BEYOND THE BIKE
The gear you wear is just as important as your cycle
Creators News Service
The big, shiny motorcycle is sitting in your garage, and your dream of taking to the road is about to come true. But before you head out, you'll need to make sure you're properly attired. Having the right gear is as important as choosing the right bike.
"Buying a bike is only the beginning," said Andy Ruppel, general manager of AJ Cycle and Trike Conversions in Jasper, Ind. "In order to ride comfortably and safely, you need to protect yourself from the elements, keep warm and dry, and have impact and abrasion protection in the event of an accident."
Whether a rider is on a bike, trike (the three-wheeler increasingly favored by baby boomers) or scooter, the helmet is the most important piece of equipment.
"Laws vary from state to state, but we say wear a helmet, wear a helmet, wear a helmet," said Ty Van Hooydonk, spokesman for Discover Today's Motorcycling, a sister organization of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. "And make sure it's a real helmet -- not a fake beanie helmet -- with a Department of Transportation label indicating it has the right inner liner and padding. We recommend a full-face helmet that also has eye protection."
Sturdy, comfortable boots that don't interfere with the operation of the controls are another necessity, and protective gloves are essential.
"Typically when you tip over, you put your hand down to catch the fall," Van Hooydonk said. "You don't want to do that at 30 [miles per hour] unless you're wearing a pair of armored leather gloves."
"Armored" means that the hand is protected from injury by such materials as leather, plastic and titanium. Ruppel said ideally a rider has one pair of gloves with insulation and gauntlet cuffs for cold weather and a lighter, vented pair for summer.
Jackets made of abrasion-resistant leather or ballistic nylon should provide shoulder and elbow protection, ventilation and plenty of pockets. Pants should have armored panels to pad the knees and shins.
"It will feel a little like you're wearing football padding," Van Hooydonk said. "But you can hit the ground and not feel it."
He said gear manufacturers constantly monitor what happens in accidents to improve their products.
Wearing jeans when you're riding is not much better than wearing shorts, but if jeans are what you prefer, Ruppel suggested investing in a pair of leather chaps that will fit over them to keep wind and rain off your legs. He said a rain suit is another must-have item to keep in your saddlebag.
"If you ride long enough, it's not a matter of if it will rain, it's when," he said. "On a road trip a rain suit can turn a potential disaster into a minor inconvenience."
He also suggested heated vests, jackets and gloves that run off the motorcycle's charging system and can extend your riding season into the winter.
"Heated garments aren't strictly a necessity," he said. "But they certainly bring the comfort level up a notch."
A useful item for commuters is an overall riding suit that protects business clothes from the elements and can be zipped off and stowed once the rider gets to work. These also sport protective padding and the reflective strips that are critical, no matter what you're wearing.
"We are advocates for conspicuous, bright-colored gear, especially for the upper torso and helmet," Van Hooydonk said. "The more likely cars are to see you, the less likely you'll get into trouble out there. I'd never wear black or camouflage. You don't want to blend in with your surroundings -- you want to pop."
Equipment needs are the same for women riders as for their male counterparts, with manufacturers offering jackets, pants, chaps, gloves and helmets with the styling and fit they demand. Gear for both men and women is available at every price point, but Van Hooydonk said higher prices usually mean lighter, more comfortable and more fashionable equipment. Ruppel added that higher prices usually translate to better quality.
"When you drive a car, you step into the protective suit," Van Hooydonk said. "On a motorcycle, you wear it. If you're wearing the right gear and you have a fall, nothing gets hurt except your ego. Wear all the equipment, and wear it all the time."