There is an inherent danger in the riding of any two wheeled vehicle that increases exponentially when a motor is thrown in the mix. It is not so much that “Speed Kills” in the case of a motorcycle accident as it is colliding into an object at a high speed, something that any sane motorcyclist would like to avoid.
As automobiles and trucks have evolved to include a number of built in safety features, by nature, the motorcycle itself is limited to loud pipes and a good set of brakes. Seat belts for motorcycles are deemed inappropriate, as no ones wishes to be tethered to a 300 pound object sliding on its side on a trajectory leading to the underside of a sixteen wheeler. The idea of an air bag deploying from the dashboard of a motorcycle…well, you get the picture.
In the case of an imminent collision between a motorcycle and a car or truck at high speeds, the best outcome a motorcyclist can hope for is a mangled sacrificial vehicle that he manages to bail out of in the nick of time, suffering only some minor cuts and bruises. That’s a best case scenario, and it can and does happen…with the help of the proper motorcycle safety gear.
Motorcycle Head Gear
Motorcycle Safety Rule # 1: Save the Head
Let’s face it. If you are in a high speed motorcycle accident and your unprotected head hits the road with any kind of force (which it probably will), you are road kill!
Bikers are an independent bunch that like their freedom and are willing to fight for it. In many states in the U.S. bikers have won the right to choose for themselves whether to wear a helmet or not. Even so, bikers are not stupid, and you will see the majority, especially on highways and well traveled roads, sporting the most important piece of motorcycle safety gear available: a DOT approved motorcycle helmet.
Choosing a Motorcycle Helmet
Avoid choosing a motorcycle helmet to make a fashion statement. If you think it would be cool to ride around town with a beanie fastened to the top of your head with a chin strap, just know that if and when you do hit the road, that novelty helmet is going to do you little if any good.
By the same token, a novelty style half or three quarter helmet may offer slightly better protection from a bump, but will do little to protect your nose, chin, and cheeks while sliding belly down on an asphalt pavement.
A DOT approved full face helmet with a shield is the minimum one should look for in a helmet, and has the added advantage of keeping the bugs out of your face! Why DOT approved?
The technology of helmets has improved dramatically over the years thanks in large part to the NFL. New and better materials for padding, external materials and components, even best fit and sizing considerations have been scientifically studied, all for the stated purpose of minimizing head injuries to football players.
It is only natural that these technologies and scientific studies would cross over to the motorcycle safety gear manufacturers, being that both these entities have the same goal in mind.
The DOT standard is a minimum. You can buy this helmet technology up to any extent you are willing to pay for, and it will always be DOT approved. With helmets that do not have the DOT seal of approval, you can pretty much bet they haven’t put much thought into keeping your brain from turning to mush.
Sizing is a very important factor when choosing a motorcycle helmet. Too tight and it could reduce blood flow, do more harm than good against bumps, or at the very least make you feel like a prisoner in your own head, thus ruining a perfectly good riding experience.
A helmet that is too loose can beat against your head, and likewise will not protect to its potential, a real headache when riding your bike. Do yourself a favor and try before you buy!
So now you’ve found a great selection of full face DOT approved motorcycle helmets, and they all have face shields to keep out the bug juice! With all of the bright colors and creative designs available to you, now is the time to go ahead and make that fashion statement!
Motorcycle Safety Gear: Saving Your Hide
There you are with your shiny brand new motorcycle helmet; it’s a sunny Saturday so you decide to scoot on down to the beaches. Entering the on ramp at the boulevard, the car in front of you slams on its brakes and you have no choice but to jettison your ride and take the slide of your life.
Lying on the side of the road as you wait for the ambulance to arrive, you realize that you just narrowly cheated death, and thank God for guiding you to that motorcycle helmet shop. Or…
As the adrenaline starts to fade, an excruciating pain enters in waves. You remember you were going to the beach, all decked out in your flip flops, baggies and t-shirt with the clever slogan, hoping to score some chics by taking them for a ride on the back of your scooter.
The ambulance arrives; the paramedic takes a look at you and says, “Nice helmet dude, but you’ve got a serious case of road rash!”
Rule # 2: Save Your Hide
You survived the accident, now the question becomes how long and how painful will the recovery be?
Broken bones aside, failure to protect the upper and lower torso from the sandpaper like abrasions that an asphalt road produces can lead to protracted sessions of skin grafts and plastic surgery, lasting long after the bones have healed. Complications and setbacks from infections can occur as a result of having no skin, further extending the recovery process.
Motorcyclists are acutely aware of the dangers of the road, and just like the helmet manufactures, the motorcycle apparel industry is constantly innovating with new technologies to minimize the effects of what could have turned out to be a tragic accident.
Leather: The Tried and True of Motorcycle Safety Gear
Putting aside the cult of personality surrounding the leather motorcycle jacket, fact is that leather has been the material of choice for motorcyclist since the early 30’s for one very good reason: it serves as a second layer of skin, disposable and happily sacrificed in a high speed slide on an asphalt pavement.
While the properties of leather allow for a clean slide without bunching up or disintegrating, it should be noted that all leathers are not the same. Thus coined the phrase “riding grade” leather.
Originally it was horse hide that was widely available and manufactured right here in the U.S. Today, most motorcycle leather apparel is made in Pakistan, India, or China, and can come from goats, pigs, water buffalo, or cow hides. Some motorcycle jackets today are even starting to be made from kangaroo hide, a novel idea as most things are down under!
Riding grade leather indicates a material that is thick, and resistant to tear. It for the most part utilizes buffalo or cow hides that have gone through the top grain or naked leather tanning process, and is of a thickness anywhere between 1.2 to 1.5 millimeters.
Pig skin or pig nappa, while soft and thick, tears easily and is not considered to be riding grade. Goat or lamb skin jackets are soft and attractive, but these are light weight leathers, not reaching the thickness or durability standards to afford the necessary protection. Splits can be made from cow or buffalo, but because they are from the bottom part of the skin they have no epidermis, which is what gives the leather its strength.
While the standard motorcycle jacket is usually dyed black, this is not always the best choice from a safety perspective. Visibility on the road is a valid concern for motorcyclists, and today’s modern leather jackets address that issue by adding colored accents or reflective piping, especially useful for night riding.
Don’t Forget the Legs
Although a pair of jeans may be made of a thick and heavy material, they will pretty much disintegrate when making contact with the road. Motorcyclists have taken a queue from the cowboys by adopting the chap, a leather over garment meant to be worn over jeans, protecting the legs but leaving the buttocks and genital area exposed.
Another option that offers maximum protection for the lower torso is a good pair of riding grade leather pants. Leather overpants are also available, meant to add an extra layer of protection over your jeans.
Riding grade leather motorcycle jackets, chaps or pants when worn together have been proven over the years to offer the best protection for the upper and lower torso. Leather, however, is not the only option available for motorcycle safety gear, as a whole new generation of synthetic materials emerges aimed specifically at the outdoors adventurer.
Textile, Cordura Motorcycle Safety Gear
The Textile Industry has been experimenting for years with synthetic blends aimed at producing suitable apparel for the extreme conditions often found in the great outdoors. A whole new breed of outdoor wear has evolved resulting in added comfort and safety for adventurers pursuing such activities as skiing and snowmobiling, mountain and rock climbing, dirt biking, road racing, or just motor biking down the road.
For the motorcyclist, high density ballistic nylon, better known as Cordura, combined with Air Mesh or Stretch Kevlar blends for reinforcement, offer a textile alternative to the often hot and heavy leather motorcycle jacket and chap.
The Cordura Alternative
Cordura based motorcycle jackets are light weight and water resistant, a desirable quality in warmer and wetter climates. Performance ratings for such criteria as resistance to abrasion and maintaining integrity in the event of a crash are comparable to their leather counterparts. Heat resistance and breathability of synthetic textiles are an added measure of comfort and safety, and these ballistic nylons are designed not to “grab” the road, allowing for a clean slide as opposed to a dangerous tumble.
A good Cordura motorcycle jacket will offer seam sealed protection to keep out moisture, yet be vented to allow for a breezy, comfortable ride. Zip out linings offer an extra layer of warmth, and can be made from moisture resistant insulating materials like the water repelling synthetic Goretex.
Cordura motorcycle pants will often have heat resistant material at the inner calves to avoid melting down at close proximity to a hot exhaust pipe, and stretch material or panels can be located at strategic locations for added maneuverability.
Added Protection: Following the Lead of the Racing Industry
Perhaps because these textiles are much thinner than leather, a small bump on the elbow is likely to hurt a lot more. Motorcycle apparel manufactures have incorporated the use of extra protections for the most vulnerable parts of the body that have long been utilized on the motorcycle racing circuit.
Extra padding made from shock absorbing material like Tempra Foam, Dual Density Foam, or hard rubber, can be strategically located at the shoulders, elbows and knees, and in the case of many cordura motorcycle products, are removable.
Look for these extra protections to be CE approved. Certifique Europe is a European organization similar to the DOT in the U.S. that attempts to establish a standard for body armor in the European community. Arguably, there are many perfectly good protectors out there that just have not been submitted to the CE for approval, but as far as standards go for motorcycle safety gear, it’s all we have.
Extra protections in the form of CE approved body armor are by no means exclusive to the textile motorcycle apparel industry. Modern day leather motorcycle jacket designs are using them more and more, and manufacturers of professional motorcycle racing suits, leather and otherwise, have always incorporated these features for the safety and protection of their racers.
There is, and always will be camps on both sides of the issue of leather vs. textile. Some say that no textile can hold a candle to a riding grade leather product in the event of a crash. Others will say a light and breezy cordura jacket is like a breath of fresh air, as opposed to a stifling, heavy leather jacket on a hot summer day.
The bottom line is the choice is yours, and the determining factor may be as simple as the place you live. Thirty years ago things were different. It was either get the leather, or hit the road, Jack!
Motorcycle Safety from Head to Toe
Leather motorcycle apparel, along with a DOT approved helmet will go a long way in saving you a lot of pain and suffering. Indeed, they can save your life.
But what to do about the extremities? Many of us have become attached to our hands and feet and would like to keep them! Broken bones and amputations can and do occur as the result of a serious motorcycle accident, but there are things you can do to minimize the injuries.
Rule # 3: Protect the Extremities
It is human nature, a basic instinct, to use your hands to stop the momentum of an involuntary slide. More often than not, the heel of the palm will bear the brunt of the load when putting on the brakes in a prone position, and the quality of your motorcycle gloves will likely determine whether you end that slide with skin on your hands or not.
Once again, leather is the obvious choice. When choosing a pair of leather motorcycle gloves, remember why we use the term riding grade. While a good glove does not necessarily need to be made of 1.5mm thick naked cowhide, a fashionable ladies lambskin riding glove probably won’t offer much protection either.
Look for some kind of reinforcement material at the palm and thumb area of the glove. Gloves are often made from a hybrid of materials, incorporating leather, ballistic nylons, mesh, and Kevlar in a maze of colors and stitching patterns. Look for some kind of logic in the pattern, with the Kevlar reinforcing whatever material at vulnerable areas of the glove and the hand.
People use their hands and their feet to actually drive a motorcycle, so the tactile qualities of a glove should also be considered. A good non slip grip is essential in controlling the vehicle, and some gloves even have pre-curved fingers to help you with that. Many gloves are lined with insulating or waterproof material, convenient for inclement weather, but don’t loose your touch.
The longer the glove the better. A glove that barely covers your wrist is obviously going to expose some skin as the jacket rides up your arm. Gauntlet style gloves will cover the most area and have the added advantage of preventing drafts up the sleeve for cold weather riders.
Needless to say, fingerless gloves, leather or not, may be a fashionable statement in some circles, but are pretty much useless from a motorcycle safety perspective.
Being on the underside of a falling 300 lb motorcycle is likely to cause injury to at least one foot, ankle, or leg, the severity of which can be greatly minimized by a good, stiff pair of boots. While you will often see bikers cruising down the road in a pair of hiking boots, there are boots that are specifically manufactured to protect the foot, ankle, and shin in the event of a motorcycle accident.
Just like the rest of your motorcycle safety gear, motorcycle boots should be made from materials that are abrasion resistant, and will maintain their integrity in a crash. The higher the boot, the more it protects, and similar to the concept of body armor, rubber or metal reinforcement can be located at the heel and toe, with added shock absorbers at the ankle and shin.
The boot should be moderately flexible with an oil resistant sure gripping sole to maintain your position on the bike. A wide, stiff sole will help prevent the crushing of the foot in a fall.
As the feet are also used to balance the bike in a stationary position, heels should be wide and flat for optimal sure footedness.
Many styles of motorcycle boots are available, and if you choose one that laces up, just remember to keep them tied. Nothing like having your leg pulled through a spinning wheel at 70 mph!
Conclusions to Draw
Motorcycle riders risk their lives every time they hit the road (pun intended), and it is the individual responsibility of every biker to protect themselves. While some states don’t require the use of a helmet, bikers like having the choice, but riding at any speed in any substantial traffic could be considered foolhardy at the least.
In the end, the type of motorcycle safety gear you choose, and to what extent you cover up is up to you. In the event of a crash, a DOT approved helmet can mean the difference between life and death. A riding grade set of leathers, gloves, and boots can determine your length of stay in the hospital, should you still be alive.