SUMMER OF SQUIDS??? Motorcycle apparel and safety gear

Squids in the two-wheeled world, it is a negative name given to describe inexperienced motorcycle riders. What is the easiest way to pick out a squid? You'll see many of them around Southern California this summer riding in shorts, tank tops and possibly even sandals. Two words can very accurately be used to describe them: plain foolishness.

Riding a motorcycle is one of the most exhilarating experiences. You feel the wind against your face - you sense the speed...it is pure adrenalin. One of the first things you will hear an experienced rider tell you is that you should not dress to ride, but rather,

you should dress to crash. In motorcycling, as in life, it pays to expect the unexpected. No rider ever plans to fall off his or her motorcycle, whether it be a professional racer or a casual weekend rider. Unfortunately, these things do happen and when it does, it is better to be prepared than to have to spend the next few weeks, months or years in agonizing pain. While majority of motorcycle get-offs are slow-speed falls, they certainly can leave a lasting impression on your epidermis if you were not dressed properly. Depending on what kind of riding you do, as speed increases, so does the potential severity of an accident. If you are planning to ride hard, you should amass the very best protection that you can afford.

There are a few items that a rider should never be without: a helmet, gloves, a jacket and boots. While it sometimes gets rather warm in Southern California (Who are we kidding? It gets downright hot in the summer in SoCal!), you should still not ignore your gear. That one time that you decide to go for a short ride to the store could be the one time that a car cuts right in front of you and the next thing you know, you are in the hospital awaiting a painful skin graft.

Let us start at the very top: the helmet. Even relatively light contact between your noggin and the ground can knock you just as unconscious as Mike Tyson in front of Buster Douglas. A more serious impact can put you in a coma or kill you. You might not look as cool when you cruise down the Sunset Strip with a lid on but you will definitely look even less cool hooked onto a life-support system in the ICU, no? While any helmet is better than nothing at all, I would have to advocate the use of a full-face helmet. Many of the facial trauma cases in motorcycle accidents are a result of not wearing a full-faced helmet.

While it might help to stay cool in the summer to wear an open-faced helmet or keep your "bad boy" image intact riding your Harley in one of those turtle-shell type helmets, your jaw is not protected at all in the event of an accident. An extremely good compromise available these days are the flip-up helmets like those available from Schuberth, Shoei, HJC and Zeus. They offer the protection of a full-faced helmet while giving you the flexibility and convenience of an open-helmet when stationary. There is no excuse these days to not get a quality lid. While there are race replicas that cost nearly a thousand dollars, you can also pick up a quality solid-colour for about $150. Most

importantly, make sure that it fits well. Arai and Shoei have been the benchmark of quality for a very long time with other companies like KBC and Icon offering just as good protection from their line. Suomy offers a wide selection of helmets with arguably the best graphics in design. Any helmet that you pick should have Snell approval, in addition to the Department of Transportation's sticker. Also, ensure that you have some sort of eye protection, whether it be a visor, sunglasses or safety-glasses.

The next most important piece of safety gear is probably gloves. You should opt for something that is specifically designed for motorcycling. Choose a pair of quality gloves that fit snugly. The best gloves are those that have long gauntlets and wrist closures, normally with Velcro-straps. Recently, the uses of carbon-fibre inlays in the back of the hand on gloves have proven popular with competitive racers. Joe Rocket and Teknic's line of gloves are widely popular and come in a variety of models and colours. Held gloves, while not very well-known, are known to be one of the highest quality gloves in the market offering some of the best protection.

Many people ride in athletic shoes. These shoes will be torn to shreds the first time they hit the tarmac. Sneakers also tend to slip right off your feet when they are dragged across the pavement. Lastly, they offer absolutely no protection for your ankles in the event of a crash. I have even seen some people riding with open-toed flip-flops and cringe at the thought of what would happen should their feet slip off the footpegs and hit the ground when the motorcycle is in motion. For general street riding, a minimum requirement

should be a pair of casual boots like those made by Icon, SIDI or Alpinestars. These boots typically have flaps that cover the shoelaces, which can be caught on either the shift lever or brake pedal. Optimally, the boots that offer the most protection would be racing-type boots. These typically have significant shin, ankle, toe and heel reinforment. SIDI, Oxtar and Alpinestars boots are wildly popular among professional racers and are made to withstand high-speed crashes.

Moving on to your upper-body, you can get jackets under $100 to "whoa, you've got to be kidding" prices. Typically, as with many things in motorcycle gear, you get what you pay for. Not only will the quality of the material be of higher grade, the stitching will be stronger and the jackets will be better fitting and more comfortable as well. Road-rash can be very painful and is basically a skin burn, of which you will be susceptible to the same infections that a burn victim would be at risk for. In today's market, there is no reason for not having a motorcycle jacket, as you have a multitude in choices between leather and fabric apparel.

While leather will offer the most protection, it might not be as versatile as composite fabric materials that a good many of today's riding apparel is made of. Be sure to purchase jackets with built-in back, elbow and shoulder protection or at least purchase the type that has internal pockets that allow you to insert aftermarket body-armour. Top-of-the-line jackets from any of the major manufacturers like Kushitani, Spidi and Vanson will do the job just fine in protecting your hide in the event of a get-off.

Jeans are the norm for most everyday riding but while slightly better than shorts in terms of wind protection, jeans offer virtually no abrasion resistance. Research has shown that jeans will rip the instance it touches the ground. If you insist on jeans because you are afraid you'll look dorky with all your leather gear when riding around town, these days you have much, much better options. A few companies have come out with purpose-made jeans that are designed specifically for riding. These jeans offer reinforced stitching and some even offer Kevlar sewn onto the primary impact areas (knees, hips and buttocks), which provide additional abrasion protection in the event of a crash. Draggin' Jeans, Icon and Joe Rocket offer extremely functional but stylish motorcycle jeans that offer much more protection than your everyday jeans. To read our review on some of the products that Draggin' Jeans has to offer, click here.

Leather is unrivaled when it comes to protection. You can buy separates or there are many one and two-piece suits available in the market these days in an astounding variety of colours, sizes, fit and prices. Off-the-rack gear can by as inexpensive as a couple hundred dollars to custom-made outfits costing a couple thousand. You can have your basic leather jackets and pants that offer you the basic protection for everyday riding to road-racing full leathers that have knee-sliders on them for track-days. The one thing that I would highly recommend is that in considering jackets and pants, select a combination that allows you to zip the upper and lower sections together, either by an 8 inch zipper at the lower-back or a full-circumference zipper (which will also make this combination track-legal for those of you who want to be the next Mick Doohan). This will prevent your jacket from riding up if you take a spill and will protect your lower back from the asphalt. You can find quality off-the-rack leathers from Joe Rocket, RS Taichi, Teknic and Spidi or have them custom-made from race-specialists Z Leather Customs and Syed Leathers.

One thing that is often not addressed in articles of motorcycle gear and safety is armour. In the spirit of maximum protection, you will want at least a back-protector. Most motorcyclists know that when out riding, they should wear helmets to protect their heads from a hard knock that might cause brain damage but how many think about protecting the spine when riding? You only have one spine...protect it. A spinal injury could paralyse you for life. Many companies have them in their line of motorcycle gear and there are some companies that specialize in manufacturing these like Bohn and Knox. There are also full lycra safety suits available these days. Whatever you choose, make sure that it fits under your riding outfit comfortably. Please click here to read our review on the new state-of-the-art Knox KC2000-X1 back protector.

Ideally, the only skin that should be exposed when on a motorcycle is the back of your neck. Do not skimp on gear. Get the very best protection that you can afford. After all, is your head or body only worth $70 that you purchase a $70 helmet or jacket? Hopefully, you'll never have to find out!



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Shawn H. Ooi is a resident of Los Angeles and has been riding motorcycles for over 14 years. He has owned many makes and models of motorcycles and his current ride is a Ducati 748. Shawn is also one of the owners of Moomba Cyclesports Inc., which specializes in suspension set-ups and race-tuning. Moomba Cyclesports also provides regular service & maintenance and does parts & motorcycle apparel sales. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (626) 618 0385.

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