On Wednesday morning I walked out into the warm and dry Arizona air to see a beautiful matte white 2022 Indian FTR with my name, literally, on it. The Indian staff had pre-selected each of us a bike, indicating who belonged to which with a piece of blue tape on the throttle grip. Brad B. This bike was mine for the day. It had been sprayed with disinfectant and wiped down beforehand, as to not spread any disease. That’s dedication to safety.
(Full Disclosure: Indian invited me to beautiful warm Phoenix, Ariz. to test its newly revised FTR motorcycle. I paid for my own travel, driving down to the event in my own car rather than fly, though Indian did put me up in a nice hotel and fed me good food. I repaid the company’s hospitality by riding one of their shiny new bikes into the side of a mountain.)
I have to begin this by saying there is no blame to shift, no buck to pass, no issues with the bike or the road or my gear. I fucked up. Plain and simple. I exceeded the threshold and paid the price for it. Most of the damage done was to my ego, though my chest and shoulders are tight and stiff the morning after. The damage to the bike was largely cosmetic, and if it weren’t for the cracked radiator end tank, it would have been perfectly fine to carry on, wearing a squid badge.
I can’t yet tell you what the bike was like to ride yet, but I will have a full review coming once the embargo lifts.
The whole morning felt like buildup to the main event. We left the hotel and immediately went out for photography on Phoenix city streets with a police escort. Once photos were done, we got on the highway for half an hour to get out of the city and head toward the good riding roads. After a lengthy water break, a bit more transiting, and another stop, we finally reached the much lauded Apache Trail. We’d left at just after 9AM and it was now approaching noon.
As soon as I got out onto Apache Trail or highway 88 leading up to the tourist “town” of Tortilla Flat, I was stuck behind traffic. Slow moving traffic on a slow moving road. I knew I could go faster than this, and wanted to. Come on, I’ve got 1203 raw cubic centimeters of American V-twin thumping under me, I need to unleash it!
Within minutes of reaching ‘the fun road’, I was heaving in a ditch half-under a 500-pound motorcycle trying to catch my breath after bashing into a rock face.
They say you should try to never run out of grip, talent, and luck at the same time, which is exactly what I did. A mixture of hubris, impatience, poor judgement, and the thrill of chasing down the next corner had me riding with less care than I should have. Ultimately it wasn’t big speed that bit me in the ass, it was surprise and panic.
Considering I’ve had hundreds of hours in the saddle of Indian’s FTR since it launched in 2019, I thought of it like an old friend. It was already among my favorite motorcycles, and the changes Indian made for 2022 promised to make it an even better ride. I’ve been riding bikes on road and off for years, and while I’d never count myself among the most talented writer/riders, I would have said I was reliable and decent enough to get the job done. Then I let my baser urges get the better of me.
The corner in question, shown above, shouldn’t have been anything outside the norm. It was a steady radius 20 mph left curve following a soft flowing right hander on near-perfect pavement. Coming out of the curve I knew I was carrying too much speed, perhaps 40 miles per hour, for the shorter corner coming up, so I dipped my right toe to brush the rear brake. My intention was to scrub off speed for the tight left, but apparently I dipped too abruptly and engaged ABS.
There was no hope of getting my speed down enough to make the corner. If I’d kept the trajectory I was on, a road sign sat perfectly at the edge of the road waiting to clean my clock. As such, in a split second decision, I stood the bike up straight to exit the pavement a few feet earlier and allow myself another twenty feet or so to get the bike slowed for a glancing blow into the cliff face.
It went quickly, and I remember the whole thing, but time didn’t slow down. From the moment the rear brake pedal went soft as computers determined I was pushing too hard to maintain traction, I knew I was going off. It was a sickening feeling. A mix of “This is going to hurt” and “Oh shit, I fucked up.” My goals were to reduce the hurt and reduce the fuck up.
By the time I touched the wall I couldn’t have been doing more than ten or fifteen miles per hour. It was already a low speed corner, and I’d been on the brakes hard for several seconds. I met the wall like an NFL linebacker. My right shoulder shoved into the wall, head down, braced for impact. There wasn’t a blackout moment or anything, I just felt the impact and the bike and I tumbled to the ground in a heap of spent kinetic energy.
There was a moment of panic when I realized I couldn’t breathe. I watched another rider from our group pull up alongside me on the road as a handful of cars passed without stopping. I couldn’t vocalize that I was okay. As my spasming diaphragm fought my brain’s panic response to fill my lungs with air, I realized I’d had the wind knocked out of me. My adrenaline forced me to give a thumbs up, and once my lungs began operating again I climbed to my feet. A cursory check for feeling in my extremities and a mental assessment of my brain activity confirmed that I was alright.
With the help of two others, I pulled the toppled FTR back onto its wheels. Scrapes along the Akrapovič muffler and collector, a few on the right side tank cover, a dirty grip, a broken turn signal, and a cracked mirror. It looked mostly okay until I saw the radiator gushing fluid onto the ground. In my adrenaline-rattled state I tried to fire the bike up to get it up onto the pavement for further assessment. It started, but was spitting fluid out even faster. I shut it back off and lowered the kickstand.
I didn’t get off of the bike again, even amid checks from one of the other riders in our group who is a card carrying emergency medical first responder. It felt nice to sit still for a minute as my heartrate returned to the atmosphere. Cursory checks indicated I had not suffered a concussion, and in taking my jacket off, it looked like I’d gotten away with nothing more than some bruising and sore muscles. It was then that I began to feel the light scrape on my knee and saw the torn denim that had allowed it. If the only lasting damage from this incident was a scuffed knee, I got away lightly.
My Bell Moto III helmet’s visor took most of the damage, scraping the plastic and taking only a light hit on the actual shell. Regardless, it’s a couple of years old now and looking well worse for it, so it was time to replace that lid anyway. Besides, even if the helmet doesn’t take damage, there’s something superstitious in me that says not to wear a downed helmet again. Time to retire that one.
My Alpinestars jacket shows only a minor scuff at the shoulder where the armor protected my fleshy meat. Interestingly there isn’t so much as a scratch on my gloves or boots.
While I know this crash was a minor one, it could have been much worse if I hadn’t been wearing the right gear for the ride. Get a good brain bucket, a good jacket with proper armor, good gloves, good boots. And don’t be like me, wear actual riding jeans. If that one piece of kit had been on my body, I’d probably still have been stiff and sore, but without so much as a scrape.
This is my second time putting a bike down on public roads in decades of riding and tens of thousands of miles logged. I’m glad it wasn’t worse than this, and I’m glad I was wearing the right stuff. My helmet, in particular, saved me from getting my clock cleaned on a jagged rock. It’s important, people, please wear it.
My ego will hurt for a while, as I’ll be known as the guy who wrecked a bike on a press trip for at least the next few years, but I can live with that. My actions have consequences, and I will always learn from them. This oops will impact my riding mentality for the rest of my life, and maybe that will keep me and the bikes I ride safe well into the future.
My name was on that bike. It was bonded to me from the beginning of the day. It wanted nothing more than to keep me safe, and I failed to give it the same consideration. I apologized profusely to everyone on staff from Indian Motorcycles, but they wouldn’t hear it. To a one, they all said that motorcycles are just metal and reassured me that it could be rebuilt. They were more than satisfied that I walked away largely unscathed.
They might be right, but I still feel like an asshole