parts inventory. All the fingers and toes still wiggle, and nothing's shooting out the telltale pain of a break or dislocation. And he's talking to me, so he can't have cracked his head open or anything. I tell him I'm coming to get him.

"Okay man."

He hangs up for a moment to use his phone's GPS to determine where he is. All he knows is that he's near a field and some woods. With deer in them.

When he calls back with his location, I ask about the bike.

"I, uh, can't find it."

Whoa. Maybe I shouldn't be the first responder on the scene after all. If Tom hit a deer hard enough to *misplace* 400 lbs of bright blue metal, he must have been zooming. And it's getting dark.

Penny's yelling in the background. "Tell him to call an ambulance!" I do.

And so, clutching cell phone in hand, I head over to Kosciusko County Hospital with Penny, her Mom, sister and little brother Mason to wait for the ambulance to arrive.

In the meantime I get calls from my insurance company and the sheriff's department, who wants to make sure I knew Tom was riding my motorcycle. I did, and without a shred of concern. He's an excellent rider, and there was nothing he could have done to avoid that deer. I was just hoping that the extra size of the V-Strom (roughly 100-150 lbs more than his DR350, plus a reinforced fairing) had been able to lessen his injuries somewhat.

At this point I should acknowledge what many people would be thinking about this story, including perhaps you yourself: "STOP riding motorcycles, you lunatics! This is exactly what I'm talking about! *Donor*cycles is more like it, and these sorts of accidents are always happening to idiots like you who insist on—"

Hold up. There's more than one way to ride a bike, and Tom's approach—both in general and the day of the accident—is about the safest one currently available.

In addition to taking the Experienced Riders Course sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, we both ride fairly conservatively, make sure our machines are in good running condition and (this is the most important part, in my book) avoid cars at all cost. That's a big part of why Tom was on a tiny two-lane road at that point in the evening instead of a bigger highway.

("I just didn't see him" is the agonizingly common refrain of the SUV-pilot who has just mown down a motorcyclist, and it's always true. People don't see you on a bike. You're invisible. They'll swerve into your lane, pull out in front of you and slam into the back of you. You learn to watch their heads instead of their blinkers, and expect that when somebody cranes his head toward the restaurant on the left, he's likely to veer over, whether you're in his way or not. The signal becomes an afterthought. That's why you might often see motorcyclists—at least if they're me—rapidly accelerating away from you. It's not showing off; we're trying to put as much distance between us and you as possible. Especially if we see you're on a cell phone.)

And we practice ATGATT: All The Gear, All The Time. Tom's a little better at this than me even, perhaps from his military training. It means you throw on the suit *and* the helmet *and* the boots *and* the gloves *every* time you grab the bike key. That's partially why I got the one-piece Aerostich suit: it rules out riding with only the jacket. ATGATT.

It bears mentioning that motorcycling is still an inherently unsafe activity. High velocities, no seatbelts and the aforementioned invisibility create a risk that cannot be reduced to zero, no matter how you go about it. But so does walking your doggy.

There are those, though, who feel it's worth the risk, especially in consideration of the benefits. Fuel economy and parking efficiency are some obvious ones, but I'll let Andy Goldfine expound on the intangibles: “It energizes people. It socializes people. It stimulates that primal part of our brain that’s isolated when we just drive from place to place in our cars." He's absolutely right, as anyone who's ever ridden along an open stretch of two-lane could tell you. Driving a car is like looking at the landscape in a picture frame. On a bike, you're *in* the picture.

Mr. Goldfine even talks some about “episodic transcendence” which are short intervals in which we can rise above our everyday lives and briefly grasp the wonder of existence. That's a nice bonus too.

Still, as heartily as I believe in motorcycling as a Force for Good, I was prepared to radically recalculate the trade-offs when the EMTs wheeled Tom in from the ambulance. If he was permanently injured, then I was permanently done riding.

I rounded the corner coming into his hospital room and there it was: the oversized stretcher leaned against the wall, large chunks of grass still sticking to its edges. A battered Shoei helmet on the supply table, streaked with scratches and scars from pavement and dirt. And an XXL Aerostich suit, filthy and crumpled on the floor.

But there was Tom, lying in the bed, smiling.

"My foot hurts" he said, just as the doctor came in with his X-rays, showing no damage to his foot or his neck. Even his hand, which hurt too, checked out.

Tom drilled a woodland mammal at a mile a minute and didn't even break his pinky finger.

He felt dizzy when he sat up, so we asked for CT Scans, and those came back fine too. So we took him home, somewhat after midnight.

The doctor commented on the helmet, which performed admirably, and on the suit, the likes of which he'd never seen before. The two together certainly saved Tom a hospital stay, probably even his life.

And this is exactly what it was designed for. In the catalog, Aerostich prints estimates on the cost to repair their suits after crashes at various speeds. A parking-lot skid could require only another $50 in nylon, cordura and labor to take care of, while higher-speed wipeouts (they've worked on suits crashed at 150 mph+) tend to run into the hundreds of dollars. If you crash badly enough to damage the suit so that it would cost as much to fix as half the price of a new one, you've totaled it. But still, you're out less than the price of one skin graft, as I see it.

In Tom's case, it worked perfectly. So take a bow, Andy Goldfine. Join him, whoever sewed the extra-long fabric pieces to construct the Suit That Saved Tom's Ass.

And you too, 2004 Suzuki V-Strom. You did alright too. Tom wrecked you hard enough to lose track of you, and it looks like you absorbed some of the impact so his lower body didn't have to. And afterward in the salvage yard's garage, you still fired right up and idled smoothly. Amazingly.
video
The insurance company still declared you totaled, but that's another story.

3 comments:

Hello, I'm Ryan Noel. said...

I'm one of those that's been impacted by a few too many motorcycle tragedies to get on one myself.

I have come to terms with my fear costing me rich experience as it relates to motorcycles.

While I won't be on a motorcycle anytime soon, I have you and Tom's tales to make me feel like I have been.

Hello, I'm Ryan Noel. said...

One more note. In my opinion, stories don't have an expiration date. I'm thinking that stories are best told and retold for years and years.

That's my way of saying: Keep 'em comin'.

Anonymous said...

Col-
Even though you left out the part about your dear, dear mother buying you the Aerostich suit for your birthday, I still loved the story.

BTW--Your bike is still beautiful.

Love and hugs
Mom