Easy Writer Part 7: Safety First--Again

Easy Writer Part 7: Safety First--Again

Last time was mostly about helmet safety, so let's talk about the rest of the body.

If you ever find yourself about to get on a bike with just a helmet, shorts and a T-shirt, or you've done it in the past, hit yourself. Hard. That's flat-out stupid. Even the little, "I'm just running up to the store to get a pack of smokes" trips require adequate protection. Unless your route to 7-11 is a magical stretch of road that's void of all other traffic and paved with marshmallows and pixie dust, you always run the risk of a bad wreck. So, dress accordingly.

What you invest in is all really about your personal preference. Technically you can't get much safer than a full leather suit like riders wear in Superbike races, complete with knee sliders, armored head to toe, and reinforced Kevlar all over the place. But I don't know anyone who can afford something like that, as they start in the mid-hundreds and go way up past $3,500.

However, there are much cheaper alternatives. Let's go bottom up and start with footwear.

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There are all sorts of motorcycle-acceptable boots on the market, so there's lots of choices; from race-style boots that cover the shin, to work boots--there's no standard for foot protection, just try to aim for ankle coverage and durable leather. And make sure they lace up high enough to stay on if you fall off the bike. If you can pull them off without un-tying or unzipping them, they won't do.

I found a pretty cheap alternative that's worked out nicely--military surplus. I took a 15-minute trip up the 5 to Tustin Military Surplus and picked up a pair of SWAT-style boots for about $60. They cover my ankle, have a zipper down the side for quick removal and are made of good-quality leather. And I'm now better equipped for the zombie apocalypse or urban combat when I'm off the bike.

Though there are many places online that sell similar products, I highly recommend buying from a store, because the sizes vary widely. I wear a 13 in flip-flops and skate shoes, but my boots are an 11 with just a hair of wiggle room. I don't know why this is, but I would have been pissed if I'd ordered online and gotten Sasquatch-sized kicks.

Most people don't invest in leg protection, and I must sadly admit I'm one of them. It's not that I don't plan to, I just haven't found something I really like yet. Please don't tell my mom.

The problem is, once off the bike, boots can be walked around in, jackets can keep you warm, and helmets can be stashed on the bike, but leg armor is cumbersome and annoying. But there are some good options out there, and keeping your kneecap in one place is a worthy cause.

I've heard good things about the Icon shin/knee guards, which should fit under a pair of loose-fitting jeans or riding pants. They cost about $65. But I want something that also gives some hip coverage.

One solid option for those who understand that wearing jeans on a motorcycle is a necessity: Bohn armor pants. They're designed to be worn under jeans, and I literally sleep in my Levi's, so I'm probably going to invest in a pair of these, but the $160 price tag makes my wallet cry a little. Oh well. These in addition to a pair of $90 Kevlar-reinforced jeans should keep your legs relatively protected in a crash.

Back and rib protection is also good to have, but there aren't a lot of people who invest in it. It's somewhat expensive, but the more parts of your body you can cover with armor, the safer you'll be. Here is one example.

The good people at Bohn also make an armored long-sleeve shirt that has caught my eye recently, so I think I'll be ordering this in addition to that sexy under-pants armor. It protects pretty much everywhere on the upper body, and it all slips on as one piece, instead of strapping on several different parts before you get on the bike. Worn under a leather jacket, this should hold up nicely in the event of a violent introduction to the pavement. Yes, another $180 makes me a sad panda, but the more armor you put on yourself, the less likely you'll have to pay in the emergency room.

The only protection a T-shirt will give you is from the sun, so don't think it'll hold up in the event of a crash. As mentioned in a previous post, falling off a bike is similar to falling off a skateboard in that your body will almost always land point-first on the ground. Your "points" are your toes, heels, ankles, knees, hips, elbows, shoulders, hands, chin, nose; so make sure they are adequately covered and armored to make sure your points don't become rounded.

There are so very many styles of jackets out there--from the classic Fonz black leather, cruiser-style to modern textile armored jackets--you'll be hard-pressed to find something that doesn't fit your tastes. Leather is great for abrasion resistance from the road, and will minimize your skin loss, but it doesn't do much in the way of padding. So, I say find something with solid armor built in.

As with every piece of gear, jacket prices range pretty far--from around $100 to $1,500+, and there is no "bad jacket" per se, but make sure you know what you're buying before you commit. Good, tough jackets are heavy, but make sure yours won't crush you, and that it fits snugly so the armor doesn't move all over the place if you fall. And feel the material to make sure it's thick, because that cow has made a nobel sacrifice in ensuring you don't get filleted on the asphalt. If the leather is on the thin and decorative side, pass. Also, shop around for discounts and closeout sales, because you can occasionally score a good deal on a previous year's model.

I've always loved the cruiser-style look, but I really enjoy my elbows and shoulders, so I invested in the Xelement buffalo leather jacket with built-in, removable armor. The leather is thick and heavy, so it's pretty warm when at a standstill in Southern California's rendition of July, but the air vents are all sorts of fantastic when riding around town. The armor isn't what I would consider top-tier, but it should save me a good deal of pain if I fall.

Just do your research, read reviews and forums, ask around, and try on a bunch of different jackets until you find the one that suits you best.
If there's one thing I love, it's having hands. And I plan on keeping it that way. Oh, all the things I can do with my hands--playing guitar, picking my nose, video games, writing, picking up rogue change off the ground, solo dates, high-fives, pointing at stuff, text messaging, cracking my knuckles--it's the best.

If you're like me and love your hands, buy a good, thick pair of gloves with extra leather or Kevlar on the palms and sides, and carbon fiber or some other high-end reinforcement on the knuckles and back of the hand.

"Why do I need protection on the knuckles?" you may ask.

Right now, backhand slap or loose-fist punch your desk as hard as you can. Did it hurt? That's why.

Also, the family member who gifted me my bike now has limited use of his left hand after he wrecked when a pair of dogs darted in front of him at night. His hand got pinned under the gas tank while sliding, and his thin, deer-hide glove shredded along with the top of his hand.

I got a pair of $60 Alpinestars gloves at Cycle Gear with decent ventilation so my hands don't get too sweaty when putting around town.

Lastly, wear earplugs if you plan to go for extended freeway rides, regardless of what helmet you use. Wind noise is a lot louder than you may think, and it can cause permanent damage to your hearing even if you never fall in your entire riding life. After a couple of long rides, I felt like I'd just walked out of Ozzfest with the way my ears were ringing. Ear plugs are like $0.50 a pair at Guitar Center, or you can buy a big package of them for a few bucks at any hardware store.

Again, when it comes to gear, just remember that there's no excuse for riding in shorts and a tank top, and you will receive no sympathy from me or seasoned riders when your ER doctors are trying to see if you have enough usable skin left on your ass and legs to patch what you're missing from your back, arms and hands. If you need to know what that looks like, go here. Be smart and armor up.

Previously in Easy Writer:

The Newbie Motorcyclist's Journey Begins

Part 2: Gettin' Greasy

Part 3: Learning to Crawl

Part 4: A Necessary Evil

Part 5: The Bipolar Beast

Part 6: Always Use Protection

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