Living is fraught with risk. Every being spends the bulk of its existence simply trying to keep living. Every critter sees itself at the top of its personal food chain until, one day it comes face-to-face with an even bigger, hungrier one. Or maybe it’s just a boulder rolling down a hill.
Fortunately, our ancestors struggled hard to get to the top of the heap on this chunk of space rock. So, now our focus has the luxury of turning towards managing the risk of activities that add quality to our lives rather than merely sustaining it. For us, here at MO, motorcycles form the primary focus in our lives – once we get beyond sustenance and procreation. So, here we’ve collected 10 things that will help protect you against injury. Most of these are tangible items you could actually hold in your hands. Some, however, are impossible to physically quantify. Still, they’ll keep you happily riding for many years.
10. Motorcycle Safety Class
Although there is some debate about the best way to teach people to ride motorcycles, all experienced riders are in agreement that rider training is of a primary importance. Riding a motorcycle is much too difficult to depend on the haphazard nature of trial-and-error. Since the potential costs of learning from our motorcycling mistakes is so high, proper training will set the novice rider loose on the street with enough knowledge to go about the challenging work of learning how to ride. So, while basic skills and survival strategies aren’t something you can see or hold, they’re great to have in your back pocket as you rack up the miles. Even if you’ve ridden for years, you can still learn valuable skills from a class. Contact the MSF or a local riding school.
9. Rain Gear/Heated Gear
While it might not be obvious, wearing rain gear during inclement weather is a safety factor. If you’re wet, cold and uncomfortable, you’re already plenty distracted, and that’s before we consider the complications of poor visibility and limited traction during precipitation. If you also want to address the poor visibility experienced by others, buy brightly colored rain gear instead of dark colors. If you’re decked from head to toe in neon orange, nobody can claim they didn’t see you.
Although wearing heated clothing could be seen as simply continuing with the idea of creature comforts lessening a rider’s distraction out on the road, the reality is that your ability to perform tasks becomes limited as your muscles get cold and stiff. Why do you think it’s increasingly common for motorcycles to include heated grips in their features? One often overlooked problem brought on by cold is that, as your core temperature drops, your cognitive ability is reduced. Even worse, you may not be aware of this impairment. So, while plugging in your electric vest for a fall morning commute may simply feel great, you’re also doing your bit to stay sharp out on the road. An added benefit is that, if you’re more comfortable, you can make those recreational rides last longer.
8. Long Pants
This falls under the category of WTF are you thinking? Riding a motorcycle in shorts? Really? Chicks may dig scars, but when they find out yours are from abject stupidity, your stock will probably drop a little. At the very least, you should wear pants constructed of a sturdy enough fabric to withstand a bit of a slide. Jeans have been part of the biker uniform for generations, and they are still de rigueur for many riders. As we’ve shown recently, jeans created specifically for motorcycling are increasing in availability, styling, and armor options (here, here and here). Once you’ve gotten used to wearing these sturdier denims, you may not want to go back to your beloved Levis.
Leather jackets are part of the motorcycle mystique – which explains why even non-riders choose to wear them. It has been scientifically proven that when you want to appeal to the gender of your choice, you stand a better chance of being considered sexually attractive if you’re clad in leather. Then again, the current selection of textile jackets is pretty tasty, too. So, if you need more reasons than increasing the odds of rubbing your naughty bits against receptive others, how about this: Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it plays a vital role in providing a barrier between your meaty center and the hungry bacteria and viruses that surround us. Unless you love skin grafts and massive doses of antibiotics, cover your skin with a quality jacket. The good news is that the variety of leather and textile riding gear available has never been higher – and you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune protecting your dermis.
Motorcycle boots do more than just hold your bones in place in the event of an accident. The construction of their soles helps them to grip on slippery surfaces. If you question the importance of this, try having your foot slide out from underneath you at a stop. Sometimes you can keep the bike upright; sometimes you can’t. Increase the fun by doing this on a top-heavy touring bike – with a bunch of your friends watching. Motorcycle-specific boots are also designed to address the peculiar stresses of riding. Toe patches keep the shifter from marring the surface of the boot. Shin guards deflect errant stones and small animals. Retroreflective materials make you more visible at night. Also, during a long day in the saddle, a set of riding boots are actually more comfortable than a pair of running shoes.
Over the past decade, almost nothing has changed more in the protection of a rider in a mishap than the protective ability of armor. In the Bad Old Days, a couple extra layers of leather on your elbows and knees were good enough. Now, we’re seeing crash-sensing riding gear with inflatable internal airbags make its way off the MotoGP tracks and onto the bodies of well-heeled street/track riders. For us mere mortals of middle-class incomes, an amazing array of armor that protects in varying degrees – as rated against measurable standards – can be had in even the most price-conscious riding apparel.
4. Eye Protection
Yeah, we could argue all day about helmets and whether they should be required (and those of you in the anti-helmet camp would still be wrong). One issue we should all agree about is that, if you can’t see while you’re riding, you are SOL. We’re constantly amazed at the number of riders we see, whether wearing helmets or not, riding without eye protection. Perhaps they haven’t yet experienced the joy of a bee or stone impact at speed. While the skin is relatively sensitive part of the body, it is pretty dang sturdy when compared to the eye. So, cover your peepers! It doesn’t matter whether by goggles, motorcycle-specific spex, or a face shield, as long as they are sealed from intrusion of grit from the side.
Now would be a good time to say something about not riding with tinted visors or sunglasses at night, but we already did.
And not those silly fingerless jobs, either.
While lots of training can get you to ignore some of your survival instincts – learning to counter-steer is a prime example – you simply can’t train away some of our most ingrained self-preservation instincts. Training riders to counter-steer defeated the incorrect survival instinct that had them steering away from the Big Scary Thing That Wants To Kill and consequently counter-steering right in to the BSTTWTK.
Unfortunately, lots of brain-stem level survival instincts can’t be trained away. Take the instinct to break a fall by putting out a hand as you go down. Since, from a life-saving perspective, hands are expendable compared to the torso and all its delicate internal parts, it’s virtually impossible to keep from putting your hand down in a crash – often leading to painful lessons about abrasion. So cover your paws with sturdy gloves that, at a bare minimum, close around the wrist, preventing them from being flung off in a cartwheeling tumble. After that is covered, the amount of armor, vents, and other bells and whistles depends on the type of riding you’re doing and how much you value your hands.
2. A Helmet
What’s this? Isn’t wearing a helmet the most important item you can use to protect yourself on a motorcycle? How can it be second?
We’ll get to that on the next page. First, helmets protect you from many things other than just the bangs on the noggin that we associate with their primary purpose. Helmets protect you from many kinds of unpleasantness. There are the elements: cold temperatures, rain, wind (with sand, no less), bug impacts, and even the sun (don’t believe this, just ask any sufferer of male pattern baldness). Helmets lessen the intensity of wind noise past our less than aerodynamic ears. Helmets are a force for good in the world. Be part of the club.
1. Your Brain
No regular MO reader should be surprised by this. Never ride without your brain. Brainless riders are vastly overrepresented in motorcycle accident studies, with the majority of single-vehicle accidents coming as the result of brainless motorcycle operation. Using your brain will immeasurably increase your riding enjoyment – and your longevity. Although they are no guaranty of brain use, abiding by the previous nine suggestions is usually associated with brain activity.
Because we live in litigious times, here is our barrister-required disclaimer: “No brain can protect you from every possible hazardous circumstance. However, when used properly, your brain can save your butt. Never alter your brain with alcohol or harsh chemicals prior to riding, as these will prevent it from operating to its full potential.
“Always use your brain – especially when riding a motorcycle.”