It happened to me, it could happen to you
By Gigi Pridmore
You’ve probably heard it said “All the gear, all the time.” And we think, “It’s so hot,” or “I’m not going far,” or “Really? I’m not a racer.” I know, I’m guilty of it too. At the track, I’m dressed in leathers; well made, protective, sponsor-plastered, red, white and blue Zooni race leathers. I even wear a back protector, a top-of-the-line pair of Sidi boots, a new SHOEI helmet and a pair of Held Titan gloves. When I ride in the dirt, I’m wrapped-up like the Michelin man (with respect to Dunlop, they don’t have a man). I don’t want to crash, but if I do, I don’t want to get hurt. I’m ready to ride!
But on the street I have mostly been, “Most of the gear, almost all the time.” Until that beautiful, sunny February day.
Reg and I had met friends at the Rock Store for breakfast and were having an enjoyable Sunday ride. We ran into Jay Leno there that morning and had to get the picture! Heading home, two-up on our Honda CB1000R, we came around a blind, slightly downhill right-hander on Mulholland Highway. Scattered across the road was sand. Not just a little sand, deep sand, as if someone had put it there on purpose. From my pillion position, I was looking through to the right of Reg’s helmet and my very first thought was “That’s sssss…”—and I was on the ground sliding. The front-end tucked so fast I couldn’t complete the thought! I was on my back thinking, “OK, this isn’t so bad, hopefully I’ll stop soon and not hit anything.” Thankfully I came quickly to a stop without further ado.
Cool. Reg was up, now I needed to get up to warn the other riders behind us (my ‘CLASS instructor’ mentality went into action). But it was very hard to get up, and once I did, I was having severe trouble walking. Friends behind stopped and Reg and our doctor friend Dean helped guide me to the side of the road to sit down. I was starting to go into shock.
The reason for the injury? When I came off the bike, I landed on my knees. My new blue jeans were ruined and I was bleeding. I couldn’t look, but my knees—once my best feature—now had deep divots in them full of sand and gravel. In addition, my femoral nerves had gone into shock and my knees and legs didn’t want to work at all. The bike was hardly damaged and not really realizing it, Reg said, “OK lady, let’s get back on and ride home.” I said, “You can ride, I think I’ll catch a lift.” Then Reg’s knee started to swell (the bike had landed on it and he was bleeding too). An ambulance ride was our best option.
So we created the scene, and what a scene it was. CHP and fire trucks and really cute firemen/paramedics were assisting us. Bicycles and Harleys and everything in between were slowly threading their way through the mayhem, gawking. Thankfully we had our sense of humor about us. And then we were unceremoniously pushed into the ambulance and taken to the hospital emergency room. Did I mention it really hurt? Neither one of us had anything else wrong with us; our protective gear (of which we wore all, except for the jeans) had done its job. All of this—plus several months recovering—because we had on blue jeans and not our riding pants with knee armor. Those were home in the closet.
And that’s why I’m on the soapbox. We know a lot of motorcyclists and I could tell you story after story about riders getting hurt because they weren’t dressed for the crash. And often it was just something so close and innocent as to be within a mile of their home or work. Accident statistics point out that most crashes happen close to home, so a short trip is no excuse to skip the riding gear. I talk to a lot of people who need to get gear to attend our school—because gear is a requirement. And the conversation usually goes something like this:
Student: Well, I have a jacket and a helmet.
Me: OK, great. Is it a motorcycle jacket and does it have armor in the elbows and shoulders and does it fit well? You know if you go down you want the padding the stay in place. Is it made of quality materials like good leather (not all leather is the same) or Carbolex textile? Does it have quality abrasion resistant materials like Kevlar? Now you need some good motorcycle pants, good boots, good gloves. Oh, and how’s your helmet? We recommend it be five-years old or newer and undamaged. Some other things to think about: Are the stitches well-done of quality thread? Are the seams hidden or are they right in the spot that will get worn away as you’re sliding down the road in a crash? Is the armor CE approved? Don’t just trust that if it says ‘motorcycle gear’ it’s quality. Use your brain, research, and be proactive in choosing good riding gear.
I don’t really go through that extreme interrogation, but these would be the things I would be looking for if I were buying. If the rider is super-inquisitive, I’ll give ’em all I’ve got.
Student: Well, can I rent something? I’m not a racer.
Me: Possibly, but let’s talk about your gear first. You know, I would really recommend (yes, now I’m meddling) that you get some quality clothing to ride in, even on the street. Let me tell you about riding in blue jeans…
Actually, I haven’t told that story too many times, but occasionally…
They often tend to resist and I know it’s partially from ignorance, partially from rationalization (I’m not going to crash today), and partially from wanting to get away with the lowest investment they can in gear. “A back protector? No way! I don’t race!” Let me tell you about my street riding friend who went down on the road after hitting something slippery in a sweeping turn. He slid back first into the curbing on the other side of the road and was extremely grateful that he always slipped his back protector on under his well-made textile suit. And he’s never been on a racetrack in his life.
I also mention that when it comes to gear, you get what you pay for. If you say the $59 or $79 cheaply made jacket offered by the local motorcycle chain is better than nothing, you’re right. But when it comes to your safety, do you really want to settle for “better than nothing?” Or would you rather walk away glad that you invested some hard-earned dosh in protecting yourself from the “what ifs?”
When it comes to tech inspection at CLASS, we have a wide-variety of gear that we’ll allow. But keep in mind, we also mention this in our liability release—you sign that you are comfortable that your gear will be adequate. We can’t police the world. So get yourself armed with some good information about what’s available and what’s best, and remember that you get what you pay for. Whether you go for leathers or textile gear, be proactive in choosing good-quality gear.
What about helmets? Is it a quality helmet like the Shoei that I wear? Does your helmet fit properly? After almost every crash I’ve seen, we look at the helmet and note that this guy or that gal would have had some serious facial damage without their full-face helmet. How much is your head worth? Updated standards and new technology mean that newer helmets are better and safer than old ones. And safety standards such as SNELL exist for a reason. How much is your head worth? I say mine’s worth a lot, so I pay for a really good Shoei helmet.
Boots: In a crash your feet can get flung far and wide or land under the bike or hit something else. A broken ankle will likely be a lifelong reminder of that day. I know because I’m married to an ex racer—there are a few injuries he still lives with daily. But remember, it can happen on the street as well as the track.
Gloves: I love a great pair of gauntlet gloves with armored knuckles and wrist guards and seriously good kangaroo skin, among other things. And they are not cheap—because they are well made of good-quality materials. I have seen people wearing soft deerskin work gloves at our schools, or motocross gloves that are cloth and made for dirt, not asphalt. Let me ask you this: Do you need your hands tomorrow? I need mine. I’m wearing the best gloves I can find.
Since the crash, Reg and I have only ridden on the street a few times. The reason is that I haven’t taken the time to get adequate pants to go with our good jackets (those pants in the closet now look marginal to me). Believe it or not, the times we have gone out we have worn our CLASS leathers! Oh yeah, we get some looks, especially in the restaurant 🙂 As we get further from that fateful day, it’s easy to think, ‘these jeans will work.’ STOP! Don’t do it. I learned from this experience, and I hope I can spare you some pain and aggravation with the lesson learned.
Footnote: Reg and I are super excited this year because in May we’re heading to England and the Isle of Man for a motorcycle adventure with 15 of our closest friends. The good folks at TourMaster have lined us up with some nice protective, waterproof motorcycle clothing. Held USA has us fitted us for some excellent new waterproof gloves, Sidi has our feet warm and dry with their Gore-Tex street boots and SHOEI has us stylin’ and well protected in new X-14 helmets. Thank you very much to these fine companies.