FEATURE – “It’s not if, it’s when.” The biker’s motto for life on two wheels is a stark reminder of the danger involved for those who can’t imagine life without feeling the engine’s rumble reverberating through their body, while keeping the shiny side up with the wind in their face.
One thing all of these people have in common – regardless of their purpose for riding, age, race, gender, style, affiliation or experience level – is there has been at least one life flashing-before-your-eyes instance when they questioned if it is worth it.
The impact of a collision
Whether a small incident or a major accident, any motorcyclist who has wrecked on their bike wrestles with the fear of getting back out on the open road.
“I don’t know if I’ll ride again to tell you the truth,” said Hyrum Zerkle, the 37-year-old Cedar City man whose custom-made bike was struck by a car while on a test drive for the first time of the season March 27.
Zerkle built the bike he was riding that evening after he won an essay contest for Global Motorsport Group Inc.’s first-ever “Made in Sturgis” event in 2005. He was one of three winners who were chosen out of over 4,000 entries to build their “dream bike” at Sturgis, he said.
“To see him come in on that bike just happy and free and elevated – his whole being was just elevated,” Zerkle’s mother, Lily Zerkle, said, describing the elation she felt when she first saw her boy ride in on the bike he built.
Looking at her son sitting in a recliner, leg up, wrapped with drainage tubes coming from the wound, her eyes welled up at the thought of him losing such an important piece of himself, or worse yet, stealing the opportunity for his son to know who his daddy really is.
“There is a lot of grief,” Lily Zerkle said. “There’s a lot of, ‘are you sure you want to make that choice?’ And, ‘if you make that choice, I respect you and I understand it, but ….’ I always look forward to seeing (his son) on that bike, or on something similar with his dad, enjoying something common.”
Hyrum Zerkle’s son, a consistently exuberant ball of 2-year-old energy with a smile that won’t quit, bounced from one part of the room to another managing to find his way into every crevice.
The worst part, Hyrum Zerkle said, is the way the accident had impacted his family, both financially and as a unit.
“I feel like a shell of a man,” he said. “I pick up around the house, I chase my son – I can’t do that now.
“I can try to get my son to come up to me – I can do that, but I can’t chase him,” he added.
Until the accident, Hyrum Zerkle worked full time to support his family and his wife had recently started a part-time job. Since then, they have become solely dependent on her income. Zerkle said he is frustrated that he can’t even watch his own son while his wife is at work, because he is unable to keep up with him.
The loss of money coupled with the costs of copays and treatments are already so exorbitant that Lily Zerkle took a second job to try and help with finances.
Hyrum Zerkle has insurance through his employment that offers 70 percent coverage, and he said his boss will try to keep it going as long as he can. The driver that hit Hyrum Zerkle had insurance at the time, but he said in comparison to his medical expenses, it’s minimal.
The family has set up a gofundme account in the meantime, so family and friends can contribute if they want.
“My medical bills already are triple what the coverage is,” he said. “So far, we are over a hundred thousand.”
There are a number of things motorcyclists can do to protect themselves when they are riding, Cedar City Motor Officer Justin Chappell said. First, it is important bikers remember they aren’t just driving for themselves but for everyone else on the road.
“Most people don’t pay attention to motorcycles,” Chappell said. “Part of it is just the size – they are not as easily visible, and so, you have to drive like they don’t see you.”
Which was exactly what happened to Hyrum Zerkle. As he was riding his bike west on 200 South by Southern Utah University, he said, a woman pulled out of one of the dorms across the street from the college and T-boned him.
“She just didn’t see me,” Hyrum Zerkle said. “I mean, I don’t hold it against her, but it’s an important thing for people to know that they have to see bikes. They have to pay attention, and they have to see them.”
Also, road obstacles that would not be dangerous in a car, like loose gravel, could prove disastrous for a biker. Hyperawareness of environmental surroundings is vital to keeping the dirty side down, Chappell said.
The police force required Chappell to take a motorcycle safety class before he could become a motor officer. After years of riding motorcycles and dirt bikes without having taken the course, he said, he was surprised to learn how much he didn’t know.
“A lot of people that have ridden,” Chappell said, “they ride, but a lot of times they haven’t been in a situation or a setting with somebody that has learned all of the different skills to enable you to learn what your motorcycle is truly capable of.”
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers courses in the St. George and Hurricane areas, he said. From basic and advanced rider courses, motorcyclists can gain the skills needed to help them avoid serious injury on the road.
Members and supporters of the Color Country Chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse, an organization of bikers dedicated to the protection and welfare of children, said they ride in a pack, which offers significantly more visibility than riding alone. They said they always feel safer when they are riding together than when they are riding alone.
Every time a biker gets on his ride it is important to perform a safety check as well, the group said in agreement.
“It’s like I always say,” B.A.C.A. supporter “Wick” said. (See ed. note.) “It’s kind of like an airplane – if you go down, it might be bad, so you better just check it out.”
Motor Sports Shoppe owner Branzton Garner and his father are avid bikers and supporters of motorcyclists. In the two years since the Garners moved to Washington County, they have put together nearly 20 fundraisers to help bikers who have been injured in a collision.
“About 50 percent of them were vehicle versus motorcycle,” he said. “The others were just, kind of, freak accidents.”
Not wearing the right gear when on a bike is “detrimental,” Garner said. “Without a leather jacket and a vest and a helmet and chaps, if you’re not wearing that stuff, you’re either going to die or you’re going to come away from the wreck with terrible road rash.”
Garner stocks all the gear that any biker could want or need in his store. From gloves, jackets and chaps, to helmets and boots. The Motor Sports Shoppe will offer a discount to any rider who mentions reading this story, he said, because he wants to alleviate any excuse for a biker to not ride safely.
Editor’s note: B.A.C.A. members and supporters always use a biker name to keep from being identified since the children they support are usually in dangerous situations.
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