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Why do I feel vaguely uncomfortable when I encourage fellow riders to think and act in a proactive, safety conscious manner? Like the too-chatty co-worker at lunch, it feels like I am somehow intruding, even unwelcome, in this macho world of motorcycles.
I don’t even have to see how any given rider handles his/her motorcycle, as a casual glance at riders’ apparel tells me heaps about their safety attitude. From the cruiser pilot’s statement with the fake beanie and fingerless fashion gloves to the crotch-rocket jockey in running shoes, shorts and a tee — they are only deluding themselves about being good riders. Safety doesn’t just mean wearing proper gear, but it is a very visible expression of attitude and safety awareness. Unfortunately, far too many of the visible attitudes tell me all the wrong things. Five seasons of brief weekend rides and regular commuting to the donut shop do not a rider make… and the immortality of youth does not save one from painful reality when pushing the envelope goes awry.
In Pat Hahn's book, "Ride Hard — Ride Smart," he breaks common sense proactive safe riding into what he has labelled the "Three Degrees of Separation." This is the separation which exists between safe and enjoyable riding and the dire consequences of being unprepared. From the bottom up, this includes:
1. Defensive Riding Strategy.
2. Training Skills
3. Riding Gear
Believe it… Good protective gear is your backup in case the first two lines of defence crumble. But wearing protective gear is not just about saving one’s hide in a worst-case scenario calamity. Good gear is about attitude — about being safety proactive and about being prepared before you get on the bike.
Buy the best protective equipment that you can afford. Helmet, jacket, pants, gloves, boots… they all contribute to both the safety and comfort of the rider. A cold, wet and tired rider is not safe. A hot and dusty rider with dirt-covered sunglasses is not safe. A sunburned and dehydrated rider is not safe. And so it goes…Good gear improves the long-term comfort of the rider, which in turn also makes him/her a safer rider. Hypothermia, exhaustion, dehydration, heat stress — insidious, silent and potentially deadly for a motorcycle pilot. Not that one is likely to die from dehydration or any other physical stress while actually riding — but the combination of discomfort, stress-induced fatigue and physical impairment of skills might just be enough to cause an otherwise avoidable crash. Good gear protects you long before you are in trouble with the pavement. Isn’t your health and enjoyment worth the investment in comfort and safety?
As motorcyclists, we accept a degree of risk that others might not. But that doesn’t mean we get to thumb our noses at common sense. Wearing the best protective gear won’t automatically improve your riding skills — but it will put you in the right frame of mind to be safety conscious and aware. And that is a vital step in the right direction — a step into the right attitudes and awareness of risk. Ride hard and play safe! — Alison Green