Downtown to give a lecture on educating the public about motorcycle riding, Leyshock was dressed to the nines in his best suit, which included a pair of ill-fitting pants. His choice of style over comfort would have disastrous consequences.
Just prior to his presentation, Leyshock bent over and heard the familiar ripping noise. He immediately stood upright, blushed, and jumped on his bike, a sweet 1984 RZ350, to rush home and change his trousers. He would never return. Nervous already because of his approaching public speaking performance, and in a rush to get back in time, he rode with jittery, reckless speed through the rain-soaked streets of Portland. At the corner of 18th and East Burnside, right outside the Nocturnal club, a man walked into the road in front of Leyshock.
"Never assume they see you coming," he says in retrospect. "Always assume pedestrians don't just not see you, but are intentionally trying to kill you." That's Motorcycle Riding Rule #1, broken by Leyshock that day. A split-second later, he broke Rule #2: "Never brake and swerve at the same time; they teach you that on day one of motorcycle school."
Leyshock braked and swerved at the same time, panicking to avoid the soused gentleman stumbling before him (the man's blood alcohol level would later be gauged at .26, more than three times the legal limit). The motorcycle skidded out from under Leyshock, striking the man, and dragging Leyshock up and onto the sidewalk, ripping a gas main off a building as it hurtled past. A stunned crowd waiting to see a show at Nocturnal witnessed the terrible accident, and rushed to the aid of the two unconscious men.
"I have only brief snapshot memories," Leyshock would later write, but he remembers one of the Nocturnal spectators was a motorcycle rider himself, and made sure to keep Leyshock's helmet on his head until the ambulance arrived. "You're not supposed to take the helmet off a crash victim," Leyshock says. "I'm glad he remembered that."
THE BROKEN BONE CLUB
"I'm fascinated by how people respond to crashing," says Leyshock. "Some swear off bikes forever. Some delight in crashes. How people deal is key--I mean, you're voluntarily risking your life."
Leyshock's response to the multiple crashes he's experienced during his riding career has been to create something useful from the wreckage. He broke his collarbone in 2001 in a much less traumatic crash at the racetrack ("It was the very first lap of the very first race of the year, and some guy just took me out."), and while recovering in the hospital had the idea to create a patch for his leather jacket that would symbolize his toughness in surviving the ordeal--and his commitment to motorcycling no matter what. Leyshock now sells copies of the patch --a cartoonish dog bone broken in two-- at www.brokenbonepatch.com to an international consumer base ("they're big in Australia," he muses) eager to document their biking injuries. Each broken bone suffered on a motorcycle warrants a patch--like a sort of Boy Scout troop for Hell's Angels.
After his Burnside crash in 2003, Leyshock channeled his creative energies into a journal of the ensuing hospital visit. "The physical damage, in a nutshell" reads An OHSU Diary: "Fifteen rib fractures, a broken right collarbone, both lungs collapsed and punctured, a mild concussion… I ended up spending thirteen days in the hospital, six of them in the Intensive Care Unit."
Direct and frequently humorous, the journal is a riveting read, describing a host of bizarre and scary experiences with admirable detail considering Leyshock was weak or unconscious for significant portions of his ordeal. All manner of tubes and fluids were inserted in and withdrawn from his body, including multiple catheters into his urethra. The moral is clear: huge crashes and extended hospital stays are really, really unpleasant.
Oddly, Leyshock's crash has not cramped his riding style in any way. "I'm more gutsy in racing than ever before," he says, his dozen or so broken bone patches peeking out from his jacket, each one representing a different rib.
"Not riding again was never an option, but you do feel terrified at first to get back on the bike… The scariest thing is the idea of hitting people."
The drunk man he hit suffered a broken pelvis, and though the accident was not Leyshock's fault, that doesn't change the fact that he was riding distracted.
"Don't crash," Leyshock says, "but if you do, learn something from it. Identify what went wrong and practice skills that help fix it."
On cold days, Leyshock's bones creak and his ribs hurt. He says his lungs feel "snazzled" in the wake of their collapse and recovery. But he rides on, always watching for the next crash, not shying away from it, but embracing its imminence, preparing for the inevitable so that when it happens, he'll survive once again to ride another day.