I wanted to take a look at protective riding gear in motorcycling. This can be a very controversial topic. Riders will gear to different levels depending on their motorcycle type. You will often see riders on sports bikes very well geared. Full helmet, full leather or poly-fabric textile jacket, leggings, gloves, and boots. Many of these jackets and leggings are armor reinforced as well.
Then you move into the Harley or Indian riders and some metric cruisers. Here the gear takes a complete turnabout. You’ll see these riders often cruising with a bandanna in place of a helmet, t-shirt, vest, jeans, possibly open fingered gloves, or maybe boots. And then you’ll see what the MSF refers to as “fools gear,” which refers to no head protection, tank top, shorts, flip flops, or tennis shoes.
Three Guidelines For Gear
There is a huge variation in what riders find acceptable and consider safe, from fully geared to no gear. So, what level of gearing up is considered appropriate and safe? I was reading a website recently that sells gear, and they stated the three priorities of gear should be protection, comfort, and style. STYLE?! What clown figured that equation into safety? Must have been a salesperson… The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has three guidelines about gear and then details it from there:
First, gear should provide protection.
Second, the gear should be comfortable.
Third, gear should increase visibility.
Though most riders want to think it does, style doesn’t even factor into the equation. Fine styling is not going to help you in a fall.
This information is available all over the web, so what I write here is probably not new information. It is good to cover for consideration, though. Let’s look at what the MSF recommends for protective gear and then assess ourselves whether what we wear when we ride meets the three criteria of protection, comfort, and visibility.
Wearing A Helmet
There are a LOT of helmets out there, and finding one that meets protection requirements is quite simple. At the very least, look for the DOT label. That label assures that the helmet meets minimal safety-rated standards. The next decision in helmets is whether it will be a full, ¾, or half helmet. Obviously, a full helmet provides the most protection. A ¾ or half helmet will not protect your chin and face even though they can be DOT rated. So you have to decide how much damage to your face are you willing to risk in a crash with a ¾ or half helmet.
There are as many types of gloves as there are helmets. Leather, poly-fabrics, combinations of both, even garden gloves. There are winter and summer gloves, full-fingered or open-fingered. Some gloves come with armor plating over the knuckle area and top of the hand. When a rider falls, one of the first things they try to do is reach out to stabilize their impact. Without gloves, you can only imagine the flesh flying as someone reaches out to the pavement to try and control their impact.
Gloves also protect the hands against rocks and debris flying out of vehicles and being kicked up from the road in front of you. Getting hit on a bare finger or knuckle while traveling down the road at 60 mph hurts. Been there, done that. If you wear gloves, they need to be snug so you can still grasp the handgrips. They should not choke your hands. You should also be able to utilize the hand controls with ease. Gloves that are too bulky can inhibit effective control.
Boots should be sturdy and cover the ankle. They need to protect against engine and exhaust heat. They should also help with twisting or crushing the ankle in a fall. Specialized riding boots will have a non-slip sole that helps hold the bike up when you come to a stop.
There are many choices for jackets with a huge variety of materials. Armor options are available to protect many parts of the upper body or just some parts. Leather has always been a good option, and now there are even leather jackets with armor.
A new jacket on the market even has an airbag system built-in. When a rider crashes, the jacket puffs up to absorb the impact. Tech-Air is a company that makes airbag system jackets if your interested. In talking about jackets, I do not include vests. Vests will not provide much if any, protection. They might prevent slight puncturing or scraping of the chest and back, but I would even be skeptical about that. Vests are typically worn to provide a place for patches and pins. Some people like myself use them to keep our shirts from flopping around. They also provide some extra pocket space.
This could easily fall under the jacket category and its information. Chaps can provide some protection depending on how much leg coverage they provide. Most chaps only cover the front of the legs and calves. The upper leg and buttocks remain exposed. The crotch area is also usually unprotected. This means they only protect against objects from the front and will help in cold temperatures to keep the legs warm from the wind chill. They could help protect lower body parts from engine burn in a fall.
There are also many full coverage leggings available made just for riding. Again they come in a variety of materials and combinations. These leggings provide full coverage and often have the option of armor like the jackets do. Again your choice is dependent upon the level of protection your looking for.
There are a few types of glasses and goggles that offer different levels of protection. Sunglasses offer the least safety if they are not specifically made for motorcycling. Some sunglasses have a rubber insert that helps keep the air from blowing across your eyes which can cause irritation and dry eye. A good level of protection would be goggles.
Goggles, however, can be uncomfortable because they cover so much of your upper face. If you are wearing a full helmet, the glasses' comfort and safety are not an issue. Any ¾ or half helmet will cause the need for some type of eye protection. Many ¾ and half-helmets now offer a pull-down face shield as well that gives even more protection and wind elimination.
You want to wear bright colors that will catch drivers' attention. This especially applies to riding at night or dusk when visibility becomes affected. If your riding into the sun in the morning or afternoon, drivers behind you can be almost completely blinded and never be able to see you. Anything you can wear that increases visibility gives you a greater chance of survival.
Now it is time for a self-evaluation of protective riding gear. It may not be looking good for me based on the above information.
In the helmet zone, I wear a half helmet. It is DOT approved. It will not protect my face or chin. Rocks, debris, and bugs have often pelted my face and left a red welt. This could have been prevented with a full or ¾ helm with a shield. Wearing anything more than a half-helmet makes me feel claustrophobic. The helmet pushing on the side of my face and cheeks bothers me. Wearing anything more than a half-helmet probably will not change. It is a risk I am willing to accept.
Recent Glove Purchase
Recently I purchased a pair of gloves. I was at our local HD dealership, and they had a great clearance sale on HD summer gloves. One pair fit well, felt good, and the price was unbeatable, so I got them. I use gauntlets in the winter to keep my hands and fingers warm but have never used gloves unless it was to keep warm. I have been riding for two weeks using summer gloves, and I like them. They are a combination of thin leather and poly-texture fabric. Because they are so comfortable, I’ll keep using them.
I Do Wear Boots
I’ve always worn boots when riding. I use a pair of Ariat work boots, which are also the boots I wear on construction sites for work. They are strong, sturdy, and comfortable. The only downside is the soles will sometimes slide a bit on the pavement in the heat of the summer. I know it happens, so there is never a surprise when I feel a bit of a slip. Boots, covered!
The Jacket Gear
Now we’re going to move into the area I probably fail the most in. The Jacket. If it's winter, I'm covered. I have a great heavy leather jacket that provides very good protection. Spring, Summer, and Fall, though? Oh…not good. I don’t wear a protective jacket outside of winter. I wear a vest to hold my shirt in place and will wear a long sleeve shirt, sometimes.
Not much more to say; I have failed. My arms and hands will get very dark from the sun baking them in the summer. I have always ridden like that. There isn't an excuse for not wearing the proper gear.
I Don't Wear Leggings
As for leggings, I just wear jeans. Probably always will. Outside of specialized riding, leggings, or chaps, jeans are about the best you can do. Just stay away from wearing khakis, dress slacks, and shorts. Not much more to be said about that.
Eye Protection Is Covered
The eye protection I use is something I am seriously looking to upgrade. I use Harley Davidson riding glasses, but my style doesn’t have the liner. My eyes suffer from dry- eye during and after every ride. I have to keep eye drops with me to hydrate my eyes. At the very least, I need to find a pair of glasses with the liner. I found a pair of goggles that interested me. I’m not sure yet, but I might just try them. Regardless of whether I try the goggles, I will be upgrading my eyewear soon.
Visibility Is Lacking
The visibility aspect will vary greatly. Most of my gear is black, which is the worst choice, especially for night riding. Vanity figures into my choice of colors; I just like black. It’s classic for bikers and looks good. I’ll have to do some consideration about visibility.
Personal Selt-Evaluation Score
My self-evaluation probably puts me around about a 60% mark of proper protective gear. If you’re reading this, it would be a good idea to evaluate yourself objectively and then, at the bare minimum, choose one area to upgrade your protective gear in. Upgrading something is better than upgrading nothing. If you aim for nothing, you’re sure to succeed.