A Perfectly Executed High-side

Just about any experienced motorcyclist knows the term “high-side”. It’s the two-syllable word that conjurs visions of a rider flailing helplessly in the air as he is thrown up and over the handlebars or tank of his bike.

I knew what the most common cause of a “high-side” accident was Monday, November 30, 2009. I knew that aside from failure to negotiate a curve, one of the next most common mistakes a rider makes is to lock up the rear tire during a sudden stop maneuver and then release it when the bike begins to fishtail or skid sideways.

That combination results in a rear tire regaining traction and trying to roll in a direction that disagrees with the momentum and direction of the rest of the motorcycle. This causes the bike to flip on it’s side, and typically throws the rider over the forward, or “high-side”.

I knew about that. I’d read it in books, seen it in videos, heard it preached about by veteran riders.

But when I finished watching the 747 touch down as I cruised north of DFW airport and turned my attention back to the traffic in front of me to see the impending tailights of a Mercedes approaching rapidly all my body would do was stand on both brakes in sudden panic.

The rear tire locked up and began to skid.

As the bike started to fishtail my foot lifted off the rear brake pedal in defiance of the commands my lagging brain sent a split-second too late saying, “Remember, don’t let off the rear brake now that the back tire is locked up.”

That mental directive passed from my brain to my foot well after my butt had been launched ass-over-appetite (as my Grandpa Hibner used to say) into the air above the Triumph that was slapping its tank against concrete pavement with giant cheese-grater perpendicular traction grooves. As I struck the road surface and began an 80 foot series of cartwheels my addled brain thought, (again, long after the fact) “this is going to hurt”. Somewhere in the distance I heard the sound of metal grinding on concrete as my bike skidded along on crash bars and saddlebags.

Finally I came to a stop. I could feel cold pavement underneath me and a primal fear arose of being run over by vehicles that had been following me. I knew I needed to get out of the road but all the air had been knocked out of my lungs and my limbs refused to obey orders from my brain. Even twitching my fingers resulted in nerves protesting like Union workers pounding the daylights out of scabs who hadn’t crossed the picket line fast enough. The signal from pain centers back to my cerebral cortex was plain: “We are currently on strike due to unfair treatment and exposure to undue risks by the management.”

In mere seconds a crowd gathered around me. Two women said they were nurses and told me not to move. A man told me he and some other guys were moving my bike out of the road. Then they told me I had ended up on the shoulder and there was no danger from traffic. The guy who had moved my motorcycle asked me if there was anything else he could do for me.

“Call 911, maybe?” I gasped.

Half the crowd that had formed around me replied, “I already did.”

The nurses kept telling me to lie still, so I did. Minutes later I heard sirens, and then a group of paramedics descended upon me, weilding scissors upon my clothing like Edward Scissorhands trimming hedges. In seconds my crash jacket, shirt, and jeans were shredded, and I was shivering on the concrete wearing nothing but underwear, boots, and helmet. The temperature was around 40 deegrees.

I was wondering if I should explain how exposure to cold causes extreme shrinkage to certain portions of the male anatomy so the ladies in the crowd wouldn’t start thinking I rode a 2300cc bike due to “compensation issues” when the paramedics rolled me onto a cold peice of plywood. They duct-taped my helmet to it and buckled numerous straps, securing me like Hannibal Lecter apprehended on a streaking binge and loading me into the back of an ambulance.

Inside the ambulance a female EMT told me “you’ll feel a sharp pinch, I’m starting an IV.” I told her I didn’t think a sharp pinch was going to bother me much, since I had plenty of other things hurting much worse at the moment.

Then I yelped like a puppy whose tail had been stepped on as she thrust a sixteen gauge needle into my arm.

“Sorry,” she said, “We use really big needles in case we have to get fluids into a victim fast.”

Not a bad idea, I thought, considering how I nearly lost a lot of fluid when I saw I was about to plow into the back end of an appropriately named Mercedes Kompressor.

She installed another giant IV pipeline into my other arm as a second paramedic climbed into the ambulance. “You wanna go east or west?” he asked.

“Huh?” I responded, not sure if he was trying to start a political debate or if this was some new medical jargon for “pill or suppository?”

“Parkland or Harris? Dallas or Fort Worth?” He said in clarification.

“What’s wrong with Baylor, Grapevine?” I asked.

  “No way, pal. A witness to the crash says you flew 50 feet before you touched down and started tumbling, and from the shape your helmet is in we aren’t taking any chances. You’re going via helicopter to a trauma center. What’s it gonna be?”

Up to this point I hadn’t been very worried. Now I felt the beginnings of real concern that I might be worse off than I felt. “Harris, Fort Worth” I replied, reasoning that that’s the hospital where I was born and I might as well exit this earthly domain at the same location.

“You got it, pal. Air ambulance will be here in a couple of minutes.”

Sure enough, I hardly had time to give the paramedic my name, date of birth, and home phone number before I heard the sound of the helicopter landing nearby. They wrote my answers out with a magic marker on my bare shoulder and chest, “Just in case you lose consciousness and can’t answer when the E.R. staff needs this info.” the paramedic said, sending another wave of concern through my foggy brain.

Then a band of EMTs pulled me out of the ambulance, still naked except for underwear, boots, and helmet, and shoved me on my plywood spatula into the helicopter like some giant pizza going into a wood oven. One of them took time to ask me “Do ya think you’ll get nauseated in flight?”

“Naw,” I said. “I’ve ridden with DPD’s AIR-1 before back when I was a cop.”

“Yep, you can handle this flight then, those guys are nuts.” He said and slammed the side of the whirly bird shut.

“Are you in any pain?” That was the voice of another crew member on the opposite side.

“Yeah, my left knee and hand are hurting, and my… ohhh, yeah….” I replied as what could only be a close synthetic cousin of morphine rushed into my veins.

“Okay, I just shot some pain killer into your IV, you should be relatively pain free in a few seconds.” The paramedic said.

“Wow, the colors…” I replied.

There was no conversation on the ride to Harris Methodist in Fort Worth. Helicoptor crews wear those big “Great Gazoo” helmets and headsets not just to be able to communicate with each other, but to protect their ears from the massive racket made by the jet turbines that drive the helicoptor rotors. I was enveloped in the roar that my motorcycle helmet did a poor job of dampening.

In a matter of minutes we landed in Fort Worth and the crew was once again extracting my taped and bound body on its plywood gurney. Seconds later I was in trauma room three answering questions about drug allergies, medication I normally take, name, date of birth, etc. for the umpteenth time.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch poor Robin had arrived home and listened to a voice mail that had been left by one of the nurses who had stopped to help me immediatly after my crash.

“Hi, this is Denise. You’re husband has had a little accident on his motorcycle but he’s alert and he can wiggle his fingers and toes. He can’t use the phone because we’re not letting him take his helmet off. I think he’s going to go by ambulance to Baylor Irving.” In the background Robin heard my voice weakly protesting that it was Baylor Grapevine. Of course, Denise and I were both wrong.

Robin rushed to the Baylor Grapevine ER based on the provided information and even though she threatened to use water-boarding everyone there staunchly denied knowing who or where I was. For an hour she called hospitals and various public safety organizations trying to find out where I was. She also tried ringing both my mobile phones, which were buried with the scraps of my clothing in a large red platic bag marked “BIOHAZARD” in the corner of trauma room three at Harris Methodist Hospital.

Finally, right after Grapevine P.D. informed Robin that they had heard a motorcyclist had been flown to a trauma center via helicoptor from somewhere north of DFW, a male nurse heard my Motorola Droid ringing and dug it out of the bag. He hit the speaker button and held it next to my helmet so I could talk.

“Hello, Sweetie…” I said.

Sweetie interupted me immediately with “WHERE THE )^@!w*^@( ARE YOU?!”

“You’re on speaker phone…” I began sheepishly as the nurses in the room fell silent to listen to the awe-inspiring profanity of a woman who had been frantically searching for a husband with unknown injuries tended to by unknown caretakers for over an hour.

“I don’t give a ()*^(()*&itty-(*^$- *&^*, WHERE ARE YOU?!

“Harris Fort Worth,” said I. “Sweetie, please be careful driving over here. I’m going to be fine, they’re just chercking me over thouroughly.”

“We’re on our way. Love you!” Robin replied, and the line went dead.

A few minutes later my helmet was removed to make way for a cervical collar, and I was wheeled into the radiology department for a battery of x-rays. During that time Robin, her friend Stephanie, and her brother Ricky arrived at the hospital and were directed to trauma room three.

The first thing Robin noticed was that big red Santa Clause bag marked “BIOHAZARD” containing the shredded remains of my TourMaster jacket, jeans, and shirt. Panic started to rise as she dug out the multitude of pieces until Ricky pointed out there was no blood on the clothing and it was all cleanly sheared. Realizing that the EMTs had cut the textiles off me rather than them being shredded by pavement and wreckage while still on my body relaxed her…some.

When they finally rolled me into the trauma room we both came close to tears of relief. Robin because she saw I wasn’t torn limb from limb, and me because she obviously had not driven extra-legal speeds to get to the hospital. As a matter of fact, she’d been smart enough to have Stephanie drive. Had our roles been reversed, I’d likely have broken the sound barrier or (more likely) pushed the V8 Hemi in our Dodge Magnum beyond its limits trying to get to the hospital.

It was only a couple hours later when the doctor returned and unceremoniously removed my cervical collar. “I wrote you a perscription for some pain meds, muscle relaxers, and anti-inflamatories.” He said. “You don’t have any broken bones, according to the tech reading your x-rays, although I personally think I can see a cracked bone in your left hand. Follow up with your family doctor if it’s still bothering you in a few days. I also wrote you a work release for three days from now…believe me, you’re not going to feel like going anywhere for a couple of days.”

I thanked him, and he left the room. The primary nurse attending to me me brought over a clipboard with the usual several sheets of paper for me to sign. My left hand was hurting but I managed to scribble my signature on all the required lines…in about the same quality I did in first grade when I was using crayons and Big Chief tablets.

I don’t know how many times that night the doctor, nurses, and EMTs told me how glad I should be I’d been wearing protective gear, but every time they did I told them Robin deserved the credit. She made me buy the armor, gloves, and helmet before she agreed to buy the motorcycle, and I had to promise her I wouldn’t ride without them.

Thanks to her I was able to crawl out of our own bed the following morning, albeit with a great deal of pain, instead of waking up in traction and multiple casts with several square feet of road rash.

BB (that’s the name of my cherry red and white Triumph Rocket III) is still in the shop being repaired. Yesterday I went and bought myself a new crash jacket, gloves, and helmet. It wasn’t pleasant trying on motorcycle gear with a damaged right shoulder and possible broken bones in my left hand, but I know I have to have that stuff.

This time I didn’t protest in the slightest when Robin told me I wasn’t getting back on a motorcycle without them.

The following week as certain pain points continued to increase and additional doses of radiation and magnetic fields were exposed to my person various specialists determined I had a spiral fracture in my left hand, a crack in the top of my right femur, and a torn right rotator cuff. But I ain’t complaining. I could be wearing a Mercedes as a hood ornament.

P.S. I owe so much to Robin, but I also have to mention that Texas is a great place to live, with all the caring citizens who stopped to help, and those incredibly well-trained and professional first responders, from the cops to the EMTs to the flight crew to the ER doc and nurses. Thanks to all of them for the work they do and the excellent care they gave me that night.

AND thanks to a loving God who was watching over me…and each of them. Merry Christmas, everyone!

avatar DIY Saddle Bags AKA Panniers

[…] Triumph branded leather saddlebags and brackets for my Rocket III retail for $799.00. I have a set that were purchased and installed new back in January when my bike was being repaired after my infamous high-side event. […]

avatar Berlin

I’m not sure if I can claim to be a high-side vet — since I learned how to execute a high-side at only 30 mph, went up on the front wheel and managed to bring the bike back down straight enough after riding the front wheel for about 15 feet — but you tell an awesome story with an important point. Friends and family don’t let your friends and family ride without gear; thats what my club and friends enforce. This next statement is going against what many call a biker rights issue, but no-helmet laws are ridiculously unsafe.

avatar Bill

As a high-side veteran I appreciate your story. Not as much as you ought to appreciate your wife, but…
We learn our lessons and keep riding.

avatar Stephen

Oh please! “I HAD TO” ride in a helicopter. Give me a break. I crashed back in April & it wasn’t even my fault. I paid $800 and they didn’t even turn the siren on. Although the paramedic in the ambulance was cute, as was the girl that ran over me, the ambulance rode like a lumber wagon. I just don’t get it. He got his first real bike at an earlier age than I did. HE got his first BB gun at an earlier age than I did. We already had a riding mower when he got old enogh to mow. As far as I know, he never had to dive the 64 Caddy when there was a perfectly good 68 Mustang in the driveway. Oh well, my helmet is still in pristine condition and I can still use my jacket. Or, at least I could if I STILL HAD A FREAKING MOTORCYCLE! I swear! Some people keep falling into barrels of ________ a still come out smelling like a rose. Right Mikey?

avatar Tim Frazier

Right place at the right time, bro. It’s all about positioning. DFW airport property is the next best place to crash a motorcycle if you want the fastest equipment and best first responders in the region. The folks in Greenville outside an autoparts store probably don’t have helicopters just lying around. Besides, you just got run over. I put on a SHOW! Lot’s more entertainment vailue.

avatar Millie

Dear Son, I am so thankful for all of God’s Guardian Angels He sent to watch over you with nurses, medical care, police etc. Thanks to all of them.

Much Love,

avatar CJHill

Came over from Greybeard’s site and I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing story and your wife a very smart woman. Keep listening to her!

Hope you don’t mind if I use your blog to promote an idea that got started in England – ICE numbers in cell phones. ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. You list the person you want contacted under the listing ICE Robin. With some phones you need to put something in front to keep it at the top of your contact list. Mine says aa ICE Kay. EMS types don’t have to look to find the person you want contacted that way.


avatar Joseph Schmoe

As a first responder and former pilot, I have always thought that an EMS helicopter ride was kind of a waste of a good ride. Usually, you are either unconscious, strapped to a board or too sick/injured to look out of the window and enjoy the beauty of the world that only 1000 ft of elevation can provide.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m only talking about the recreational component here. If ya need it, ya need it. It’s kind of like riding your scooter home from the doctor’s office after a vasectomy. It’s still a ride, but just not any fun.

Glad things worked out for you, keep the greasy side down.

avatar Tim Frazier

You’re right, Joseph…all I got to see was the ceiling of the cabin with my helmet taped down to the back-board. It still wasn’t as bad a ride as the first time I had to lower my police dog out of a helicopter. He let me know in no uncertain terms that he didn’t appreciate being pushed out. I had teeth marks up to the elbows on both arms.

avatar jinksto

A quick follow up: check with your insurance as to whether your gear is covered. Mine was but not until another rider told me that it should be and I asked my agent. They covered all of my damaged safety gear (Helmet, boots, jacket, gloves) with no argument at all.

avatar jinksto

Wow, fantastic read. Thanks. Your story matches mine almost perfectly (including the split second too late thought of, “No wait, don’t do that!”). I didn’t get a ride on the helicopter (there was a multi-car crash on a nearby interstate that had them all occupied) but the rest is almost an exact recital of what happened.

My wife had the same gear requirements as your Robin and I followed them faithfully. I took a bit of ribbing from the guys that I ride with because I took an extra 5 minutes to gear up every time we moved. I stuck with it though and am now able to justify the 5 minutes that they have to wait.

She also got the roadside call from a bystander who picked up my phone and used the “last dialed” feature to get her. I really appreciate the thought that goes into those calls but I SO wish people would let the pro’s make the call rather than providing incomplete information. My wife had one call that said, essentially, “Hi I found this guy laying in the road… is he yours?” and another that said, “I don’t know but it looks pretty bad… lots of blood”. Most of the blood that was reported came from a busted nose and wasn’t dangerous… sheesh.

Thanks for sharing a great story.

avatar Greybeard

Thanks Tim.
I was “Google Alerted” to your site due to the words “EMS helicopter”. As an Ex- (and maybe future) motorcycle rider I’m always interested in hearing a good tale, especially one with a warm/fuzzy ending.
I have transported many a rider who either collided with, or swerved to miss deer at night. In our neck of the woods, a motorcycle would be a daytime-only mode of transport. That, and the fact that many cars now get better seat-mpg than a bike like yours makes motorcycle riding a luxury affair, doesn’t it?
Still, there’s just nothing like it.
(I rode a buddy’s Triumph Bonneville a LOT in High School and loved it. Good to see their marque back in the U.S.!)

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