WATERBURY, CT – It can happen to even the best of riders, and John Purdy Jr. qualifies as an extremely skilled rider. He’s been a licensed motorcyclist for 37 years and spends upwards of 15,000 miles per year on two wheels.
Purdy has also been a motorcycle instructor for 19 years and has worked as site coordinator for the Connecticut Rider Education Program at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury since 1999.
Yet, back on Columbus Day in mid-October, Purdy went down, proving that bad things can happen to anyone who rides – even good riders.
John Purdy Jr. and his 2004 Kawasaki ZZR 1200
Purdy was riding his 160-horsepower 2004 Kawasaki ZZR 1200 sport touring bike on what was a day-long, 458-mile jaunt. He was southbound on Route 41 heading into downtown Great Barrington, Mass. and had just passed under the railroad trestle near the intersection of Route 7 when his tires went out from under him. The crash was caused by an anti-freeze spill on the road.
“It was spread out around the corner, probably 30 to 40 feet long by about a foot and half wide,” he said of the slippery fluid. “I had just started leaning the bike to the right and it slammed down hard – just like on ice.”
Purdy estimates that he was only doing 15 to 18 miles per hour in third gear when the crash occurred. “My right foot and ankle took the full impact,” he said, explaining that the ZZR, with him still aboard, slid across the road and went under a guard rail.
Police and an ambulance responded immediately. As he received attention, so did the road. “Within five minutes, they had a guy putting down SpeedyDry,” Purdy said.
The ZZR sustained cosmetic damage; scratched bodywork and a bent rear brake pedal. Purdy wasn’t too badly damaged either. “Nothing broken – just bruised and swollen,” he said, referring to his ankle. “My helmet never hit the ground. I walked away and rode away from the scene.”
Purdy was examined by doctors the next day and had x-rays. He later consulted with a foot surgeon just to be safe. “They all said that with any less protection the ankle probably would have been shattered. They said surgery on the ankle would have been $30,000 to $40,000, plus being down for a year,” he said.
Purdy was wearing a $500 pair of Alpinestars riding boots that come up to mid-calf. He was also wearing even pricier Aerostich riding pants and jacket with CE-approved armor and Held gloves. The jacket ended up being scuffed on the elbow and shoulder, while rivets were ripped from the palm of the right glove. The gear did its job and protected him from serious injury. “I didn’t get a scratch,” he said.
The CONREP courses that Purdy oversees and teaches preach a mantra of “ATG – ATT,” which stands for “All the Gear, All the Time,” but Purdy learned the hard way about protective dressing long before he became a motorcycle instructor.
“I learned my lesson at 19 – went down with a T-shirt on,” said Purdy, who is now 53. It was a hot day in 1981 when the accident happened in Southbury. He did have on a helmet, gloves and boots, but that was it. He was riding a 1981 Kawasaki KZ 1000 in a group when he decided to pass a couple of riders while recklessly doing a wheelie, not knowing that a hairpin left turn was up ahead. “Needless to say, the entry speed was a little too fast,” he said.
That time Purdy ended up suffering road rash on his left shoulder and down his back. “I was on antibiotics for 10 months because of the inflections you can sustain from asphalt,” he said.
A year or two later, he crashed again while aboard the KZ 1000. He was riding into the sun when a driver in front of him slammed on the brakes when a car pulled out from a side street. “I just got scraped up on the knee,” Purdy said.
After that, he had a nearly quarter-century span and more than 300,000 miles of crash-free riding. In 2006, though, while riding his other bike, a 2002 ZZR 1200, he hit an oil patch near his home in Naugatuck. Again, it was a slow-speed crash, which RIDE-CT wrote about 8½ years ago. He was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken collar bone. He remains convinced that he would have died were it not for the helmet he was wearing.
Purdy uses his personal experiences to help educate his students. His Columbus Day prang is the latest example. “I tell them it can happen to anybody at any time and you need to wear that gear,” he said. “It’s the only thing between you and the pavement. The pavement is like the Terminator. It has no conscious, it has no remorse and it doesn’t care if it’s hot or cold.”
Purdy’s tales of crashes past offer food for thought for riders who insist on going out without proper gear. With the holiday gift-giving season approaching, they also provide a nice hint on what to buy for a spouse, friend or relative who owns a motorcycle because even the most skilled rider can end up crashing an instant.
(Originally published in “The Republican-American” on Nov. 21, 2015.)