Ducati 1198 Crash = 93 Stitches, Downtime & Enhanced Focus

The crude reminder on the 1198's battered fairing.
The crude reminder on the 1198's battered fairing.
The crude reminder on the 1198’s battered fairing.

Lieback’s Corner, (#23) / 12.15.2013

Head in the mirror, I am enjoying this October ride just before noon. Not too aggressive, but allowing the Ducati 1198 to express its Desmo soul.

This is my first time riding the 1198 in over two weeks. I had just spent two weeks with my wife on a honeymoon in Italy. A lover of everything Ducati, of course it had to be Italy. One of the highlights was a tour the Ducati factory and museum with curator and history know-it-all Livio Lodi.

Another highlight? Piloting a Ducati Multistrada 1200 S from the Bologna factory to Verona. The journeys those days were perfect for any honeymoon – the soul of Ducati meets Romeo & Juliet.

But once home, and the jet lag resides, the only thing I want is some seat time on the 1198. I am completely relaxed from the two-week vacation, which was the first time in at least four years when I didn’t work over 65 hours in one week.

Ugh! What 93 stitches looks like following a slow low-side crash aboard Ducati 1198.
Ugh! What 93 stitches looks like following a slow low-side crash aboard Ducati 1198.

And on the third day home from the honeymoon, I may have been too relaxed. This led to a knee full of stitches, nearly $6,000 worth of damage on my beloved 1198, and, on a positive note, some reflection on riding that will hopefully increase safety in the future.

But back to that horrible Wednesday…

Looking through a curve tighter than Sepang’s hairpin Turn 15, the yellow line suddenly disappears by the green fender of an SUV. Luckily I stick to the “Wide, Deep and Late” concept for corner entry I learned long ago at Cornerspeed school, and I’m on the outside of the lane. I focus my attention to the side of the road, which is unfortunately all gravel.

Things slow as they did in my only other street accident in 18 years of riding. “Look where you want to go,” another vital concept of riding, allows me to miss the SUV. But it also has me focusing on the gravel-strewn side of the road. I see the rock that is going to make me low side at a mere 10 or 15 mph as I’m leaning my body off as much as possible to get more meat of the tires on the ground.

But I’m without luck; the Ducati slides to the right, I to the left. I rush to get up as the Ducati continues running, the chain slapping as the engine chugs along in first gear with the suspension unloaded.

The SUV, well it’s gone. Unlike Sepang, the inside of this turn is covered by trees; by the time I wreck the SUV is far gone, and likely never even saw me hit the road. On first look, the bike has some major fairing damage, a broken shifter, a dangling mirror, and just looks horrible.

As for me, I’m in shock. I know I cut up my knee. It actually hit the ground before I crashed, but unfortunately I am not in full leathers like I am 99 percent of the time. I am in brown UPS pants – yep, about 20 of those 65+ hours of working are spent driving a brown UPS truck around in the wee hours of the morning. As many journalists know, writing will not make you rich. And it’s time like these that the health benefits from the part-time gig pay off.

So I push the bike up on its wheels, use my hand to put the broken shifter into third-gear position, and begin trekking home – which turned out to be almost nine miles. And the road is Isle of Man TT quality, one of my favorite sportbike roads, so third gear was optimal for a one-handed ride back. Pulling from the few stop signs in third gear absolutely sucked, though.

But something is not right with the knee, and though not bleeding, it’s burning. It feels moist and gooey, so I reach down and create a truncate with my pants as I ride with one hand. When I get home, I stumble into the garage. Upon taking my pants off, I realize there is a huge hole in my knee. More shock sets in…

I go inside, thinking it’s just going to be a peroxide cleaning and some Band-Aids. But when I place it under the faucet in the tub, I see how big the hole really is; I can actually see my knee cap. More shock leads to me using Benadryl Anti-Itch Gel instead of peroxide. And of course, this creates intense burn that makes the mind go completely maniacal.

More shock leads to me calling the wife, who rushes home and takes me to MedExpress; we refuse the ER due to waiting almost 12 hours once for a gall-bladder attack. The X-Rays show some “foreign bodies,” aka gravel, under the knee cap, and the doctor at MedExpress sends me to a plastic surgeon; this MD is not touching a thing.

But the plastic surgeon is at the ER performing emergency surgery, and the wife and I are stuck waiting once again. No meds, no wine, nada. Nearly 8 hours after my crash, the surgeon is back, and is poking every area around my knee; he uses three long-ass needles loaded with local anesthetic for numbness.

The surgeon is the most honest person I ever met. “This is going to be the worse pain you ever felt,” he says. I tell him it can’t be too bad consider I have a rod in my right femur and cracked a few other things, including my skull. But he is correct, and hands me two blue balls to squeeze for the pain. The funny situation is unique. But the uniqueness intensifies considering the whole time Pink Floyd is playing in the background; doc is a huge music buff.

Next arrives a scalpel, and one huge clean cut so Mr. Plastic Surgeon can scrape out these “foreign bodies,” which he says there’s got to be over 40 in there. He uses a small, 4×2 sanding block – appearing like something used during sheet rock installation – and continues scrapping as if smoothing my open wound for a fresh coat of paint.

Then came the stitches – all 93 of them (which was my sign from above that Marc Marquez would win the 2013 MotoGP title!). After over an hour of work, the surgeon is done. I’m happy to go home and finally eat, but because the stitches went over the knee, I was stuck in a knee immobilizer.

This equals eight weeks of downtime, and many hours of reflecting on what I  could have done differently. Everything points towards focus, focus, focus.

Coming off such relaxation during the honeymoon, my normal defensive riding techniques were down. Sure, I did everything possible, but I was more focused on the enjoyment of the ride and the sound of the desmo over being aware of real-world dangers.

Things I could have done: 1.) Took the corner much slower – say 5 instead of 10 mph. 2.) Realized a vehicle was coming by looking ahead much sooner, and glancing through the trees to see the other side of the corner. 3.) Redirecting my focus off the rock I suddenly knew was going to make me low side.

Plus, I should have worn my leathers, regardless if I was taking the bike to work. It’s these shorter rides where our guard is down even further because we are well aware of our surroundings, making us comfortable.

I drove myself crazy those few weeks, and it all culminated with electrical tape and a battered left Ducati fairing. I crudely wrote “focus” on the fairing, and hung the fairing from the garage wall so I see it every time I’m heading out. It’s crude because that’s the way things look when focus is no longer there.

Focus is key to riding safely, and is what all other safety practices are built upon. If you remain focused at all times, especially when things in life are at their utmost comfort levels – such as days after a relaxing honeymoon – you’ll arrive home safely.

Keep this focus in mind every time you ride, and hopefully you won’t have to create a sign as I did with a scraped up fairing from your most beloved motorcycle.

Stay Twisted; Throttle Yr Soul

– Ron Lieback


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