Wednesday, June 06, 2007

More on gear.

When I started this blog I really wanted to write about commuting. More specifically, the actual riding and the adventures I found therein. I still really like that part the best. This "trainer" thing keeps taking over, though. I promise to get back to the fun stories. This detour was begging to be made based on the past post so I'm going with it.

There were some good points brought up in the last post's comments. Adequate gear means different things to different riders. So I thought I'd throw another log on the fire, so to speak. There's more than one reason to wear proper gear. It might also surprise you to know that commuters aren't the primary threat to motorcyclists anymore. We need other things besides good gear to take care of ourselves. More on that later.

What do I mean by gear?

My personal vision of good gear is as follows:

A full face helmet with a visor. Both a motorcycle specific jacket and riding pants. In my case it's an Aerostich Roadcrafter two piece riding suit. Cordura works well for me. Other people prefer leather. Gloves appropriate for the season. Motorcycle specific riding boots. When I'm riding to teach a class my boots are usually a pair of Red Wing work boots with the laces firmly secured. I still have protection and can run around pounding pavement more comfortably. My Ray Ban's are worn under the visor. Helmet visors are shatter resistant while sunglasses aren't.

My preference is to have all of my body protected. It was rightly pointed out in one of the comments that extremities are vulnerable in a crash. More on that in the next section.

Why wear good gear?

It seems like crash protection is the number one reason for using good gear. It's certainly a big factor but not the only one. For now, though, let's concentrate on that aspect.

Several studies, most notably the Hurt Report, have shown that injuries to the head and chest are the most devastating. I don't think anyone could reasonably argue against the fact that a good helmet and motorcycle jacket are critical for surviving a crash. Even people who fight helmet laws know the truth deep in their hearts. I've heard some of them cling to the fact that wearing a helmet causes neck injuries. It's a feeble excuse they think will support their cause. I won't go into too much detail here but the people involved in the Hurt Study are still testing helmets. There has never been a documented neck injury without a devestating head injury that would have caused death anyway.

I've seen riders with good helmets and jackets but no gloves or riding pants. One of my arguments to them is a question.

"Have you ever been walking along and then tripped? Did you stick your face out to catch yourself?"

Arms, hands, legs, and feet are vulnerable. Denim pants will literally explode upon impact with the pavement, providing absolutely no protection. There was a comment that touched upon the fact that a broken arm will heal, etc. It's true our bodies have a remarkable capability for mending. The real danger in these type of injuries is two-fold.

One, limbs are more likely to have open wounds if not adequately protected. Infection is a secondary, but deadly, culprit. Secondly, injuries to limbs put additional strain on the limited resources available for healing. In other words, a person might recover from a serious head or chest wound if that was all there was to deal with. The added stress of limb wounds might just be enough to make a difference between survival or death. It's worth some serious thought.

Going back to the protection issue, here's a picture of my personal full face helmet. I keep it as a souvenir. Kind of macabre, I know. For me it's a reminder of my one and only crash on the streets. You can read about it if you go to the archives. The post date is March 2, 2006. Read "Sooner or Later".

It was not a high speed get-off. The damage you see on the helmet would have been done to my pretty face. Even with the helmet I got my bell rung hard. I experienced a violent high side and was slammed to the roadway. My right hand was badly broken but my gloves saved me from any abrasions to the skin. The shoulder pads and heavy nylon of my 'Stich did their jobs. Here's a closer look at the helmet gouges.
The point here isn't to sell anyone on good gear.

What I'm saying is that, due to my habits, the protection was there when I needed it. That's the gist of my urgings to riders. It's so tempting to think since we're just going to the store that we'll skip "suiting up". It's been said over and over that most accidents happen within a few miles of home. I say that's a dangerous place and I should probably move!

Seriously, you just never know. There's a reason things are called "accidents". A rider doesn't have the luxury of calling "time out!" and going back to get the good gear. Whatever a rider brought to the party is what they will have to deal with. I always try to make sure my dance partner can hold up her end of a tango! Make habits work for us, not against us.

Which sort of brings up the other couple of reasons we should be using good gear.

Gear can help us be visible to other traffic. In the Hurt Report it was stated that only 5 percent of the accident-involved riders were considered to be "visible". Think about it. What's a motorcyclist's favorite color? You got it. Black. We're already invisible so let's camouflage ourselves! Thanks to the ever increasing popularity of motorcycling, there's more ways to be visible without looking like Big Bird. ( who I happen to like, by the way )

The other reason is comfort. It's important to be comfortable while riding. What do we need to be concentrating on when we ride? Isn't it operating the bike and managing risk? Which means that distractions are our enemy on this front.

Have you ever been so cold on a bike that you're sure if you turn your head it will fall off your shoulders and clunk onto the road? If a rider's wet and miserable what are they thinking about? Yeah. How cold and wet and miserable they are, not about riding and managing risk. Same thing applies to gloves. Hands encased in good gloves will have better handgrip control. Freezing hands or sweaty palms don't get the job done as well.

A comment made mention of riders having very minimal gear in hot weather. The same principle applies. Crash protection aside, riding in hot weather in a t-shirt still leaves a rider vulnerable to sunburn. ( and bees! ) Worse yet, to heat dehydration. Hot air constantly wicks away the body's moisture. The effect on a rider is that they become kind of loopy over time. They start making questionable decisions. It's the equivalent to becoming slowly intoxicated. Motorcycle specific jackets allow for both venting and moisture retention.

Gear selection and use is a personal choice for riders. I guess that's part of the freedom here that many sacrificed for to win and keep. I'm trying to share some of my own observations and input to help folks make good choices. By that I mean reasoned decisions based on accurate information, not peer pressure.

Interestingly, though, the greatest danger motorcyclists may need protection from is themselves. It's shaping up that way. This post is getting long so I'll continue it until tomorrow.

Miles and smiles,



Michelle said...

Excellent post. And you're right, we do often forget about the other advantages to wearing proper gear besides going down in a crash. I know every time I hear a rock or insect hit my helmet I'm very glad it was my helmet and not my face or head!

Bill Sommers said...

This is the information that I really like to see and share. So thanks for that.

I have to say, that in my stint as an ABATE Coordinator, I was often caught in the helmet fight issue. I was not afraid to say that I wear a helmet because it is part of my personal protection gear. I want my helmet! So as the fighting words for doing away with helmet laws were raised, I sat with my arms crossed and did not enter into the fray. It is hard to lead a charge in a fight that you want to turn from.

I may not look as smooth as the dude in the first graphic, but I believe in your way, more than I was urged to believe in the past.

Have fun,

Jim Kane said...

Preach on! A 2-piece Roadcrafter turned my first get-off (lowside in gravel) from what would have been a painful slide into an embarrassing non-event. The armored boots also kept the bike's tailsection from breaking my ankle (a real plus). ATGATT -- All The Gear, All The Time.

rearset said...

Hey Dan, great post. Am a dedicated, in-love-with-it commuter too, except that I live in a more chaotic place – India. My blog Motorcyclist at Large also talks about similar issues. Do come by.

buzbmb said...

Amen brother! I had a slow low side once, my jeans did explode on contact with less then a one foot slide. Since then I consider the cost of equipment (helmet, gloves, jacket, boots, pants, etc.) as required. If you spend good money on a bike, spen it on the stuff which will let you enjoy it for a lifetime. Always send friends towards MSF courses even if they have been riding for a while. I always tell them how much they will save on insurance! If lost skin won't get them there, saving money will.

irondad said...

I also ride a sport bike. I've come back from rides with stuff on my visor that I certainly wouldn't have wanted on my face!

I respect your having a spine. Hope this helps in your evangelizing duties for gear and training. Watch for the next post.


Thanks, I'll check it out.

Thanks for sharing the thing with the jeans. Nice to have someone else back me up. Financial incentives certainly have their place. A number of students coming through the classes cite the insurance discount as a reason.

Good for you for speaking up to folks!


Bryce Lee said...

In a prior comment made note about
my gear. I have no choice but to wear full leather.
Aerostich won't fit nor will anything else. Figure somebody 6 foot nine inches tall weighing in at a hefty 378 pounds. My orthopedic shoe man made me a pair of laceup riding boots similar to to Red Wings, my feet are
huge equivalent size 14's and at the base of the toes about seven inches across.
Somebody remarked they wouldn't want to meet me in a dark place at night. I do wear my refelctive vest but you get the idea. Full face helmet isn't a name brand, it is DOT approved, it fits, just, 8 3/4
sized head. And with the chemo of late, no hair either!

And when it's too hot/humid to ride, the car (Honda Civic with 1.6 litre engine and air conditioning
is a viable alternative). Fuel for the bike
or the car is still C$1.09 a litre.

American Scooterist Blog said...

I took to wearing my chaps again. Corrazo armored jacket, Hein Gericke gauntlet gloves (over twenty years old and still look like new) work style high boots and now the chaps. I think the ff should go without saying but I will anyway. Lighter armored pants sometime in the near future.


DaveT said...

ATGATT: All The Gear, All The Time! It's saved me on more than one occasion. I wear leather because I'm a very large guy (5x large) and no one makes motorcycle gear for a guy my size. So a good leather jacket and custom chaps (see my web site for my leather work) along with a full face helmet and tourmaster gloves keep me safe. Boots are leather lace up work boots, but have good protection.

I would like to comment on sunglasses. I've worn glasses for the last 30 years, and contacts for the last 21. I worry about getting "stuff" in my eyes, so I wear sunglasses all the time (UV blocking of course!) even when riding. I choose tinted safety glasses as my sunglasses of choice. There are several brands and styles, some very high fashion. They are shatter proof (Good thing when you have your face shield propped open on a 100 degree day and catch a rock) and relatively cheap. I rarely pay more than $10 at the local hardware store or home center. Nice price (Ok, I'm cheap!) and nice looking, and safe besides? A triple!

Ride Safe
Dave T.

david salter said...

Lessons learned from skydiving, gunfights, air plane situations etc. that I think apply to Motorcycles. If your mind is cluttered up with doubts such as "oops, I'm wearing sandals and a T shirt" when you're faced with a situation with mortal consequences on your bike, those doubts interfere with good judgement and inhibit the mind's ability to do a quick synthesis of skills, situational awareness and possible solutions. If you are prepared with your helmet, gloves, boots and rabbits foot, not to mention good practice of survival skills, you have that much less to worry about and are not so much distracted with the consequences of going down with out them. I belive you/we are more likely to come up with the right actions to save ourselves if we have all that squared away to start with. The Boy Scouts have it right. Be prepared. Cheers!!!

David Salter