Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mail bag: Protective Motorcycle gear

Friend, long time commenter, and long time biker Burt emails what started as a comment to yesterday's post on riding in the rain.  He brings a lot of experience, some hard won:
This email is very long.  I'd rather have a phone conversation 'cuz there's so much to say, but…

I was writing a loooong post in response to a disdainful remark about Timberland boots… and decided it was getting too long for a blog post response.

But it is IMPORTANT stuff, and stuff you should know - if you don't ALREADY know it.

So here's what I was going to post:


Laughingdog: I went down a couple of years ago during a charity ride - got cut off by someone who decided not to wait for the column (450+ bikes) and cut across the road just in front of me.  I had a choice: dump it or hit her.  I dumped it: it's just a hunk of replaceable metal.  Walked away with a couple of minor road rash marks and a bruise on my hip from my Leatherman.  Was wearing Timberland boots.  They protected my ankles and toes just fine.

There's an awful lot of bias about "proper riding gear" made by "folks specializing in riding".  The average rider isn't doing 150mph on a specially-designed track accompanied only by other bikes.  The average rider doesn't need to dress in such nonsense.  And even if the average rider DOES wear that gear, a high-speed accident on the highway is NOT the same as a high-speed accident on the track

A reasonably good leather jacket will protect your upper body from road rash.  Chaps - NOT JEANS - will protect your legs.  A good set of gloves will help, but you have to remember to keep "tucked in" and not try to use your hands to stop your forward motion.  And a reasonably good pair of boots that are tightly laced up will keep your toes and ankles from being bent the wrong way.

Keep in mind the old saying that there are two kinds of riders: those who HAVE gone down, and those who WILL go down.  It's inevitable.  That's why you should always wear reasonably good riding gear.

And since my helmet TOUCHED the ground, I tossed it away and bought a new one.


Here's the rest of the info for you, Ted.

35mph on Mammoth Road in Manchester.  She decided not to wait - she cut across the road.  I had a choice: hit her or dump the bike.  I turned the handlebar to the right to force the bike down on its right side.  As soon as the bike "touched down", I PUSHED OFF WITH MY LEGS.  I hit the road, rolled onto my back, and slid a bit (not much - maybe 10 feet).  The bike went up and over and bounced a bit.  A paramedic came over, checked me out, and we waited for the ambulance.  X-rays at the hospital: no broken bones.  NO DAMAGE OF ANY KIND.  I "walked away".  Madder than hell… but in one piece.

(When I went down, I heard a bunch of other bikes go screaming down the road following her.  I was told they caught up with her and SAT ON HER HOOD until the cop came.  She received a ticket for "failure to yield to oncoming traffic".  Her insurance company paid for the bike, which now had a bent frame and was a total loss, and gave me a couple of thou for "pain and suffering".)

You don't have to be a fanatic about getting the best riding gear made.  Take it from an old rider who has gone down a few times.  But, you should wear LEATHER, not cordura or fabrics.  Neither cordura nor fabrics will protect you from the slide that you might have to take AFTER going down.  Asphalt is too abrasive: it will tear fabric apart.  Cordura may be good for skiing and other outdoor activities, but I strongly recommend leather.

And Hot Leathers jackets are the same basic quality as Harley-Davidson branded jackets -- which are made in China, not the US.  Hot Leathers is made in Pakistan.  The leather quality is about the same: HD leather is a bit thicker, but that's about it.

Chaps?  Leather.  Get a set online and have a seamstress reinforce the seams (they usually only have one seam - add a second).  Then, just wear 'em.  'Nuff said.

Boots that protect your ankles are a must, but you don't have to buy "the best".  Timberland is just fine.  Heck, HD boots are made by Wolverine, another Made-In-China boot company.  Ya want good boots?  Red Wing.  Otherwise, use a reasonably good set of leather work boots.  If they'll protect you at a construction site, they'll protect you on the road -- and you really only need that protection when you go down.  Oil-resistant, non-slip soles are a MUST.  Steel-toes optional, but not required (or recommended).

BTW, when you come to a stop and see oil on the road, PUT YOUR TIRE ON THE OIL, not your boots.  The oil will be rubbed off your tire after it makes 2-3 revolutions, but the oil will be on your boots until you stop and rub it off.  Plus, you'll need your feet oil-free to keep you upright at a stop.

MORE: do NOT wear a Kevlar helmet!  The point of a motorcycle helmet is to absorb the force of an impact and disintegrate, protecting your skull in the process.  Kevlar helmets are made for racing purposes where riders need extra protection on their heads.  For you, a relatively slow-speed rider, the same Kevlar helmet will transmit the impact through your skull into your neck and spine.  DOT-spec, but you don't need OR WANT Kevlar.

Lastly, if someone tells you that you MUST "buy x" or you MUST "wear x", ask yourself a question: why are they recommending a specific brand?  My recommendations are to wear work boots, reasonably good leather (NOT the sheepskin cr*p sold online - sheepskin is too soft to protect you), and a reasonably good pair of leather gloves.  Anything beyond that has a negative ROI.

Skiing and riding are two different sports, require two different mindsets, and require two different skill sets.  Although both require protective gear, DON'T use the requirements for one sport to buy equipment for the other.

Most of your riding will be on surface streets, at between 25 and 65mph.  At 30mph, you simply don't need the same kind of professional riding gear that GXR's use at 170mph on a professional track.  You need gear that's comfortable and will protect you from pebbles (the car ahead of you), bugs, rain, and an occasional "dammit, I though the kickstand was down" fall.

And that protection can be had at a reasonable cost.

Happy riding!
The instructors at the Motorcycle Safety Course also said throw away the helmet if it hits the ground.  They even had us place the helmets on the ground, rather than on the seat - if it fell off the seat we couldn't use it.


Rev. Paul said...

Sounds like wisdom to me. :)

waepnedmann said...

Old school.‎

Do not forget the built-in holster and zippered knife pocket on the sleeve.

Oh. Leather-lined pockets.

R.K. Brumbelow said...

I still like my kevlar lined jeans (and he was talking about normal jeans anyways), everything else is spot on though especially the difference between racing and road gear.

Dave H said...

Leather is better protection from road rash than fabric and most synthetics because of the way it peels off in fibers and thin layers when abraded. Most fabrics and synthetic leather will just rip away. Synthetics can also melt from the friction.

Sevesteen said...

The one disagreement I have is all leather, all the time. I won't argue that a motorcycle mesh jacket will protect as well as leather--but I've worn my mesh on 100+ degree rides, there's no way I would have worn leather. Similar advice for helmets--there are vast differences in comfort and ventilation, make sure you get one you aren't tempted to leave behind.

Eagle said...

Sevesteen: all my summer leather jackets have vents and have been U/V treated. They're quite comfortable and amazingly cool even at 95+ (we had a LOT of those days up here this year).

(I spent a year in Bahrain on the USS La Salle, and learned a LOT about how to keep cool even in desert heat. The key is to make sure the sun doesn't hit your skin and to LET YOURSELF SWEAT. That thin bead of sweat is there to cool you off by radiating heat FROM your body. Keep hydrated so you can keep sweating.)

As far as helmets go: I ALWAYS wear a DOT pot. Won't go anywhere - even a few feet - without one. Full face for cool weather (early spring / late fall), 3/4 or half for the rest of the year. Most folks know that the inside of a helmet is usually foam, but forget that you can gently reshape the foam in some places to make the helmet conform better to your skull. Gently - and don't push it too hard hard. Just enough to get the foam to "give" in ONLY the spots necessary. It still fits firmly, but comfortably.

Glen Filthie said...

Best leather out there as far as I'm concerned. My wife and I are both customers and will vouch for their quality.

R.K. Brumbelow said...

Many many moons ago I spent a bit too much time at a dive named Joe Mac's Whistlestop in Dallas, TX. I don't want to say the place was rough, but in the daytime you could see the grass growing up through the floor boards. In any case, it was a place for 2 wheel motivation. One of the regulars named Scott used to drag race Harleys and I remember one piece of advice he gave me very clearly:

When you come off a bike at 200 mph and you think you have slown down, don't put out your arms because you will shatter them at 120mph.

He had the titanium screw collection to prove it to.

From Bikechatforums:
From RiDE mag, November 2011. Purely abrasion resistance tests performed by SATRA, with no armour inserts fitted. They don't specify a simulated road speed, just the relative times to wear through the trousers. Average times are shown, the article has details for knee / thigh / arse times:

Hein Gericke Reno leather jeans: 4.74 seconds
Draggin' Biker kevlar jeans: 3.07 seconds
Hornee kevlar jeans: 1.39 seconds
Rev'it Sand textile trousers: 0.71 seconds
Levi stonewash 501s: 0.56 seconds
Tesco Cherokee jeans: 0.16 seconds

jon spencer said...

Before you go out and by a set of imported leathers, look at Areostich.
If you really want leather they make them too.
You will get what you pay for.

jon spencer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
waepnedmann said...

Remember what Evel Knievel said about riding motorcycles in the rain: "Even I fall down."

Wolfman said...

I agree with everything said about the protective qualities of leather, but I'll second something Sevesteen said- getting one you won't leave at home. Its rather akin to the old piece of advice regarding the best self-defense gun- its the one you have on you, not the better one at home, that saves your bacon. I lived in Phoenix AZ and schooled in Tempe for a while, and there's simply no feasible way to wear full leathers. Its 120 degrees, riding in 25 mph traffic that barely cools the bike, so your vented leathers are a death trap. Even f you wear them, the campus is 85 acres of walking path, so you either wear the leathers all day, or you leave your $$$ gear somewhere to be damaged or stolen. Or, you ride in the heaviest clothing you can bear, keep speeds appropriate to the gear, and try not to fall down. As my Gandad used to say 'you pays your money and you takes your chances.' Of course, by that note, I have a few rad rash scars, to match the scratches on my bike, that are testament to winning that particular lottery. Sometimes, you fall down.

Laughingdog said...

"If they'll protect you at a construction site, they'll protect you on the road -- and you really only need that protection when you go down."

That's not even remotely true. Hazards at a construction site are primarily high weight objects falling directly on you at low speed. Shoe/boot construction that protects against that is not designed to hold a boot together when subjected to the gripping and twisting forces from impacting asphalt at 50-60mph. There's a reason most mid to high end gear has material to prevent that initial friction on impact.

Your analogy is not far from saying "a motocross vest will protect you from branches on single-track, so it should stop a bullet too."

I'll never say anyone should buy any specific brand with anything, be it bikes, gear, guns, tech stuff, etc. I will say that I've seen the sleeve of a Joe Rocket brand jacket come off almost immediately on impact at 50mph. Granted, that can also happen with better gear (e.g. Tourmaster) if your gear is too large for you. Much like with kayaking, most peoples' balk at gear that actually fits properly because it seems too tight. A helmet that flops around on your head won't give you the protection you need. If you have dreadlocks, your helmet most likely will fit so poorly that it won't even stay on (yes, an acquaintance had that happen. Dude's jaw was wired shut for a month). Jackets that are too large frequently tear apart outright instead of wearing away as you slide.

I personally wear primarily Rev'it brand gear. Part of the reason is quality. But that particular brand is easier to actually try on, instead of playing the "mail order" game of returning over and over because we have a local deal. I have an Olympia brand one piece suit I wear to commute when it's colder. I have that because I was able to try it on when I was at the Rev'zilla store in Philly.

As far as leathers go, they're excessive unless you do track days. They're not as comfortable, but you can get them repaired after a crash rather than buying a whole new suit again.

I would like to add that, just like the way an increase in cost on helmets has more to do with increased comfort, better jacket, pants, gloves and boots can be as much about better comfort as an increased protection. The jacket and pants I have ran around $800 I think, but they're all season. Throw in the liners and I'm good down to 30F. Take them out and open the vents, I'm set at up to 110F just fine.

I have a pair of TCX boots. I had them in the crash, and they're still fine. Sometimes I'll just wear my work steel-toe boots for my commute. But I really prefer the boots...because they feel better and make controlling the bike easier.

Laughingdog said...

"you can gently reshape the foam in some places to make the helmet conform better to your skull."


How about trying on several brands to find one that fits well in the first place. Or do some research to find out which ones have interchangable pads to help them fit better?

It's not the 1990s anymore. We have the internet and a lot more choices out there. 20 years ago you had to jerry-rig things to make them work. We don't have to do that anymore.

Sevesteen said...

Parts of this discussion remind me of caliber wars, with similar arguments--"a .380 in the pocket/textile jacket beats a .45 in the safe/leathers on a hanger". I've got a similar attitude as well--in both circumstances I could be better prepared for worst-case, but I'm far more prepared than most.

Tass said...

Similar, but different?

I used to teach english riding lessons to kids. Can't tell you how many times I had to tell parents the Hello Kitty bicycle helmet will not work for equestrian sports! There was a reason for riding specific gear.