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Become a MemberCulture Ghostriders: Five Motorcycle Martyrs & The Lessons They Can Teach Us

Motorcycles Ghostriders: Five Motorcycle Martyrs & The Lessons They Can Teach UsThese five celebrities all went out on bikes. Each of their deaths holds a lesson about motorcycle safety.

No one wants to die on a motorcycle. That’s why we all (hopefully) practice defensive driving, wear protective gear, avoid riding while intoxicated, and keep our bikes in good condition.

But the risk of death is a part of riding. If you ride motorcycles and you haven’t come to terms with that, you’re fooling yourself. Besides, there’s always something appealing about going out with a bang. I’m willing to bet that if you ride and are reading this article, you’d at least rather die on two wheels than eke out your final years in an old folks’ home, watching The Office on Netflix, and trawling social media, looking at the cringey thirst traps your great-grandchildren are posting.

Plenty of professional riders — racers, stuntmen, and the like — have died on two wheels. But in this list, we’ll cover five famous figures from outside the motorcycle world who’ve also gone down. Almost all of these accidents probably could’ve been prevented by one of the above safe riding principles (no alcohol, defensive driving, proper gear, and so on).

So keep that in mind next time you’re tempted to gun it to 95 in shorts and a t-shirt.

01 Duane Allman — Musician

No list of tragic motorcycle accidents would be complete without Duane Allman. The frontman and founding member of the Allman Brothers — often considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time — died in a motorcycle crash in October 1971 in Macon, Georgia at the young age of 24.

Allman’s Sportster struck an oncoming flatbed boom truck that had stopped mid-left turn at an intersection ahead. While the truck was arguably at fault for turning left in front of him, Allman was going over the 35 mph speed limit, at least 45 or 50 miles per hour, according to witnesses. As described in Scott Freeman’s Allman Brothers biography Midnight Riders, he’d been driving fast all day. “Duane was in a hurry; always a hurry…When he came up behind a slow car, he simply shot around it.”

Allman saw the truck preparing to turn left ahead of him, and instead of reducing speed, he swung his Harley left so he could ride around the truck as it turned while maintaining speed. When the truck driver stopped mid-turn at the last second (likely because he saw the approaching motorcyclist), Allman was headed straight for the truck and impacted, either “the cable hanging from the crane or a big weight ball dangling on the cable or maybe the rear corner of the truck.” His helmet flew off and the bike went up in the air, coming down on top of him. He died in the hospital later that day. Sadly, Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley perished in another motorcycle accident only a few blocks away a year later. While speeding around a hard turn, his Triumph shot across the centerline and impacted a bus.

Lesson: Don’t Speed

02 T.E. Lawrence — Soldier, Writer, Spy

If there ever was a real-life Indiana Jones, T.E. Lawrence is about as close as it’s ever come. Lawrence of Arabia was the quintessential 20th-century adventurer, participating in several Middle Eastern archaeological excavations for the British Museum, spearheading guerilla movements against the Ottomans in the First World War (notably participating in the capture of Damascus), advising Winston Churchill, and later serving in the Royal Air Force. He also penned several noteworthy books, including Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), documenting his participation in the Arab Revolt.

Lawrence was also an avid motorcyclist, and died on a Brough Superior SS100 in May of 1935 at the age of 46, near his home in Dorset, England. Lawrence went into a dip in the road, obscuring his view, and came up to see two boys on bicycles ahead of him. He swerved to avoid them and dumped the bike, dying six days later.

While you can’t prevent dips in roads and boys on bicycles ahead of you, Lawrence was not wearing a helmet at the time, and he died of a fractured skull. You can’t really fault him for his lack of a helmet. It was 1935, after all.

On a positive note, one of the doctors attending Lawrence at his death was Hugh Cains, a neurosurgeon who was then inspired to conduct extensive research into the unnecessary loss of life among motorcyclists as a result of head injuries. His research eventually proved that making helmet-use standard for military and civilian motorcyclists would result in considerable saving of life, although it took three decades for the United Kingdom to make motorcycle helmets mandatory.

Lesson: Wear a DOT-Approved Helmet. (ECE & SHARP 5-Star If Possible)

03 Diego Corrales — World-Champion Boxer

While not as ubiquitous in popular culture as Duane Allman or T.E. Lawrence, Diego “Chico” Corrales Jr. was one of the most successful boxers of his time. The American won multiple world championship titles in both super featherweight and lightweight divisions in the early 2000s.

Corrales died in May of 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada when his Suzuki GSXR 1000 collided with the car ahead of him. He was thrown over 100 feet into oncoming traffic and then hit by another vehicle. While it was unclear how fast he was traveling, his blood alcohol content was 0.25 at the time of the crash, approximately three times higher than Nevada’s legal limit.

Lesson: Don’t Drive Drunk.

04 Charles Conrad, Jr. — Astronaut

NASA astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr., commander of the Apollo 12 space mission, was the third man in history to walk on the Moon. He also commanded Skylab 2, the first manned Skylab mission, and set a record for the longest time spent in space (7 days and 22 hours) while on the Gemini 5 mission, his first spaceflight. Conrad, also a naval aviator, won numerous awards, including the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978.

Conrad died in July of 1999 while riding from his home in Huntington Beach, California to Monterey with his wife and friends. There’s no clear lesson here, because California Highway Patrol reported that he was sober, wearing a helmet, and operating his bike within the speed limit. Sometimes, accidents just happen. Maybe he did everything right. But it was a single-vehicle accident (no cars involved) and the crash occurred during a turn, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume Conrad slipped up at some point.

Lesson: Be Careful Heading into Turns.

05 John Gardner — Author

Most of John Gardner’s writing never really made it out of collegiate literary circles and into mainstream popularity, but his best-known works Grendel and The Sunlight Dialogues remain mainstays in many high school and undergraduate English curricula today, half a century later. The former — a retelling of Beowulf from the perspective of the antagonist Grendel through the lens of Sartrean existentialism — received particular acclaim. In addition to serving as a professor at a number of American colleges, Gardner was also a prominent literary critic. His critiques of many popular writers in the 1970s often drew the ire of his contemporaries.

The claim that there are only two plots in literature — someone taking a journey, or a stranger arriving in town — is also famously attributed to Gardner. However, there is no documentation of him making such a statement, and it’s more likely that this was a suggestion he made to his students as to the best way to begin a narrative.

Gardner died on his 1979 Harley Low Rider two miles from his house in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania in September of 1982, only four days before his planned wedding. While coming out of a curve in the road he lost control and went into the shoulder, hit a guardrail, and was thrown off the bike, dying in the hospital shortly after. His fiancée reported that had been drinking the night before the accident, though an autopsy showed that his BAC (0.075) was slightly under the legal limit (0.08), so it’s unclear what role (if any) alcohol played in the crash. The curve was also freshly oil-graveled, which may have also contributed to Gardner’s loss of control.

Lesson: Don’t Drive Drunk. Be Careful Heading into Turns.

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