It’s stinking hot here in southern Ontario, and that means a lot of riders have been getting sunburned recently. Burned arms, burned knees – the wind is cool while riding, but it dries the exposed skin and deceives the body into feeling comfortable until long past the time the damage is done.
This isn’t a warning you see often on a motorcycle website. Usually, we’re hammering on about All The Gear, All The Time, or ATGATT. We’re telling people to dress for the slide, not the ride, but it rarely makes much difference to the vast majority of casual motorcyclists. Just as some people refuse to wear protective face masks because it infringes on their freedom, and riders south of the border refuse to wear helmets because they don’t like being told what to do, many of us strip down in the summer heat because it’s just too much of a hassle to dress properly.
I used to get hung up about this. I’d see the Harley guys displaying all their tattoos out on the road and shake my head at their stupidity. I’d watch Gold Wing and Virago riders cruise by in shorts and flip-flops and mutter insults under my breath. But not anymore. I’m too old now to care about how you choose to live your life if it doesn’t affect me.
By all means, fall off the back of your friend’s bike while he’s popping a wheelie and begin a career as the Road Rash Queen. Go right ahead and shred yourself when you lose control and slide down the asphalt of a Texas highway. And I’ll go even farther: if you want to bang your unprotected head against the tarmac, knock yourself out, though you’ll likely do much worse than that. It’s your life, and it’s your body to abuse as you choose.
However, as Dustin wrote last week, don’t inflict your poor judgement on anybody else. If you carry a child or teenager on your bike as a passenger, make sure they’re properly dressed even if you aren’t; they’re not experienced enough to recognize how dumb you are. And if your older passenger is new on the pillion, make sure they know enough about the potential consequences of falling off that they can make their own informed decision on how best to dress.
I’ve written here in the past that I like the feel of riding without a helmet, though it’s been seven years now since I last did so because I know it’s a dumb thing to do. I have an obligation to protect myself for those I love, and who love me. It’s also been a long time since I’ve fallen from a motorcycle, but if I should do so again, I don’t want to have a nurse in the ER scraping gravel out of my arms and back with a wire brush, and I don’t want to have road rash scars all over my body. That’s why I always wear a jacket, gloves, and boots when riding. I wear strong jeans knowing that denim rips when sliding, but I don’t want to burn my legs against the engine or pipes.
I discovered the comfort of mesh materials in the heat about a decade ago and I’ve never looked back. When you wear a protective mesh jacket, it’s more effective at cooling than just wearing a T-shirt, because the wind passes through it but then is contained within it. Your T-shirt doesn’t flap and ripple in the slipstream. Most important, you’re fully protected from the asphalt as if you’re wearing a leather or textile jacket, and your skin is fully protected from the Cancer-causing sun.
If you want to get really clever on an especially hot day, you can soak down your T-shirt in cool water, put it on and then put the mesh jacket over it. Without the jacket, the T-shirt would be dry after a few minutes of riding, but with the jacket, it’ll stay cool and damp for considerably longer.
And if you find yourself riding through Death Valley this summer, you should go full circle and wear a regular jacket again over a soaked T-shirt. Shield your skin against any and all wind and sun, which will burn you like a hair dryer held just an inch away. Better yet, stay in the shade or inside. When it’s too hot to dress for the ride, then it’s too hot to ride.