V-Maxed Out…

All motorcyclists have at least one good story that never grows old. When I tell mine, listeners either split their sides in laughter, or I have to produce pictures to prove it true.

Over the years I have owned many motorcycles. None so intimidating and uncomfortably fast as my 1989 Yamaha V-Max. For many years, this bike was considered the fastest production motorcycle by most publications and pundits. Powered by a 1200cc, V-four motor, it incorporated a gizmo called “V-Boost” which acted like a supercharger at higher r.p.m.’s. Now some of you will say my real name is Pinocchio, but only a scant few times during my ownership did I crack the throttle open to see if it lived up to its title.

What I did experience first hand was its lack of agility and handling. The heavy and rigid frame could be compared to riding a cylinder block with two wheels. Going through the curves in the Metroparks was not one of its strong points – evidenced by the clumps of sod lodged in the handlebars, exhaust pipes and riding gear. Yes, sadly I dumped it on one occasion, but look – my nose didn’t grow at all!

After that episode, the slightly deformed parts were straightened and the V-Max was thoroughly detailed. It was picture perfect so naturally I photographed it in the studio for my portfolio.  In this condition, it also made the decision easy to put it on the market before something really bad happened.

Let the seller beware…

In August of 1995, I placed an ad in the regional Tradin’ Times.  It was a simple description of the bike and phone number – no pictures. Over several weeks, I took many calls and showed it to a half-dozen, half interested parties.   Late one Saturday, I received a call from an enthusiastic young man who wanted to see the bike as soon as possible. We agreed to meet at my studio (where the bike was stored) on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.   I had previously made arrangements with my friend John Weibel to meet at my studio around 3:00 p.m. for a quick round of golf at the local course.  The timing worked well.

The young man arrived by himself right at two-o’clock. Judging by the new Ford Explorer with two windsurf boards on the roof rack, I pre-approved him for a cash sale. He introduced himself as “Ben,” and appeared to be in his early twenties and of Filipino descent. Dressed in designer casual wear and standing all of five-foot, three inches tall, he told me he was “shopping for a bike that sat lower to the ground.” He checked out some cruiser-style bikes and certain Harley models, but was captivated with the looks and legend associated with the V-Max. I quickly pointed out to young Ben that this bike was not your run-of the-mill cruiser or Harley, but more on the lines of a jet dragster. Assuring me that he rode his share of “crotch rockets” belonging to his friends, I agreed to a test ride with the full understanding that if you dump it – you bought it. He smiled, shook his head and said, “I completely understand.”

I pulled the bike out of the studio and parked it in the rear driveway. There was about 250 yards of straight, smooth asphalt before having to stop at the main road. Thinking that this was a good starting point to get acclimated, I handed Ben my helmet (without hesitation) and went over in detail the operations of the bike. He hopped on the seat, hit the start button and ignited the 150 rumbling horses. I gave him some directions on where to ride and took a few steps back to observe. Not only did his size look disproportionate to the bike (his feet were just barely touching the ground), there was a sense of uneasiness in the air. My gut said, “Maybe I better drive, and he can sit on the back.”

What happened next was the most surreal moment of my life.

Ben revved the motor, and from what I could tell let the clutch out too fast. The burst of power caused his body to lurch backward and grip the accelerator tightly in an effort not to fall off. This reaction fully throttled the bike and he completely lost control. If he would have kept it straight, there may have been a chance of recovery, but not today. The pristine V-max veered like a laser to the left, and crashed through the overhead door of the warehouse unit next to mine.

I stood awestruck with my hands on my head thinking, ‘that didn’t just happen, did it?’ After the initial thunderous crash of metal and aluminum, there was silence. I crawled into the 2 foot opening made by the missing door panel and felt a rush of panic as I saw Ben laying flat on his back. The V-max was wedged in between (what was now) a pile of junk office furniture and a block wall.

I didn’t know if this kid was dead, knocked out, or just thinking this was all a bad dream – like I was. Kneeling down next to him, I carefully flipped the visor on the helmet. His eyes were open, but glazed over like two Krispy Kreme donuts. I didn’t even have the chance to ask if he was in pain when he said in a woozy voice, “Will you take a check?”

The next voice I heard was John, who showed up a little early for our round of golf. “Is everything O.K. here?” he asked. My tone of voice was direct and somewhat short. “John, call 911.” Surveying the situation – me kneeling over a limp body (which since went into shock), and a pile of Yamaha rubble in the corner, John didn’t need an explanation. He must have done a fabulous job convincing the Brecksville dispatcher of the urgency because the response time of the Police and EMS was uncanny. There were more squad cars and patrolmen than I could count and they all shared a mutual amazement over the situation. I relayed the chain of events to one officer who said the driver wouldn’t be cited since the accident happened on private property. But, he was very emphatic instructing me to take as many pictures as possible. “The risk of liability may fall on you,” he said. “If the driver claims the brakes failed, or other mechanical problems existed, this could be your fault.”

Oh crap. My bike is trash. The business next door looks like a bomb went off. They’re hauling a kid away in a rescue vehicle, and I may be hit with the entire tab and a possible law suit! As the reality of the last 20 minutes settled in, I recognized another voice belonging to the tenant from the business next door. “I received a call from the alarm company saying there was an unauthorized entry,” he said wading through the pile of stuff pushed in the corner. The bike created such a momentum of force, that even the water pipes anchored to the block wall bent like palm trees.

I explained to my neighbor what happened, and instructed him to give me a list of damages. He grinned after hearing my story, and said most of the damaged stuff was pretty much unwanted storage. But repairs to the building would be up to the landlord.  Judging by the skid marks made from the spinning rear tire, the bike wanted to go further.  The only thing that prevented its continuing rampage was after hitting the block wall, it flipped the “kill switch” which in turn shut down the motor.  Ben never had a chance to apply the brakes.

I didn’t play golf that day. Instead I shot the above black and white Polaroids.

I sat in my studio office with John after everyone was gone and things were semi-cleaned up. That’s when I found out why John wanted to meet at the studio – and showed up early. “I wanted to take your bike out for a ride before you sold it,” he said. We both agreed it just wasn’t meant to be. To this day, I’m thankful it wasn’t John laying on the ground, and me having to sort out the ensuing situation with a good friend involved.

It was about 9:00 p.m. when a call came in from Ben’s sister. She wanted to know if Ben could still come over that night and settle up the sale.  I didn’t know what to say or expect, but agreed to wait at the studio until he arrived.  At 10:00 p.m. – bandaged head to toe and on crutches – he arrived with four of his friends. Suffering from bruised ribs, a sprained ankle, and several cuts that needed sutures, he acknowledged his good fortune considering the circumstances.  Ben’s friends gathered around “his” V-Max that John and I literally pulled from the pile next door.  The comments ranged from, “What were you thinking,” to “You’re one lucky dude.” My comment was a bit more blunt as he wrote the check with his good hand. “First, you’ll get the title when the check clears, and second, if that was a Harley owner’s bike you wrecked, he would have kicked your ass first – then took your money.”

His check cleared, the bike was towed to the local dealer, and life went on as we know it.  There was never any hint of liability or discussion of mechanical failure.  Ben sucked it up like a man, and took full responsibility for his actions.  I felt as lucky as he was.

The following December, I received a Christmas card with a lengthy note from Ben.  It started by saying, “Have a wonderful holiday season, and thank you for not kicking my ass.” He proceeded to tell me the rest of the V-Max story which included the expense in repairing the bike, and his enrollment in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s rider course. When all was said and done, Ben paid me $4,800 for the used bike, $4,200 in dealer repairs (Breyley Yamaha replaced all damaged parts with new original equipment,) $2,500 in physical damages to my landlord, and medical treatment which probably was the largest expense of all.

A costly test ride, but the lessons learned, along with this story, are priceless.