There's an old saying, "Clothes maketh The Man". Well they may not "maketh" the man, but they can certainly "protecteth" him! Particularly when you're on a bike. (Or more accurately, when you are suddenly and unintentionally not on a bike!). And protection is something that I am a big supporter of!
I have always had a strong sense of self-preservation; as well as a strong aversion to pain. Even in my "reckless -youth", my "recklessness" was tempered by assessment of danger. If something looked dangerous, or potentially painful, I tended not to do it. Now, some people (obviously not anyone reading this!) might argue that if I have such an aversion to danger then I shouldn't be riding a motorbike. And to a fair extent they'd be right. But then, all forms of transport have some inherent danger. That's why today's cars have seat-belts and air-bags. And it's why ships carry life-boats. And it's why there is protective clothing for motorcyclists. It's the "just-in-case" factor. Just-in-case the car crashes, the seat-belt and air-bags will protect you. Just-in-case the ship sinks, you have a much smaller ship to get into. And if you are unfortunate enough to have a crash on your motorbike, you have clothing that will protect you.
However not everyone thinks like this. Actually, it's a strange thing. I mentioned "reckless youth" just then, and it's often younger people who are more "reckless". Older people are mostly more safety-conscious. That's kind of strange when you think about it. Young people have more to lose (because potentially they have more life ahead of them) yet they are often less inclined towards self-preservation than those (older people) who have less to lose! Odd when you think about it isn't it! Anyway, getting back to the issue at hand, wearing a seat-belt or having factory-fitted air-bags in your car isn't usually an option (well wearing a seat-belt is I suppose, but if you choose not to you can get booked!). Similarly, you don't get a choice whether the ship has life-boats. But protective clothing isn't compulsory on a bike; except for a helmet. And some people choose not to wear what they don't have to. But for me, the afore-mentioned sense of self-preservation and aversion to pain has always encouraged me to wear some form of protective clothing, even when I didn't legally have to.
The best example of this was back in my earlier years of riding when a mate and I used to go trail-riding on a friend's farm. Being on private property, of course we weren't legally compelled to wear anything. We both used to wear over-alls, just to keep the mud off regular clothes, but my mate never wore a helmet or gloves. I always did. So when we started off on a ride, he'd just jump on the bike, kick-start it and be off. Meanwhile I'd be strapping on the helmet and putting on gloves, and by the time I'd got going he would have disappeared off into the distance. He always thought I was mad; but I always felt a lot safer knowing I had some form of protection when the inevitable spill happened.
There are two minor incidents from these early years in motorcycling that re-enforced my belief in the necessity for protective clothing. The first was one day when I was trail-riding around the farm I mentioned above; a place where, as I've said, legally there was no requirement to wear a helmet. But I always did. On this day I was going up a particularly steep hill, and it was very slippery. Suddenly the bike lost traction and stopped. It then started sliding backwards. I bailed off and dropped the bike. As I did, I fell backwards. Now, when you fall backwards you know it's going to hurt; because you can't stretch your arms out to break your fall. But I heard, more than felt, the "thump" as my head hit the ground. And it didn't hurt at all. "Hey, these helmets really are a good thing!"
The second incident came when I was at a big trail-bike park. I had gone there with a work-mate, Charlie, who had been there quite a few times before. We were having lunch and Charlie was telling me about this huge hill that almost no-one had conquered. Many had tried, but Charlie had only ever seen a couple of riders make it to the top. "C'mon, I'll show you this hill!" Charlie said, explaining that it was quite close to where we were. Now, I thought we were just going to look, so I put my helmet on but didn't bother pulling on the gloves. When we got to the hill, Charlie started to ride up the bottom section. I was sure he hadn't intended trying to ride up it, so I assumed we were going to ride to some particular spot to get a better view. So I followed closely alongside.
The first part was quite gentle and easy. At the end of this section there was a flat part on one side of the track which afforded a better view of the whole hill. Charlie's idea was to ride to there then stop and admire (or wonder at!) the rest of the hill. But, not knowing where he intended stopping, when we got to this particular point I was on the wrong side of the track and by the time I realised Charlie had stopped it was too late; I was past the flat bit and into the real-deal! The hill was very steep and rough, with rocks and wash-aways and deep ruts. It looked massive, but there was nowhere I could easily stop and turn around, so I just kept on going. For quite a while I was doing okay too; to the extent that I was beginning to think I might actually make it to the top, although the last section looked almost vertical and extremely rough. Then suddenly, as I came out of a deep wash-away, the bike reared up, did a pirouette on the back wheel and crashed to the ground. And I fell on top of it. As I fell my outstretched left-hand landed flat on the side of the motor; the fins burning a nice pattern across my palm! It was months before the stripes across my hand faded! I was a little annoyed at Charlie for not explaining where we were going to stop, but more annoyed at myself for not putting on the full riding gear - even for what was supposed to be a little jaunt to just look!
These are only very minor incidents. If you've ever had the misfortune to go down on the road, I'm sure you will have much better examples of the benefits of wearing good quality protective gear! And if you have gone down, you'll know that the attitude of "it can't happen to me" is just like burying your head in the sand. Ignoring the dangers don't make them go away! Accidents can happen to anyone, and even the most skillful riders will sometimes make a mistake. And even if it doesn't happen, isn't it better to have worn it and not needed it than to have not worn it and suffered the consequences? It's the "just-in-case" thing. And cars do crash. Ships do sink. And motorcycles do sometimes crash!
Over the years the quality of my gear has improved. I always had a good quality helmet and good-quality gloves, but the other items weren't too flash. In the early trail-riding days, the boots were steel-capped gum-boots. My jacket (when I wasn't wearing the mud-spattered over-alls) was an old parker-style thing. And jeans. It was only when I got into road-riding (and speeds were greater) that I up-graded to more appropriate gear. I didn't consider my riding style warranted full leathers (although leathers are always the best option!), but I did get proper motorbike boots and a proper motorbike jacket. Then I up-graded the jacket to one with armour. I was still just wearing jeans though, until an incident convinced me that jeans don't offer much protection. In fact, it seems wearing just jeans can be worse than having nothing at all!
I was out in the car one night and had stopped at one of those truck-stop diner-type places. It was dark and as I was walking around the side of the building I didn't see the step down onto a driveway. I tripped and fell. Instinctively I put out my hands to break my fall; and I landed on my hands and knees. My hands hurt, and I expected to see palms with skin hanging off, but they were okay. My right knee hurt too, and when I rolled up the jeans to inspect the damage, there was a 20c-size patch of grazed and bleeding skin. It was then I realised just how abrasive denim is! And it made me think; if the denim jeans did that much damage at walking pace, what would happen if I came off at 100kph on the highway?! So I went out and bought some Draggin Jeans - the ones with kevlar patches sewn in all the critical areas.
Okay, now let's address some of the reasons why people don't wear protective gear.
Cost is one factor. And yep, this sort of stuff is expensive. But so are hospital bills! The good news is that good (or at least "adequate") gear is cheaper now than it ever has been! For $1,000 you could get yourself set up very well with helmet, jacket, pants, boots and gloves. Compare that to how much you spend on buying the bike, registering it and insuring it, and it isn't a huge amount. Road safety organisations will all tell you that if you can't afford the clothing, you can't afford the ride!
Comfort can be another factor. But if you choose your gear carefully, comfort isn't really an issue. Okay, wearing a helmet isn't as comfortable as not wearing one, and the same goes for jackets and gloves etc, but the range of stuff available is huge, and you should be able to get something that feels comfortable to wear.
Part of the comfort issue can be heat; in summer it can be hot when you're wearing all this proper gear! So you see people opting for shorts and a T-shirt. And swapping the leather boots for a pair of thongs. That's plain stupid! And with the range of stuff available these days, there really is no excuse! Full racing leathers might be a bit hot, but you can get vented textile jackets that are really quite cool. I have a Dririder Drimesh jacket for summer, and the air-flow is great! The only time I feel hot is if I'm stopped in traffic. Once I'm on the move the air flow keeps me quite cool. And there are motocross jackets that are even more open-mesh than this, so there really is no excuse for not wearing a jacket!
Likewise the pants. As I mentioned, I wear Draggin jeans, and these are only slightly hotter than normal jeans, which some people wear in summer anyway. So again, no excuse not to wear stuff that will protect you!
If you wear full gauntlet road gloves (as I like to), then your hands can get hot. But again, there are light-weight gloves that are really quite cool. If you really want to, you can go to motocross style gloves that will still give you reasonably good protection while still getting plenty of air around your hot little hands. (I actually have three pairs of gloves; all are leather road-style, and vary in the amount of padding etc. The thinnest I find are cool enough in summer but still give full hand protection).
Look at the photo at the top of the page. It's one you'll see a lot in magazine adds etc. Imagine each side of the person hitting the bitumen at highway speed and consider what the outcome might be. No, go on, do it; take a good look and have a good think about it! If that doesn't make you ensure that you have good protective gear the next time you take the bike out, then all I can say is you shouldn't be riding a motorbike!
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