No matter what type of motorcycle you ride, almost everyone falls off sooner or later and good protective riding gear can help prevent or reduce injuries.
Protective gear is most effective in simple falls and slides on the road. However there is a limit to what protective clothing can do. If you get hit by a car, or collide with a solid object, nothing you wear will protect you from the energy of the impact but it may help minimize some injuries and ensure a faster recovery. Inflatable jackets show some promise but have not as yet been adequately validated to be able to recommend them. Manufacturers now offer a wide range of protective riding gear for men and women of all shapes and sizes in different designs and colours. With all this highly specialised and often expensive gear available how can a rider tell what is fashion and what is genuine safety equipment? Most retailers of protective gear carry a wide range of brands and usually offer a number of options to suit most budgets. They will also advise what protection the particular item offers.
You cannot tell how well a product will perform in a crash just by looking at it in the shop. However, there are some design and construction features that help to identify the gear that is more likely to do the job.
Textiles or traditional leather?
Most people will say leather, but either type has its place. Product tests have shown that even gear made from the best, most expensive material is only as good as its construction. Seams and fastenings shouldn’t burst open and impact protectors need to stay in place. Double seams are usually the best as they resist bursting when the worst happens. Unlined denim offers very little protection. Fasteners must be secure – Velcro for sleeve closures, for instance, can be torn open in a crash and the sleeve of the jacket can be pushed up the arm, exposing you to injury.
Design is important
There are a number of design features to consider. Make sure vulnerable areas such as shoulders, elbows, back, knuckles, fingers, knees, backside, ankles and toes are protected. Not wearing gloves, which applies to a large number of motorcycle riders, results in some of the worst injuries. When crashing people instinctively put their hands out to try and soften the fall which can result in fingers being amputated or skin worn away, severely reducing hand function. Don’t spend all of your money on the helmet. Your protection budget should also include the purchase of boots, gloves, pants and a jacket to help you keep on riding in safety and comfort.
All helmets have to pass the Standard and everyone has a different head shape. It is recommended you try on a range of different brands to see which one fits your head shape best. Carbon helmets are extremely strong and offer unrivalled protection from impact and penetration. The difference in cost may be buying you comfort or fashion but not necessarily more protection in a crash.
Helmets do require a lot of care to keep them in the best possible condition. A guide is when you put it on the ground, rest it on your gloves. Don’t sit it on the mirror, as this may dent and damage the interior helmet lining and it can fall off onto the hard road surface. Don’t rest it on the bike seat where it can get blown off by wind or passing cars/trucks. Use the helmet hooks under the seat. These are provided on most bikes to secure it from falling as well as from theft. Invest in a helmet bag made of protective material if you don’t get one with the open face motorcycle helmet.
Keeping your visor clean and scratch-free is also essential. Protect it from scratches by keeping it in a soft
cloth bag. Clean your helmet and visor with a quality helmet cleaning agent from a motorcycle store or dishwashing liquid and water. Rinse well and only use a soft cloth. Even soft brushes can scratch the visor.
Painting or adding decoration to your helmet is not a good idea. The strength of some materials used in helmet shells can be weakened by the solvents in paints and in some glue, (eg stickers). Most of all look after your helmet the way you want it to look after you.
If your helmet sustains a serious impact it needs to be replaced
Common sense tells you if you drop your helmet or it falls off your bike (stationary), then there’s little chance of damaging the outer shell which protects against abrasion and puncturing, or the inner shell which absorbs energy on impact. However, if you throw your helmet against a wall or down the road with some force you could damage the outer shell and affect the helmet’s ability to protect you. You can buy helmets that range from $100 to over $1000. Generally the more expensive helmets are lighter, which make them more comfortable to wear for long periods. Helmets are full or open face or flip front in plain colours, designs and race replicas. As they all must pass the standard you will be buying a helmet to suit your budget and the style you prefer. Flip front helmets can be easier if wearing glasses. Cooling is important with certain climates and some helmets have large scoops and holes in the helmet providing extra ventilation – just be aware those gaps increase noise levels. How the helmet fits can’t be stressed enough and a poor fitting helmet will increase your chances of severe injury. Try on a large number of brands and styles. If unsure, seek advice from the sales representative.
Correct helmet fit
- lightly pushes in the cheeks
- fits snugly over most of the head
- doesn’t move around on the head
- doesn’t place pressure on the forehead
- can’t be pulled off under any conditions with the strap adjusted firmly.
- Keep it on for 5 or 10 minutes before you buy, to be sure it is comfortable.
The type of riding you do will influence your choice of jacket. Many riders have a couple of jackets to suit most weather conditions. Leather usually offers the best protection but may not suit if riding in the rain, when a textile jacket with waterproof capabilities may be more suitable. Protection points such as inserts to the shoulders and elbows are most common in all types of jackets on the market. Back protectors offer a higher level of protection but are not seen in most jackets and are sold as a separate item (see body armour).
A large range of gloves are available from plain leather or textile gloves to full race gloves made from kangaroo skins. Summer, winter, intermediate and waterproof gloves are available. It is recommended you have a pair of summer and winter gloves because if your hands are comfortable they are less likely to become numb from the cold and lose the feel of the controls.
Choose from leather or textile pants or denim jeans containing Kevlar inserts. If you buy a leather jacket and buy the same brand leather pants, most zip together offering further protection, although any option whether it be leather, textile or reinforced denim, is an excellent choice.
The most important factor when purchasing a pair of boots for motorcycling is that they cover above the ankle area. More expensive boots have better protection to reduce the risk of twisting an ankle. Again it depends on the type of riding you do as to what type of boot you buy. There are a number of waterproof boots available.
One-piece race suits offer the best overall protection, but do not suit a lot of riding types, as they can take some time to get on and can be impractical depending on where you are going. When trying on a one piece suit, wear it for some time and move around in a riding position. Most brands have protection points in different places and will suit different body types. Handmade one piece suits will provide more comfort.
Body armour offers a higher level of safety by enhancing other protective gear. A back protector looks after the spine and back area in a fall. Various brands and sizes are available, so try a few to see which one is comfortable. Full vests, knee guards, under shorts and various types of knee sliders provide added safety and comfort.
Most importantly when riding a motorcycle, even just down to the shops, always wear protective riding gear and save yourself from the risk of suffering a severe injury.