Gearing up or down when riding a motorcycle is a very personal matter. Often it is related to experiences and education. For example I remember the first year I started riding again at 51 years old when I would put on a Shoei helmet and where a mesh Joe Rocket jacket with a pair of light gloves then jump on the Vespa GTV-300 and ride. I think back on those days with a type of envy as compared to today (5 years later) and the amount of gear that I presently wear.
So why not gear down? Why not be more comfortable?
I guess for those riding with a half helmet, shorts, tee-shirt and running shoes this is really a foreign concept. But let me tell you how I was drawn into the “Total Package” including Klim jacket and pants, Arai helmet and Forma adventure boots with leather gloves.
I guess it all starts with a helmet. Why wear one? It’s the law in Canada. But one has a choice of the type of helmet to wear. A half helmet seems to be the choice of many riders and I guess that they choose this because it is the minimum required by law. However if you choose a helmet to actually protect your head in an accident, then the criteria changes dramatically. First we must consider what happens to our head even in a low speed collision. One possibility is that we could face plant into the ground or a car. I read about one person who hit their head and went unconscious and just slid along the ground face down (it wasn’t pretty).
After reading that I decided that a Full face helmet would be suitable for me since I am truly in love with my face and wish to keep it as it looks today, especially for my public speaking appearances. But then there are hundreds of full face helmets. They all have certifications and approvals attached with them. I did write about the different certification approvals years ago (Click Here for Post). It is suffice to say that the more you read and learn about the various types of helmets will certainly reduce your helmet choices to a handful.
I guess the bottom line in all of these choices has to do with the “if” word.
If I face planted on cement what helmet would I want? or if I hit a wall doing 50 Km/hr what helmet would I want? No matter how many times I thought about a possible accident I always came to the conclusion that I wanted the best protection possible that I could afford. Unfortunately the best protection comes with many compromises. Often these compromises include time to gear-up, storage of your gear when you arrive at your destination, heat, general comfort, noise and so on. But where do you draw the line?
This year I was introduced to Forma Adventure Boots and Klim Adventure Riding Jacket and pants. Of course these are everything but inexpensive. The Forma Adventure Boots are the most comfortable boots I have ever worn. As a note, I changed out the inner sole for a Dr. Scholl’s memory cushion sole because the original one started to curl at my toes. The Klim Latitude jacket is also the most comfortable jacket I have worn with the D30 back protector. I have tried on many jackets but for some reason when I add the back protector the jackets ever so slightly pull at my shoulders and over time it fatigues my back. But again, the more research you do the closer you get pulled into the best gear available. And that changes every year. An that becomes expensive.
So here I am at this stage of riding. In the 1970s I think I had a helmet if not a football helmet (I cannot remember that far back). I have no memory of wearing anything special, not even gloves. I think a helmet was required and a helmet is what I what I would wear back then. Worse off it was probably dropped many times and used for many years, all of which is taboo today. Drop your $ 800.00 helmet today and it should be replaced says the experts.
So today if I want to take my bike to the corner store I should put on my biking socks and then the Klim pants. Sit down and put on the adventure boots and then adjust the pants over the boots and clip them tight. I then proceed to put on the jacket and gather my wallet and phone to place into the pockets. Finally I go out to my bike and open my side pannier to remove my helmet and gloves and lock the pannier, put on the helmet and finally the gloves. I start the bike and look down at the temperature reading on my dash to discover it is 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) and suddenly I feel a little over dressed as I ride down the street looking at the people in their shorts, men with no shirts and seeing children jumping into their pools. And I do this all to get some lettuce for dinner. I then seriously think back to the 1970s when I would have jumped on the bike in my shorts with sandals, grabbed the light helmet without a face guard and zipped to the corner store fitting right into the fashion style of the hot day and I remember the wind flowing past my exposed skin and how good it felt.
Hence the line! Where do you draw it? How can you live with the line you draw? I have read that for some the thrill of putting their life in danger is the thrill that they enjoy most about riding. I had a friend who had a very bad accident and broke his leg into multiple pieces. He did not remember the pain of the bones or the leg but the pain of the skin is still vividly in his mind. The doctors could screw his bones together and in time (a very long time) he rides again. But he now rides with a Klim outfit and adventure boots because broken bones he claims he can deal with any day but the abrasive removal of skin by the road is something he never ever wants to experience again. He claims it was the most painful part of his recovery. He was hit by a police car racing to another accident.
Recently we went on a holiday and the weather was beautiful every single day. It was an amazing holiday. But every time we wanted to go for diner we would have to gear up. What’s worse is that we needed to wear clothes under the Klim and upon arrival remove the jacket and pants, change the boots to sandals that we had brought and then very strategically pack all the gear into two panniers and a top box (trust me I use the word strategically for a reason). Of course after our dinner we would perform the process in reverse. The temperature was hot and sunny.
My wife brought her mesh Rev-It outfit but by bringing that it severely reduces storage space on the bikes and there was no way I could bring my mesh outfit. Furthermore I feel safer in the Klim than in the Rev-It mesh. Especially at highway speeds.
Perhaps this is over kill? Perhaps it is a bit nuts? In fact I have never dropped my bike. I have never had an accident (knocking wood as I type).
I have a friend in Florida who rides and I asked him how many miles he put on this summer and his response was zero. I asked why and he explained that it is just to hot to ride with gear, especially when you stop. He explained it equivalent to heating an oven up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit and placing a flat bowl of water on the bottom and then getting into the oven. So in Florida they have a reverse riding season than us up here in the north. Too hot to ride? imagine that? We normally think of snow as a reason not to ride.
I do not think that anyone could say that they are 100 percent certain that they will not have an accident when they get on a bike. Therefore whatever uncertainty one might have such as 99 percent certain that they will not have an accidents really translates into a 1 percent chance of having an accident every time they get on a bike. Getting on to go to a local store or getting on to ride across America does not change these odds.
I continually question the line that I have drawn since gearing up and down and packing the gear away requires such an effort. Furthermore once the temperature gets too hot it does become slightly uncomfortable. I think back to those days when I didn’t know to much or think too much about safety but then I thank the Lord that I never had an accident.
My logic is as follows. If you are going to gear up to protect yourself then gear up with the best gear that you can afford. Once geared up, never gear down because that is when Mr. Murphy and his ridiculous “Murphy’s Law” will come into play.
So what changes does this make in my riding life?
- I take the convertible Abarth car to the store to get lettuce on a hot day and I stay in my shorts and sandals. I also use my seatbelt.
- Whenever possible on vacation and such, I will spend the extra money to take a taxi to dinner. That way I avoid the gearing up and I can also enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.
- I will not ride through Jacksonville or Phoenix in July.
- I generally do not ride the bike as often because of the gearing up. I do not just jump on the bike to visit someone or to go on a short trip when I can take the Abarth. This is an unfortunate result of the gearing up or my laziness for not always wanting to gear up and down. However, it is now three months into the riding season and I have done 10,000 kilometers on my new F700GS so far. That is a bit of gearing up and down, don’t you think?
In conclusion, I think that people in general should really question why they gear up in the first place. It all starts with the helmet. If they wear a helmet because of the law and dream about living in New Hampshire then this article was a wasted read for them. But if you wear a helmet to protect your head in the case of an accident then it is time to start thinking about the other parts of your body such as skin, ankles, hands, fingers, spine and back. Women are becoming the largest growth sector in the motorcycle marketplace. One problem I see with that is that women are far more fashion driven than men. I am not trying to be sexist but I think that women like to look good in all situations. Often I see women downtown Ottawa on their new sports bike with short shorts and a bikini top wearing a helmet that matches their bike with sexy boots. I am the first to admit that there is something to be said about that look. But then I immediately think about what would happen if she just fell off at a stop sign. Just that amount of road rash would be painful. Gearing up unfortunately is not sexy. My wife has a beautiful hour-glass figure but in her Klim outfit one would never know. She looks like any other geared up biker.
Technical gear does work! It is well designed to reduce your injury in an accident. There are many different types and approaches towards safety. I recommend that you read the reviews and the manufactures websites to learn about what is available and what is best for you. Once you have it it is almost impossible to go back. Getting it requires a few dollars and a personal commitment to spend these dollars on safety equipment. I sometimes joke with my wife that when I hit 90 years old and consider to stop riding and if I had never dropped my bike by then that I would have spent a small fortune on equipment that did nothing but irritate me. But I do not know the future and I just can’t take that chance…