Rick Sieman Column: Freak Things

Rick Sieman has had his share of crazy incidents while riding a dirtbike. In this month’s column redux, he talks about the freak things he has experienced.

I found this old column from 1973, Freak Things, while cleaning out my office and thought I’d share it with you. And yes, before you ask, a lot of stuff like this still happens to me.–Rick Sieman


Will someone please explain to me the nature of things? Oh, I don’t mean things of a normal nature–I mean freak things. What, you may ask, the hell is this man talking about?

All right. You asked, so I’ll tell you.

When everyone else breaks down, or crashes, they seem to have a more or less Normal Thing happen to them. Caps are intentional. Example:

Guy doesn’t finish a Cross-Country Race and you ask him what happened. He shakes his head and says, “I had me a flat tire.” Nice and simple; he had a flat. Another guy limps in with a bent-up bike and is asked what happened; he replies, “Shoot, just ran into a big rock and fell down. That’s all.”

You see? The things that happened to them are more or less Normal Things. Anyone can (and does) occasionally get a flat. And Lord knows how many bikes have been bent up on one or another rock.

Which brings us to the frustrating part of my two-wheeled existence on this planet: Every misfortune that happens to me while riding a motorcycle is either:

(1) Highly unusual

(2) Extremely dumb

(3) Utterly unbelievable

(4) Against all laws of nature

(5) Preposterous

(6) Likely to be construed as a figment of my imagination

(7) Totally laughable

(8) All of the above.

Want to see what I mean?

Take the time many years back when I got my first good start in a desert race. Hot damn! The Greeves fired on the first kick and chugged off through the sand like a baby plow on acid. Past the smoke bomb and still leading, throwing a dust cloud that choked and blinded all pursuers to the point of distraction. Whooooeeeee!!

The first check loomed ahead and there was the checker, holding a crayon high into the air, waving it wildly. Let’s see, shall I approach from the right or the left? Wait – he’s moving to the right side – I’d better skitter over to that direction. Nope. He’s heading back for the left. Better correct the old approach. Wait a minute – it’s like two people jogging for position in a narrow hallway Right — left, right — left.

Someone better make a decision and make it soon! In desperation, I raised my right arm to give the checker a clear shot at marking my tank card and he, at the very same moment, raised his arm to go over my arm and get to the aforementioned tank card. Result? One checker’s arm caught me cleanly in the throat and blew me off the still moving bike like a knight in a jousting match.

Whuump! I hit the ground like a falling piano and registered 6.7 on the Richter Scale.

As I lay on the ground with little red dots chasing each other in front of my eyes and with all breathing ceased, rider after rider roared by. Many looked down at my prostrate form and gave silent thanks to that big Flagman in the Sky. Me? After a half hour of gasping and coughing, I headed for the pits with a severely forniscued windpipe.

Later, after all the riders had finished, some wandered over and asked, “Say, what happened to you? You were doing pretty good there for a while. Didja hit a rock or something?”

Too embarrassed to tell the truth, I merely nodded weakly. Yes, I had hit a rock. Gee, they said, that’s too bad. I did not dare tell the truth; I got knocked off the bike and rendered helpless by a 14-year-old checker.

Bizarre, you say? An isolated case? Not so.

Some years back, a 100-mile enduro was claiming bike after bike with mechanical failures. Clutches were being fried to a crisp because of the tall, snotty hills. But the clutch on a Yamaha DT-1 is bulletproof, and that’s what I was riding. Onward through the broken bikes trundled the Dit One, with the rider secure in heart and mind, knowing that, despite all its shortcomings, the Dit One was eminently reliable and trustworthy. Slosh through an axle-deep stream, knowing that the waterproofing was good and proper, and sneering at the waterlogged ignitions and filters of lesser mounts.

Pass endless numbers of bikes with fiat tires, riders changing plugs on temperamental European motors; broken cases were in evidence on bikes with no skid plates like my Dit One. Ah, the blissful feeling of knowing that everything on the bike had been checked over and was in perfect working condition. In fact, the only items that were not subject to maintenance, were the two rubber pads that served as mounters for the gas tank.

As this comforting thought passed through my mind, the rubber pads on the tank chose this moment to fall apart. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, I guess, but I was going over a small bump at the time and the tank rose up into the air until the fuel line popped off. A strange suctioning/slurping sound ensued, as the tank flipped over my shoulder and into the dense underbrush.

I must have searched two hours for the gas tank, before the pick-up crew came down the trail. “Where’s your gas tank?” they asked. “I lost it,” I replied.

They looked at me.

I looked at them.

We did not talk a lot on the way in.

Now you’re beginning to see the kind of things that happen.

Another enduro, maybe two years ago. Deep mud was the rule, as it had been raining for days before the event. The bike was waterproofed and mud-proofed as good as a bike could ever be. There was at least 40 dollars’ worth of duct tape on the strategic parts. Tuning was as sharp as possible. If a fly landed on the kickstarter, the bike would start and settle down to an even idle.

But, about 40 miles out, the engine started to run worse and worse. Finally, it just coughed and died. No amount of kicking would breathe life back into the bike. Check, check, checkitty, check.

Hmmm. Plenty of fat, blue spark. Gas in profusion. Timing seemed spot on. No air leaks. Bags of compression. Arrrghhhh!!! What the hell could it be?

I sat there for maybe four hours, pondering the universe and several other things too foul to mention. A friend rode out and found me sitting on a log.

“Break yore scoot, Rick?”

“Nope, I just don’t want to get into the first check too early, ya know.”

“Hey,” he says excitedly, “Guess what?”

“Surprise me.” I retorted with dili­gent sarcasm.

“Your exhaust pipe is full of mud. Completely full to the brim. Wow!”

It was true. The thick yellow-clay mud had been spiraling off a cres­cent wrench taped to a frame tube next to the rear tire and working its way into the end of the exhaust. There, the heat had been slowly, surely drying the substance into a hard, adobe-like brick. I had built a round, hot dog-shaped brick in the end of my pipe!

We removed the pipe and beat it against a handy tree, thereby removing the offending ob­struction quickly and efficiently. The bike started then, and we were soon underway. I swore my friend to secrecy.

Now you’re beginning to see what I mean. Weird things.

Some guys break spokes. My valve core works its way out and the tire goes flat.

Somebody hits a tree. I run into the back of an abandoned ‘49 Buick hidden behind a clump of brush.

Another rider falls down in the mud. Nothing simple like that for me. My tow rope unwinds and wraps itself around the rear wheel and the bike cannot move forward anymore. In the mud.

The rider who has a simple fall is a man to be envied. He merely gets up and continues onward a moment later. Me? On the old hands and knees cutting the tow rope out of the wheel with a jack­knife.

The list of weird/dumb/awful things that have happened is, sadly very long. And the worst happened some time back.

Listen: Hours had been spent preparing my bike for a European Scrambles to be held that Sunday. Nothing was left to chance. Every little thing that could possibly fall off or break was double checked. Everything. And for a little extra insurance, a Preston Petty toolbox/number plate was in­stalled. In this plastic wonder, I put every emergency repair item known to the civilized world. Chain breakers, cables, nuts and bolts, things to turn the nuts and bolts, points, con­denser, wire, fuel lines, special tools and dozens of other items that could handle almost any job on th trail.

While I was at it, the bike was carefully gone over and all nuts and bolts Loctited and checked. Nothing was missed.

Off to the races! Hey, hey!!! Good start and lottsa fun. The mighty 501 was on the pipe and the day was perfect. After completing one loop on the eight-mile course, I felt confident enough to hook it. Confidence brought a smile to my lips and the flyer responded to urges from the right hand.

Down a nice ski-jump-type hill and hit the hump at the bottom. Shazzamm! Up into the air with just the merest hint of a cross-up. Too bad a photographer wasn’t around. Too bad indeed.

For what happened a moment later should have been re­corded on film for future generations to look at in awe.

As the bike reached the height of its flight, I braced for the landing. Perfect! Rear wheel touched down first just like it says in the book (How to Win At Racing), followed shortly after by the front wheel.

And that, my dog loving friends, is when the world turned into buffalo puckey. The very micro-second the front wheel made contact with Mother Earth, it stopped turning. Then, as it rightly should, the bike stopped. However, the rider did not cease forward motion. Not by a long shot.

All of the sudden, the sky and the ground did flip-flops and my lean, lithe body scribed a 40-foot arc through the clean Mojave air. As I reached the ground, my feet made contact first.

Sooooo, I did the only sensible thing. I started running. And not your ordinary everyday running. Nossirree. Serious, 15-foot strides.

Have you ever tried to run at 40 miles per hour or so?

Let me be the first to tell you, it is no picnic. The first giant step wasn’t too hard — the second step was a stumbling affair — the third was a feeble attempt to catch up with the forward leg — and the fourth? Well, the fourth never happened.

Old Ma Nature never intended for legs to do that kind of stuff. Whammo! Down in the sand. But by this time, I had scrubbed off enough speed so that no injuries (except to pride) occurred.

Disbelief zizzled through my head. What in the hell had happened? What would make a perfectly well-mannered 501 Maico suddenly stop?

A glance at the Preston Petty tool­box/number plate revealed the answer. The front brake cable had flopped over the edge of the plastic wonder when the forks had been on full compression. And when the forks attempted to recoil, the cable wouldn’t let them because the front brake was on full lock. It only took an hour or so to get the cable loose.

Needless to say, I did not trophy that particular day.

But by now, you can surely see what I mean by weird, freaky things happening to me.

It has gotten so bad that just a week ago, I hit a rock and got a flat tire and actually felt elated that something normal had finally hap­pened.

As I was loading up my bike and whistling away, someone walked up and asked, “What the hell are you so happy about? You didn’t even fin­ish the race?”

“Why, I got a flat tire and hit a rock and crashed,” I replied happily.

He shook his head and walked away mumbling.

I was tempted to tell him the whole story, but he would never have believed it. At least you do. Don’t you?