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What is "safe," anyway?

Posted By Pam Fisher, Saturday, April 02, 2016
Updated: Sunday, April 03, 2016

I’ve been mulling this over at work. What is safe? Is there safe enough? Too safe? How do you decide?

Do you head out on the road with the viewpoint that “what will happen, will happen,” and don’t fuss about taking safety precautions? Do you assume that every other driver on the road is out to kill you, and gear up like a Storm Trooper, keeping your head on a swivel at all times? Are you a training course fanatic? Do you avoid riding on certain types of roads, or riding at certain times of the day? How do you decide? What are reasonable precautions to take for you? Being on two wheels without a metal cage surrounding us comes with inherent risks.

It is up to the individual, how much we put into being safe on the road. When I started my two-wheel adventure, I was the parent of two school age children. I had to keep in mind the consequences for my family of me getting seriously injured on my motorcycle. I wear a seatbelt whenever I drive, I chose to gear up with the available protective clothing when on my motorcycle. I chose to be an ATGATT (All the Gear All the Time) rider.

When I first started my two wheel adventure, not quite 15 years ago, I accepted that I wouldn’t be as adept at danger avoidance as a more experienced rider. I remember getting caught by target fixation in a corner, riding right onto the sandy shoulder that had spooked me. No drop, no harm. But it was a wake up for me, and reminder of one of the more common pratfalls of riding. Not everyone is so lucky the first time that happens.

I wear armored riding pants, and motorcycle specific boots, because if I do go down, I know that my knees, ankles and feet stand a good chance of ending up between my bike and the road. I’ve also got at least a dozen pairs of motorcycle gloves. My first pair was the gauntlet length “Steve” style by Held. The rivets on the palms, saved me from injury when I crashed. I’ve got cold weather and even electric/heated gloves, as well as mesh and lighter weight leather gloves. I cringe at the thought of putting a hand out going down and wearing away skin, tendon and muscle. Consider: If you were to crash (or go down) this weekend, without full fingered gloves on, how would your hands fare? Would you be able to continue in your career, if you were to lose full use of the fingers on either hand?

If you visit any motorcycle forum, new riders will ask “what kind of gear should I get?” – its almost as discussion worthy as “what kind of oil should I use?” The most important answer for me is: What is in my budget, and what will I put on every time I head out? Being in the mid-Atlantic, that eliminates leather as an option for me. It is typically weighty, and rarely comes in lighter colors. As a moto-commuter, I chose BMW textile gear. I liked that I could wash out the bug-guts periodically, and it didn’t feel like armor. My first moto-kit was Joe Rocket, but I didn’t like the fit and feel. It did the job, while I was still figuring out this motorcycling thing. I still wear my original Cruiserworks boots.

Folks don’t often think of hearing protection. I hear “but I want to hear my engine,” “what about sirens” etc. It is an adaptation, learning to feel your bike, rather than hearing it. I learned from experience that wearing foam ear plugs in my helmet meant that I wasn’t beaten down with fatigue after a two hour ride. Long term riding without hearing protection, can mean accelerated loss of hearing. With extended exposure, noises that reach a decibel level of 85 can cause permanent damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. Many common sounds may be louder than you think, as discussed in Dangerous Decibels and Lowering the Volume for Motorcyclists.

The critical element to rider safety is being intentional: you should know why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. They should be a decision, not an afterthought.


Photo by w:User:Light current -, CC BY 2.5,

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