I like to wear proper safety gear when riding a motorcycle. The local law starts and ends with enforcing wearing a compliant helmet, but the minimum riding gear I use is helmet, jacket, gloves, jeans and boots. I have yet to get into the trend of wearing Kevlar reinforced jeans and I have a strong suspicion that the jeans are the weakest link in my armour. I have no intention of testing my suspicions.
During Brisbane summer months, many motorcyclists go the “squid” route – riding in T-shirt and shorts. I am not one of them. I am still out there with jacket / gloves / jeans / boots. Unlike ten years ago, synthetic jackets made from a mesh material over body armour means you no longer need the discomfort of wearing the outside of a cow on your back.
One overlooked factor in judging the appropriate level of attire when riding, is how it affects concentration. Racing guru Keith Code talks about your $10 worth of concentration. His point is simply that you only have a finite amount of concentration – what you spend it on, is up to you. Different factors require differing amounts of your $10. They could be things like road condition, other traffic, wildlife, weather conditions and so on. If you don’t spend it on the right thing at the right time, you risk missing something important. If you are distracted by your personal discomfort (i.e. if you are too hot riding around town in your full leathers), then this robs you of part of your $10. Like many decisions made in everyday life, what you wear on a motorcycle is a compromise.
At this time of year, the opposite weather conditions are likely to rob you of concentration. Whilst Brisbane winters are undoubtedly very mild, up in the hills, with the added wind-chill factor, it still gets a tad chilly. Unlike our southern states, we don’t have the added worry of black ice on the roads and the generally clear sunny conditions means it’s a great time of year to ride.
To accommodate for cooler conditions, most riding gear simply goes up in bulk. Jackets get an extra lining, gloves get thicker etc. Glove thickness is a big deal when riding. The level of “feel” transmitted through the bars is reduced by bulkier gloves and finger dexterity is reduced. Subtle feedback is received through your hands and it can convey information relating to grip levels (between the tyres and the road), so it’s important to allow for all these points when riding. Bulkier gloves can lead to an increased level of “finger stretch” when holding the bars. This can become uncomfortable if it’s pronounced. – Riding in summer weight gloves alleviates these problems, but of course thermal insulation is sacrificed. Cold hands ache and don’t move as quickly. So you can have “slow clumsy hands” due to the cold, or due to the bulk of your gloves. In my experience, “cold ache” is worse than “stretching ache”.
The other attire I use in winter is a “neck sock”. This not only helps to keep your neck warm, but has the added benefit of reducing wind noise around the base of your helmet. I find them immensely superior to wearing a scarf, as there’s less excess material. Scarves either flap around in the wind, or if you tuck them into your jacket, restrict your head movement.
The other option (for which a Brisbane climate is really too mild to make worth exploring) is electrically heated gear. Electric gloves and vests can be worn, or seat and grips warmers can be purchased. Clothing often plugs in to the bike’s electrical system via a cigarette lighter. Some bikes (more in the cruiser and tourer markets) have these fitted as standard or optional factory equipment, or some have been fitted after market. If you’ve ever used any electrical heating systems on a bike, I’d be interested to hear your comments on them.
Till next time, ride safe and stay warm!