Opinion: Protecting Yourself

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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.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Frogg togg chilly pads are great. It looks like a towel but is high tech evaporative cooling.
    Not that I need it this year. My Helite vented jacket ( sometimes with Ventz tucked into the cuffs) has been getting me through this sweltering summer

  2. Ontario Doesn’t the law require you to wear full gear ? I thought if you didn’t and wipe out your insurance company doesn’t have to pay out as much as if you did. I ll never understand the 60 to 70% of BC riders whom just wear glove helmet and maybe jacket. Flip flops 1/2 helmets etc are common. As much as I ll get trolled for saying this , why should ICBC pay out as much if you don’t wear full gear ? The fact is everyone sooner or latter is going down . last time it happen to me was 6 years ago in a rain storm. I got up and walked away due to full gear . Without it I would have got skin graph on my butt etc . With ICBC rates at 100 bucks plus per month for 750 cc up you need to protect yourself to protect you wallet from rates going up .

    • AFAIK, the only thing the law mandates in Ontario is an approved helmet, and not even that if you’re a turban-wearing Sikh and choose not to.

      As for wearing full gear? What is full? What is good enough? Is this really something you want your insurance company dictating to you? “Oh sorry, you weren’t wearing pants with CE-approved armor meeting regulation # so and so, so you’re not fully covered for your injuries.” No, thanks.

  3. I ride in BC summers and I overheat quickly. My present solution is this. Under my gear, mesh jacket and regular riding pants I wear cotton shorts (and undies of course) and T shirt. Approx every 90-120 minutes I stop, take off the outer layer and go swimming. I make sure I get my head under to cool it off as well. Put my gear back on over my wet cloths. My T shirt dries quickly but my “core” stays cool and wet until the next swim spot. And yes I know swimming spots all over BC, there are rivers and lakes everywhere. It is a good 10-15 minute break to cool off, re-hydrate and get ready to ride again. I am like you Mark, live and let live. I always figure that if you don’t feel that your hands and head are worth protecting, then obviously they are not. Darwin award candidates. LOL C

  4. I’m with you on the mesh jacket. Some say that they let too much air through and lead to dehydration. I say those people must live someplace with much drier summer heat than we get anywhere I’ve ridden in eastern North America.

    Did a tour down to the Maggie Valley, NC, and surrounding area in TN, VA, and WV last fall. Mesh jacket all the way.

    Also, on a bike like my R1200RT, you need all the air movement you can get when it’s stinky hot.

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