PROFICIENT MOTORCYCLING GEAR
An article by Ken Condon in the December 2011 edition of MOTORCYCLE NEWS discusses the importance of wearing protective riding gear as well as the various types of gear out there for motorcyclists. The article also discusses the notion of "ATGATT" (All The Gear, All The Time).
One can look around on a warm day and see that not all motorcycle riders think that wearing riding gear is necessary. The most egregious example is the rider who is dressed as though he or she just walked off the beach. It makes sense to wear protection that can minimize injury in the event of a fall. However, many people choose to risk their skin and bones by wearing flimsy clothing when they ride. Many motorcycle riders will forego wearing gear if the weather is hot or if they plan on being in public where they feel out of place in their riding gear.
Another reason for the lack of gear lies in the fact that a lot of riders deny the possibility of a crash. This of course can be hard to believe since one of the most common perceptions of motorcycling is that it is dangerous.
The following is a discussion by Condon of riding gear options, as well as the concept of riding gear as it pertains to risk management and perception.
Riding Gear - from head to toes
Helmets are the most controversial part of riding gear—where the battle line between individual freedom and public safety is often drawn. Presently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have a universal helmet law. Three states have no helmet law and the remaining 27 states have a helmet law that applies to riders under a certain age.
In states where helmet laws are enforced, many people who would rather go helmet-less choose to wear non-DOT compliant, unpadded "novelty" helmets— as a political protest or as a style—either because helmets don't fit their image of motorcycling or because their peers would disapprove. But where going helmet-less is legal, part of the attraction is the feeling that comes from being fully immersed in (exposed to) the environment.
Some misguided folks will tell you they don't wear helmets because they subscribe to the theory that helmets don't really reduce injuries. Of course, there is strong evidence that helmets do, indeed, reduce injuries and death, and if you believe the gruesome science and statistics, then you understand that riders who go without a helmet are increasing their risk significantly.
Without an energy-absorbing layer of expanded polystyrene to slow down the rate of deceleration, the brain has little chance of surviving intact after a blow to the head. While DOT and/or Snell approved helmets aren't perfect, they've proven to significantly increase the chances of survival.
For the best protection, nothing beats a full-coverage helmet, which offers protection in the chin area. And considering the fact that between 15% and 20% of impacts occur in that area, a full-face helmet is the way to go if injury protection is a priority. For those not wanting to wear a full-coverage helmet, a flip-up helmet may be just the ticket. But if you've got to feel the wind on your face, a DOT- approved open-face, three-quarter helmet may be an acceptable compromise. These helmets will protect the brain in many situations, but leave the facial area exposed.
The least protective headgear is the non-DOT-compliant novelty "beanie" helmet favored by many members of the cruiser crowd; completely devoid of impact-absorbing materials. A better alternative is a DOT-approved half helmet that looks a lot like the beanie and does not detract from the traditional look the cruiser rider is after.
Riding jackets offer excellent comfort and protective features. The cut of a good motorcycle jacket will have rotated sleeves to improve comfort with extended arms and with added length in the sleeves and at the back to cover a bent torso. Pockets, cuffs, neck and waist areas are usually fitted with snaps or Velcro, and zippers are covered by flaps to prevent wind and rain from infiltrating.
Nylon jackets are very popular for their abundant venting and pockets, along with their ease of washing and the wide variety of color combinations available, including high-vis yellow for added conspicuousness. While nylon's abrasion protection is less than leather, its protective qualities are very good, especially when you consider that almost every nylon garment sold :includes impact-absorbing armor at the elbows, shoulders and back.
Denim pants are probably the most iconic single piece of motorcycle gear and by far the most common type of leg covering, however, denim is no match for road abrasion. European testing conducted in 2002 concluded that denim will abrade through in 0.6 seconds compared to 5.8 seconds for 1.4mm thick leather. Some people have discovered Kevlar-reinforced denim pants, which look traditional and offer better protection than regular jeans.
Chaps are commonly worn by cruiser riders. Even though adding a layer of leather over street pants is a good idea, chaps offer less protection in the rear, and considering the fact that many crashes involve sliding on your butt, that drawback can be significant.
Glove and boot selections range from sporty racing-inspired models to rugged construction-worker styles. Protecting your feet and hands is important, but comfort and control must also be considered. Thick gloves hinder control feel and if not well-shaped, can fatigue the hands. Select motorcycle-specific gloves with pre- curved fingers made of sturdy yet pliable materials. It's the same with boots, extra- thick work soles may look tough but can make smoothly controlling the rear brake and shifter more difficult.
Boots that offer excellent riding protection may not be appropriate for walking any great distances. Carrying walking shoes in your saddlebags is one solution, but often riders will simply wear their comfortable shoes and forego protection. Another solution is to carefully select boots that offer both good protection and walking comfort. Fortunately, there are many models to choose from that fall into this category.
Aside from abrasion, the impact of your torso slamming the pavement in a fall can do real damage to your hips and knees, and riders who have learned the hard way insist bn wearing pants with pads in those critical areas as well.
Fashion dictates a lot of our riding gear buying decisions. In the 70s when I started riding, jean jackets or leather bomber jackets, jeans, work boots and work gloves made up a rider's wardrobe. As the decades passed and motorcycles became more specialized, riding gear evolved to better match differing riding styles, and with this specialization diverse identities emerged.
Too often, riders put little thought into protection, instead choosing their riding gear based on accepted fashion standards. Unfortunately, when fashion is the primary reason for a purchase, riders can make poor decisions that leave them with little protection or comfort. For example, some riders walk away from heavy leather jackets because their bulk can be unflattering, which might make a prospective purchaser look toward a thinner, more supple "fashion" leather jacket that hangs nicely and is cut to create a flattering shape. Unfortunately, these jackets offer little protection compared to heavyweight cowhide. Fashion jackets can't hold up to sliding on abrasive pavement; zippers pull apart, thin leather tears and the fine threads break, revealing vulnerable flesh to the road below.
As Condon discussed, fashion, comfort and protection can go hand in hand. Therefore, the definition of ATGATT varies depending on whom you ask. Because ATGATT means different things to different people. One answer could be, "DOT helmet, eye protection, full coverage riding jacket, full-fingered gloves, sturdy long pants, and over-the-ankle boots." This is pretty much right out of the MSF handbook. The definition can also include all of those things, but also included armored riding pants.
Ask any serious road racer how he or she defines ATGATT and you'll hear "Top-of-the line full-coverage helmet, leather one-piece racing suit with elbow and knee armor, hard back and chest protector, full gauntlet gloves with armored knuckles and armored boots. Ask a street rider the same question and you'll get a wide range of answers.
As great as quality riding gear is, it only has a marginal effect on preventing a crash. Riding gear can prevent dehydration, heat exhaustion and distracting discomfort, and brightly colored clothing can help a motorcyclist be seen easier, but riding gear itself doesn't make an unskilled or careless rider less likely to crash.
It would be nice to be able to prevent death or serious injury simply by wearing a sturdy jacket and strapping on the most expensive helmet we can afford, but the' reality is _that many deaths occur despite the rider wearing all the best gear. After all, elbow, knee, back and shoulder armor,, is no match for a truck or guardrail. And no helmet made can withstand the impact of more than 300 G, which is a problem when a direct impact at normal speeds can easily exceed 500G. According to Academic Emergency Medicine (www.aemj.org) a human head will suffer brain damage 15.4% of the time if exposed to as little as 50 G. And neck and spine injuries are another serious problem that a helmet can't do much about.
Fortunately, the vast majority of crashes cause non-life-threatening injuries. However, our body can only take so much trauma and will succumb if there is an accumulation of too many relatively minor injuries. That means that a serious case of road rash (which can cause septic shock), might be too much for your bodyto take if it also has to deal with a broken bone or two and a concussion. The lesson is that protecting your body from eyen relatively minor injuries can save -- your life.
It's tempting to think that full protection isn't necessary because you're just riding around town at slow speeds, but consider how much damage would be done if you were to slide on bare skin even at parking lot speeds. Most crashes happen in the 30-mph range, and at that relatively low speed, protection becomes critical to prevent significant injury.
Why do some people choose to ride without protection while others insist on it? Putting excuses, ATGATT such as hot weather, inconvenience, cost or fashion aside, the answer must be risk perception and varying levels of risk acceptance. Many times this perception is based on personal beliefs and past experiences. It is very common for riders to start wearing all of the gear after they or someone they know has experienced an injury that could have been prevented by the use of riding gear. Before, they didn't believe that riding gear could make a difference; now they do.
The perceived level of risk posed by riding a motorcycle can also vary because the dangers are not always apparent and can be ignored. A higher level of risk becomes obvious when the perceived level of danger increases.
Some people are comfortable, or even thrive, while living on the edge. These riders are willing to take the chance that they may end up with road rash if they crash. They may also be willing to risk brain injury by either not wearing a helmet or choosing an ineffective lid. Assuming these riders are rational &hilts, the obvious explanation is that they have convinced themselves that the likelihood of a crash is low and that if they were involved in a crash, they would make out okay. These riders are making a calculation based on delusions and wishful thinking.
At the other end of the spectrum is the ATGATT rider who makes the same calculations, but determines that the outcome can easily threaten his or her life. This motivates the ATGATT rider to always put a layer of protection between his or her body and anything that might threaten it.
Somewhere in-between is where most motorcycle riders are. They know the importance of head protection and the serious consequences of even a mild brain trauma, and to protect their skin they know enough to wear long sleeves and jeans at the very minimum. These riders perceive the risk of crashing as something that could happen, but their choice of less protection suggests that they believe the likelihood of being involved in a crash is low.
Riding a motorcycle is not unlike walking on a beam that is suspended high above the floor, and it's human nature to be more cautious and to consider personal protection in higher risk situations. On the other hand, some argue that wearing protective gear can instill a false sense of confidence that can lead to greater risk-taking. Indeed, studies have shown that people are more likely to take greater risks when wearing full protective gear than when they are not as well protected. The protection may come from a full- coverage helmet and leather racing suit, or it can come from driving a large SUV. However, a thinking adult realizes that protective gear is intended to prevent injury, not to allow recklessness. Wearing protective gear is a very important part of risk management, because even the most skillful motorcycle riders can find themselves in trouble and need protection in a fall. But, I caution you not to think that wearing riding gear is a substitute for well-developed skills. The best riding gear on the market cannot prevent injury and death in all situations; far from it. The best line of ain defense against ending up in the hospital is a cache of excellent mental strategies and physical skills.
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