Bob Engel | Countersteering: Staying upright


Well, it's happened again; I've started to decommission the motorcycles for the season. The dirt road I live on is frozen, and when the air warms up again the road will be greasy, and, worse, I'll have to get all that slime off the bike. For another trip to the Co-op, it just ain't worth it. If I lived on pavement, I'd keep one of them going.

Another thing that happened again is that I just had what's called in the trade, a "get off." Our driveway is the most challenging dirt I regularly encounter. We've got rocks, slick clay, and a pretty persistent set of water hazards. But none of that was the issue. We just had most of it recovered. The friend who did it packed it with the bucket of his back-hoe, but to be doubly sure, I took the car and carefully drove over it maybe 20 times.

Apparently, I missed a spot where I have to make a downhill turn. I lost the rear wheel, but did miss the tree. The tractor lifted it surgically, and, oh-so-glorious, not a scratch. Apparently, it fell on my foot: no scratches, but a lot of black and blue.

In 10 years of riding well more than 100,000 miles, I've experienced about eight of these little adventures, and there's a life-lesson at hand: pay attention, Bimbo.

The first one occurred in the second week of riding. I got the front wheel of my 223 cc learner into a dried, mud-induced rut, got white knuckled and elbowed, and crashed on the, yep, driveway. My jeans tore and I had maybe four inches of road rash. My doc happened to see it when I went in for something else. Him: "Motorcycle-related?" Me: (sheepishly) "Yep." He got out his trademark big grin and said, "I hope you get better at this."

One of the more memorable dismounts occurred at a red-light in Bennington. I'd been out all day and was tired. I pulled up to the light, stopped, and fell over. I got up to see the woman behind me eating her knuckles in anxiety. I smiled, mouthed that I was OK, and pointed at the two big guys in a pickup behind her. They ran up, we put the bike up, and I was off. One scratch on the machine. The motorcycle gurus talk about bruised egos when something like this happens. Nope. When I figured out what had probably happened (you really do have to put your foot down), all I could do was laugh. Was I really cut out for this stuff?

Another chance to study the dirt came on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I pulled off and heard a Hooded Warbler. I put the side stand down — it makes a very clear "klunk," when it does go down — and started to get off the bike. Then I fell over, 540 pounds of motorcycle mostly on top of me. It turns out that the side stand also makes that "klunk" when it swings back into place. I was so interested in the bird that I only got the stand part-way down. I could hear two sport bikes revving my way, got out in the road, they stopped, and all was well. I never did have quality time with that bird, but I now stare my side stand down every time I use it. Up, too.

I was actually moving when I got off in Texas. I must have hit a small oil spot when I turned into the gas station. Down fast. A couple of other riders picked me up. I got gas; they borrowed my tire gauge; and two miles later I returned the rented bike to an unruffled owner.

Optimists say you gotta get back up when you go down. Recently, for the eighth time, I've done just that. My mom would be proud.

Bob Engel lives in Marlboro with his unscratched motorcycles, wife, and catBob Engel lives in Marlboro with his motorcycles, wife, and cat.


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