The Long Way Home
Every time that you get on your bike, you know that there are risks involved. The best thing to do is try and reduce these risks and prepare for all potential scenarios. It is impossible to predict what might happen exactly but being properly suited up can reduce a lot of harm that could come your way. Let’s look at the safety gear that is available now to all motorcyclists and some new products that are on the horizon.
Your helmet is the single most important piece of equipment that you have. It is the law in all Canadian provinces that a proper, certified helmet is required to ride your bike on public roads. All helmets must have the Department of Transport, or DOT, seal of approval to be legal. It is the minimum standard that must be met to allow the helmet to be sold for on highway use. Usually most name brand manufacturers exceed this recommendation and meet even higher standards than those set here in Canada. There's nothing wrong with that as higher standards mean better protection. A full-face helmet may be the best way to go. Full coverage and built-in eye protection can’t be stated enough when it comes to your safety. If you don’t like full face helmets because they feel too restrictive, try some of the new designs that allow you to flip up the entire front section of the helmet when you are stopped at a light to give you a lot more open exposure. Modern helmets also have updated ventilation systems to lessen the complaints some people have about being too hot. Also new to the market are helmets with Bluetooth capabilities and soon to the retail arena are helmets with head-up displays and rear-facing cameras. Still, with all these options available, we see so many people riding with small open face or even beanie style head gear that makes you wonder if they are convinced of their invulnerability in the event of an accident. If the helmet is DOT approved they are perfectly legal, however, I have been at the scene of a few accidents where the full-faced helmet saved people from serious facial injuries or worse.
Next on the list is your jacket. Modern leather and textile jackets come equipped with internal protection in the shoulder, back and elbow areas to reduce direct contact with an obstacle and will save your skin — literally. They also have adjustable vents to aid in cooling you down when the temperatures start to rise. Most long-distance riders choose the leather styles as they can withstand more than one “off” and don’t have to be replaced as much as a textile jacket. Recently, the major apparel manufacturers have just introduced jackets with built in air bags. That may sound a little farfetched but most professional road racers are all wearing these outfits now. The cost for the private individuals is a little steep at this time, but that may go down as production increases. The major complaint from people that are not in the habit of wearing protective jackets is that they are too hot. I find that the small bit of discomfort you get when stopped in warm weather is offset by the cooling breeze and protection once you get moving again.
Good strong gloves are another tool in your safety arsenal. Putting your hands out to ward off any accidental movement is a natural defense mechanism. Advances in the science of riding gloves have given us a fighting chance in this abrasion battle. Leather, combined with Kevlar or carbon fibre, can give you the advantage that you may need in certain circumstances while out riding. Mesh or fingerless gloves may have a cool factor to some, but they are virtually useless in the real world of motorcycling.
Footwear is an area of riding gear that is often overlooked by motorcyclists. You might think that ankle-high work boots will do the job; they certainly are better than light shoes or sneakers, but having the mid-shin area protected could save you from fractures or sprains. Just have a look at the protection you see on racers in the motocross circuit; they know a thing or two about lower leg injuries and do their best to avoid them with well-structured and secure fitting boots. The material used in modern boots designed for the road have also advanced to the stage where leather makes up only a small portion of the overall boot package, giving you security in a light weight design.
The last piece of equipment to think about is riding pants. These can serve two purposes as almost all of the name brand riding pants are waterproof, too. Similar in design to new style jackets, pants have built in protection in the knee and hip area in the event of a spill. Multiple zippered pockets and vents further extend the utility of this gear and can keep you cool in hot riding conditions. You don’t have to forgo style when choosing this apparel with many companies offering riding jeans with strategically placed Kevlar padding and double-walled construction to aid you if an unfortunate slide is in your future.
If you venture forth with the all the latest gear available, you can be confident that if the worst case incident occurs, you have at least taken all precautions to lessen the physical injuries that you may face. This is good common sense and it allows you to concentrate on the other risk factors that could present themselves during a ride. It takes about five to 10 extra minutes to properly gear up. Isn’t your life worth that? Will I still see couples on sport bikes in T-shirts, shorts and flip flops? Cruiser, riders and passengers with tiny helmets and cheap sunglasses? Yes, unfortunately, I will. I just hope that they never have to be involved in any situation that could cause them injury.
The current abbreviation for safe riding is ATGATT. It stands for all the gear, all the time. It’s a great motto to live by. Let’s think about it and get out there for a ride. You will see me in all my regalia so don’t forget to wave!
Tom Vaughan has been riding all manner of motorcycles for over 50 years. He currently resides in a semi-retired state on the shores of the river in East LaHave.