Gear Opinion

How much is enough?

I’ve never really understood why a person would want to ride without a helmet. It’s just one of those things that makes obvious sense to me; why wouldn’t you wear a helmet? Specifically, why wouldn’t you wear a full-face (or flip-front) helmet? I mean, even setting aside the totally useful safety aspect, a full-face helmet makes sense because it prevents you from taking small objects to the face, like insects or rock chips or litter.
Plus, high-speed wind makes your hair all poofy. It’s not like you’re going to come out looking any better than had you worn a helmet. And the latter ensures that you don’t arrive at your destination with a bee embedded in your cheek. A bee to the face, y’all. No one wants that.
Well, actually, it seems that some do. All across the United States, there are organisations that work hard to protect motorcyclists’ right to consume dragonflies at 80 mph. In the great state of Wisconsin — home to McCarthyism and the highest number of binge drinkers in the country — the badly named motorcycling group ABATE (1) takes great pride in keeping helmet laws at bay. Despite the fact that three out of every four motorcyclists killed in Wisconsin accidents were not wearing helmets.
This article suggests ABATE uses underhanded lobbying to achieve its goals but the thing that irks me most about the group is its name. Why would you give your organisation a name that sounds vaguely like a solitary sex act? What names did they go through before arriving at that one, I wonder. How about ALINGUS or UTTSEX?
I digress. The point is that, in general, American motorcycling attitudes toward safety strike me as a bit silly.

But often I feel the prevalent attitudes here in Britain are a step too far in the other direction. Here, the motorcycling press is dominated by racing wannabes who insist upon dressing up like astronauts and who will claim with no apparent irony that a Victory Judge is not a proper bike (2). Helmets are legally required and there is forever talk of making certain protective clothing equally compulsory.

It is said that if you turn up at a UK motorcycle testing centre without protective clothing (jacket, gloves, boots, trousers and high-vis vest) they will refuse to give you the test, despite the fact that such clothing is not required. I’m inclined to believe that is true because when I first took the Mod 2 the examiner grumpily pointed to my trousers and said: “That’s not protective gear.”

“No,” I said. “These are just waterproofs. I’ve got Kevlar jeans on underneath.”

He gave me a look that communicated to me he doubted the veracity of Kevlar jeans and later flunked me.

My feelings on all this are mixed. On one side I can see the value of safety clothing. It is a fact of motorcycling that people sometimes go down, and they often have a lot less trouble getting back up if they’re wearing good gear. But on the other side I feel that placing so much emphasis on safety gear can ultimately hurt motorcycling by making it feel too exclusive.

I mean, if I am taken by the idea of the open road and you tell me first I need to invest several thousand dollars/pounds on making myself look like a member of Daft Punk it’s going to dampen my spirit. Equally, I’m likely to get spooked at the thought of why I need so much gear; the constant yammering and horror stories may lead me to feel that sliding across the road is far too common an occurrence for my tastes.

The truth is that although bad stuff does sometimes happen, it doesn’t always happen. The British ATGATT mentality could lead a novice into thinking otherwise.

But, then, a body covered in road rash is equally dissuasive. And it’s important that riders have a reasonable understanding of what they’re getting themselves into. Where to draw the line?

For my own part, I like riding with a helmet. Even in my short riding experience I’ve had things plink off it, so I feel it is a wise choice. Additionally, I wear a scarf (to protect the skin of my neck from windblown items), a leather jacket, gloves, Kevlar jeans and a pair of kick-ass boots. If I had the money, I might buy something like the BMW Summer 2 trousers that is protective but not comical. I think all that gear might make me ATGATT by US standards but there are plenty of UK bikers who would ridicule me into the ground for being too lackadaisical.

How about you? What do you wear on the road? What’s “safe” in your opinion? And what’s over the top?


(1) ABATE stands for “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments,” which is a name that has the two-for-one effect of both sounding really gay and really crazy.

(2) I will never stop hating you, Liam Marsden.