Friday, December 31, 2004

More Pontificating About Protective Gear!

WARNING: I'm about to take off on a personal rant about one of my biggest peeves - motorcyclists who ride without the necessary protective gear. If you're one of these idiots, than you might want to go read something else right now if you're the type to get offended easily!

[Stepping on soapbox]

I recently got into a heated argument with a fellow motorcyclist regarding the use of full-riding gear on "short trips around town". His point of vue was that getting "suited-up" in riding jacket and pants just to go down the street to the convenience store was, well, inconvenient and thus defeated the purpose. He also went on to claim things like "the odds of having an accident at low speeds is small anyway" or "too much gear is uncomfortable and therefore distracts my attention when riding". To which I replied "Bullshit" and "You're full of it", respectively.

Granted, to rebuttle in any debate with such low-brow answers probably wouldn't win me any points, so I had to follow up with some cold, hard facts. In 1981, William Hurt led a group of researchers in a study of what has become the ultimate reference regarding motorcycle accidents: the (properly named) "Hurt Report". Among the conclusions, I'd like to highlight the following two:

  • The median pre-crash speed was 29.8 mph, and the median crash speed was 21.5 mph, and the one-in-a-thousand crash speed is approximately 86 mph.
  • Most motorcycle accidents involve a short trip associated with shopping, errands, friends, entertainment or recreation, and the accident is likely to happen in a very short time close to the trip origin.
This affirmation effectively defeats my fellow rider's claim about low-speed accidents. Regarding his statement that a riding jacket and pants were uncomfortable: "Get a more comfortable one!". One of the main problem with many riders today is that they get into motorcycling for the look; in other words, it's just a fashion accessory. They go to the local motorcycle shop and check out the leathers; put on a jacket and pants and strut their stuff in front of a mirror admiring how the firm support of the cowhide holds up their sagging rear-end. Problem is, they don't try it on while sitting on a bike! My riding jacket is the most uncomfortable thing to wear when standing up or walking around, because that's not what it was designed for. Once I sit on my bike, then it makes sense. It offers support in the lower back and bends just right at the elbows and shoulders.

Luckily, we didn't get into the whole "Helmet" issue as you're legally obligated to wear one in all Canadian Provinces (thank God)! This is a heated issue down in the States where some claim that laws that force them to wear a helmet enfringes upon their personal liberties... So what! If tainting your little bit of personal freedom means that you might make it home alive at the end of the day; so be it!

Again, here are a few of the conclusions from the Hurt Report regarding gear and helmet use:
  • Seventy-three percent of the accident-involved motorcycle riders used no eye protection, and it is likely that the wind on the unprotected eyes contributed in impairment of vision which delayed hazard detection.
  • Approximately 50% of the motorcycle riders in traffic were using safety helmets but only 40% of the accident-involved motorcycle riders were wearing helmets at the time of the accident.
  • Voluntary safety helmet use by those accident-involved motorcycle riders was lowest for untrained, uneducated, young motorcycle riders on hot days and short trips.
  • The most deadly injuries to the accident victims were injuries to the chest and head.
  • The use of the safety helmet is the single critical factor in the prevention of reduction of head injury; the safety helmet which complies with FMVSS 218 is a significantly effective injury countermeasure.
  • Safety helmet use caused no attenuation of critical traffic sounds, no limitation of precrash visual field, and no fatigue or loss of attention; no element of accident causation was related to helmet use.
  • FMVSS 218 provides a high level of protection in traffic accidents, and needs modification only to increase coverage at the back of the head and demonstrate impact protection of the front of full facial coverage helmets, and insure all adult sizes for traffic use are covered by the standard.
  • Helmeted riders and passengers showed significantly lower head and neck injury for all types of injury, at all levels of injury severity.
  • The increased coverage of the full facial coverage helmet increases protection, and significantly reduces face injuries.
  • There is no liability for neck injury by wearing a safety helmet; helmeted riders had less neck injuries than unhelmeted riders. Only four minor injuries were attributable to helmet use, and in each case the helmet prevented possible critical or fatal head injury.
  • Sixty percent of the motorcyclists were not wearing safety helmets at the time of the accident. Of this group, 26% said they did not wear helmets because they were uncomfortable and inconvenient, and 53% simply had no expectation of accident involvement.

One of the scariest causes of motorcycle accidents is alcohol use. Almost half of all fatal motorcycle accidents show alcohol involvement. And all indicators seem to show that this will get much worse in the years to come. Why? Because, as mentioned above, many of the people that are now getting into motorcycling are doing it because it's "cool". It's an image thing more than anything else, and as such they aren't really interested in riding at all. So they don't take the time to read up about it, and they don't follow any appropriate training. Most of them are quite content in simply adding as much aftermarket chrome to their machine then riding it down to the local watering hole to show it off. After having discussed the merits of chrome polish vs. wax over a few pitchers of brew, they hop on their strait-piped chrome horse and (try to) ride home. In 50% of motorcycle deaths, they are the ones who end up as a statistic.

Since I'm sure that this rant will fall upon a bunch of deaf ears, I'd like to at least try to get the following message through to ALL motorcyclists out there: Try to wear at least minimal protection when riding. This would include helmet, jacket and gloves. And as a second request, try to get some professional training. A motorcycle is a powerful and dangerous machine, don't expect that "Uncle Bob" can teach you simply because he's been riding for a few years. Another grim conclusion from the Hurt Report:

  • The motorcycle riders involved in accidents are essentially without training; 92% were self-taught or learned from family or friends. Motorcycle rider training experience reduces accident involvement and is related to reduced injuries in the event of accidents.

Ride smart, ride safe!


Red Storm said...

Good one lucky. You sure have a rather crude way of saying things but the thing is, you are totally right. I ride about 16000 km per year on my 04 V-Strom 650 and not a single time without full protective gear. Better to look ridiculous in hot weather but keep some skin in case of accident. My solution to ride comfortably in almost any weather (excepted winter of course!): Joe Rocket's Alter Ego jacket and Phoenix pants. Not as good as leather but surely better than wearing nothing. I saw that they are now doing it in leather version, you might want to check it out.

Take care.

Lucky said...

Thanks for the tip, Red. I'd been thinking about the Alter Ego jacket for a few months, but I've been turned off by many who claim low quality on JR gear. Glad to hear that you like it; and I'll definitely check out the leather version of it.