Motorcycle and scooter riders are extremely vulnerable both on the road, as well as on the race track. The following provides some detail regarding how you can ride as safely as possible.
Right now there is a vast array of helmets available on the market that conform to the eligible safety standards. Costs vary enormously and can range from sub $100 through to over $1000.
So what should you look for when buying a helmet?
In a nutshell there are two basic types of helmet, the open face and the full face. The full face helmet is distinguishable from the open face by having a chin bar that passes in front of the chin and in most road applications a visor integral with the design.
There are of course variations such as dirt bike full face helmets that do not have a visor but are designed to be worn with goggles. Another variant is the swivel bar helmet that features a chin bar that rotates upwards allowing the helmet to function as an open face. A useful function that allows eating and talking etc without the need to remove the helmet.
In the open face market there are of course the traditional helmets much favoured by riders of classic machines and cruisers. These tend to be quite basic although the level of comfort and construction can vary enormously with high end open face helmets costing over $300. For those who seek the best of both worlds but favour the open face design, there are those that feature a built in peak and drop down visor system.
Obviously the full face helmet will provide better protection against rain and debris as well as facial protection in a crash due to its construction, but for some people the freedom offered by the open face is a key motivation for purchasing. As the saying goes “you pays yer money and yer makes yer choice”.
Regardless of style and regardless of cost, the most important thing to consider is fit. This is why using a secondhand helmet or borrowed helmet is such a bad idea as no two people share the same head shape – or hygiene come to that.
Anyway, in the case of a full face helmet, bear in mind that the helmet will be new so the foam and lining will compress slightly with use. This is where quality comes into play as generally, the better helmets foam and linings tend to last better, thus retaining a better fit for longer.
Hold the helmet in both hands with the visor forward and open. Locate your thumbs inside the shell, ideally about where the straps connect to the inside of the shell, alternatively actually grasp the straps. If you’re wearing dangly ear-rings, sometimes it’s best to remove them before trying the helmet on. Pull the sides out slightly to compress the foam and expand the shell a little. Then lift the helmet up to your head and slide it over your forehead and rotate slightly backwards and down.The helmet should now be on your head and snugly located so your whole head is inside and you are looking through the visor opening. Do up the strap which can be seat belt type, D ring or similar and adjust the strap so that it secures under the chin without being too tight or too loose. Ideally you should be able to slip a finger between the strap and your neck but no more. If the strap is loose then the helmet is loose and it won’t do as good a job in the event of a crash.
The foam inside the helmet should be holding your face so that when you move your head to either side the helmet stays firmly located and turns with you. Remember it will loosen a little with use. Try shaking your head backwards and forwards, the helmet shouldn’t “slop” forwards or backwards. A common mistake is to buy a helmet that is either too big or too small. Too big is as already described, too small is when the helmet pinches the face uncomfortably or creates “pressure spots”. The most common being at the front of the forehead, just above the eyes, where the hard ridge of the visor opening presses against the skin.
Other things to consider are things like; does the chin bar make contact with the chin? Does the lining fold your ears forward uncomfortably? If you put your fingers under the back edge of the helmet can you pull the helmet forwards and over your head?
If the answer to those things is No, then you have made a good choice in terms of fit. Make a note of the size as this will help when trying a helmet from another manufacturer. Be aware that different manufacturers use subtly different shell shapes and linings, some will suit you while others won’t. The only way to get what you want is to try a few before making your decision.
Lastly, it’s important to be aware that helmets have a finite life depending on how often you use them and how well you treat them. A life of five years is commonly accepted among riders. A major drop can result in hairline fractures that can often be invisible to the naked eye. What’s a major drop? Anything from the height of a table or the handlebars will do some damage. The trick is to take care of thing that will take care of you.
Having covered helmets, let’s have a look at protective clothing. A good quality jacket is an obvious place to start and the market is of course full of choice. Here at ARD we support the use of CE approved gear because it has met a standard recognized the world over. The days of the traditional black leather jacket seem to be firmly behind us with most people owning a textile jacket of some sort as well. As we‘re heading into summer,(despite the rain) let’s talk about summer gear.
One of the most common excuses for not wearing safety gear is that it’s too hot. This is true if you’re riding wardrobe consists of a leather jacket or a heavy waterproof. But the fact is that there are numerous cheap mesh jackets on the market for as little as $100. These days nearly all jackets come with some form of integral body armour that covers the forearms and elbows, shoulders and back. In our opinion, at the cheaper end of the market you can get away with cheaper stuff on the premis that something is better than nothing for the arms and shoulders, but while the addition of a sheet of rubber will help to absorb impact to your spine, in some products its main function appears to be simply providing an increased level of abrasion resistance. Personally I like the added protection of a back protector and use a hard plastic “turtle shell” type back protector as often as I can. The main advantage of a hard shell is that it prevents hyper extension of the spine backwards, whereas foam absorbs more impact. They take a little getting used to at the start, but given the permanency of paraplegia, it’s worth it. In the future we hope to try some superior flexible products so keep an eye on our product reviews.
Depending on whether the jacket is a summer mesh type or a heavier waterproof, the advantages of having a textile jacket include airflow and breathability. Once again there are limitations and should you be stuck in traffic and unable to filter, you’ll find that your body heat inevitably increases.
When it comes to pants, the Kevlar reinforced jeans from manufacturers like Draggin Jeans and Hornee etc have certainly come on a long way in design, acceptance in the market and availability. While these reinforced denims have the advantage of being suitable for day to day wear by being light weight, protective and stylish, some of the models have no impact absorbing capability.
When buying, it’s worth considering the dynamics of a single vehicle crash. As an example, very few crashes involve a prolonged slide from first impact to rest on the buttocks or back. A lot involve a fall, followed by tumbling until speed decreases and then finally a slide ensues. As you can imagine, the fall part is totally random in that you can fall on any part of the body first. The tumbling phase usually involves all the sticky out parts like hips, shoulders, elbows, hands, knees and feet. Finally the slide to rest can as random as any of the earlier two phases.
The question you need to ask is “If I fall what parts of my body will become exposed?” Loose clothes tend to move by riding up, or being pulled down, thus moving the Kevlar reinforcement to non-impact points. However they do provide plenty of room for additional armour. Tighter fitting pants are less likely to move and as result the Kevlar reinforcement tends to stay in the areas needed. Ideally, you’d have both, but given the choice I’d opt for the looser fit and wear additional armour like plastic knee guards inside.
Earlier on I mentioned gloves, to out this simply, think of all the things you do with your hands on a daily basis, even a fall from stationary will in a likelihood scrape you hands as you extend them to save yourself. Not wearing gloves on any ride is just dumb regardless of temperature. In summer I and many of my riding friends favour mesh “Rally” type gloves. These have a mesh back, leather palms and armoured fingers and knuckles. Light, cool and easy to use, they’re the minimum protection.
Finally, I’d like to talk about footwear. Time has been the riders friend – and as result the market now offers many options when it comes to protecting your feet with. From short boots, to race boots and enduro boots there’s plenty to choose from. Ideally you need some ankle protection and abrasion resistance – this usually means you need something that covers the ankle and does up securely. Slip on work boots are for slipping on and off, as a result in a crash they usually come off, leaving the rider virtually bare footed. Likewise with runners or fashion shoes, they simply offer nothing in the way of protection. At one end of the scale, many riders use high lace tactical boots as a workaday compromise, and it may be that these offer better protection than some of the more fashion orientated motorcycle style boots available. As a rule of thumb though there is no substitute for the protection offered by purpose made motorcycle footwear.
At this point in time, although there are many that would like to make protective clothing mandatory, we as riders have freedom of choice over what we wear. Also it’s true to say that common sense is remarkably uncommon, as can be witnessed every day on the roads of Australia.
This is a hot country and wearing protective clothing can be a hassle - but at the same time unless riders exercise common sense, even down to taking simple steps like wearing gloves and adequate footwear, the freedom of choice will end up being taken away.
Motorcycling Australia supports the use of technology and design which that makes the use of motorcycles safer, without interfering with the enjoyment or practicality of the motorcycle.
ABS has been available for many years on high end machines and in recent times has been starting to appear on mid-range machines. This may well change over the next few years as the European Commission is set to propose to the European Council and Parliament new laws that will require all motorcycles and scooters above 125cc to be fitted with ABS. 125cccc and below will be required to have combined braking systems. The current proposal is that this would take place and be in force by 2017.
Given that ABS has become so sensitive and effective, that Australian racer Karl Muggeridge who recently won the German Superbike Championship on a Combined-ABS fitted CBR1000RR said, he had complete faith in the system at race pace. This will undoubtedly be a good thing.
When it comes to traction control, once again there are new developments emerging all the time and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes far more widespread. Currently it’s only high powered machines enjoying the benefits of traction control and in so doing raises all sorts of questions regarding its purpose. Is it a performance aid masquerading as a safety air or is it a safety aid that lets you go faster more often? Time will tell.
Regardless of the answer to that question, we’re looking forward to riding more motorcycles equipped with TC so we can bring you our thoughts and perspective.