Long Strange Trip

Long Strange Trip: Close Calls

Being exposed to things has a way of affecting one’s life experience and outcomes, right? With musically gifted parents the likelihood of you being musically inclined is pretty high. Grow up in a family full of athletes and…well, you get the idea.

Same with motorcycling. The more you ride the better you’ll be at it, generally speaking. But along with that extra exposure comes a higher chance of falling down. It’s an odds thing. More exposure, more risk.

During my (so far) 36-year professional career in the motorcycle industry I’ve had a massive amount of exposure to the sport’s dark side. From 1985 to about 2008 I rode nearly every day in the crucible known as LA traffic, and on top of all that I was testing on freeways and backroads, riding to events, going to the racetrack…basically living on a bike. Somehow, I’m still alive. Knock on wood.

Since I don’t have a near-miss image on a Harley-Davidson, this shot from the WERA 24-hour at Willow will have to do.

While chatting the other day about the sad passing of legendary motocross champ Joel Robert and noted pro-motorcyclist attorney Russ Brown (RIP, both), a riding buddy asked this: “How many close calls have you had in your motorcycling life?”

A bunch, though given my level of exposure it’s probably less than it might have been.

One that might easily have killed me or changed my life forever happened during a 24-hour endurance race at Willow Springs Raceway. I was working for American Honda at the time and had put together a team consisting of Team Honda techs, a then-new RC30 motorcycle and a five-rider group that included myself and top-level AMA professionals Rich Oliver and the late Randy Renfrow, to name just three.

Oliver and Renfrow traded off for the first three stints, with me taking the fourth. Renfrow had gotten a fresh rear Dunlop slick for the stint just before mine, so I was able to get up to speed immediately. On my second lap I pitched the RC into 140-mph Turn 8, the track’s long, sweeping right-hander, with my knee on the ground – and proceeded to lose the front end. 

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Crashing in Eight is occasionally deadly, and I figured I might be sunk – and in front of my Dad, too, who was watching from the pits. But somehow, with my right knee and boot and elbow scraping the asphalt alongside the howling front tire (which was beveled flat on the right side and should have been changed before my stint), the bike scrubbed off a bunch of speed and, almost miraculously, popped back up with an ugly wobble and kept going. 

I pitted immediately and may have messed myself in my leathers, but somehow finished my stint. BTW, we led for 20 hours until one of our riders (not Oliver or Renfrow) crashed in – you guessed it – Turn Eight, completely destroying the bike. That’s racing.

Another close call happened on a busy LA freeway during a group ride in which I was leading. An econobox directly in front of me blew a rear tire at about 80 mph and immediately spun and began flipping, with other cars in the vicinity (most of them in close proximity to our group) taking all sorts of evasive maneuvers. We all somehow got stopped before being crushed into smithereens, but man…that was a scary one.

Another happened on a mostly empty backroad as I came upon a car (or cars) I deemed safe to pass. Looking into the morning sunlight I saw what I thought was one of the cars passing the other, and pulled out into the oncoming lane to follow and do the same thing. Problem was, the car I thought was passing the other car was actually coming right at me from the opposite direction, which I didn’t realize through the glare. I swerved (the combined closing speed was probably 100 mph) and somehow missed being disintegrated on the spot. The adrenaline rush was nauseating.

Bottom line? Spring is coming, so be careful out there!

One final note: From this issue forward, esteemed Managing Editor Kali Kotoski will be taking over the reins at Thunder Press. I’ll continue to contribute here, but will also be working with the guys and gals at Rider and Powersports Business. Congrats, Kali! 

If you dare to go toe-to-toe
with Boehm find him at
longstrangetrip@thunderpress.net.
May your wounds quickly heal

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