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Dress For the Crash, Not the Ride

It's one thing to look snazzy and fashionable on your scooter, but how is all that pinache going to hold up when you take a digger in some wet gravel as you enter a turn at 70 kph? Accidents happen, accdents hurt, and most of you will have an accident at some point. In most cases, your personal damage will be substantially lessened by the protective gear you are wearing. Helmet, jacket, pants, gloves and boots are essential to a rider. Cagers in their ten-foot-high SUV's (or as I call 'em - Suburban Uh'sault Vehicles) have steel walls and roll bars to protect them in a crash, all you have are your clothes and your wits (or in my case, you have your clothes). Inspired by talks with some of our members I thought I'd give a less-than-brief run-down on the subject of protective gear.

Helmets

The first line of defense in a crash. The most common landing point in a crash is the top of your head, and your chin (not a pleasant hit for those of us who ride wearing shorties and half-helmets). The first thing you want to be sure of is that your helmet fits right, and is DOT Approved (Snell-Approved is a nice bonus). There are certain requirements for a helmet to meet these U.S. standards, if you're not sure - don't buy the helmet. There are plenty of websites selling some of the most gorgeous helmets you've ever seen, and quite frequently, many of these are known as "Novelty Helmets" which is motorcycle terminology for "Not DOT Approved, but gee it looks swell!" The shell is thin and won't take an impact well, the padding is minimal, and the chinstrap will likely break free if you tug on it hard enough. This includes most of the "retro" style helmets, Japanese scooter-culture helmets, and tough-guy chopper fashion helmets. Great to look at, but pieces of crap for the purpose they serve. Plenty of folks will want to complete the scooter look with a refurbished vintage Buco helmet or a puddin'-bowl Davida helmet. I don't know a great deal about Buco helmets, save for that they're old and usually substandard in protective values, and as far as Davida goes the only helmet they sell that is DOT Approved is their "Classic Jet" (but save your money and buy a Corsa Helmet - is a DOT-approved knockoff of the Davida Classic). You'll probably also want to avoid Ebay, unless you're sure of the seller and know for certain the helmet is brand new.

As a rule of thumb, you might want to stick with brand name helmets, such as HJC, M2R, THH, Icon, Shoei, Arai, Nolan, KBC or Suomy to name a few. A good helmet can cost as little as 50 bucks (for an HJC half-lid) or in excess of 500 dollars (like many of the Arai or Shoei models), and can be bought online or in any local cycle shop. It's a good idea to purchase the helmet locally so that you can be sure the helmet fits right. It should fit a little snug when you first wear it, that snugness will loosen as the foam adjusts to your head dimensions. The chinstrap should be tight enough that the helmet won't come off if you push up from the back. Finally, helmets are usually good for only one good hit, after which you'll want to buy a new one - so do your best to avoid dropping it! That can seriously compromise (if not completely negate) the helmet's protective qualities. Helmets are a one-hit wonder... they only take one hit, and then it's all over for that helmet. Buy another.

Full-face vs. open-face helmet discussions can sound a lot like two people arguing over which is better: Mac or PC. There are benefits and drawbacks for both, the safest thing to wear is the full-face helmet because of the amount of chin contact you might make with the road in a spill, and even though full-face helmets have great peripheral visibility an open-face helmet will have better (and better hearing for the cars around you). Know your risks, know your comfort parameters, and make your own choice as to which type of helmet to wear.

Jackets and Pants

Fabric is fabulous but leather is better! Though there have been terrific advances in ballistic nylon and other fabric jackets, leather is arguably the best protection you can get - but then this point is arguable among textile-enthusiasts. This doesn't mean that ALL leather jackets are built for riding. Most of the jackets you'll find at leather shops in the mall are built with fashion in mind, and though they will give some good protection in a spill, you can get a great leather jacket made specifically for riding for the exact same price (if not less). Again, I'd suggest you stick with brand names, such as Joe Rocket, Alpine Stars, Icon, Firstgear, Power Trip, Teknic or Tour Master to name just a few. I would also very strongly recommend you purchase a jacket that has composite impact armor built into the shoulders, elbows and back. In the summer time when it gets so hot you can cook an egg on your engine-side cowl, leather might not be the best thing to wear. Instead of stripping down to a T-shirt, you may wish to look into some ballistic mesh jackets with the composite armor built in. The air will flow right through so you don't overheat, and the armor is, well - it's armor! Many riders have two jackets, one for cold and one for hot. When it's hot it's terribly uncomfortable to wear a lot of bulk, and when it's colder outside it's going to seem REALLY cold riding in the wind! So try to find a jacket with a zip-in lining for your cool-weather jacket.

As far as pants go I would say NOT to wear shorts! Sturdy jeans with no tears in the knees are the minimum you ought to be wearing. Leather pants or chaps might look silly on a scooter but they are a nice step up and will minimize the road rash you gets when you hit some oil and slide on your hip and leg for a couple dozen yards. In my only accident, I took some minor road rash on the side of my leg (motorcycle was on top of me) that could have been worse if I wasn't wearing some heavy work jeans, my girlfriend was riding on the back and took no cuts or scrapes at all, as she was wearing chaps. If you don't want to go the leather route for pants (and I can't blame you) there are a number of other options, ranging from nylon armored riding pants down to reinforced blue jeans (made specifically for motorcyclists). Or you could go to Sears and buy a pair of heavy canvas contractors' pants. The pants are probably the most overlooked item of protection in rider's arsenal, but of the multiple motorcycle-related amputees I've known (and I've known close to a dozen) it's not the arm that was amputated but a leg (or both). I love riding but I really like my legs. Think about that kind of no-legs lifestyle, really think about it when you get dressed to go for a ride.

Gloves, Goggles and Boots

Gloves are important for a number of reasons. They give you better grip on the controls, they help to minimize hand and wrist fatigue on long trips (especially those with a gel palm), and they'll keep the skin on your palms should you down down with your hands outstretched to take the brunt of a fall. I have two pair, one with a nylon mesh backing (for warm weather) and one insulated with a cuff that overlaps my jacket sleeve (for cool weather).

Goggles and riding glasses are a must if you don't wear a full-face helmet. You probably know this already or learned it pretty quickly when the wind made your eyes tear up to the point of blindness. There are a lot of really nice goggles to be had out there, some costing over a hundred dollars. A cheap pair of goggles can be very handy, because when they get scratched up you have no problem throwing them out and dropping 15 bucks on another pair. Riding glasses are a good alternative to goggles, you can slip them on without taking your helmet off, and they are more quickly switched when it goes from sunshine to overcast. Most riding glasses and goggles will be UV-protective, anti-glare, scratch-resistant and will have foam along the inside (to keep out the wind and those pesky bugs). Many goggles are sold with removeable lenses that you can switch between (smoke or mirrored for bright day, clear for night, and amber for fog and heavy overcast). No matter what you use, you should keep them in a case or wrap them in a bandana, or they will get scratched up as they bang around your glovebox.

Boots are more essential for motorcyclists, as they have to deal with hot engines pressed against the ankle and more foot controls to deal with. However, you should pay attention to the soles of the shoes you wear. Good traction and oil-resistant soles are very helpful for those times you stop at an intersection and drop your left foot into some gravel or oil on the street.

Rain Gear

Think about getting some. Rain happens, and it sucks to ride in. The rain hits you, soaks into all your clothes, seeps into your shoes, then the wind hits you, and you get cold, and your muscles tense up and get sore, your riding abilities are compromised because you're all tight in the muscles... just get the damned rain gear. Worst experience I've had in riding thus far was to get caught in a cold, soaking rain that didn't let up, and I had a hundred miles between where I was and where I needed to be. Guess who didn't have rain gear? That's right - the friggin' genius writing this article.

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There are a number of shops around town to purchase riding gear in. I would also strongly recommend Motorcycle Superstore, where I personally have bought over $500 in riding gear, or at Motorcycle Closeouts, where I bought three hundred bucks' more. If you still aren't sure what to look for, Beth and I would be happy to ride out to Land Air or Roadside Marine with you and help you shop (but keep in mind that all the local shops close around 2 on Saturdays, and are closed on Sundays).

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Article by Kevin Montanaro

 

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