Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Accidents (ZAMA)

Zen can be described as a religion that questions life and philosophises on the answers. For example, the well known saying ‘shit happens’ becomes in Zen parlance, ‘what is the sound of shit happening?’ If you are a biker, then you will already know the answer to this.

The Motorcycle.
Now many of you will think that the prime function of a motorcycle is to transport the rider from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’, but you would be wrong. The prime function of a motorcycle (and scooters and mopeds - if you insist) is to keep the rider from contacting the road surface.

And before you question this key statement, consider that the only people who willingly come in to contact with the surface beneath them at speed are skiers, ice skaters and snowboarders and such like. All the rest of us thrive on keeping out of contact with the surface beneath them, especially given the ground is not moving and you are. Do you follow me so far?

Another profound fact is that every motorcycle rider will have an accident: these can range from a simple dropping the bike when trying to start it, putting the stand up or down, stopping adjacent to a hole in the road surface through to the more advanced options such as a ‘highsider’ or everyone’s favourite, the ‘T Bone’ …

Motorcycles come in all shapes and sizes, some with engines as small as 50cc and other with 1500cc engines pushing them along. But at the end of the day, when a bike stops performing its prime function of keeping you from contact with the road surface, you will get a close up and personal introduction to asphalt. Much can be said about asphalt but in the end it all comes down to the fact that asphalt does not give you a soft landing at either 10mph or 70mph, nor does it lessen the impact if you descend from a humble moped or a super bike.

However asphalt is fashion conscious: it just loves the intimacy of casual clothes such as T Shirts, shorts and flip-flops but has a distain for the likes leather boots and trousers, Kevlar gloves, heavy duty jackets, reinforced knee and elbow pads. Crash helmets are compulsory in the UK but then again, asphalt does so much prefer the open face design, these are so accommodating when the opportunity for a quick, over in a flash, full on, intimate asphalt kiss presents itself.

It has been said you should never trust a motorcycle that has a higher horsepower than your I.Q, because at the end of the day, you know who is going to end up in control. Note: many motorcycles have a power output in excess of 140 hp... Seriously, a motorcycle can and will kill you if you do not respect it.

So given the number one rule of motor biking – you will have an accident – the following will be of interest to those of you yet to experience their first fall from grace, and for all you veterans to compare notes.

Our fickle friend, asphalt, is just an arm’s length away from you as you ride your motorcycle and for the most part, it performs its duty and helps you safely on your way. But on occasions, asphalt has to cope with outside influences, such rain or ice, or man-made concoctions such as diesel fuel. On these occasions, asphalt simply lies back and says, ‘let the rider beware…’

If one doesn’t beware, then the result will typically be a ‘low-side’ crash where the bike loses traction on the asphalt and slides out from under the rider. This type of accident can be a good introduction to
ZAMA in that one’s pride often is more hurt than oneself, and the motorcycle can be relatively cheaply repaired. And you learn the first law of ZAMA, motorbike accidents are noisy affairs, your pride and joys sliding down the road on its side, with you alongside, make fingernails on blackboards seem a mere trifle.

The opposite of a low-side accident is the much more entertaining ‘high-side’ which strangely can have nothing to do with our dear friend the asphalt, but with the rider. In a high-side situation, the rider exits the bike in a fast and upward trajectory. The reasons for a high-side can be from sudden impact with another road user, or rider’s error. e.g. rider is doing 70mph when the rear tire loses grip, then regains it. The motorcycle experiences a sudden input of energy and reacts accordingly. Unless the rider is experienced in riding bucking broncos, the result will be rider and motorcycle parting company.

Then there are the ‘Self-inflicted’: pulling a wheelie, doing a stoppie, burning a donut.

Shit Happens
‘Shit Happens’ is a popular mantra and maybe you are religious and feel that your God will look after you when you are out riding on your bike… So what are the options for a caring God?

TAOISM Shit Happens
ZEN What is the sound of Shit Happening?
HARE KRISHINA Shit Happens, Rama, Rama, Ding Dong.
HINDUISM This Shit Happened Before
ISLAM If Shit Happens, Take a Hostage
BUDDHISM When Shit Happens, is it really Shit?
CONFUCIANISM Confucius Say, Shit Happens
7th DAY ADVENTIST Shit Happens on Saturday
PROTESTANTISM Shit won’t happen if I work harder
CATHOLICISM If Shit Happens, I deserve it
JEHOVAH’S WITNESS Knock, Knock, Shit Happens
UNITARIAN What is this Shit?
MORMON Shit Happens Again & Again & Again…
UDAISM Why does this Shit Always Happen to Me?
RASTAFARIAN Let’s Smoke this Shit

Other Road Users to be wary of.
The Motorist
When emerging from a junction, or turning right, a motorist has little acceleration and is forced to take chances, especially on busy roads. However on a motorbike, you have speed and acceleration that will let you meeting other such drivers when they least expect it.

Long gone are the days of ‘leisure motoring’ and it is now congestion all the way; the other lane is always travelling faster than the one the motorists is in, so motorists constantly change lanes. Bikers on the other hand can legally ‘filter’ between lanes and of course this brings them into conflict the motorists.

Pedestrians and Pedal Cyclists
Both of these suffer from low rates of acceleration and have to take chances when on the highway. A biker’s ability to both access spaces cars cannot, to accelerate faster than a tortoise and in comparative quietness, through unseen gaps gives you the biker endless opportunities to collide with both.

Parting company with your bike.
The majority of journeys undertaken on your motorbike will cause you at least one shake of the head, a muffled curse, maybe a shout or gesture at another road user. Zen likes loud motorbikes but the law of the land doesn’t. So as a biker, you will creep up quietly on other poor road users who often wonder why they have little mirrors on the cars. And don’t forget, motorbikes are not only very quiet, they are also invisible to other road users. And cars have the ability to change direction suddenly and unexpectedly.

So a fellow road user fails to drive correctly, the road surface has problems, or your motorbike doesn’t quite perform as it does on your game console, then you will take part in ‘Zen and the art of Motorbike Accidents’

Zen Philosophy
When faced with a difficult choice you neither make it nor don’t make it. As Zen teaching has it, try to await the condition of being ‘choicelessly aware’. At some point, the choice ‘just happens’, in the same way that your breathing ‘just happens’, when you’re not thinking about it. Let your brain do the work without interference, just as you let your liver or your heart do their jobs without interference.

Don’t let your ego (your centre of conscious reflection) get in the way. In other words, you trust your unconscious to make the choice for you. Nature is not always to be trusted, but it is a better bet than so called ‘rational action’ for it contains a wisdom that is far deeper than reason.

If you think too much about a choice, it is bound to go up shit creek. And you will not have a paddle anywhere to hand. So when you inevitably have that accident on your motorbike, what happens next is not a matter of reason, but only of courage, and faith.

The initial ‘accident’
If you are lucky there will be no warning - there is nothing worse than seeing yourself heading inexorably towards a collision or a parting of the ways with your bike. There will be a moment, a clichéd slow-motion firing of all your synapses as you realise, "Shit this is going to hurt…”

There are usually 2 scenarios. Both you and the bike stop abruptly. Usually this is the end of the story.

Bike stops abruptly, you do not. It's like being superman and its great whilst it lasts - which is not very long. It usually starts with a loud bang as your bike makes contact with something that should not be there and is quickly followed by the flying section for either a few feet or in some cases, many feet. But before you can fully enjoy this unusual sensation, gravity kicks in and quickly brings you back down to earth where you then indulge in the sliding and rolling part of the process and once you come to a complete rest, you then experience the “oh-my-god-the-pain” part.

The Fall.
Normally this is from a height no greater than chest height and so in itself is not a problem. If you have time, aim to miss the ground or to glide a little before contact. If this is not an option, try to roll rather that putting out a hand to deflect the inevitable impact. This stage brings on the first hint of pain.

Once contact has been made with the ground, basic science rules take over. You will still initially have the same speed and direction of travel as you had whilst in the air. Speed is best lost by sliding, though sliding will involve an exchange of energy or its conversion into something else. Best case scenario is that you are wearing leathers, or a Kevlar reinforced jacket and trousers, with similar gloves and boots, and the exchange of forward motion to full stop will be a less painful experience. However if you are wearing jeans and a T shirt, with bare hands and trainers, then the cessation of momentum will involve a heavy price in the way of shredded clothing, quickly followed by shredded living flesh.

Now the above assumes you are not wearing a rucksack - which in the event of an unintentional dismount, will impart a semi-random change in direction of your body once contact has been made with the ground. The downside of this is that one can become airborne again, albeit briefly, and so have so to through the whole process of contacting the ground once more. In addition, the induced tumbling generated by the rucksack will bring arms and legs into play though they will have difficulty in keeping up with the body and so be liable to much waving about and breakages.

So choose your own level of pain.

The Stop.
Ideally this is achieved through friction on soft, flat, stone-free grass as found on the edges of race tracks. Even if your accident takes place in the nice countryside, hedges are not soft: hedges in the countryside are not made of soft Privet, instead farmers use all sorts of foliage that invariably contains thorns and spike of various descriptions as they are primarily used to keep livestock contained within (and ‘townies’ out).

As lush grass strips invariably are not available at the side of roads, the unfortunate biker has to use the asphalt to slow down and in built-up areas, whatever street furniture is available, such as lamp posts, kerb-stones, pillar boxes, parked vehicles, garden fences, give-way signs and worst of all, traffic heading towards you.

Oh, and your motorbike may or may not land on top of you.

Any of these will introduce you to one of the bodies defence mechanisms - pain! But don’t despair, pain is good, it tells you are alive, that you have feeling at least somewhere in your body.

The aftermath.
The truth is Shit Happens – you just have to get used to it. And despite all those ‘I’m so sorry, it was all my fault, I didn’t see you, don’t’ worry, our insurances will sort it all out’ assurances you are given whilst bleeding and in pain at the side of the road, it will all change in a very short space of time.

As a biker, you were obviously speeding, riding like a lunatic, ignoring road conditions, having no regard for other road users, you didn’t signal, you didn’t look, have your lights on, give way, you overtook when you shouldn’t have as it was obvious that I was turning/pulling out/parking/on my phone/checking my hair/lighting a fag . Oh and you bikers are all the same!

Your motorbike will have suffered a lot of damage cosmetically, so the ensuing claim will be extensive. And of course there will be your injuries. Hopefully you will not be one of the many ‘Donorbikers’ that contribute so much to the UK’s transplant services and that you are able to pursue your claim for damages.

Even if you have a helmet or bike camera, you are still in for a rough ride as invariably the more damage to you, the more of a fight with the other party you will have. The other party will lie, deny, and pull every trick in the book to dismiss you and your case as ‘just another biker blaming a motorist’. Even with camera footage, the 3rd party will look for a way out or a way to reduce your claim.

In conclusion
As a biker you will have an accident. It may be minor, or it may be life changing. It may be your own fault, or that of another, but it will happen, it is part of riding a motorbike. The only way to educate drivers about bikers is to make riding a bike part of the driving test for all car drivers. Once would be car drivers have been out in everyday traffic on two wheels, they will have a much better idea of what it is like to be a biker.

Remember, 'Ride like no one can see you, and the ones that do see you are trying to run over you'


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Charles Pope's picture
Member since:
23 October 2009
Last activity:
15 hours 54 min

Motorcycle: "A bicycle with a motor". What could possibly go wrong?

When my motorcycle was stolen from my high school parking lot, I took it as a sign from God and thereafter have only owned cars.

By the way, it's my perception that people who drive "safe cars" tend to drive very safely or very recklessly. The reckless ones think they don't need to drive safely in a safe car! On the other hand, people who drive inherently dangerous motorcycles also either drive very safely or very recklessly.