By Scott Grayson
Guys like James Dean and Steve McQueen made the rebellious style of motorcycles cool. But dying on a chopper because you lacked the necessary safety gear is something not even Dean or McQueen could make hip.
More than 4,600 motorcyclists died in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That was a 2 percent increase from the year before, and one can expect those statistics to rise, especially when more states like Michigan are easing standards on wearing helmets. But state governments and worried mothers can breathe a sigh of relief as motorcycle gear is becoming more mainstream and technologically advanced than it has ever been. Motorcycle accessories like helmets, jackets, boots and gloves are as cool as they are safe.
Most fashion designers would break out in a Michael Jackson dance if their clothing was shown off on a New York catwalk. Motorcycle style has officially hit the big time.
The Joe Rocket Reactor 3.0 Hybrid, found at Motosport.com, sounds more like a sci-fi device than apparel. But this particular jacket is equipped with a FullFlex System, which — to skip the science-y jargon — has the top of the line mobility material, shoulders and elbows that are protected with C.E.-approved armor, a reflective stripe and spine pad protection features that are removable.
Spine protection is vital when it comes to motorcycle safety. There are at least four kinds of spinal injuries that can occur during a motorcycle accident, thus more and more motorcycle jackets are coming equipped with protection features specifically for the spine. Most spine protection comes from plastic or kevlar inserts, but the HIt Air jacket is basically a wearable air bag for motorcyclists. And although it may not make the fashion trend catwalk, it protects the rider’s vitals — the neck, spine and organs. The jacket is connected to the motorcycle by a coiled wire. If the rider is thrown off the bike, the wire is pulled, setting off air bags built in the jacket that inflate within 0.25 seconds.
Thankfully, motorcyclists have all sorts of options for cool looking jackets that come equipped with the latest in protective features.
The risk of death from injury for motorcyclists not wearing a helmet jumps to 40 percent, reports MotorcycleAccident.com, which makes one wonder how anyone could take such a risk not wearing one.
But even though 28 states don’t require riders to wear a helmet, riders are wearing helmets more, and comfort, style and technology are playing a large part in this. Take the Scully P-1, for example. It features a digital head-up display that gives the rider a 180-degree view through the inside of the shield. With a battery life of nine hours, it makes a useful tool for daily drives. And the black and white, aerodynamic style would even have James Dean sacrificing his hairdo just to wear it.
Boots and gloves
Every crash on a skateboard or roller blades? Remember those wrist sprains and deep raspberries you’d get? Multiply that by a 100 and you’ll be sure to remember to wear protective boots and gloves when riding your chopper. However, be cautious to which kind you buy and be sure they fit not only your hands well, but around the handles of the bike, too. If they don’t grip well, then it makes all the difference in comfortable — and safe — riding.
Wearing flip flops or tennis shoes on a motorcycle is as bad as eating ice cream with ketchup. They just don’t go together. Wearing leather boots can prevent both road rashes or burns in an event of a crash. Tall boots can also protect from stones that are kicked up, insects and also provide better traction.
ATGATT – All The Gear, All The Time.
ATGATT is an acronym that means “all the gear, all the time”. It is a reference commonly made my motorcyclists to refer to the practice of riding with all your gear. Helmet, jacket, pants, gloves and boots. These elements are considered standard riding wear. Each element offers protection in the event the rider should “go down” or “have an off”, meaning the rider was involved in an accident.
Many riders have a personal view on ATGATT and it’s important that you develop your own view tailored to fit your own level of safety when riding. Some states in the US don’t have helmet laws. Even there many riders adhere to ATGATT.
ATGATT, to many, is common sense, as it saves lives and lessens the extent of many injuries when accidents do happen.
ATGATT has an added benefit in that many manufacturers of motorcycle apparel include high reflective material in their product’s construction. Thus, by riding with ATGATT, you become more visible to drivers around you on the road.
It’s completely your choice whether you ride with protective gear all the time or not. Many believe this freedom of choice should be expressed by riding with no gear at all. While there is no doubting the visceral thrill this can bring to a rider, even a casual tip over in a parking lot can bring serious injury. Some riders argue it’s their choice and only they are impacted by an repercussions.
The fact is, however, that if you are injured in a motorcycle accident, your family and friends are impacted, and often the emergency services that tend to you are either wholly or partially funded from tax payers dollars. Thus an argument can be made that any accident requiring a response affects all members of the community. Accidents requiring more trained responses or a deeper level of care cost more, so essentially riding with ATGATT helps us all.
Regardless of which side of the argument you are on, the fact remains: riding with your gear all the time will protect you more.
Do motorcycle helmets interfere with the vision and hearing of riders?
Motorcycle crash statistics show that helmets are about 29 percent effective in preventing crash fatalities. That is, on average, riders wearing a helmet have a 29 percent better chance of surviving a crash than riders without a helmet.
Opponents of mandatory state motorcycle helmet laws, however, have suggested that although effective in reducing injuries, helmets may increase a rider’s risk of crashing by interfering with the ability to see and hear surrounding traffic.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sponsored a study to assess the effect of wearing a helmet upon the ability of motorcycle riders
- to visually detect the presence of vehicles in adjacent lanes before changing lanes, and
- to detect traffic sounds when operating at normal highway speeds. National Public Services Research Institute conducted the study for NHTSA.
Fifty motorcyclists of various ages and riding experience participated in the study. The riders drove their own motorcycles along a prescribed test route. The route was 5 and a half miles on a four lane divided highway. In the vision test, the riders were asked to change lanes periodically, whenever they heard a signal from a following vehicle. When they heard the signal, riders were instructed to turn their heads to check traffic in the adjacent lane, and then make the lane change in their normal manner. Each rider drove the test route three times; once each while wearing a full coverage helmet, a partial coverage helmet, and no helmet. The degree of head rotation riders made during the lane changes was measured.
To assess the effect of the different helmets upon hearing, the volume of the sound signal used to prompt the lane change was systematically varied. The minimum sound level (auditory threshold) was recorded for each rider. Half of the riders were in the vision test and half in the hearing test condition.
The vision test showed that most riders recover the lateral field of view that is lost by wearing a helmet by turning their heads a little farther. Before changing lanes, 19 of the 23 riders compensated for the loss by turning their heads more when they were wearing a helmet than when they were not wearing one. These riders did not require significantly more time to turn their heads to check for traffic. Only four riders did not compensate.
Helmet use did not hamper the ability of riders to see traffic or increase the time needed to visually check for nearby traffic. Overall, any negative interference of helmets on rider vision appears to be minor, especially in comparison to the protection offered by helmets should a crash occur.
The hearing test showed that there were no significant differences in the riders’ ability to hear the auditory signals regardless of whether they were wearing a helmet or not. There was a difference, however, in the hearing threshold between travel speeds of 30 and 50 mph. At the greater speed, all riders needed a louder auditory signal because of increased wind noise. For any given speed, helmets neither diminished nor enhanced hearing.
These results indicate that wearing helmets does not restrict the ability to hear auditory signals or the likelihood of seeing a vehicle in an adjacent lane prior to changing lanes. The information in this study will benefit motorcycle safety advocates across the nation seeking information about the impact of helmet usage on motorcyclists’ vision and hearing.
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Five key points to safe riding.
Assume you are invisible to other drivers.
Don’t ever assume another driver knows you’re there. Adhere to the attitude that no one else on the road is concerned with your personal safety. Learn to use a riding strategy like SEE (search, evaluate, execute) to manage the roadway and traffic. You can learn SEE in a basic or advanced training course.
Look where you want to go.
It’s called visual directional control. Keep your head and eyes oriented 3-4 seconds ahead of you when cornering. You can get instruction and practice in this technique in a basic or advanced training course. In an emergency, do not stare at the guardrail, the gravel shoulder or the oncoming car –– chances are you’ll hit whatever you’re trying to avoid. (The term for this is target fixation.)
Use precise inputs to the handgrips, not body lean, to lean the motorcycle. When you countersteer, you initially turn the handlebars in the opposite direction you think you should. Press forward on the right handgrip, the bike leans right. Press forward on the left handgrip, the bike leans left. (Note: countersteering is not how you turn a motorcycle; it’s how you lean a motorcycle.) You can learn to use this technique in a controlled setting by taking a basic or advanced training course.
Use both brakes.
Your front brake provides 70 percent or more of your stopping power in an emergency. Squeeze , do not grab, the front brake, and keep squeezing, increasing the squeezing pressure until you’ve slowed sufficiently or stopped. Untrained riders are often afraid to use the front brake, for fear of flipping over. Trained riders know better. You can learn how to use your front brake for maximum braking in a basic or advanced training course.
Never stop riding the bike.
Don’t ever give up control of your motorcycle. “Laying it down” is not a strategy. The person with the most control of any situation is you. Look where you want to go, countersteer or use maximum braking to avoid a crash. You can get instruction and practice in all these techniques by taking a basic or advanced training course.
Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety
Group riding tips.
Arrive on time with a full tank of gas.
Hold a Rider’s Meeting.
Discuss things like the route, rest and fuel stops, and hand signals. Assign a lead and sweep (tail) rider. Both should be experienced riders who are well-versed in group riding procedures. The leader should assess everyone’s riding skills and the group’s riding style.
Keep the Group to a Manageable Size.
Ideally five to seven riders. If necessary, break the group into smaller sub-groups, each with a lead and sweep rider.
At least one rider in each group should pack a cell phone, first-aid kit and full tool kit, so the group is prepared for any problem that they might encounter.
Ride in Formation.
The staggered formation allows a proper space cushion between motorcycles so that each rider has enough time and space to maneuver and to react to hazards. The leader rides in the left third of the lane, while the next rider stays at least one second behind in the right third of the lane; the rest of the group follows the same pattern. A single-file formation is preferred on a curvy road, under conditions of poor visibility or poor road surfaces, entering/leaving highways, or other situations where an increased space cushion or maneuvering room is needed.
Periodically Check the Riders Following in your Rear View Mirror.
If you see a rider falling behind, slow down so they may catch up. If all riders in the group use this technique, the group should be able to maintain a fairly steady speed without pressure to ride too fast to catch up.
Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety
Encountering an Animal
Animals are unpredictable, so be prepared. Slow down well before you reach an animal. Use your horn. If it looks like the animal will intercept you, speed up to no more than the speed limit as you approach it. This can throw off the animal’s timing.
Use Both Brakes to Stop.
If a larger animal, like a deer, jumps out in front of you, use emergency braking (applying both front and rear brakes) to stop as quickly as possible.
If you are unable to stop in time and/or contact is imminent after maximum braking, and you have room in the lane, attempt to swerve slowly behind the animal.
In the past decade, fatl deer-motorcycles collisions have gone up by nearly five times than the previous decade. Review the stats from the past 22 years in this infographic.
How to Respond at the Scene of a Motorcycle Crash
If you witness a motorcycle crash, the response time can be critical. EMS should be contacted immediately, but proper training could prepare you to respond to a motorcycle crash as you wait for help to arrive.
Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety
Detection of impaired
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed a set of fourteen behavioral cues that can be used by law enforcement personnel to accurately detect motorcyclists who are operating their vehicles while intoxicated.
The cues have been labeled as “excellent predictors” and “good predictors” based on study results. The excellent cues predicted impaired motorcycle operation 50 percent or more of the time. The good cues predicted impaired motorcycle operation 30-49 percent of the time.
Excellent Cues (50+ percent probability)
Drifting during a turn or in a curve
Trouble with dismount
Trouble with balance at a stop
Turning problems (unsteady, sudden corrections, late braking, improper lean angle)
Inattentive to surroundings
Inappropriate or unusual behavior
Weaving (note that riders will swerve to avoid hazards and often utilize various positions within a traffic lane to be seen by other drivers or to avoid hazards)
Good Cues (30-49 percent probability)
Erratic movements while going straight
Operating without lights at night
Following too closely
Running a stop light or stop sign
Travelling the wrong way in a lane
Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety