The Government’s ‘Essential Guide to Protective Gear for Bikers’ starts with a stark statement: Fall off your bike and tarmac will shred through your jeans in a second. Many of the worst injuries are not just caused by the impact of hitting the road or building, but also the loss of blood and muscle when a human form is scraped along a surface at high speed.
The only item of protective clothing that is mandatory is the motorcycle helmet, and these must meet various safety standards. A helmet should be the correct size and fit, otherwise it will be uncomfortable and could even lessen its protective qualities.
The steps involve measuring your head with a tape measure, trying various helmets that are the closest to your head size and shape, and check that the helmet fits correctly with regards to head, brow and cheek, and allows manoeuvrability. The SHARP rating system gives an independent score relating to the safety of the helmet. Despite the freedom that riding without a helmet allows, there is no room for compromise here.
So what should we wear on our bikes? The ideal clothing will be practical enough so that the rider’s performance and actions are not impaired, and light enough not to cause exhaustion or overheating, but still tough and thick enough to protect the rider. While you might want to buy items based on looks, aesthetic qualities should be secondary to practicality; that said, anything bright enough so that you are easily seen, particularly at night, must be an advantage.
Clearly the jacket and trousers should fit well – an uncomfortable rider may not be able to concentrate, which adds an extra danger. Zips should never touch bare skin as they will scrape if the rider falls and slides, and joints such as knees and elbows should include integrated body armour for extra protection. Movement should not be restricted – if you have any doubts consult an expert at the dealership. Ordering online is very risky, unless you are buying based on clothes you have previously worn.
Don’t forget footwear when riding; there’s a reason why bikers generally wear boots, and it isn’t just to look good. An ankle that is unprotected is more like to break or suffer ligament damage should an accident occur. According to the guide in the introduction, 19% of hospital admissions for biking injuries involve broken bones in the lower leg. The advice is that the leather should be waterproof and 2.5mm thick as a minimum – metal toecaps should be avoided.
Finally, get a pair of good fitting gloves. If you are thrown from your bike you’re likely to put your hands out, and they’ll suffer the same trauma at high speed as any other part of your body. While wrists and fingers may still break, at least the skin is less likely to be left behind. A good fitting glove, with cuffs to prevent rain getting inside the glove in poor weather, is ideal.