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When Life Throws Decreasing Radius Curves

Sometimes life does throw decreasing radius curves at us. I suppose before I dive into today's lesson, I should first explain this mythical curve to those of you who have no idea what a decreasing radius curve actually is. Most of you can simply guess based on the name alone. But I will take a moment and clarify so we are all on the same page.

In a decreasing-radius curve, the curvature gets tighter/sharper as you travel through the curve, as though you were driving in toward the center of a spiral. On the racetrack these are the super exciting curves that often get folks in trouble. They are also very popular to racers (motorcycle and car) for the thrill and challenge. They are more rare in the real world, because of the inherent danger. However, you will often find them on highway entrance ramps, because they force you to slow down some. This story takes place on a highway entrance ramp in Emmitsburg, MD...

Yesterday I was out with a group of ten motorcycle riders. We were enjoying the Catoctin forest and some mountainous regions in Southern Pennsylvania.


As you can see, we had a diverse group of motorcycles and rider styles.

You might be asking yourself, "What the heck is a hemophiliac doing riding a motorcycle?" I may not know much, but I do know the answer to that question. I am living life.

Ego digresso ...

Our day was awesome, the roads were challenging, and the weather was perfect. After stopping for lunch in Emmitsburg, MD we started out for our final leg ... That's where everything went wrong and life threw a decreasing radius curve at our group. We were leaving town and getting on to Route 15 South and the highway entrance ramp was a decreasing radius curve. I was leading the line of riders with my buddy Dan hot on my heels. Behind Dan was a relatively new rider named, David. As with many decreasing radius curves this one appeared relatively harmless at the start ... That quickly changed as I was already into the middle and committed at a set speed. I say "committed" because it is often very dangerous to try to decrease your speed once leaned hard into a turn. So, I did what my nearly 30 years of riding experience has taught me, I puckered some, leaned harder, and focused outside the curve on my destination. I felt the foot peg scrape first, then I leaned a hair harder to compensate for the tightening curve and my boot scraped. Finally my short shot exhaust pipes scraped and I knew that I was literally giving her all she could take. I could feel the familiar tire scrub as they sat precisely on the cusp of breaking loose, but my determination, steady hands, and calm demeanor kept the bike under control and the curve ended as quickly as it started. With the bike starting to stand upright I rolled the throttle on and enjoyed the elevated levels of adrenaline that were coursing through my veins.

I knew that Dan was fine, because he was on a race equipped Ducati and had loads of twistie experience. Suffice it to say that if my lumbering Hog could cut through that curve than Dan could easily manage the curve and there was no cause for concern. But then I had a thought about the other riders. Many of them were also experienced, but one or two were fairly new riders with little experience. I did not know how much experience David had, but he was riding a Triumph Speed Triple and had been hanging with me, Ravi, and Dan during some of the tougher sections in Pennsylvania so I assumed he would be fine. You know what they say about assumptions ... As I merged into traffic and continued accelerating I took a peek in my mirror just in time to see David flying through the air and into traffic. My blood turned icy and I worried about my current position before reacting. Realizing I was too far ahead to stop, I opted to go forward and pull a U-turn to return to the scene of the accident. Once back with the group I cut across the grassy median and parked my bike.

A quick check on David told me that he was okay. Fortunately he was not run over by oncoming traffic. A paramedic happened to be driving by and stopped to help, so David was in good hands. I moved over and checked the scene. The skid marks that led to deep scrapes and then a curb told me the story. David had seen the decreasing curve too late and instead of leaning harder into the curve he had hit his brakes. At the very least the front tire locked up; which instantly stopped him from turning and sent the bike straight ahead. It also tipped the bike further until it was on its side. From there it simply slid a few more feet to a curb. At the curb the bike slammed to a stop. Per Newton's first law of motion, David shot off the bike and remained in motion. Unfortunately, his direction and motion force was right out onto Route 15 into traffic.


The stormy clouds define the scene, as David is wheeled to his ambulance for a ride to the hospital.

Long story short, David was fairly banged up and broke his right wrist. He had surgery to help repair the wrist, but it will probably never be the same. David's accident was not only a lesson for him ... It was a lesson for each rider in the group. We can enjoy ourselves, but we should avoid getting in over our heads.

There is a lesson and moral to this story ... Sometimes life will throw decreasing radius curves at us. We might think we are on a calm and easy sweeper only to find out mid curve that it is tightening and becoming nearly impossible to complete ... Also, this change can occur literally in the blink of an eye, and you often only have a split second to react.

You have a few options at this point. Some of them are:

1. Do nothing;
2. Panic and slam on the brakes;
3. Panic and focus on wrecking;
4. Lean a little harder, be determined, and focus on the outcome.

I personally am a fan of number four. I can tell you that options one, two, and three will all DEFINITELY result in a wreck. Even though four might still result in a wreck, many times it will not. So, your odds are improved with number four, despite the fact that it often goes against common sense and our gut reaction. As you can see, by keeping a level head and steady hands I was able to manage my big lumbering Harley Davidson Fat Bob cruiser through this hairy situation.

There is another lesson here ... One that I am often afraid to face or admit. Sometimes it is safer and more intelligent to approach unknown curves with respect and a bit of humbleness. David isn't the only one who screwed up yesterday. I was leading the group and I went in too hot. I carry the weight of the group on my shoulders and I feel at least partially responsible for David's accident. As a leader it is my duty to keep each man in my group safe and I failed in that respect. I learned something too.

The final lesson here is one that I hope David follows through with ... That is that we must get back in the saddle after dangerous and scary experiences. Despite the fact that he was injured, it is important to not let fear keep him from living his life. If he started riding for the right reasons (passion, love, exhilaration, etc.) than it is my opinion that he should keep riding when he heals. I have experienced many wrecks (me and my friends) and I still climb in the saddle, and I will continue to until the day I die or am not able to.

As my favorite actor, John Wayne, so aptly put it, "Courage is being scared to death; but saddling up anyway."

Until we meet again, keep the shiny side up.
-Vaughn

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Posted by Vaughn Ripley