I had to run a few errands this afternoon and, as I often do when I don’t need to carry much on an errand, I used my motorcycle because I simply prefer to ride on something two-wheels vs. in something with four wheels and, well, it gets about 38 mpg which is nice.
At one of my stops a friend who also rides motorcycles was amazed that I was dressed in full gear despite the 97° temperature and blazing hot sun. I’ve often gotten this from co-workers when they see me walking in from or out to the parking lot on hot days in my jacket, over pants and boots.
I think a lot of it stems from the fact that I started out riding dirt bikes back when I was about 13 years old and we always geared-up because the odds of ending up on the ground was always pretty high, it was a regular occurrence. A few years later when I got my first street bike — a 1977 Honda CB550F SuperSport – I simply carried the habit with me: boots, at least denim pants, a leather jacket, leather gloves and a full-face helmet were the norm. I had an open face helmet as well, but since I always rode sport bikes that didn’t have wind screens, it just made sense to protect your face from bugs, dust, rocks and other ‘stuff’ that came your way on the open road, noting that I would regularly make a 320 mile round trip between our home near Chicago and Kokomo, Indiana.
As the sport bikes I rode got bigger and faster, wearing full gear just seemed to make sense, even though logic seemed to suggest that the guys riding cruisers and choppers with not much more than jeans and T-shirts never seemed all that worse for wear. While living in California I came to know some guys who raced their sport bikes at the various speedways in Southern California and did a couple of track days where I learned the value of a one-piece, full leather suit with padding, full-face helmet, calve-high boots and having gloves that stayed on your hands while a rider was skidding along on asphalt on the way to the grass, gravel trap or desert. Mind you, this was in a place that was designed to be safe when someone crashed, i.e., no curbs, light poles, trees, bridge abutments, guard rails or other immovable objects that could to serious harm to you if you happened to get knocked off your riding line or bike and physics took over.
So, to this day, I still suit-up even when it’s 100° under the premise that “I’d rather sweat than bleed, cause sweat washes off and that’s that”. And, some of the more advanced textile mesh fabrics actually provide for a very comfortable ride even when it’s hot, that is so long as you’re moving and not sitting at a stop light baking in the sun. Over the years this has paid off several times during minor on-road incidents: hey, you ride a motorcycle long enough you’re going to go down and/or have a collision. I’ve had my share of both and only have one scar over a knee to show for it where the denim wore away during a face-down slide across the road after the rear wheel of my Honda washed out on some oil.
For my daily ride to work, it’s typically pretty cool at 6am when I ride in so the extra layer of clothing is actually quite nice. And, as is often times the case, I don’t leave work until about 6:30pm – 7:30pm in the evening, at which point it’s usually a bit cooler. So that all works well.
Yes, Debbie has a full set of riding gear as well: boots, over pants, jackets, gloves, helmets… the whole kit and caboodle. Sadly, I sold our BMW R1150RT touring bike because we just didn’t find the time to go and ride it so her gear collects dust for the most part. Therefore, if and when we ever get another bike for two-up riding, she’s all set and is a trooper about wearing the gear. I think in her soul she’d rather be wearing jean and T-shirt with her hair blowing in the wind on the back of a cruiser… which is true for me too. And, perhaps if we ever got a cruiser and did the slow see and be seen rides that would be OK, but I’d really feel like an idiot if after spending 38-years riding geared-up I found one or both of us covered in road rash (or worse) because we didn’t.
Bottom Line: Is this overkill? Probably. Will I ever ride without full or nearly full-gear (noting I do occasionally forego the over pants), every once in a while I do… and of course when I do that I think to myself, you’re really going to feel like an ever bigger idiot if you wind up getting skin grafts because you didn’t want to bother with over pants today.
Counterpoint: Yes, I freely admit that my logic for safety gear on a motorcycle does not seem to translate to my bicycle attire. When riding our bicycles the only real protection we have is our wits. Sure, that little plastic hat will keep minor bumps, falls and collisions from causing serious damage to your skull, but that’s about it. Those plastic pants and plastic jersey will be shredded the minute they hit asphalt… and given that we bomb down mountains at better than 50 mph now and again, it sure doesn’t seem to make sense. Cest la vie.