Motorcycle Safety Gear
Article by Mark Trotta
Since the only thing between your skin and the road is what you're wearing, proper riding gear is essential. Motorcycle safety gear keeps you protected from physical harm, as well as the elements.
Motorcycle Leather Jackets
Before leather jackets were fashionable, motorcycle riders wore them solely for protection. Today, style probably sells more jackets, but there's quite a bit of difference between a leather jacket for fashion and one for motorcycle riding.
You can spend as little as $150 for a cheap motorcycle jacket, but it probably won't protect you very well in a crash. Choose a jacket carefully, and it will last you a long time.
Marlon Brando's leather jacket in the movie "The Wild One" is a Schott Perfecto "One Star". Since then, the Perfecto has been widely copied, and has become one of the most popular motorcycle jacket styles.
Textile Motorcycle Jackets
Although leather jackets are most popular with classic bike riders, textile jackets can be more versatile. Most have removable thermal liners and vents, and are well suited for early spring and late fall riding. They are wind and water repellent, which helps if you get caught in a sudden shower.
If you ride where temperatures go into the triple digits, you know how it feels to sit motionless for a minute or two while wearing a leather jacket. You wish you were wearing something that had more cooling but the same protection.
Have you ever noticed people who live by the equator are covered from head to toe in clothing? This is because skin that is exposed to heat is harder to cool, causing you to dehydrate faster. Trouble is, riding a motorcycle, you need to wear abrasion and impact resistant gear, which can be heavy.
Mesh Motorcycle Jackets
Most mesh jackets have CE armor at the shoulders and elbows, with a pocket for back armor. They are water and wind repellent. Some of the better brand names include Joe Rocket, Firstgear, Olympia and Viking. Prices start around $150.
If you fall off a motorcycle, you'll instinctively put your hands out to help break the fall. What will be on your hands?
Gloves made from leather or some other sturdy material will help. Some people wear their Mechanix gloves while riding (better than nothing). Don't forget to strap the straps - they're designed to keep the gloves on your hands if you crash.
Motorcycle gloves that have protective material will be CE rated. Some riding gloves have gauntlets, which are for reducing drafts while riding in cold weather.
Just like your hands, your feet and ankles are fragile, so boots are recommended to keep them from harm if you crash. The best protection for your feet is over-the-ankle footwear, even in the summer.
Oil-resistant, rubber-based composite soles help grip the pavement. They also help keep your feet on the pegs. Strong, moderately flexible boots with stiff soles provide protection in the event of an altercation.
Rib protectors are worn under your jacket. As the name implies, they are intended to prevent injuries to your ribs if you crash. Basically, they are stiff vests, often having special plastic plates or ribs built into the material.
Wind Noise and Hearing Loss
Normal highway riding can cause irreparable hearing damage. But it's not the sound of your bike, it's the wind noise, that continuous, high-frequency whirring, which can be as high as 110dB at highway speeds.
Ear plugs are small and light and available in foam (disposable and cheap) or rubber (need to be cleaned). They can also be custom-molded (more expensive).
Many earplug wearers report lower fatigue after riding versus when riding without them. They still allow you to hear low-frequency sounds, like cars and trucks and approaching sirens. Spend five dollars and find out if they work for you.
When I ride with proper motorcycle gear, I feel safe. And when I feel safe, I enjoy the ride better. What you're wearing while riding separates real riders from the posers.
Facts That Should Alarm You
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a crash than people in a car. Nearly half of all motorcycle deaths are the result of single-vehicle crashes.
More than ever before, older riders (with slower reflexes, weaker eyesight, and older bones) are returning to motorcycling after years of not riding.
In the past decade, riders 50 and older have moved from last place to first place in motorcycle fatalities, previously held by young men under 29 who were most likely to be killed in crashes. Riders over 60 are three times more likely to be hospitalized after a crash than younger ones.
The cool-looking sunglasses you paid $20 for are not very good for wind protection at 60+ mph. You need effective eye protection. For long trips, don't rely on eyeglasses or your bike's windscreen. Invest in quality sunglasses, or wear a helmet visor or goggles.
Even if your old motorcycle helmet looks like new, they deteriorate over time. The Snell Foundation recommends replacing your helmet every five years, and even sooner if it's been in a crash. And remember that the best helmet made is worthless if it doesn't fit you right.
Stunt rider Evel Knievel was a proponent of motorcycle safety, and always encouraged young fans to wear helmets while riding. On December 31st 1967, Knievel's 150-foot jump attempt over Caesar's Palace fountains in Las Vegas ended in a hard crash. He fell off his motorcycle and hit his head on the ground and broke his pelvis and leg.
After the crash, Evel credited his Bell helmet for saving his life.