A week ago, I was at a family gathering that included at least three people, including myself, who ride motorcycles. The other two were my cousin Marc and my brother-in-law Mike.
Over the course of the afternoon, the three of us and some of the others in attendance discussed various aspects of riding — touring, different sorts of bikes, etc. — and inevitably safety.
Marc, who lives in Minnesota, said he always wears riding pants and jacket but doesn’t always don a helmet. They’re not required in that state.
I didn’t tell him this — though he may end up reading it here, since he’s a Facebook friend and I also post links to the blog there — but that seems like a fairly ridiculous strategy. I’d feel safer riding stark naked with a helmet than I would with all the gear but a helmet.
What I do is wear full safety gear when the temperature is cold or cool, but when things start to heat up in the springtime, I begin not wearing all of it. First thing to go is the riding pants — I let jeans suffice — and on the hottest days, I skip the jacket too.
But I always wear boots, long pants and a helmet (required here), and unless I’m just going, say, from the DH to Subway, I always wear gloves.
My brother-in-law Mike, a retired firefighter, said he refuses to ride without wearing everything.
“I’ve scooped too many of those guys up off the road,” he said.
I’m sorry for those guys, obviously. But my reaction was basically, that’s them and I’m me, and when it’s really hot it’s really uncomfortable to be all geared up, and I have 38,000 accident-free miles — probably at most half of them in full gear — that say I’m a pretty skilled and careful rider.
And as I alluded to earlier, a helmet is, by a mile, the single most important piece of safety equipment, especially at medium to slow speeds. Look at this way: You get hit head-on by a log truck on a highway, none of the gear is going to help, but if you get into some mishap at 30 mph, a helmet is what will make the difference between dying and walking away unhurt, or maybe just with a broken leg or arm.
Bottom line: Riding a motorcycle is somewhat risky, certainly more risky than driving a car, but not nearly as dangerous as a lot of riders and non-riders alike might have you believe. Here’s what I would say: If, on a risk scale of 1 to 10, driving a car is a 1 and, say, going over Niagara Falls in a barrel is a 10, I would say motorcycling is a 3, tops, if you’re a proficient and attentive rider.