Monday, August 6, 2012

§ 4. Okay. Let's Get Some Gear.

It should be clear by now that proper gear is a foundation of good riding. Though a new rider may not think of it in these terms, gear represents an implicit acceptance of risk. Wearing gear is an implicit attempt at managing risk. When your skill or your luck fails, gear is designed to pick up the tab and address as much of the balance as possible. So, regardless of the nature of your riding community, by now it should be clear that you should get and wear gear no matter what. Gear should meet the following requirements: 

1) It needs to adequately protect you. 2) You need to be able to wear it for an extended period of time. 3) You should like the way you look in it. 

The first two points are not surprising. The last point is important because you should minimize any disincentive to wear the stuff, and feeling like a power ranger at your auntie’s funeral could certainly fit that bill. 

Your personal clothing style may entail really baggy clothes or really tight clothes, but neither of these are appropriate for motorcycle gear. Your gear should be as snug as possible while still allowing you freedom of movement through the range necessary for the operation of a motorcycle. If it is any looser, the gear will shift in an accident and not optimally protect you. If it is any tighter, you will not be able to maneuver the bike properly because of the restriction of the clothing.  

Because of this, it is entirely likely that a certain brand of gear will fit you much better than another brand. Some European made stuff, like Rev’it, will be good for the slim tall men. American made gear, like Joe Rocket, will be good for cats who are bigger around the belly. The important thing is to try as much on as possible before you make a purchasing decision.

Some of this gear can be quite costly. You should remind yourself that it is worth it and you can find the same thing for cheaper on eBay. The most cost efficient way to do things might be to get a two piece suit. This way, you can have a jacket for life and some riding pants for long trips and track days. But then you will have to get any gear that is appropriate for the weather in your region. I have a two piece leather suit. But I also live in South Florida. So a mesh jacket is vital, as is a helmet that is good and flowing air. 

Riders often neglect to get boots. In some cases, they wear military boots or something similar that has ankle support. This is okay, I guess. But it is far from ideal. Some motorcycle boot manufactures to extensive testing to insure protection of the ankle and foot in cases of impact and abrasion. Alpinestars, for example. And Sidi. If you are a sport biker, it is in your best interest to get riding boots and wear them along with the rest of your gear every time you ride. 

It is easy to rider around life in a helmet, jacket, gloves and boots. Less easy to roll up to class rocking leather pants with knee pucks on the side. It used to be that we all just compromised our safety and wore regular blue jeans. But manufacturers of gear have addressed this issue by offering Kevlar lined jeans. These jeans might not be the best at guarding against impact, but they will certainly minimize road rash. And in most cases they look like regular jeans, so they will not alienate the conservative dresser. 

Lastly, we must consider the helmet. Much like other gear, the manufacturer will determine the nature of the fit. While Shoei fits me quite well, Arai is kind of tight on the front and back of my head. And Shark helmets are tight on the sides of my head. 

Helmets are rating according to standards set up by the Department of Transportation or the Snell Memorial Foundation. Unless a helmet is “novelty only,” it will be certified by one or both of these organizations and will say so right on the helmet. But, even though most helmets are certified with regard to their ability to protect in a crash, there is a serious gap in helmet price. Helmets can run from 60 bucks to 800 brand new. What is the difference?

Aside from the quality of the paint and finish, I think that the main difference is the amount of time the helmet can be comfortable on your head. A proper fitting Shoei will last an entire day of highway riding. It will fit well and also be aerodynamic enough to prevent excess fatigue of your neck muscles. A super cheap helmet, not so much. You will have a headache by the time you get to the beach. It is worth the money to get a good helmet. One that will fit well and that looks good. For many riders, the helmet is the signature—the most unique piece of gear that tells those in the know about the rider. 

There is another piece of gear that most riders I know neglect: ear plugs. I think you should get a good pair and wear them. 

“Noise” is a judgment that we place on the information source that is sound. That is, sound in noise just in case it impedes our ability to think or concentrate. Sometimes, we will actually turn down the music because we think we smell something, or because we need to have a closer look at the map when out on the road trip. The direction of our attention will determine whether the sound in our ears assists or distracts from the task of concentration. Riding takes concentration and excessively loud wind is just noise.

This is not to mention the general facts about motorcycle riders, tinnitus  and noise-induced hearing loss. If you want to have more mental space available for concentration and such and if you would like to be able to hear things in the not so distance future, it is best for you to wear ear plugs. 

To be clear: your subjective considerations of noise mean nothing. Just because you think “it’s not that loud” does not mean that the the aural architecture in your inner ear will be okay. It is a basic fact of psychoacoustics that physical damage to the ear can be caused by volume levels that the listener believes to be perfectly appropriate. 

It is only after getting the gear that a rider should put leg over bike. Anything else is just a youtube video waiting to happen. Of course, we must remember that gear is a foundation of good riding and not THE foundation of good riding. To have one without the others is equally youtube worthy.

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