Leathers or synthetics?
Without wishing to generalise, many a biker is easy to identify from his ‘outfit’ the predominant style being of course black leathers. Either a tighter one piece suit or a combination of leather jackets and trousers are the most common biker garb, combined with gloves and boots. These suits have their origins in military garb, providing protection from the elements as well as the road and are traditionally made of cow leather or horsehide. Most fabrics, however hard wearing would shred on impact with the road; unlike leather which forms an excellent protective layer while being, like skin, flexible enough to move with body for an optimum riding experience. Leather is also incredibly warm, which is a necessary attribute for bikers who will otherwise be subject to serious wind-chill, whatever the weather!
Fashion is of little consequence to the serious biker, although of course both leathers and synthetic suits are available in a host of designs and colour choices with different embellishments. What is important, of course, is the safety aspect. Leathers need to be safe, with hardy seams and zips, and the leather needs to be strong but flexible, and light enough to be comfortable. Modern road leathers often have padding or armour on high risk, prominent areas such as knees and elbows, and racing leathers go further, often having plastic or even titanium plates to protect the usual vulnerable injury sites and also to help slow sliding and bouncing which sometimes occurs after an accident. Fit is crucial for maximum safety, and while leathers can be a hefty investment, from a safety perspective a good riding outfit is imperative for safe biking. Leathers can be expensive, but unlike synthetic suits, are easier to repair in the event of rips or tears.
As well as traditional leathers, there are now synthetic suits available on the market. With the correct care these garments can have excellent shelf life, although most are not as hardy as leathers as the fibres are much thinner. Modern fabrics have utilised space age technology and created thin, comfortable synthetics which are protective and strong, whilst being ever more flexible and comfortable, as well as easier to wash than leathers. Waterproof and breathable, these can be manufactured from combinations of Kevlar, Lycra or a ballistic nylon such as Cordura, and can be sophisticated enough to contain body protecting airbag systems. Man made materials are not usually as strong in terms of protection from shredding, but require less care than leathers to avoid problems such as mildew.
The bikers helmet is probably the most important piece of safety kit you will need. All motorcyclists are aware that it is extremely important to replace a helmet after an accident or crash where there may have been head impact, no matter how minor. Even if the outer shell is not cracked and there are no obvious signs of damage, the inner foam will be compromised as helmets are only designed for a single impact. Most helmet manufacturers recommend replacing a helmet at least every 5 years, and some say sooner, although this may be being over cautious. Some manufacturers will, inspect, repair or replace damaged helmets at a reasonable cost.
Never buy a second hand helmet as you have no idea of its history, and the fit is likely to be lousy too. When buying a new helmet be sure to try it on and do not compromise on the fit for the sake of a more eye-catching design. With the helmet on and the chinstrap tightened, it should feel snug but not uncomfortable. The helmet should not move at all when the head is shaken from side to side, or from back to front. The helmet should be impossible to remove when the chinstrap is done up properly, otherwise this means it will almost certainly come off in an accident. After purchase it is vital that you read and follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. Correct storage is important as certain chemicals for example petrol or solvents; as well as heat can damage or cause deterioration to the helmet. Cleaning instructions should also be adhered to closely so as not to cause any damage to the helmet.
Whichever helmet and leathers or synthetic you choose, you will also need boots. The type you choose will be dictated by their intended use – motorcross boots tend to be high and rigid, where touring boots are designed specifically for riding over road and pavement surfaces. Typically ankle to knee height, the best boots are generally leather, with a low heel and a structured shape to provide support and protection in the event of an accident.
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