Yes, yes, nothing is lamer than safety, especially when you want to go balls to the wall down the highway on a motorcycle.
However, I'm going to go ahead and assume that somewhere in your life you've ridden a skateboard, bicycle, Rollerblades, etc., and you fell down at least once. Did you skin your knee or perhaps get a nasty boo-boo on your hand or elbow? Remember how much that sucked? Now do that at 70 mph on the freeway. In other words: armor up.
The three main things that motorcycle gear serves to do are:
1) Protect your brain. Helmets are vital because they help to stop your head and a solid object from becoming one. They also cushion the blow when your head hits something so your brain doesn't slam against the inside of your skull as hard. Coming from someone who's had enough concussions to be banned from contact sports--get a good one.
2) Save your skin, literally. Anyone who's ever fallen off a skateboard at speed can tell you that road rash stings like a son of a bitch. However, if you're moving fast enough, it could cost you enough flesh to require skin grafts. And those are not only expensive, but also leave really ugly scars. Yes, it makes for a great bar story, but a few free drinks isn't worth weeks or months of physical therapy and having skin borrowed from your hips and ass to cover gaping wounds.
3) Save your joints--no, not that kind. In a fall, people tend to land on the same points every time: Your "points" are your toes, heels, ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, hands, chin, and nose; so make sure they are adequately covered and armored to make sure your points don't become rounded.
Since protection is such a massive topic, we'll just focus on helmets for now.
There's somewhat of an ongoing debate about even wearing a helmet, though it is required by law in California. But people are saying that it's cars that cause the majority of accidents, so motorcyclists shouldn't be forced to wear helmets. And, while this is true, deciding who's at fault will not be what you're thinking about when someone makes a left turn in front of you and you're either tossed from the bike, or bracing for impact with the side of someone's Escalade. If you value your head and what's inside it, always wear a helmet.
Street helmets come in about four different varieties:
1) Full-face--It comes all the way down to your chin, and has a face shield to block out wind when you're riding, and you won't get a 70 mph dragonfly to the face. These offer the most protection because they cover your face as well as the rest of your head.
2) Three-quarter shell helmets--They cover everything except your face, and are most popular with cruiser and touring riders.
3) Modular helmets--It's a full-face helmet that can open up and become a sort of 3/4 helmet when you're stopped, so you can talk to someone without having the muffled sound of a chin bar in front of your mouth. But the chin bar should always be lowered and locked into place while riding.
4) Half-shell helmets--These are often referred to as "beanies" because that's about all they cover--it's like a yarmulke with a chinstrap. Just the top of the head is protected, leaving the ears, face, back and sides of the head open to injury. But it's still technically better than nothing.
Whatever you decide on, make sure it comes with a DOT (Department of Transportation) sticker, which means that model has been tested and passed safety inspection for use to help save your life.
Different companies charge different amounts for a product that isn't necessarily better. For example, Shoei buckets start at about $170 for a half-shell helmet, whereas HJC has full-face helmets for roughly $80. Don't let price dictate the amount of protection you want, but keep in mind that a lot of companies are selling you a name more than a product.
To an extent, a helmet's price lets you know the amount of comfort you're getting. An $80 bucket will protect the same as an $800 one, but it's like watching a movie on your iPod Nano versus a 50" flat-screen. They do the same thing, but one is more enjoyable than the other.
Airflow is a big thing with full-face helmets, because your head releases a lot of heat, and if the heat can't escape, or outside air can't get in, you're going to be sweaty, and risk fogging up your face shield. Three-quarter and half-shells don't have this problem because the wind blasts you in the face while riding, but those helmets require goggles or something of the sort to protect the eyes from dust and sand.
Weight is also a price indicator. Carbon fiber helmets offer great protection and weigh very little, which is ideal because your neck can get tired quickly with a lot of weight on your head. However, they're very expensive, and most people would rather toughen up their muscles than drop $400+ on a first helmet.
Buying used is good for most things. A helmet is not one of them. Get a new one from either a local bike shop or a good online store. But be sure to physically try one on before you buy anything, because different companies have different helmet shapes. Some are more round, while some have more of an oval bucket. So, if you and a buddy both wear a large helmet, you might not necessarily wear the exact same helmet. It's kind of like buying shoes.
Cycle Gear has a very cool seven-day return policy for helmets, so you can wear it around awhile and decide if it suits you well enough to take it on the road, or swap it for something else. And be sure it fits snugly, but not too tight. You don't want it to be able to move when on your head, but you also don't want it to give you a migraine while on the road.
I bought my HJC IS-Max from motorcycle-superstore.com for about $180, and I paid $6 more for two-day shipping. But there are dozens of places to buy from and hundreds of helmets on the market, so do your research before you buy anything.
The IS-Max is a modular-style helmet that I decided on because the modulars are better suited for people who want a full-face helmet, but also wear glasses. It allows you to just lift the chin bar, put it on, and then close it without removing and replacing the glasses on your face.
The human body can withstand a lot, but your head is like an egg. We all remember those awful anti-drug commercials well enough so I can make a point: This is your brain. This is your brain on the asphalt. Any questions?
Previously in Easy Writer:
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