Friday, December 12, 2008


As a new motorcycle rider, I'm acutely aware of the statistics mentioned in the Arizona Motorcycle Handbook:
More than half of all crashes occur on motorcycles ridden by the operator for less than six months.
No citations. But I guess these and statistics much like the following one:
In single vehicle accidents, motorcycle rider error was present as the accident precipitating factor in about two-thirds of the cases.
originate from the 1981 Hurt study funded by the NHTSA about Los Angeles area motorcycle accidents.

And you'd think the great state of Arizona with its vast emptiness would have a low accident rate. But it's perineally in the top 3 or 4 when it comes to fatality rates, see official stats for 2006 below (and 3rd worst state for cyclists):

As a newbie on a brand-new bike with questionable skills, clearly the odds are not in my favor. Moreover, given:
Most crashes happen on short trips (less than five miles long), just a few minutes after starting out.
the only logical conclusion is All The Gear All The Time (ATGATT).

And All The Gear means street clothing and jeans which provide essentially zero protection (even against sliding) are out no matter how short the Starbucks trip. You can seriously hurt yourself falling off at 25 mph. Ask any road cyclist with lots of scars, e.g. me. (BTW, it's possible to google and find pictures of even kevlar-reinforced jeans wearing through on 30-40 mph get-offs.)

Instead, it makes sense to have head-to-toe coverage of body parts against abrasion on tarmac from the use of motorcycle grade leathers and impact mitigation in the form of body armor.

From the wikipedia entry on Motorcycle Safety:
One of the main reasons motorcyclists are killed in crashes is because the motorcycle itself provides virtually no protection in a crash. For example, approximately 80 percent of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death; a comparable figure for automobiles is about 20 percent.
In other words, if I come off that motorcycle, chances are, I'm getting hurt.

Of course, accident avoidance through vigilance, formal training and practice are paramount, but ATGATT is the only backup left when an unfortunate chain of events happens, either through operator error - be it brain fade or inadequate skill - or because of circumstances beyond my control - automobiles violating the motorcyclist's right of way being the most common cause of motorcycle accidents.

Okay. My gear? Here's what I came up with given a combination what was locally available to try on and internet shopping. (Since fit is critical for optimal safety, I bought everything locally except for the pants.)

I appear completely overdressed and totally uncool compared to the majority of riders I see in Tucson on their sportbikes but I believe this gear should have significant advantages. Here is a breakdown:

Equipment Description Cost
Helmet Shoei RF-1000. Size S. The middle helmet of their full face line. Has reinforced fiberglass, sophisticated venting/anti-fogging and comfort features.

Must fit tightly yet be comfortable. Squishes my cheeks.
Jacket Alpinestars RC-1 jacket. Size 48. Full-grain 1.2-1.4mm leather. Elbow and shoulder armor. Soft chest protector.

Surprised only a foam back pad included. Yet has an aerodynamic hump. Go figure.
A higher-end model than I'd set out to buy, but at the local store they had a special order error. Came in my size, european 48 (really small). As a result, it was on sale for $100 off.

I added a hard Dainese spine protector ($79).
$400 + $79
Pants Alpinestars Bat leather pants. Size 48 (american 32). Has soft knee protectors and a couple of other minor bits of padding only.

Hmm, Alpinestars doesn't claim full-grain 1.2-1.4mm leather for this model. Nor does it have any cushioned hard plastic protectors. But it does integrate with the RC-1 jacket - they zip together - and it was on close-out at $100 off in my size.
Boots Alpinestars Web Gore-tex leather boot. Shin guard. Toe and heel bits. Minimal ankle protection.

I worry about the ankle protection here and there is nothing in the back either. But it's a lot less expensive than fully-featured race boots, which are probably uncomfortable to walk in.
Gloves Alpinestars SP-2 full-grain leather gloves with extended wrist protection. Has carbon-fiber knuckles. And finger knuckle protection. $89

I am not going to total this up :-)

Despite the cost, apart from the jacket, surprisingly nothing is quite top-of-the-line in terms of armor etc.

(And, I forgot to include my Nathan safety vest for nighttime riding. Well, that was $25, a veritable bargain.)

Despite the sticker shock, I'd much rather spend $1K on safety gear than $1K more on the motorcycle. Still, the cost involved is only slightly less frightening than the prospect of a motorcycle accident without such stuff.

A view of the cosmetic (?) aero hump, wonder if it offers any additional protection:

Finally, not only does it look supremely dorky, I'd like to point out none of this is especially comfortable to walk around in either.

First, everything is pre-curved for the riding position down to the knuckles. Secondly, it all weighs a ton - well, I checked this morning on my bathroom scale:

Description Weight
Me 66.9 kg (147 lbs) - post-marathon bonus.
plus base layer 67.2 kg (148 lbs)
plus ATGATT 76.0 kg (168 lbs)

That's 20 lbs of motorcycle gear! And I hope I never need it.


  1. Your setup is the perfect setup for road racing, leather will slide down pavement at 100mph without wearing through unlike cordura nylon, but you're going to find it very limiting for commuting. It will be way, way too hot once the weather warms up, especially the jacket and the pants.

    My recommendation for warm weather gear is Olympia Moto Sports' nylon mesh panel jacket and pants. They're reinforced with Cordura nylon at various wear points and have EU-spec armor in them (but you'll probably want to use your back protector with them), unlike all other mesh jackets that I came across, which are polyester (which has far less abrasion resistance than Cordura nylon while being heavier). I estimate they have about half the protection of leather, but dying of heat stroke kills you just as dead as dying of being hit by an idiot, and I reluctantly decided they were "good enough" despite my desire to have the best protection available. They will certainly handle a normal crash on local freeways as well as anything would, your biggest problem there would be getting run over by someone behind you (my personal nightmare, someone suddenly veering into my lane and knocking me off my bike and someone behind me going CRUNCH driving right over me and then no gear in the world is gonna do me any good).

    Unfortunately they aren't available locally in most areas, I had to ride to San Francisco to find someone who had them in northern California so I could wear them. Their sizing is somewhat odd so I wouldn't recommend buying without trying. Ride Now there in Tucson might have them, otherwise you'll need to take a road trip to the BMW dealers up in Phoenix.

    Oh yeah, when it gets *really* hot outside, above 95F or so, you'll need an evaporative vest to go under your ventilated jacket, otherwise the hot air will overheat you. You can get these at a construction supply store. Carry a 3 gallon Zip-Lok bag and some water in your top box for re-wetting it from time to time. Ride Now also has an evaporative cooling "tie" that has water-absorbing gel in it to put around your neck. Also, pouring water into your helmet from time to time then putting it back on will help keep your head cool, which is a big gain in hot weather. Desert riding on a motorcycle can be fun, but you have to be careful or else heat stroke will take you down.

    PS - welcome to motorcycling :-).

  2. Nice gear!

    The comment about heat equipment is well made. Having a Mesh jacket that can fit your back protector may be a worthwhile addition. When you look for one, try to ride around in it. Good design is probably crucial here, since there is always a tradeoff between air flow, protection and appearance.

    I have an "airflow" jacket made by BMW (the only thing I have that bears a BMW tag), and it does the job well. I wear it all the time, and throw a windbreaker on it during winter. I don't bother with pants since it's hard to put it on/off at work. (office has a big window with a lot of traffic going by :) Probably I should find some kind of knee protector that is easy to snap on.

    If you commute a lot, don't forget to get a reflective vest from the safety supply store next to Cycle gear. They have quite a selection, including some mesh vests that are visible in the dark and easy to fold up. They also sell reflective tapes that you can on your saddle bags as well. If you are not riding one of the noisy Harleys, it probably won't hurt to help people see you on Oracle Rd. It is a bit scary how distracted drivers are when you start observing them on a motorcycle. Looking dorky probably isn't a bad idea.

  3. Hey Sandiway-

    I just bought my first bike, an f650gs. I came across your blog when i was considering what kind of a bike to get. I'm stoked with my bike. I need to buy some boots. After having some experience with your current setup, do you have any recommendations on boots? ...anything you'd do differently if you could do it all again? I'm interested in touring. Thanks man.
    keep the rubber side down,