Do I really need to wear all this stuff?

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Yes You Do

People choose not to wear protective gear because they are ignorant, crazy, or both. It's a simple rule to learn. Before you get on your bike, look down at yourself and ask, "Am I ready to crash?". If the answer is no, then don't ride. Easy as that.

You'll either learn the easy way (by reading this), or learn the hard way (by experiencing excruciating pain or permanent injury). Most of those underdressed guys you see are waiting to learn the hard way. After they crash & learn, they inevitably give up motorcycling for good. "Too dangerous" they say. And for them, they're right. This is no place for idiotic, irresponsible people, and they are better off playing golf.

So what will it be for you: EX250 or 9-iron?

The Mean Reality

When one falls off a motorcycle, one contacts the road (or worse, the side of the road). Being on two wheels, with no steel safety cage around you, there are times when you will have no choice about whether you are upright or sliding across the road. Let me rephrase that:

There will come a time when you have no choice about whether you're riding or sliding.

As "no choice" implies, there's nothing you can do about it. It may be the SUV that didn't see you and clipped your front tire, leading to a tank slapper and high-side. It may be the pedestrian/small animal that you swerved around. It may be the drunk driver blazing through his red light to flip you off your bike.

These aren't scare tactics; these are just the facts that every motorcyclist accepts by riding, whether they realize it or not. Some riders go their whole lives with no accidents caused by other drivers. Some go a week. This board represents the spectrum of those riders.

The Sander Test

Every rider must assume that at some point he or she will go down, since it's a matter not of skill, but of luck or happenstance. When that happens (and it may be tomorrow, or 30 years from now; you can't know) you will be wearing whatever you're wearing. This is where your intelligence and skill come into the equation.

Pick the gear that you'll be happiest wearing while smacking into the ground and sliding 50-100 feet down the pavement. Fire is generally less of a concern, and hitting really solid things is usually not something you can really help with riding gear. This brings us to an interesting thought experiment:

In your mind, put on all the riding gear you want to wear. Helmet, jacket, gloves, sneakers, whatever you like to wear when riding. Now, a big, ugly Harley dude is going to come up to you with a mental belt sander. It runs about 30 MPH (probably slower than you'll actually hit the ground), and it's loaded with 80 grit sandpaper, which is sharper than the pavement, but not as coarse. He goes around applying the running belt sander to your body. Where do you say, "holy shit!" and shy back because you're feeling flying 80 grit on bare skin? Ankle bones? Wrists? Knees? Ribs? Face? Those areas where you shy back and start swearing are where you need better gear.

Remember, you have literally no choice of when you'll fall off your bike, nor can you do much about which body parts will be pressed into the pavement as you slide. You can ride conservatively, check through intersections, etc. as you ride. That helps a hell of a lot. But there's a definite chance that a time will come when you absolutely can't control another driver doing something stupid that causes you and your bike to separate. You need to be wearing gear that will protect you in that eventuality, and you need to be wearing it every time you ride. It can be done cheaply -- cheaper gear will just need to be replaced more frequently, and probably won't outlast the accident (but it will allow you to survive the accident, which is the whole point).

Finances

Another point to consider is that you should probably count on an accident sans gear taking you out of the game for 3-4 weeks, and costing around $10,000 in hospital bills (this is a good, cheap scenario, but obviously modify it if you have good insurance, etc...) If you make $200 a week (which is very approximately what you'd make at minimum wage, full time) you're also out $800 in pay and you may have lost your job, depending a lot on your employer. You can probably do the math on all that. Let's assume, for simplicity, that you're out $11,000 from one accident, before fixing the bike.

If you had spent $100 on a full-face helmet, $150 on a jacket, $50 on gloves, $30 on a pair of combat boots at a thrift store, and $100 on a pair of pants, that would have totaled $430. In most accidents (where you slap the pavement then slide) that gear will prevent most substantial damage. It may be trashed at the end, but you still have $10,570 left from your avoided hospital bill to replace every last bit of it. The finances are compelling.

So, all logical argument aside, please get the best gear you can possibly afford! Finance it, if that'd help you get more/better gear.

Gear Is Good

  • A friend of mine was headed over to a friend's house a few blocks away and decided not to wear his helmet or a jacket. Well, he took a fall at about 35mph on his Ducati 996 (DOH!) and did some backsliding down the asphalt. Then he tumbled up a curb, slid in some grass, and got cut up by the sprinkler heads in the median. He didn't have any broken bones, but lost a lot of skin off his back and had several abrasions to his head. Wear your gear no matter how short or hot the trip is.