Last March I became an owner of a Suzuki Burgman 650 maxi-scooter, the term given to very large and fast scooters. Since that time I have fallen in love with riding and have discovered that when I cannot ride I quickly begin to exhibit the symptom of depression. Riding can become, and I believe has become for me, a psychosis without all the other negative connotations that come with it save for the exception of death and mutilation. But I digress.
As it would turn out, I have been suffering withdrawal symptoms on a fairly regular basis. About two weeks ago I was returning from an night out with the Phoenix Scooter Club and later watching live musical performances at The Lost Leaf. I was traveling on I-17 northbound. There was a light drizzle of rain that had fallen which nearly blanketed the ground with a light coat of water. It was getting close to that dangerous point where the road could be made slick with oil having risen from the road and not yet washed away. My helmet’s visor was speckled with small droplets of water creating a kaleidescope effect as the night lit freeway street-lighting, colorful signs, and the occasional vehicle taillight refracted and reflected through the water.
Through the moving kaleidescope of colors shortly ahead I started to make out the blinking yellow lights normally associated with construction vehicles and barricades. Something the city was doing to the freeway or bridge required that all traffic be rerouted off the freeway at Dunlap Ave., however in typical City of Phoenix fashion I was given very little notice that I had to exit the freeway. So little notice in fact that I had to make an abrupt exit as the construction cones intended to guide travelers off were angled sharply at the last second, giving maybe a quarter mile notice before an exit must be taken. This late notice I believe was the cause for some confusion up ahead. People were breaking heavily heading up the off-ramp and swerving to avoid collisions with one another. I admit that I was traveling pretty quickly still at this point, half way between the actual exit and the intersection in front 100 yards of me, however I had plenty of space between myself and the vehicles ahead. None-the-less, the sudden unexpected activity caused me to naturally react with a sudden and strong breaking of the scooter. I squeezed both brake handles and decelerated like I have never before attempted with this machine. The front tire skidded slightly after the scooter dove down deep onto the front forks, and the rear tire was reechoed upwards off a bump where the asphalt and concrete meet causing it to bounce violently along the ground. I did not hear any chirping of tires, but there was a lot of shaking. The scooter stayed upright and true and I was never fearful of how it was behaving under me, but it sure did take a beating from something in the road I did not see.
I managed to avoid the chaos ahead by a long shot. The scooter slowed much more quickly than I ever imagined it could. Everyone ahead did a good job working things out without becoming sudden close friends with an interest in each others vehicles, and before I could arrive at the intersection the signal turned green. Looking and clearing the intersection, I simply continued on without stopping and returned to the freeway on the other side of the Dunlap intersection never having come to a complete stop.
The rain was coming down pretty quickly by the time I was nearly home. I was able to ride continuously without stopping for another signal light which was fortunate since that is virtually unheard of for me. Red lights and Robert Downs go together like oatmeal and cookies. Especially when it’s raining and I’m exposed in jeans and a textile jacket.
While slowing to navigate the turn into the driveway only to be pestered by the psychotic mechanical/electrical gatekeeper, I notice that the scooter was surging regardless of my throttle or brake input. I thought for a moment that I might have a low or flat rear tire perhaps caused by the trauma it experienced a short while ago back on Dunlap when the rear tire was jolted. I thought to myself that everything seemed fine for me after the situation, what could it possibly be? While standing over the scooter, I tried leaning over to see if I could see the rear tire, but that is simply not possible on a scooter this size.
As my luck would have it when I reached the rear entrance to the apartments I call home, the electric gate wouldn’t open for me. This has never been a problem before, but since it was raining pretty heavily on me now I think it copped an attitude for being asked to work in this weather and decided to ignore me. I entered my code multiple times in a sheer brute force attempt to prove the definition of insanity thinking the result would somehow be different every time. I swear I could heard the machine’s laughter from every beep resulting from the aggressively smashed key press of the keypad. I decided to give up on this and shut the scooter off so I could make use of the fob. I once again attempted to define insanity by frantically waving the fob around the front of the wicket gatekeeper. Upon realizing the futility of my efforts, I finally succumbed to the notion that I will have to figure out how to get turned around and try my luck with the gatekeeper at the front of the facility.
I knew something was wrong because of the surging I felt when I pulled up, however now I know something is really wrong. I needed to get turned around and looking about i figured I would have to back the machine up, pull forward a bit, back up some more and repeat the process until I was facing the other direction. However as I pushed back I was only able to move the scooter about a foot before it got stuck. I looked behind me to see if maybe I’m backing up into the curb but I see that I sill had several feet to maneuver. Being that I couldn’t get it back any further for whatever reason, I tried moving forward to negotiate a best effort U-turn. Since I couldn’t get backed up as far as I needed I was unable to get the U-turn negotiated before running out of room before running into the curb on the other side of the driveway. So the only choice I thought I had at the time was to try and get the scooter backed up again, about 3 feet, so I can clear the curb and be on my way.
This is where things got interesting. By now I was starting to realize that something in the drive-train was causing a bind that would come and go. I put my foot down to push back and just as I pushed my left foot slipped on the wet asphalt. The scooter started to tip to the left. I tried again to catch it, but again my left foot slipped. In my panic to gather my footing, as the scooter was falling over I twisted the throttle which threw the scooter into the curb crushing the bodywork and the mounting posts for it. I fortunately was able to somehow manage to clear the scooter as it fell and when the fall was complete I was standing beside the scooter on the sidewalk with holding the throttle grip I managed to rip off of it during this process in my right hand. There was broken plastic everywhere. My stomach sank as I looked at pearl white pieces of my Burgie laying on the black like eggshells of a dropped egg. The sound crushing plastic and scraping metal replayed in my mind multiple times in only a brief moment I stood there before I tried lifting it back up onto its center stand. I was devastated.
Lifting the scooter was amazingly easy as the adrenaline and anger made the 600 pound scooter feel like it weighed 10. I shoved the throttle grip back into its proper place and rode to the other entrance without incident. The gate, long before it normally would open, gleefully opened for me, as if to be greeting and welcoming me with a crooked smile. I parked my poor damaged Burgie on its center stand in the garage and witnessed with the engine still running that the rear tire wasn’t turning as it normally would when off the ground. I instantly knew the gravity of the damage incurred. I shut her off and looked forward to realize the extent the effect a concrete curb can have on the bodywork up front. The realization of the cost for this fix nearly made me sick to my stomach. I could not stop replaying the events of that ride home and thinking of anything I could have done differently that might have been out of character for me that had I maybe decided a bit differently the outcome would have been significantly different. Perhaps if I had been moving 10 MPH slower coming off of the freeway maybe. Or perhaps I stopped to take a photo of the 30,000th mile I rolled just as I was leaving for home. Who knows. All I was certain of was that this was going to be an expensive fix an my riding plans for the summer were suddenly dashed.