I am constantly surprised by the attire that I see fellow motorcyclists riding around in. Early on I had a very strong opinion that more protection is better than less. As a longtime bicyclist I was well aware of the results of laying down a bicycle on the road, and these crashes didn’t even involve cars, 350lbs motorcycles, or speeds over 50 MPH. Let me illustrate why I think protection for motorcyclists is highly underrated.
Anatomy of a Crash
Even at moderate speeds the physical trauma that you can sustain can be severe. As an example my roommate in college, Mike Spitz, was descending Mount Hamilton on his bicycle and in a corner hit some gravel. He had slowed down for the corner, so he was only going about 30mph. As a result of the crash he had extensive road rash, torn ligaments in his forearm, and was unable to ride for about a month due to the impact injuries. Had he been going a bit faster he would have hit a barbed wire fence and the injuries would have been even worse. Keep in mind also that Mike and I were experienced cyclists, very fit, and very comfortable descending. More specifically Mike had no fear when descending, he was a monster. After the crash it took Mike a few months to get back on the horse, he lost his confidence descending.
The Cult of Naked Motorcyclists
So how does this apply to motorcyclists? Here in Sacramento I see a high percentage, say 50%, rolling around with shorts, t-shirts, or sandals as a set, or mixed and matched with slightly more appropriate gear. Worse still guys with their hot girlfriends in next to nothing on the back. A cyclist in spandex is about as exposed as a motorcyclist in shorts and a tshirt. Now
take the injuries that Mike sustained and compound it with the impact at higher speed, a car, or having the motorcycle land on your leg. It’s a pretty simple equation to work out, the more exposed you are the higher risk you run of sustaining injuries in an accident.
It’s not all in your head
One of the most illuminating articles I’ve read on motorcyclist injuries was an article in Motorcyclist Magazine. They tested several helmet designs and compared the results and how they correlated to the certification standards. While the helmet information was a revelation, the body trauma data was even more amazing. It seems that motorcycle related fatalities are dependent on several factors. While having your head smashed would kill you, having extensive damage to your body and no head trauma can also kill you. It makes sense when you say it, but think about it a bit. As your body sustains damage it tries to heal every damaged part. The more damage, the harder your body has to work to repair the damage. So if you have internal and external injuries your body doesn’t choose which parts it heals first, so you may die as a result of internal damages that don’t heal fast enough.
The Importance of Armor
It’s not the external scraping of flesh that will cause the most damage, it’s the impact damage. The deep tissue damage, the slamming of limbs onto the pavement, or into a car bumper, or being crushed by your bike. When I was three years old, my neighbor laid his bike down and pinned his leg under the bike as he slid into the side of a car. His leg was amputated below the knee. So wearing leather, or textile suits, with armor is critical to preventing severe internal injuries. Remember that Mike tore ligaments, and had some pretty deep impact injuries under his road rash.
The Price of Freedom
While I’m all for freedom of choice, it seems like a pretty imprudent choice to risk severe bodily injury, and potential death. Even if you take the vanity excuse, you don’t want to look dorky, is having a scarred up face, or road rash scars on you legs sexy? Think about how hot your girlfriend will be with half her face ground off. It’s not a pretty sight, and I won’t even both linking to the pictures to illustrate my point, Google them yourself if you doubt how grotesque these injuries can be.
If It’s too Hot in the Kitchen…
The other mentality is the “it’s too hot to ride in leather”. My philosophy is simple I’d rather sweat than bleed. Yea it can be hot. If you can’t stand the heat get a better suit, something with better ventilation. There’s no reason that you can’t protect yourself and stay cool enough. Sit up in the wind, open your vents, buy a suit that’s perforated, even unzip your suit a bit if you have to. I’ve found that the only time it was unbearably hot was sitting at a light in the 103 degree sun with no breeze in my perforated one piece full leather suit. Once the light changed and I had some wind blowing in my face I cooled right down. It’s not as bad as you might think, and it’s better than the alternatives.
It’ll never happen to me
If you’ve ever said this, or thought it, go out right now and buy a lottery ticket, bet your whole bank account on a crap table, or spin the cylinder on your revolver, because you obviously are the luckiest person on the planet, or you can predict the future with total certainty. No one can predict the future, and while you may be that lucky the idiot in the car next to you isn’t. You’re the most incredible bike handler in the world, and can control a two wheel skid with one hand, because you were scratching your ass when someone pulled into your lane. So you’ve never had someone slam on their brakes in front of you? Never had a near miss with someone cutting in and out of traffic? Never seen someone pull a u-turn from the far right lane? Keep riding you’ll see it all. I saw it two blocks from my house hen I was living in Napa, California. A sixteen year old kid got a bike with his parents help, after he’d saved his wages working at a theater. He t-boned and old lady who pulled from the curb across two lanes of traffic making a u-turn and was killed instantly. He was pulled over for doing 100 in a 25 the previous week. Drivers do stupid things all the time, why not stack the odds in your favor and wear some protection?
What is your life worth?
If none of this has given you pause, think of what you have to lose. Do you have a family, or a significant other? Do you like like how you look? Is it a good thing to have all your limbs? Do you like being alive, and healthy, and happy? I do, that’s why I wear leather and armor when I swing my leg over my bike. If you think you can’t afford the equipment, can you afford the hospital bills, or being dead?