How much is enough?

I've never really understood why a person would want to ride without a helmet. It's just one of those things that makes obvious sense to me; why wouldn't you wear a helmet? Specifically, why wouldn't you wear a full-face (or flip-front) helmet? I mean, even setting aside the totally useful safety aspect, a full-face helmet makes sense because it prevents you from taking small objects to the face, like insects or rock chips or litter.

Plus, high-speed wind makes your hair all poofy. It's not like you're going to come out looking any better than had you worn a helmet. And the latter ensures that you don't arrive at your destination with a bee embedded in your cheek. A bee to the face, y'all. No one wants that.

Well, actually, it seems that some do. All across the United States, there are organisations that work hard to protect motorcyclists' right to consume dragonflies at 80 mph. In the great state of Wisconsin -- home to McCarthyism and the highest number of binge drinkers in the country -- the badly named motorcycling group ABATE (1) takes great pride in keeping helmet laws at bay. Despite the fact that three out of every four motorcyclists killed in Wisconsin accidents were not wearing helmets.

This article suggests ABATE uses underhanded lobbying to achieve its goals but the thing that irks me most about the group is its name. Why would you give your organisation a name that sounds vaguely like a solitary sex act? What names did they go through before arriving at that one, I wonder. How about ALINGUS or UTTSEX?

I digress. The point is that, in general, American motorcycling attitudes toward safety strike me as a bit silly.

But often I feel the prevalent attitudes here in Britain are a step too far in the other direction. Here, the motorcycling press is dominated by racing wannabes who insist upon dressing up like astronauts and who will claim with no apparent irony that a Victory Judge is not a proper bike (2). Helmets are legally required and there is forever talk of making certain protective clothing equally compulsory.

It is said that if you turn up at a UK motorcycle testing centre without protective clothing (jacket, gloves, boots, trousers and high-vis vest) they will refuse to give you the test, despite the fact that such clothing is not required. I'm inclined to believe that is true because when I first took the Mod 2 the examiner grumpily pointed to my trousers and said: "That's not protective gear."

"No," I said. "These are just waterproofs. I've got Kevlar jeans on underneath."

He gave me a look that communicated to me he doubted the veracity of Kevlar jeans and later flunked me.

My feelings on all this are mixed. On one side I can see the value of safety clothing. It is a fact of motorcycling that people sometimes go down, and they often have a lot less trouble getting back up if they're wearing good gear. But on the other side I feel that placing so much emphasis on safety gear can ultimately hurt motorcycling by making it feel too exclusive.

I mean, if I am taken by the idea of the open road and you tell me first I need to invest several thousand dollars/pounds on making myself look like a member of Daft Punk it's going to dampen my spirit. Equally, I'm likely to get spooked at the thought of why I need so much gear; the constant yammering and horror stories may lead me to feel that sliding across the road is far too common an occurrence for my tastes.

The truth is that although bad stuff does sometimes happen, it doesn't always happen. The British ATGATT mentality could lead a novice into thinking otherwise.

But, then, a body covered in road rash is equally dissuasive. And it's important that riders have a reasonable understanding of what they're getting themselves into. Where to draw the line?

For my own part, I like riding with a helmet. Even in my short riding experience I've had things plink off it, so I feel it is a wise choice. Additionally, I wear a scarf (to protect the skin of my neck from windblown items), a leather jacket, gloves, Kevlar jeans and a pair of kick-ass boots. If I had the money, I might buy something like the BMW Summer 2 trousers that is protective but not comical. I think all that gear might make me ATGATT by US standards but there are plenty of UK bikers who would ridicule me into the ground for being too lackadaisical.

How about you? What do you wear on the road? What's "safe" in your opinion? And what's over the top?

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(1) ABATE stands for "A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments," which is a name that has the two-for-one effect of both sounding really gay and really crazy.

(2) I will never stop hating you, Liam Marsden.

Comments

  1. Thank you for all the wonderful press you've given ABATE of Wisconsin. Speaking as an officer, we truly appreciate you mentioning us and all the newspapers who are highlighting all the strengths that make ABATE of Wisconsin a nationally recognized rights organization.

    I'm saddened though that you would blindly paint us as the myopic single-issue organization that all the news stories have. We have done so much more. ABATE of Wisconsin established the Safe Rider Program which has been providing motorcycle safety instruction for over 20 years now. We have received the Motorcycle Training Award of Excellence from the WI Department of Transportation half a dozen times. We have distributed free public service announcements to radio stations across the state to create awareness and save lives. We helped get the motorcycle veterans' plates approved to honor those who have served our country. We've received the Motorcycle Safety Advocate Award from the WI Department of Transportation for outstanding efforts in motorcycle safety. And we've volunteered our time to present the Share The Road program to tens of thousands of driver's ed students to help them be safer drivers.

    If we tend to look "single-issue", it's only because of single-issue media outlets who force us to waste our time every year defending that issue when we obviously would love to be spending our time creating awareness and saving lives through the programs I've listed above.

    The article you cite is extremely one-sided. Our lobby day had nothing to do with helmets and the publishers of this article knew that. They interviewed us and even attended some of our meetings with us. So, to say they're being a bit dishonest would be pretty nice of me. And our grass-roots lobbying operates within all laws - nothing underhanded about it.

    Yes, 3 out of 4 motorcycle deaths in Wisconsin were not wearing helmets. HOWEVER 3 out of 4 deaths didn't occur because of head injuries. The overall reason for motorcycle deaths in this state is because of upper body trauma.

    I appreciate your view on gear and I believe that everyone should have the choice of what to wear when they're riding. Please check all your facts in the future though.

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    1. I was raised in Minnesota. It is my duty to make fun of Sconies. But to a certain extent, I can see where you're coming from. As my post shows, I'm somewhat on the fence. I think people should be wearing gear, but I'm not entirely sure they should be made to wear gear.

      Also, an ABATE member, perhaps y'all could start pushing to allow filtering in Wisconsin, at least at very low or standstill speeds. I'm sure it would benefit any of your riders who get stuck anywhere between Chicago and the Dells on a Sunday afternoon. But also the idea might make its way over to Minnesota.

      (I still think ABATE is a silly name)

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  2. My thoughts:

    Helmet laws are bad because not everything needs to be legislated. There is a prevalent attitude of "there ought to be a law." No, there oughtn't.

    That said, not wearing a helmet is, in no uncertain terms, fucking retarded. Not because you might get killed. Dying is easy. It's because you might survive, mangled and brain-damaged and dependent on others for your basic needs. Jell-O should be a sometimes food. Put a freaking lid on and reduce the risk a bit.

    Also, helmets do an awesome job of protecting your face from tossed cigarettes and the like. They add comfort.

    As for the other gear, wear what you've got, all the time. Getting geared up puts one into a "riding now" frame of mind.

    I think the gear should be budgeted for as part of getting into motorcycling. One can always upgrade, and there is effective gear that doesn't make you look like a severely lost MotoGP racer.

    Though, I have heard that some chicks dig road-grimed astronauts.

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  3. The discussion starts with "whose responsibility is it to be safe on a motorcycle?"

    I'm a firm believer that when you allow government to legislate responsibility, then its citizens become less responsible.

    The most effective piece of motorcycle safety gear is the human brain. But, because of all the safety laws being put in place, fewer motorcycle riders are using their brains. The more government takes care of us, the less we take care of ourselves.

    ABATE is simply providing a lobby that protects us from abusive government. Without ABATE, BOLT, and the other groups like them, government will cave in on the motorcycling community, and legislate it out of existence, similar to what you're experiencing in the UK.

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    1. Well said Steve. Thanks for your input.

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    2. I definitely see your point in terms of not wanting motorcycling to be over-legislated, the way it is in Europe. I guess, though, that helmet laws strike me as a strange hill in which to erect ramparts, if you see what I mean. To a non-rider and several riders, it seems silly to fight such a thing so groups risk getting very little support and sounding like a bunch of anti-government loonies. I'd rather see these groups pushing to allow filtering or for more stringent enforcement of laws against texting and driving, better road surfaces, motorcycle-specific parking, and so on. I am sure that as I say this, +Dean Bartosh will direct me to ABATE pages showing that, in fact, they do this as well...

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  4. LOL! I won't rub your nose in it by directing you to specific pages Chris. But yes, we work on all those issues plus more. We pushed through a piece of legislation last year which increased penalties for drivers who injure or kill motorcyclists. That law was passed unanimously by both houses of our state government. (Something that's almost unheard of with split government!)

    A lot of the things we do attempt to get covered up by the media who's too busy screaming about how ABATE of Wisconsin is supposedly "anti-helmet".

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  5. Oh Chris, how I love to read your writing. Thank you for stepping into an explosive pile of flaming shit by opening this toxic can of worms!

    My political beliefs are Libertarian. As a divorced woman of a maniacal, controlling, fearful asshole, I want my freedoms now more than ever. I don't want anyone, any group, any government, what I can do with my own body.

    That being said, I love riding without a helmet. I simply fucking love it. My hair is such a mess either way it doesn't matter, so that issue is a moot point. But the feeling of not being weighed down by all of the gear, of life, and feeling the complete freedom of riding is why I ride in the first place. I want freedom, no matter the cost. Even if it means my life.

    I know what I'm talking about. At the age of 16 I was in an motorcycle accident that broke my spine and paralyzed me. I was lucky to be young and to heal. That's one of the magical things about the human body ~ we heal. I know SO MANY RIDERS who have been hurt, regardless of gear or no gear, who heal and ride again another day.

    I want to ride nude in the New Mexico desert and I intend to before we leave this state. Somewhere I won't be arrested, of course.

    Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death!" If I die on my motorcycle, that's my choice, isn't it. But I want the freedom to make my own choices!

    Jimi Hendrix said, "I'm the one that has to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life, the way I want to." If I die riding, I'll die a happy death. A very happy fucking death.

    I ride without a helmet, or much gear often, because I want to. It's as simple as that. And that's my choice. I'll take the consequences for my decisions.

    Smooches Chris,

    Sash
    http://www.sashmouth.com

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    1. Two thumbs up Tina! Verbalized perfectly.

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    2. Silly. This "my freedom to, it's my life" arguement is stupid. Unfortunately the police and ambulance forces don't have the freedom not to scrape your brains off the road, or to tell your family of your death or infirmity.By not wearing a helmet you're not showing your freedom but your stupidity. Use your brains (before you lose them).

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  6. Wow! Anonymous called me stupid twice!

    If the police and ambulance forces don't want to "scrape your brains off the road. . ." then they have the freedom to not choose that as a career. Of course they have the freedom not to do that! Silly!

    How sad for you that you're such a negative person to only see it your way and simply attack someone for their opinion.

    Fortunately, I have the freedom to do what I choose, regardless of your opinion.

    Thanks Chris for posting opposing views!

    Sash
    www.sashmouth.com

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  7. "If the police and ambulance forces don't want to "scrape your brains off the road. . ." then they have the freedom to not choose that as a career..........."
    Thank you for the affirmation of your stupidity

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    1. OK. That's probably enough back and forth on this one. It would help, anonymous, if you had put your name to this opinion. As stated, I'm in agreement with the idea of wearing helmets and I do question the vitriol of those who fight so hard against helmet laws, but I'm putting my name to that opinion. If I were fortunate to ride with Tina or Steve they would know that I'd be thinking they should be wearing helmets. And I'd know they don't really care what I think. What's important is that each of us will put our name to our words.

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    2. Chris,

      The day I ride with you would be an awesome day indeed! I'm looking forward to it!!!

      Hugs and smooches Sweet Pants!!

      Sash
      www.SashMouth.com

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