Our fantastic weekend at ESTN ended abruptly Sunday afternoon. We were a group of four bikes: I was lead (on my VFR), then Holly (Ducati 748), followed by Eric (EJWorthen) and Pam 2-up on their FJR, and Frank (FJRski) rode sweep.
We'd just left the Blue Ridge Parkway near Lynchburg, VA and headed east on Rt.130 in Amherst County. After countless miles of twisties and sweepers, the road became arrow-straight and flat for a half-mile.
I noticed a truck in our lane a hundred yards ahead. It appeared to be traveling the same speed we were, about 55-60mph. All of a sudden I closed on the truck at a terrifying rate of speed. At some point my brain registered that the truck had stopped---but I never saw brake lights (and neither did anyone else).
When I found myself about to rear-end the truck at 50mph, I grabbed a fistful of front brakes (didn't even think of the rear) and angled right toward the grass shoulder.
Meanwhile, Holly (who was a few bike lengths behind me) also grabbed a fisful of brakes and went into a near-vertical stoppie. I didn't see this, but Eric, Pam and Frank did. They said Holly went vertical, then modulated the brake to bring the rear down, but then squeezed again---sending the rear back up again.
At about this time, she struck my left rear Givi hardbag---a glancing blow. It was a hard enough impact to knock the VFR from under me and onto its side on the grass shoulder. I looked to the left in time to see Holly and her bike fly past me. The bike slammed down on its side and slid down the pavement, coming to a stop several feet short of the stopped truck. Holly tumbled and pulled into a fetal position and came to a stop on her back, groaning.
Eric and Frank both had time and space to stop safely and pull onto the right shoulder. I ran to Holly to check on her. She seemed okay and was angry at not stopping safely. We asked her if everything felt okay (no severe pain, no difficulty moving anything, etc.) and when she said yes, she got up and moved to the side of the road, where she kneeled in the grass.
Frank helped me pick up her bike and roll it to the side of the road. Bits of mirror, turn signals, brake lever, were scattered everywhere.
Someone called the police while we picked up the pieces.
1. We were traveling east at 3:40pm on a clear day with the sun on our backs---meaning bright sunlight on the truck ahead of us.
2. Our speed was initially in the 60-65mph range, and as soon as we saw the vehicles ahead we slowed to 55-60mph.
3. I don't know exactly what the distance between bikes was, but we were spread out, at least 3-4 car lengths between us (e.g. not bunched up tightly). Had we applied the 3-second rule, we might have failed---I don't think we were that far apart.
4. There were actually two vehicles ahead of us, both in our lane. The first vehicle was a compact car that was completely obscured from view by a larger pickup truck behind it. Apparently the compact car braked suddenly to make a left turn. The truck was probably surprised and braked hard too.
5. Nobody saw brake lights on the truck, period. We're not 100% certain whether this was because of direct sunlight on the back of the truck...or because the truck had no brake lights. What is certain is that we had zero warning of the stopped vehicles.
6. I am now a worshipper of ABS brakes. If anyone tells me they have a problem with them, I'll openly declare them an idiot. I know from experience now that in a panic situation, there is no such thing as "carefully modulating the brakes." If you think you're going to rear-end someone at 40+ mph and you have less than a second to stop, you WILL grab that front brake for all you're worth. The result? Of 4 bikes, 3 had ABS brakes and one didn't. Guess which bike ended up doing a stoppie and falling?
7. ATGATT. Holly's gear did its job. She was wearing a Shoei RF-1000 helmet, Held Profi gloves, a Tourmaster Transition jacket, and Cortech overpants. Her Transition jacket was abraded in a few spots, but not worn through anywhere. The inseam on her overpants blew out in one spot, but otherwise the pants are fine. And the Shoei got a heck of a scrape, but Holly's head is fine. (She remembers taking a hard knock to the head on the pavement.) It's worth noting that the only place Holly had a little spot of road rash was on her lower back---where the jacket obviously rode up. A good argument for jackets that attach to pants.
8. The two other vehicles that stopped suddenly ahead of us (including the truck with possibly no brake lights) fled the scene of the accident. They appeared to stop briefly to be sure Holly wasn't severely injured (though I don't know how they thought they could tell), and then high-tailed it out of there. We were too shocked by the whole thing and concerned for Holly to get a license tag number.
9. Holly was not cited for anything by the Amherst County police officer who arrived on the scene. He asked about our speed, and we told him "no more than 55," which is likely the truth. The officer was obviously impressed by our full gear and said as much. (We probably didn't strike him as a bunch of squids.)
Holly went to the ER at Lynchburg General Hospital, where she got a full set of X-rays and CAT scans. She has a stable hairline fracture in her C6 vertabrae, but is fine other than being bruised and sore and stiff.
The bike was towed to a local garage to the tune of $200. (Insurance should cover it---we hope.) After Holly was released from the emergency room at around 9pm Sunday, we called a taxi to drive her to a hotel. We followed the taxi over, got Holly checked in, then went out for fast food and had a nice feast in Holly's room.
Eric, Pam, Frank and I then hit the road at about 11pm and rode the 180 miles back to my house in Harpers Ferry, where we all crashed. The next morning, Eric, Pam and Frank hit the road for home (PA), and I drove back to Lynchburg to pick up Holly.
We rented a U-Haul flatbed trailer with a ramp, retrieved the bike, and drove it DucPond Motorsports in Winchester, VA. Donnie Unger, owner of DucPond and a longtime veteran superbike racer, generously met us at the shop even though the shop is closed on Mondays. He looked the bike over and said he'd repaired other 748's with similar damage. He said there are ways he can get creative and get the bike looking good again without paying top-dollar for replacement Ducati parts. (e.g. Ebay, etc.)
We were happy leaving the bike with Donnie---he's one of the best Ducati mechanics (and riders) in North America and knows the 748 inside-out, so the bike is in very capable hands! (BTW, if you haven't seen DucPond since they became a full-blown Ducati dealer, you need to---they are probably the premiere Ducati dealership in the Mid-Atlantic region now. We got the private tour of the showroom from Donnie.)
In closing, Holly was lucky it wasn't worse. She's upset with herself for not allowing greater following distance, and while that played a role, it wasn't the sole cause of the accident---which was also due to a suddenly stopped vehicle with no (or non-visible) brake lights.
She might keep the 748...or we might sell it. Holly is realizing that she doesn't really need a superbike these days...and is thinking maybe something a little more moderate might suit her for the kind of riding we do now.
PS - It's ironic---and a valuable lesson for us all---that this accident occurred on a straight, flat stretch of road after safely riding hundreds of miles of some of the twistiest, most technical roads in the U.S.!
PPS - The rest of the ESTN weekend---before the accident---was fantastic! I'll post pics later.
PPPS - Holly and I owe a huge THANK YOU to Eric (EJWorthen), Pam, and Frank (FJRski) for being such great friends and riding partners through the accident and the endless hours of waiting around at the ER afterward. You guys are all great!
Here's a photo (below) of the scene a few minutes after the accident. We'd picked up Holly's bike (the yellow Ducati); that's Holly sitting on the shoulder, with Pam standing beside her--- :eek:and that's my VFR (still hadn't picked it up yet)...
This photo (below) tells it all: vehicle skid marks, with a yellow stripe from Holly's fairing right next to them...
And here's Holly's Shoei RF-1000 helmet, below...
(I can post close-ups of the abraded parts of her Transition jacket if anyone's interested.)