By Dale Spangler
The scenario happens on a regular basis: I’m driving somewhere when out of nowhere I’m passed by a reckless, errant driver in a hurry to get somewhere that’s obviously way more important than where I’m going. Each time it happens, I think to myself, “I bet that person’s never broken a bone or hurt themselves.” So why would I think this? My reason is simple, and being a fellow dirt bike rider, I think you’ll relate. Crashing on a dirt bike, and the often resulting broken bone(s), changes you whether you realize it or not. It makes you understand that there are consequences to your actions and as a result you become more defensive. You do your best to avoid circumstances that lead to pain and/or a plaster trophy on one of your appendages. Whether you know it or not because you ride a dirt bike you more than likely drive a vehicle in a much more defensive and focused manner than non-dirt bikers. We recognize that when roads are wet, there is less traction and therefore we need to be smooth on the gas and not accelerate around corners too hard. We understand that when snow is piling up it helps if we carry a little extra momentum when ascending hills so that we glide easily over the top. My point is, dirt bikers have situational awareness and advantages when on the roadways that non-dirt bikers don’t have. We have more respect for the consequences of our actions because we’ve experienced pain and broken bones.
As dirt bike riders we also have a lot of backstories to go along with all of those broken bones and resulting plaster prison sentences. My personal laundry list of broken bones reads like a who’s who of dirt bike bone breaks: two snapped collarbones, a shattered ankle, cracked scapula, fractured humerus, broken nose (twice), distal radius fracture of both wrists (yes, at the same time), a dislocated big toe, fractured left metatarsal (foot), broken metacarpal (hand), and a clean break of my left pinky finger … [Exhale]. Having just typed out that entire list I feel a slight twinge of pain just thinking about each of those experiences; and the amount of down time spent healing. I’ve had more than my share of recovery periods, which meant I had a lot of time to think. And with all of that time, one would think the thought would eventually cross my mind: “Why am I doing this to myself? I don’t want to go through that again!” Which it probably did, but time has its way of erasing bad things from our memories and eventually we’re ready to get back out there, back on the bike and twist the throttle as if nothing ever happened.
There are three assumptions an outsider (read: non-dirt biker) might make about me in order to understand why I’d broken so many bones in my body, yet still kept riding: 1.) I had very bad short term memory (certainly possible). 2.) I was getting paid a lot of money and therefore it was worth continuing (pure comedy gold). Or … 3.) I was just plain stupid and/or crazy and didn’t know any better (definitely a possibility). But the fact of the matter is, none of these are the reason. I was simply passionate about riding a motorcycle and pursuing my dream of making it to the top level of professional motorcycle racing. I was too far down the rabbit hole to give up, walk away and do something else. When you are that committed, that entrenched in something, normal reason goes away. At the time it just wasn’t an option. The amount of effort we put it in (I say we, because there is always a we in racing, a team), the hours on the bike, in the garage, and at the gym outweighed the costs; outweighed the possibility that I wouldn’t make it, that I could be permanently injured or be in pain for the rest of my life. I had to pursue my dream—see it to its end.
Eventually that dream came to an end and I moved on, but when I did it was on my own terms; through my own decision to move on and face reality. And as a result, I’m left with my stories. My stories of success and failure, of racing around the country; of fun with family and friends and riding buddies. My broken bone tales, each still fresh in my memory as if they happened yesterday; the same way I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on 9/11 or the day Kurt Cobain died. I didn’t make it in racing but I have so many memories: some good, some bad. Nonetheless, I cherish them all equally the same. These are memories that make up who I am today; and I feel fortunate to have experienced so much in my life because of dirt bikes.
So the next time a clueless driver does something stupid on a roadway, or you pass someone spinning their way up a snowy hill, smile to yourself as you blow past. They simply don’t know any better; they’re not part of our broken bones club—not part of our two-wheeled tribe. And that’s okay because it means more good memories for the rest of us. Memories that shape who we are and our character; that give us drive and determination; that instill work ethic and that create a sense of adventure, a love for geography and a love for travel.
We are dirt bikers. We ride, therefore we are.