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By Paul Leadabrand
Originally Published in the IAMC Newsletter, October 2010

While some know the meaning of this mnemonic, others who don’t will need to read this short article to find out…

Ed Hiatt, our beloved president, asked me to write a few words on this subject since we have a lot of new members (and new riders), because of the observations of our fellow riders on club rides, and because I still fall down a lot.

Have you fallen yet, “crashed and burned”, or logged some unexpected airtime off a slick corner? Has your bike then re-joined you when the yard sale stops, by pinning you to the ground? I’ve experienced all this and more, and it nearly takes all the fun out of dual sport riding.

We have had great Saturday club tech days recently on preparing us for trailside flats, suspension issues, and camping from our bikes, etc. But have we forgotten to prepare ourselves (our bodies) for when that front tire blows at 45mph, we bounce sideways off a big rock over the embankment, or we catch a tree with our fully loaded panniers.

Some may have been boy scouts or grew up in the motocross community – so are usually prepared. But those new to dual sport riding perhaps just passed the STAR’s course and spent the entire kitchen-pass budget on a new “farkled-out” bike may have forgotten to prepare by protecting themselves with good riding clothing. I’ve seen it, and it makes me concerned for their safety.

I’ve polled a bunch of my motorcycling peers and mentors; they all have horror stories of why they added this or that piece to their protective gear, but here are their collective suggestions:

● Buy the best Helmet you can barely afford – you know you get what you pay for! I know “brain buckets” all look the same (egg-shaped with a chin strap), but they are not all equal. Save the cost of that pretty paint scheme, and put it toward plain white in a better brand. Read the high-end manufacturer’s web sites (e.g. Arai & Shoei); the research and development they put into protecting your noggin is quite impressive. The government safety standards set a good baseline; but look for the manufacturers that offer a higher standard. Your brain is worth it. Even though you may find what you think is a screaming deal on e-bay – and you say, “it will still fit ’cause it’s an extra large” (even though you take a large) – DON’T buy it. Always make sure it fits perfectly and DON’T buy used. Purchase a new full-face helmet that fits properly. I know helmets cost a lot, but still don’t get too attached to them – prepare yourself to retire your helmet after only a few years, especially if they’ve been dropped, road-rash’ed, or in a crash.

● Are you still wearing sunglasses in your helmet? Have you ever taken a big black bumblebee at 45mph, or been roosted by your buddy? If you are wearing a full-face helmet without a face shield, go with a highquality pair of lightly tinted Goggles with quick release straps. They work great in combination with the dual sport helmets. They protect more of your face, cut down on the dust irritation, reduce sun glare along with the visor, and the lenses are replaceable for different conditions.

● Going to the other end of your body (your feet and lower legs) you need highquality Boots in combination with knee/shin guards. Here again you get what you pay for. The most important points of a boot are protecting your ankle (from twisting when the bike falls over with your foot under it) and protecting your toes (when you clip that big immovable boulder while cutting the corner). Also, if you want dry feet after you get your Challenge 2010 water-crossing photo, waterproofing is also an important consideration. First, educate yourself on the manufacturers web sites for how the boot is constructed and the protection offered. Secondly, go out to all the dealers and try them on for a comfortable fit. Someday you might be stranded a long distance from civilization and need to walk out for help in those boots. Those low-cut touring boots are comfortable and easy to use, but will not offer the protection required when you put your foot down for stabilization on the side of the trail, the ground isn’t there, you lose your balance, and the bike falls over, torquing your ankle with the foot peg or kick stand, and your not even moving!

● For those unfamiliar with Knee/shin guards they velcro with elastic-strap to your calf and have hard impact-resistant plastic over the padding covering the knee & shin. The worst part about knee/shin guards is remembering to put them on after your knee socks, but before your riding pants, and then follow with your boots. The best thing about knee/shin guards is the comfort you’ll feel when you kneel on rocky ground to fix your bike. After a few rides you won’t even notice them anymore. Then when you don’t wear them, you’ll feel naked and unprotected.

● Body armor is just as important as a helmet and boots (especially when riding in the dirt), lasts about the same amount of years, costs a lot less, and again you get what you pay for. You may have noticed Happy Trails doesn’t seem to stock a lot of armor. It’s not because they feel it isn’t important. It’s because there are so many brands, styles, sizes, and it must all fit like a glove to work right. The bulky, high-visibility, heated, pocketed, overcoats with the internal shoulder and elbow pads are, of course, convenient to use and protect you from the elements, but they don’t protect your spine, chest, and forearms! Depending on the type of crash and how loose the jacket fits, the pads may not be in the right place when you need them. Most motorcycling jackets will go over the body armor if you remove the internal pads. Body armor (like knee/shin guards) has hard impact-resistant plastic over padding, then sewn onto a stretchy mesh fabric jacket with a zip front. Body armor protects your spine/back (if you’re somersaulted over the bars), your chest (when a mirror shaft, handle bar, or tree branch tries to impale you), your shoulders, your humerus, your elbows, your forearms, and your kidneys.

I won’t leave home on the bike, day or night, dirt or pavement, without the above 5 items ON!

Protection doesn’t end with the big 5 above. There are Gloves (to protect your outstretched hand as you try to catch yourself), wrist braces (for the death grip on the bars in a sudden stop), riding pants with hip/thigh pads (guess what hits the ground first in a side fall?), and neck braces (a ritual for some) – all to further consider.

Being members in our club comes with some responsibility. You want to meet and make new riding friends; you want to look good on group rides; you want to have fun. I know you put a lot of expense and effort into assuring your bike isn’t the one to break down 30 miles from nowhere, holding up the entire group. So, if you reflect, why risk holding up the group by getting hurt due to not wearing all the protective gear.

Helmet, Goggles, Boots, Knee/Shin guards, & Body Armor

All The Gear, ALL The Time

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