The Prang

(otherwise known as Mikey's Great Boxing-Day Get-Off )

(or, How Not To Use The Back Brake)

It's 1995, the day after Christmas (locally known as ‘Boxing Day’), and another lovely West Australian summer. The phone rings. Who might it be but Warwick, motorcycle courier comrade and slightly maniacal Kiwi ZXR750 pilot. "Wanna go for a ride with me & Joe up the Chittering Valley Road? Counter lunch in Toodyay on the way." No mortal I know could knock back an offer like that, so off we went.

We got to Bullsbrook. At last the traffic and madness of Perth metro was behind us, and ahead lay a winding bit of bitumen. We took off up the road, pushing the motorcycles up to enjoyable speeds along the straights, and pulling through the bends.

My GPz900 was going nicely and then Warwick pulled alongside on the ZXR as we were hoofing it up a hill. One cheeky grin at me through his visor and then he was off. I tried following him for a bit but Warwick's always been the better rider and discretion must always be the better part of valour, so I backed off and left him to it. Joe was politely keeping me company a bend or two back, on his FZR.

A few minutes later I rounded a bend doing something like 110kph and what did I see but what I thought was a light smattering of gravel across the road. 'Best to wash off a bit of speed,' I thought to myself, so I gave the back brake a gentle squeeze.

Well, in the words of the old 'Split Enz' song, that was My Mistake. What happened next, happened so fast that I have no 'slow motion' recollection of it at all...

The rear wheel must already have had some stones under it because the thing just locked up. The back end of the bike slung out to the right (it was a left-hand bend) and in that instant I released the back brake. The rear wheel gripped the road again and the bike suddenly straightened up — except that now I was pointed off the road towards the outside of the bend. The bike still had heaps of speed up as I left the road and entered an open grassy area off the verge.

Let's just hit the 'pause' button right there. Because to this day, as I was hurtling off the road, there is a sound I will never forget. It was the sound of the long, dry grass slapping against the GPz’s fairing as I entered the countryside proper. The sound of the engine, and the sound of the grass slapping the fairing. It's seared into my synapses.

OK, hit 'play' again. Because also unforgettable, was the embankment my front wheel ploughed into. Thankfully we did not make it too far past the embankment to sample the delights of barbed-wire fences and the like. No, the front wheel dug in, the forks compressed, and I catapulted myself over the handle bars, outwards and upwards.

As I flew up into the air in a long forwards somersault, I remember getting an upside-down view back between my motorcycle boots, of what was happening behind me.

It was the GPz. Like me, the old girl was now airborne and was pirouetting and spinning in the air behind me. Yes folks, that split-second before the breakage of man and machine.

And that is the last thing I remember.

When I came to, I was lying on my front in the gravel, in pain. Oh, the pain. Joe was standing next to me, the poor bloke must have thought I was dying. But for once he was glad when I started moaning.

"How long have I been here?" I mumbled.

"About 5 minutes."

"Where's the bike?"

"Just back there."

I twisted my head around to take a look. The GPz looked like how I felt. Broken and shattered, but still in one piece.

And then the pain started to kick in. I knew that I was pretty-well fine except for my right leg. It just wouldn't move, and the pain, oh the pain.

Now, it needs to be said that Warwick the pesky Kiwi was nowhere to be seen. He must have gotten most of the way to Toodyay before he realised we weren't there. Finally the sound of the ZXR was heard, and Warwick joined the happy throng by the side of the Chittering Valley Road.

It took something like 45 minutes for the ambulance to find us. In the meantime, some passer-by had tried to remove my helmet without undoing the chin-strap. So I was thankful for the arrival of the ambulance medics who knew exactly how to move a broken body.

So, apart from a thoroughly lunched GPz, what was the damage? Well I'd snapped my right femur up the top end, in almost the thickest point of the bone. (Click here to see an X-ray, if you must. Sorry it isn't that clear, but a dim old X-ray will test the limits of your scanner.) I also wrenched some ligaments at the shoulder-end of my left collar-bone, got some lovely gravel-rash up my back, and assorted scratches, cuts, abrasions, etc. And my back was really stiff and sore for ages, too. So it was that I spent a total of 10 days in Royal Perth Hospital, having my leg bolted back together with what is known in the trade as a 'Richards Pin & Plate'.

As folks will know who've sampled the joys of hospital, these are places where you leave your dignity at the door. For me, the first inkling I was in for a good time was waking up from the operation to realise I'd been thoughtfully fitted out with a CATHETER... hmm. Now I'm not complaining, really; the catheter is very handy for taking a leak while one is still unable to scramble out of bed. But the time comes when, as much as you're enjoying your stay in hospital, you really must go home. And so the catheter was removed — a procedure which brought about a sharp intake of breath, shall we say.

The only problem is, all this faffing around with foreign plumbing poking into the bladder means that, somehow, you lose control of the blasted thing. There is no delicate way to put this: you want to pee, but alas you cannot. So I lay there in bed in despair, with my lower abdomen progressively distending as my bladder filled up with urine, unable to get my brain to tell my bladder to release the pee into the bottle. Sigh.

Enter the Nurse. "Hmm," she says, "looks like we'll have to just stick another catheter up there to get you some relief, won't we." And off she goes up the corridor to get the necessary hardware.

Meanwhile, a wave of panic sweeps over me as I lie there in the hospital bed. My brain is fairly screaming at my bladder, "LET GO! PEE! BE RELEASED!" etc. But still there is no action. And then, FINALLY, suddenly, mercifully, as I hear Nurse Torture's footsteps coming back down the corridor, my bladder gets the hint and a joyous cascade of urine is pouring into the ugly plastic bottle I have been clasping under the sheets.

"No need for that catheter, nurse!" I say triumphantly as she walks into the room. "Ah," she says in her nursely wisdom, "it's the sound of those footsteps coming back down the corridor that always does the trick."

Well that's about as much of the saga as I would like to relate. And the GPz? I'm afraid the bike was written off, but thankfully it was fully insured.

After this little stunt I took a year off bike riding but that was about as long as I could bear. Without too much trouble I managed to hunt down another 1989 GPz900 and resumed the relationship with one of the best all-rounder motorcycles ever made.

The moral of the story? Don't ride beyond your capabilities on an unfamiliar road. Which we all know, don't we.

And, consider your mortality. Not easy. But here are my musings and experiences to do with death, the universe and everything. You might find them useful; you might not; fine!

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