On a beautiful Eastern Oregon August day, Matthew "Drat" Diestler enjoyed a nice afternoon ride with some friends when he noticed two deer standing off the road to his left, nearly hidden amongst a field of tall grass.
He didn't see the two on the other side of the road. Yet.
Scanning the road for wildlife, Diestler turned to his right as the two deer jumped into the road right at the oncoming Ducati Panigale S. One of them diverted away from the bike at the last second.
"The other one I thought was going to divert off but at the last second as I slowed down it looked like it went to jump out of the way but it jumped with its head directly into my throttle hand," Diestler said.
If not for the brake guard equipped to his bike, normally used for racing at Portland International Raceway, Diestler, 43, said in all probability the deer's head would have hit the brake lever locking up the front wheel and launching him over the bike into the air. Regardless, instincts took over and Diestler got low, hugged the tank and counter steered into the animal. The deer, according to witnesses, did a flip and a half over the bike while Diestler remained on two wheels.
Drat Diestler on his Panigale S
Hitting a deer with a car usually results in significant damage to the vehicle but no loss of life for the driver. Motorcyclists ride with a different reality. Statistics on deer vs. motorcycle related crashes are not widely published, however what's available tell the tale.
Check out this video of a road race rally in West Virginia:
In Michigan for 2009, more than 61,000 vehicle-deer related crashes occurred with 10 fatalities. Those 10 killed were all on motorcycles. In 2012, AAA released national statistics that showed 70 percent of deer-related fatal crashed involve motorcycles. The same study showed that over a three-year period in Maryland and Virginia, seven of eight people who died in deer-related crashes were on motorcycles.
Statistics provided by the Oregon Department of Transportation show 431 crashes involving motorcycles versus wildlife from 2004 through 2013. Just 69 of those occurred off-road but 285 occurred during the day. There were 445 injuries reported and 12 fatalities. Statistics involving vehicles (excluding motorcycles) versus wildlife in the same reporting years for Oregon showed 9,408 crashes with 3,403 reported injuries and 17 fatalities.
"If something would have been just a little different I might not be here," said Diestler.
His injuries were far from minor. The force of the blow pushed bones out of place and broke others in his wrist and fingers. He's got five pins in his right hand to go along with a harrowing story. However, a tattoo artist by trade and owner of Ever True Tattoo in Portland, Diestler is now faced with a long rehabilitation process and possibly the loss of his livelihood.
Though Diestler's encounter was in the afternoon, deer most often venture out in the early morning hours and in the evening, a riding tip commonly adhered to by those on two wheels. In addition to obviously wearing the appropriate protective riding gear The Skilled Motorcyclist Association recommends riders in heavily populated deer areas to practice braking and swerving techniques and add a powerful head light, like a 100-watt beam.
Additional tips to avoid deer collisions during your cruise include:
- Slowing down
- Hand on the brakes to reduce reaction time
- Use your lights
- Stagger riders when in a group
Blowing your machine's horn and blinking lights when seeing deer may help but don't rely on the method. Moreover, in a post on MotorcycleCruiser.com, those deer whistles marketed to scare away deer seem to have no affect and may even encourage the animal to run to the sound, though studies deemed inconclusive.
Here's another video where the deer jumps right into the path of the motorcyclist at the 5:00 mark:
Diestler started on dirt bikes at the age of 10 and today is an "Expert Road Racer" with the Oregon Motorcycle Road Racing Association. He is also an instructor for OMRRA's Novice Race School and Ducati Moto Corsa, and competes in the road racing season at PIR every year, among other motorcycling activities. He was riding the speed limit on the day of his accident and looking out for deer - the two he saw were nearly identical in color to the surrounding grass.
"I was doing the things you're supposed to do, there was really nothing else I could have done," he said. "Some things you just can't prepare for."
Diestler said riding to the conditions is a must for motorcyclists. Whether its rain, excessive traffic or deer country. Do you know the road? What's your visibility? Can you see off the street? He also suggests riding along the center of the road to give yourself time and leave yourself an out in the event a deer pops out in front of you.
Diestler says his racing days are probably over
"Think ahead," he said. "It takes time to condition yourself. Some people learn the hard way and some are smart about it."
Diestler admits his SuperBike racing days are probably over. His ordeal got him in touch with others in similar situations who all give varying accounts of recovery time. He expects the pins to be removed in six to nine weeks and perhaps another year for rehabilitation with the frustrating unknown of how much use in his hand returns.
"I'm hoping for the best but I'm planning and preparing for the worst financially and mentally," he said. "Being an artist to create is so integral to what I do. I can't sleep, I'm in pain and oh, I can't work."
Written By: AndrewT