By on November 19, 2013

GSXR1100

The ’91 GSXR 1100 was a feral beast. It had been tame once, well “mostly tame” anyhow, but the bike’s previous owner had stripped away the thin veneer that civilization had imposed upon it and restored it to its primeval form. It hadn’t taken much, really. Larger carburetors, performance cams and a full race exhaust had transformed the bike from a wickedly fast street machine into a full-race bike that, despite the license plates, had no business being on the street. Still, it had a sort of lethal charm that attracted men like me: confident, experienced, prideful. It was a battle of wills I would not lose. I was determined to master the bike and, like a living thing, the bike was determined to kill me.

They say that most people who die in accidental shootings are killed by “unloaded guns.” I would imagine that most people who die on motorcycles are riding relatively “safe” bikes. You know the kind, usually big and slow. The ones that inspire confidence in their riders. The GSXR was the opposite of a “safe” bike. It was big, powerful and with a short wheelbase was exceedingly ill-mannered at slow speeds. On the move it was roughly sprung and, despite the steering damper affixed to the bars, prone to a bit of headshake when you laid on the power.

Still, on the smooth pavement of the Japanese expressway, the bike was a marvel of precision engineering. The slightest input translated into immediate action. A simple turn of the wrist became instant acceleration. A modest pull of the brake lever would slow even the most determined head-long rush with surprising aplomb. The GSXR was a true thoroughbred and, when it was doing what it was built to do, the division between man and machine was nonexistent. Like living thoroughbreds, however, it could be sensitive and fickle, too.

The problem began with the slightest of judders when I rolled on the throttle. The bike still surged forward upon command, but the edge wasn’t there and I noticed the change immediately. The problem was more pronounced the next time out. As I hit the gas, the bike stumbled as it came up to speed. Over time, these little vibrations became a full-on epileptic fit as the bike surged and shook whenever I added more than just a smidgen of gas. I knew I would have to address the situation and ran, one at a time, through the possible problems.

041000246unpackaged

Sportbikes are a pain in the ass to work on. Like an old muscle car, the premise of a sportbike is simple – take the biggest, most powerful engine you have and stuff it into the lightest, smallest package you can. Needless to say, clearance is limited and getting to the various bits and pieces I needed to work with proved to be a problem. I started by replacing the spark plugs but there was no effect. next, I made certain the fuel petcock was working and that no lines were pinched before finally deciding to access the air filter.

I hated the idea of opening the air filter. Located behind the carbs, under the gas tank and in the area that normally rested directly between my thighs, it was easy to see but next to impossible to get open. To make matters worse, the airbox, like so many other things on my bike was modified as well. To get into it, I had to pull the gas tank and seat and then disconnect several electrical connections before pulling the battery and then the battery box. After that I had to use a stubby screw driver to unfasten several screws and then another to loosen the large clamp that held on a single, large filter element. It took time, effort and a lot of scraped knuckles but I managed to do it without losing my sanity.

Once it was out, the filter didn’t appear to be especially dirty and so I figured that I had gone down yet another false path. Regardless, I washed it out in a bucket of fresh gasoline and started the tedious process of putting the bike back together. It took time, but when it as done the bike fired right up and idled fine. Grabbing my helmet, I wheeled the bike out of its parking spot and and headed for an access road that ran along beneath the expressway close to the Port of Yokohama.

yokohama

At the first stoplight I checked for the cops and grabbed a handful of throttle. The old bike surged strongly as it shot its way towards the redline. I grabbed second gear and held the throttle wide open. Able to breathe correctly for the first time in a long while, the old bike ate up the road without missing a beat. Shifting into third I got off the gas and let the bike slow before working it through a series of roll-on accelerations to make sure the problem was fully resolved. It was and I felt good.

A couple of miles out I turned around and headed home. I stayed off the gas a let the bike chug along in the higher gears. It was a relief that my notoriously finicky bike was working so well and I decided at the last moment to head through the port facility to a small park at the base of the harbor light house. The Port of Yokohama is a sprawling place and the central road is easily six lanes wide. Normally filled with idling trucks waiting to pick-up or drop-off loads at the port it is, for the most part, a featureless, pancake-flat stretch of pavement split by frequent railroad tracks. At its far end, the road meets a high cement sea-wall and curves around the barrier in a set of sweeping S-curves. Given the width of the road and the lack of traffic I hit them hard and slipped through them without a hitch.

At the lighthouse, I turned around and headed once again towards. It was a nice day and I wasn’t eager to be back inside so I went slowly, trudging along in the higher gears, the engine stumbling along just above idle. As the S-curves approached I dropped down a gear but the bike’s engine abruptly died. Unphased, I pulled int he clutch, downshifted again and dumped the clutch to bump-start the bike. The engine sprang back to life and I rolled smoothly through the first corner, righted the bike and then leaned into the next. It was there, mid-apex, that the engine died again.

Things happened fast. The back wheel locked and the tire began to slide. To prevent a “low-side,” a type of accident where the back tire of a bike slips out from underneath you and leaves you sliding on your ass, I grabbed the clutch and got the back wheel rolling again. But skidding loads a bike’s suspension and, as the back wheel regained traction, the rear spring was free to unleash its pent-up energy. As the spring sprung, the bike bucked, turning into an angry bronco as it attempted – and then succeeded – in throwing me off.

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Free of its rider, the bike continued to follow its momentum over onto its far side while I was thrown, still in seated position with my legs beneath me, high into the air almost like a fighter pilot being ejected from his stricken aircraft. The odd thing was that, despite the amazing height I achieved, my forward momentum was not really that great and I had let go of the bars quickly enough that I hadn’t been thrown head over heels. I straightened my body and landed hard on my feet, breaking into a run as soon as I touched down. In a mere moment I was safe on the sidewalk looking back at my stricken bike as it attempted to disgorge the contents of its fuel tank into the street.

Adrenaline pumping, I ran back to the big bike and levered it back onto its wheels. One of the handle bars was twisted and a side mirror broken off, but otherwise the bike looked to be in decent shape. After pushing it to the side of the road, I pulled off my helmet, bent the bar back to where I could use it and tried to refire the bike. The starter growled for a fraction of a second and then clicked off, the battery was obviously dead. How odd. I pulled off the seat and looked to see if there was anything I could do. The problem was immediately obvious, in my rush to complete the project I had failed to reconnect one vital part of the bike’s charging system and had made the entire run on battery power alone. I cursed my own stupidity.

I snapped the wires back together and tried bump starting the bike. It took several runs up and down the flat street and by the time the old bike eventually fired I was nearly sick to my stomach with exhaustion. I waited to recover while the bike idled unevenly and, when the worst had passed, I clicked it into gear and limped home. It was a walk of shame.

In 20 years of hard, fast riding I had never had an accident on the street. Sure, once or twice I had put my foot down wrong at a stoplight and fallen over, but I had never been thrown or had any kind of real accident. I had been extremely fortunate. There was no real damage to the old bike and the only injury I suffered was to my own pride. You know pride, right? It’s that thing that comes before the fall. It’s the one injury that, I think, can never fully heal.

GSXR

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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34 Comments on “Pride Before the Fall...”


  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    For years, I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle.

    Then I remembered the learning curve I went through learning to drive a car.

    A bike will remain firmly in the realm of fantasy for me.

    • 0 avatar
      strafer

      If you didn’t start riding as a young man, don’t start at middle age.
      I got all my crashing out of the way in my 20′s, can’t imagine the damage I’d suffer if I crashed now.
      Buy a Corvette instead, like the other mid-life crisisers.

      • 0 avatar
        OneAlpha

        I don’t know about a Corvette, but I’ve got a few projects I’d like to try, though:

        1 – A 1988 Pontiac GTA with a built Series III 3.8 and a C5 manual transaxle.

        2 – A 2005 Monte Carlo with some sort of weird-ass AWD manual setup.

        3 – A 2003 Grand Am GT coupe with a RWD chassis conversion and an RB26 from an R32 Skyline.

        Normal just doesn’t do it for me.

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      Take the MSF course. A class usually has a diverse mix of people of all ages and backgrounds. I’m tempted to say motorcycling is a rather universal attraction.

      I won’t promise that everyone who takes a rider training school will take to motorcycling like fish to water, but everyone will get there given enough saddle time.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Pure. Mechanical. Heroin.

    I had a Suzuki Bandit 1200 S, which is basically your Gixxer, bored and stroked for more low end torque. You could take a street corner at 10 mph in fifth gear, roll it on and it was just like tearing silk…..smooth, instantaneous violent acceleration, even when grossly lugged.

    Too smooth for its own good, eventually I conceded that I am not old enough, nor will I ever be mature enough, to safely own a bike like that and sold it.

    • 0 avatar
      pragmatic

      I have a 97 Bandit 1200, nothing is like passing some slow truck on a two laner. Drop two gears, get into the passing lane at 50, wack the throttle, pull back in front of the truck at almost 100.

  • avatar

    Great story. Glad you’re OK. I was never willing to play the motorcycle odds. And I was also never particularly attracted to m’cycle riding. I do think some of them are beautiful, though.

  • avatar
    Viceroy_Fizzlebottom

    The worst thing about riding a motorcycle? The road itself is your worst enemy.

    I’ve been down due to the road not being cleaned after construction here in Chicago. Low-side on 90/94 because I rode through some sand that left over from temporary road barriers. I’m riding along not doing anything agressive or anything like that, as I’m going under the Ohio St bridge my back tire starts sliding out from under as I hit that sand patch. Nothing I could do, bikes goes down hard. I slide on my back for over 100ft @ over 60MPH (starfishing the entire way). Luckily the car that was behind me wasn’t following too close or else it probably would’ve ran me over. Bike was totalled but I walked away with a only few scratches on my side where my jacket slid up. Had I not been wearing a helmet I probably would’ve literally cracked my head open on the street.
    I got the devil’s luck man.

    Be safe out there fellow riders.

    • 0 avatar
      cognoscenti

      My only bike crash was also single vehicle, in a construction zone on a sandy corner! Difference was the speed (<25 MPH) and my experience level (the night I bought it). Luckily, I learned from that experience, because I graduated to open class bikes and never went down again. My riding friends used to say "There are only two types of rider: those that have crashed, and those that will crash."

    • 0 avatar
      droman1972

      I can’t agree with you more. My only big crash was in 1991 on Rt287 in New Jersey. I was only about 19 riding my first bike (1977 Honda CB550) and I hit a large piece of fiberglass (could have been a part of a bumper) at about 70mph. I began to have a violent headshake which eventually threw the handlebars into a full on tantrum. I dove for the shoulder just as the bike was about to throw me off hoping to at least control my fall. I slid for what seemed like an eternity on my back, then up the concrete divider and back down (luckily not over it!). When I finally came to a stop I was laying face down in the middle of the left lane, the entire 3 lane highway came to a halt and my bike slid all the way across and into a ditch. I was lucky it was a cold day and wore layers upon layers of clothes with a leather jacket. I still had a ton of road rash, though no broken bones. I even managed to ride my mangled bike (slowly down the shoulder) home. I continue to ride to this day, wiser of the road and its surprises and laughing at the idiots who ride with shorts and T-Shirts or no helmet at all.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    GAH! Self-inflicted mechanical problems are the worst!!!!

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    “They say that most people who die in accidental shootings are killed by ‘unloaded guns.’ I would imagine that most people who die on motorcycles are riding relatively “safe” bikes. You know the kind, usually big and slow. The ones that inspire confidence in their riders. The GSXR was the opposite of a ‘safe’ bike. It was big, powerful and with a short wheelbase was exceedingly ill-mannered at slow speeds.”

    Based purely on my own anecdotal experience, I think there’s something to that theory. Back during my riding years I had two spills while actually underway. Both occurred when I let my attention wander while puttering around on Harleys. The slow speeds and ease of riding low CGs bikes lulled me into looking at the scenery instead of remaining vigilant to my surroundings. Anyone who rides knows you can NEVER DO THAT! In contrast, I was always hyper vigiliant when riding sport bikes because of their propensity to scare the pants off a rider with just a little provocation.

    • 0 avatar
      axon890

      I agree on this theory as well. I used to ride back when I was younger, I had a ninja 500 that I rode the hell out of for some 6 years which I sold when I enlisted in the Army.

      Back in March I bought a ninja 300 thinking I would ease into riding again after not riding for almost 8 years. The 300 is so easy and fun to ride that it pretty much became my daily driver and honestly I became too confident.

      Three weeks ago I had my first crash on the road. I was riding at night coming home from work and set myself up for an easy low speed right-hander. However due to the lack of lighting in the road and the tinted visor I was too lazy to change out I didn’t see the pretty big puddle in the middle of the turn, my lean angle was too aggressive for wet conditions so I ended up low siding. Thanks to my gear everything turned out fine but I’ve been without a bike for a few weeks now while it’s fixed and of course my pride is hurt.

      I don’t know if things would have been different had I gotten a supersport that you have to be more attentive to but it surely was a sobering reminder that riding isn’t a hobby where you can ignore the little things and take things for granted.

      • 0 avatar
        afflo

        I went from riding sport bikes to a cruiser. A sporty bike is like a sporty car – it screams “MOAR! MOAR! MOAR!” just begging to be pushed to its limits. Your better judgment usually wins, but like an unguarded bottle of gin before an on-the-wagon alcoholic, it’s always there when your willpower is weakest. I was surprised to find a cruiser could feel just as enjoyable, but deliver up the fun and excitement at sane speeds that would have been boring on the Ninja.

        I have a little Triumph Bonneville America now. It’s slower for sure, but motorcycle-slow is still car-fast. Funny enough, I still have friends who ride big-twin HDs who are surprised that I can keep up with traffic on that “little 900.” Somehow, 60 horsepower pushing 750 lbs of bike and rider can keep up with 70 horsepower pushing 1000 lbs of bike and rider. Who knew!

        BUt yeah… Sometimes riding a sport bike feels like being Wile E. Coyote on a rocket. My first bike was a Ninja 250R… After about a month of riding that, my buddy asked if I wanted to take his Yamaha R6 for a spin. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    That picture of Yokohama, what is the name of the mountain in the background?

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Thomas, did you climb fuji? I did while stationed in Yokosuka. Loved Japan.

    My suzuki predated this one. A 78 or 79 1100 IIRC. Scared me to death which beats other things it could have done. It became a trike. As I grew older I found I healed somewhat slower and my DT175 is now rather fast company so far as I am concerned.

  • avatar

    No. I grew up in the woods and like the outdoors to a point, but am not a camper or a hiker.

    This bike was way too powerful for the street. I never really got to see what it could do top end wise. I think now that I would have had a lot more fun on a smaller, lower powered bike like the CBR250R I owned when I was teaching in Kyoto a few years earlier. I wonder sometimes if I would still be riding today if I had owned something a little less high strung.

    I had a CB1000 for a couple of months when I was in DC and it was sure a sweet running and handling bike. I’d have been better off if I had stuck with that…

    • 0 avatar
      Larry P2

      1986. Crashed a CBX Honda, the one with the mellifluous six cylinder engine. Hit two full sized Black Angus Bulls (both weighed more than 1,500 pounds) at 70 mph, killed both of them instantly. Shattered my left thigh bone and pelvis, puncturing the femoral artery. Lost 36 units of blood the first day. Now I am bionic, all patched together with titanium plates, stainless steel screws, metal thread and expansion bolts. I am a marvel of modern medical science. A week after my crash, a poor slob was driving a Peterbuilt cement mixer, hit a newborn calf (60 pounds or so), flipped it through the windshield just so, and killed the driver instantly.

      I am better, stronger faster after five agonizing major surgeries. The Bandit was emotional therapy, it took 20 years before I could get back up on that horse….and it took about a year before I could sit at a stop light on a four lane city street without being overcome with violent waves of panic attacks. But after awhile I enjoyed it for a few rides and then lost interest.

      Be careful out there.

    • 0 avatar
      gnekker

      Don’t know about ’91 model, but I remember the first gen GSX1100 from ’81 very well. It was the same uncontrollable beast as you described, so I had to let it go after few close calls. It was then that I learned that there is such a thing as too much power. Later I switched to GPZ 900 R that was actually faster and more powerful, but also easier to control.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    Only bike I have crashed was my big, slow, and heavy 33 Horsepower of thumper fury KLR650 so I will agree with your “safe bike” statement. Never my ZX6-R, Concours, or Bandit…Just the dam KLR. On the plus side the bike looked “right” with some battle damage.

  • avatar
    kuponoodles

    Low sided off a ninja 250, after trying to get around one of these steel plates they put over a recently dug hole. Actually had and learned on a honda vf500f. stupid is as stupid does.. the lack of situation awareness is what got me. that and I guess I’m just not good at it.

  • avatar

    My pride story was my first street bike, the ubiquitous “first-bike” Ninja 250.

    I entered a downhill sweeper a bit too fast, didn’t lean enough and took it into the wet grass on the side of the road. I was fine until the front end dug and stopped. I came to still holding the throttle, the bike upside down, in a bush, idling.

    I have an 04 GSXR1000 now, and it is indeed weapons grade insanity. Built before they calmed down the fuel injection mapping; idle to 5000 RPMs it is a 1 liter sport bike and don’t you forget it! But after 5K until redline, it is another batch of lunacy altogether. It’s like Dr Hyde and The Incredible Hulk.

    Like the mechanical heroin argument, it is ruthless in its addiction and striking in how quick you get used to it.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Good story.. You lucked out immensely by landing on your feet. That is one fear of mine. Getting a locked up rear wheel due to engine failure or some other problem.

    Happened to me about 20 years ago on some curvy back roads I was on while riding an 81 Yamaha Heritage Special. One of the sprocket bolts had gotten past the bolt locks and backed out to the point where it grabbed the swing arm. Rear wheel locked up solid. I couldn’t clutch it to free the wheel so I wrestled the bike to the side of the road from 40-45 mph. I managed to keep it up right. The bolt was bent and my meager tool kit would not be adequate for me to get it out to free the wheel. This young kid shows up in a 73 Polara/Monaco (dont remember now which one it was) and asks what the problem is.. I show him. He tells me his family owns a machine shop nearby and he will go get tools so we can fix it. We both get into the car and go to the shop, grab tools and come back to remove the stuck bolt. I was back on the road in minutes after repeatedly thanking the young man for saving my ass.

    That was one scary moment that ended well. I always check over and once-over my bikes before heading out but the this one little detail got past me. Nearly ruined my day.

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    I’ve been street riding sportbikes for over 20 years, haven’t crashed once (*knocks wood). All my crashing is reserved for track days! Lol!

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I began riding in 1972 and graduated up from my tiny Honda C100 50 CC Cub to various other motos , always had fun and really enjoyed my string of BMW /5′s .

    Over the years many people told me ” Nate , if you don’t slow the hell down that dang Moto will kill you one day “.

    As I know seriously fast riders I didn’t worry , had the usual step on oil in the gas station tipovers and so on , front end slid out on a gravel road once etc.

    September 31 2008 04:15 I was astride my Kawasaki W-650 waiting for a red light on my way to work and pondering how blessed my life is and has been : a job I love , a sweet lady beyond my wildest dreams , Son who’s doing well , the Bike was ticking over between my legs just perfectly ~ I think I’ll pull into that gas station across the street and fill up when the light turns green .

    Then , I opened my eyes and was looking up at a Styrofoam ceiling with a generic truck backup light in it , I knew right away it was either the morgue or a meat wagon…..

    Lessee ~ wiggle all 10 toes ? check .

    Wiggle all 10 fingers ? check .

    O.K. , relax and figure what’s what .

    About this time a Fireman peers into my face and asks my name , and could I please wiggle my toes and fingers ? .

    It seems as I was waiting for the red light , a gypsy cab ran me over from behind going faster than 50 MPH , even after he hit me and I flew through his windshield and landed in the front seat , he never applied his brakes ~ my trusty Kawi’s mangled read wheel jammed under the bumper , stopped his car .

    Before anyone else got there , he pulled me out and laid me on the sidewalk , nice and straight , then removed my helmet , this is a recipe for paralysis or death .

    My spine (L1) was shattered like a shot glass dropped on cement , my neck also was severely damaged , to this day none of the various First Responders or Doctors understand why I’m alive much less walking and yes , riding when the pain isn’t overwhelming as it is to – day .

    I wore a back brace from the dayI left the hospital until April 2013 .

    I’m the old guy you see riding ’round So. Cal. with a cane in a harness on his back , many think it’s a Ninja Sword .

    As I always say ” RIDE SCARED ! it’s a good way to stay alive .” .

    Thanx for good article Thomas , a reality check for Motocyclists .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    OldWingGuy

    I have an ’85 GSX-R 750 myself. Bought it new, still have it. In 1985, it was sold in Canada and Europe. Wasn’t sold in the US until ’86.
    I can confirm the headshake on this. Around 180kph or so, it would start wobbling. A little unnerving. As you say, even with a steering damper. Oddly enough, when I swapped with my buddy (an RG500), the Gixxer never shook at all for him. Had to do with weight distribution, resonant frequesncy, etc.

    Now both me and the bike are much older, so I don’t worry about going so fast. But I do wonder how a new Hayabusa would compare to my antique.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I hi-sided a Kawasaki Concours once, low speed on a rain-slicked road, landed on my feet without a scratch, the bike didn’t fare quite so well. The best part was it happened while I was turning into my apartment’s driveway, and a buddy of mine was buzzing my apartment to get in. Let’s go to the answering machine tape:
    “Hey, it’s Rob, guess I’ll hang out until…oh, here you come now HOLY CRAP!” Wish I’d saved that tape.

  • avatar
    DGA

    I’ve crashed a bike more ways than I can think of, on both street and track. I’ve also walked away mainly alright majority of the time, but those few that I could not walk away from did not alter the way I felt about bikes. They really made anything with 4 wheels feel very much obsolete, regardless of the price level, and I’m a bonafide car guy. That being said I’ve not crashed due to my own wrenching negligence (yet) and I’ve built and rebuilt at least a few bikes from nearly the last bolt on. First time coming out of the pits on a freshly put together machine and braking for the first corner at 170+ always makes me think and not about the upcoming turn, but if I’ve forgotten something in the assembly process.

    • 0 avatar
      Larry P2

      “They really made anything with 4 wheels feel very much obsolete….”

      That is one of my main criticisms of car magazines, and a big reason I am such a Corvette fan. A motorcycle has none of the high grade leather and real wood interior parts that supposedly are necessary for a car to get a good review, and all-too-often a car’s performance potential – comparatively and amenability to aftermarket upgrades – is overlooked or downplayed. That’s motorcycles in a nutshell: pure unadulterated performance, at a fantastic price and decent gas mileage.

      Tell me how you see motorcycles and I will tell you whether you are a real pistonhead, or a frustrated interior decorator.

      • 0 avatar
        DGA

        All the leather, wood, aluminum trim, and creature comforts can not replace the visceral feeling you get from riding a motorcycle, even if it’s just for communting.

        I recently drove my friends 2013 911 S4 and I loved it, but not as much as I loved my long time departed 1991 CRX SI. Pure fun on four wheels with no filler.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnny Bouncewell

      “I’ve crashed a bike more ways than I can think of, on both street and track. I’ve also walked away mainly alright majority of the time, but those few that I could not walk away from did not alter the way I felt about bikes.”

      My handle is a testament to this. Be it on the track, in the dirt, or a few blocks from home I’ve damaged myself and bikes more times than I care to remember.

      After a girlfriend at the time watched me slide under a car and break both arms, she asked me if I was going to keep riding. I said “Of course” and we broke up once my arms were healed. It was the right decision.


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