Steve L – A One Eyed View of Biking
I was born in 1963, which makes me 41 this year (Whaaaaaaa!) and I’ve been well into bikes just about all my life.
Back In 1989 – when I was 25 – two men attacked my mate and myself while we were walking home from the pub late one night. One of the men had recently nicked a golfing umbrella from outside a nearby house and he hit me across the face with it, with the result that he split my left eyeball in half and broke my nose.
The local hospital carried out eye-surgery on the damage but even after that I still couldn’t see bugger-all through the eye and it wasn’t healing up properly, so the hospital decided to remove the eye 2 weeks later.
The over-riding concern throughout all of this was how soon I’d be able to start riding my bike again (especially as the incident happened in May and I didn’t want to miss too much of the summer).
At that time I’d owned a GSX1100E for just over a year – after previously having had a T140E Bonnie for 5 years or so before that. The GSX was a big meaty bike and very powerful, not the sort of bike you can take liberties with. Doctors at the hospital reckoned I should have given it a decent interval before venturing back onto 2 wheels, but I was almost too scared to leave riding for too long and found myself going for a blast 5 weeks after the attack occurred.
Looking back, 5 weeks wasn’t really long enough as I’d been effectively totally blind for 2 weeks after the attack due to a “sympathetic” reaction in my right eye that had knackered the sight up in that as well. Even when my sight started to come back, I still experienced lots of optical illusions and very poor night vision, which isn’t exactly ideal when it comes to slinging a GSX11 around.
During the 5 weeks I’d been off the road, I’d written to the DVLA to tell them what had happened, and they sent a scrawly hand-written note back saying that my licence would just continue as normal, I also contacted my insurance company (Norwich Union), and they very kindly loaded my premium for the GSX by 50%!
Not long after I started riding again, I went on a rally with my former bike club and had quite a bit of trouble piloting the GSX home in the dark. It was dead scary but I got there in the end.
I also rode to the Kent Custom Show in July that year (just 2 months after the attack) without incident. I live in South Wales, so it’s a reasonable haul to Kent and back. I also made it to the South of France in September of that year, two-up.
The sight in my right eye remained a bit iffy for a while, but it started to come back (more or less) to normal over the next 18 months or so. Though things still look flat to this day, and if I think about it, whatever I’m looking at never seems to appear quite right.
When it comes to riding bikes, it’s easier to judge distances than it would be if I were trying to catch a ball or something. On the road there are many points of reference, so if the car in front starts to look huge, I know I’m not very far behind it. Having a massive blind spot on the left-hand side isn’t too terrible while riding as most UK roads are sort of like narrow corridors. It’s more of a pain if I’m in the outside lane of a dual carriageway, or cranked over on a roundabout, as it’s difficult to see cars pulling onto the roundabout in those circumstances.
One advantage of losing an eye was that i got to wear a black leather eye patch for quite a while. Weirdly enough it made women take more of an interest in me for some reason. I had far more sexual encounters than normal that year, before finally ending up with the woman I’m still married to today.
Though the NHS eventually got round to knocking me up an artificial eye and I’ve mostly worn that ever since. The black leather eye patch still puts in an appearance now and again, as my artificial eye is prone to playing up sometimes, so I can’t always wear it.
Very occasionally, I bung my patch on just for the hell of it (as only having one eye is a good excuse to wear one I reckon). These days I wear it so infrequently, that I feel very self-conscious if I do leave the house wearing it. I wasn’t exactly a movie star before, but having an artificial eye hasn’t done much for my appearance.
The eye is quite realistic looking, but doesn’t move much, and has no expression. I look even more horrendous without it though (just a big hole where my left eye used to be).
The biggest bummer is that I’m always smashing into people in crowds now, as I can’t see anyone approaching from the left unless they’re directly in front of me, Sometimes this has been so bad that I’ve had to apologise to my victim and explain that I’m blind in one eye etc. I normally manage to ram the toughest looking bloke In the pub too.
Wearing an eye patch is an advantage under those conditions as people more or less expect you to be visually challenged and make allowances (though there’s invariably some dickhead who trots out ail the well-worn pirate remarks as soon as they catch sight of someone wearing an eye patch).
One good thing about having a serious injury is the compensation it’s sometimes possible to get. I was lucky enough to get enough for a brand new Harley and then some. Unfortunately, some silly cow in an old rust bucket nearly managed to end it all for us within a couple of years of me getting my hands on the Harley. (Sound familiar?).
The Harley copped quite a bit of damage to the rear end, where her car struck it, and I had my left leg bust In four places below the knee. Luckily enough the local hospital played, did the business with the scalpels again, and after a few operations involving plates and screws etc I was fortunate enough to make a full recovery from the injuries.
The “young lady” reckoned the accident was entirely my fault, but luckily her insurance company didn’t believe her so I was awarded yet another lot of compensation (I’m beginning to sound like some litigation mad American!).
I would have kept that Harley, a 1340 FXRS, for the rest of my biking career but unfortunately it seemed to be fatally flawed from new. Even on the day I picked it up there were technical problems and that pretty much characterised the bike during the entire time I owned it. It was far less reliable than my old T140E Bonnie, and suffered an unbelievable amount of faults over the 50,000 or so miles I put on it. This culminated in the engine going bang in a really big way, so I sold the bike as soon at it was fixed, which was April 2003.
As the engine was re-built by one of the UK’s leading Harley experts I hope it’ll now be a sound bike in future for the guy who bought it. It was a bit of a bummer as whenever I got pissed off about only having one eye (which was often), I used to console myself with the thought that at least I’d got a really great Harley out of it (well it looked realty great anyway).
Though in the end, my wife and I were glad to see the back of it after all the hassle and expense it caused us. I’ve now got a Triumph Thunderbird which has been doing the biz magnificently since I’ve had it, and long may it continue to do so. I’ve ridden for well over 100,000 miles since losing my eye so I don’t think it’s made me a significantly less safe rider as a result (the only accident being the one mentioned above, and the car driver was pretty well at fault for that one).
At first I thought a windshield or fairing would be a useful addition to my bikes, to keep the shit out of my remaining eye, but it’s not really necessary. I normally make do with a black open face lid and the cheapest shades in the world (weather permitting).
My “disability” sounds pretty trivial compared to many people’s, but it’s something that does have an effect on my biking. If anyone is going through similar and wants advice, or to just talk about it, please don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail. My address is theoldboys at tesco dot net