I’ve been riding almost my entire life. I recently made the mistake of saying that “I’ve been riding since before I was born.” OK, so this is likely impossible, but in some ways, reflects how far back I can remember being on a bike. As a kid it didn’t seem so important to wear gear or strap my helmet on. Now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I’m feeling all those crashes that didn’t seem to bother me at the time. My aches and pains are apparent on colder days and any injury I receive seems to have a much larger impact for a much longer period of time these days. (By the end of this year, it is highly probable that I will have spent more time on crutches than off of them)
I’ve been fairly lucky over the past decade, not having had a horizontal relationship with the pavement during that time. This year, however, I’ve already seen two solid crashes, my recent being this last Friday. Neither were big ados, and neither put much fear into me, but BOTH served as a great reminder that gear is not only important, but necessary.
This last crash re-injured my knee from the first crash this year (wearing gear at the TTBC); putting me back on crutches and making me a great candidate for knee surgery. I hobbled away from the slow speed lowside relatively unscathed because I was wearing all my gear… except my motorcycle pants with all the necessary knee armor.
Last week I helped my girlfriend pick her bike up that had been stored at the house of one of her friends. I put on my leather pants, jacket with back protector, boots, grabbed my helmet and gloves, and we were on our way to the East Bay. My trek back was short but involved one of the busiest freeways and bridges in the Bay Area, so it made sense that full gear might end up being helpful. Here’s where my story took a twist: we picked the bike up from her friend who not only owns several bikes but also logs tens of thousands of miles a year. She took one look at me and in what I perceived to be a bit condescending, made a comment about all the gear I was wearing. I don’t meant to single her friend out, but it’s a fairly normal response I get from people.
I’m perpetually confused by this response. By the “it’s so hot” or the “she’s just riding on the back” mentalities. At what point before we get on our bike do we negotiate the importance of the gear over the convenience of it. I’ll point out right now, while I’m icing and elevating my knee, that putting those pants on would have been more convenient than my torn nursing it back to health.
Looking at my crashed gear, I probably would have suffered a broken collarbone and a broken ankle, had I not been wearing my boots and jacket. Not joking. It happened quickly and at slow speeds, but the effects are obvious.
So the question becomes, where is the balance of convenience and safety? The answer is, there isn’t one, and the quest for the Holy Grail of motorcycle gear will never be found.
Several years ago when I decided to transition from riding dirt to riding street, a couple friends of mine pulled me aside to give me a quick slideshow on what will happen if I don’t wear a full face helmet. It’s not that I wasn’t already wearing one, but their love for me was strong enough that they wanted to make a deep impression on my psyche. Let’s just say that it worked. It wasn’t about looking cute with my helmet on, it was about staying cute with my helmet off.
The next question becomes, how do we balance a healthy amount of fear with riding confidence? The answer is, I don’t know. What I do know, is that I respect my motorcycles. I know they will treat me to the most meditative and exhilarating rides, but they’ll also bite. I also know that it’s not a question of if they will bite, but when they will. To quote the profound the words of Def Leppard; “love bites, love bleeds, It’s bringing me to my knees.”
At the end of the day it’s up to every individual to figure out what the most practical solution is for their gear. My personal choice is to suck it up and wear All The Gear All The Time (ATGATT). It will make riding more enjoyable, ease my mind, and hopefully save me from another three months on crutches. I consider gear to be a cheap insurance policy and a sanity saver.