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Rider safety – Making sure you have the right gear

April 1, 2022 Beyond the bike
Rider safety feature min

If you have a $50 head, then buy a $50 helmet. If you value your head, arms, torso, legs, feet and hands more, then expect to pay more for suitably protective riding gear. It’s that simple.


Surprisingly, the only mandated motorcycle gear in Australian is an approved helmet, which can be as cheap as $50. But you can also send up to $2000 on a so-called smart helmet made of carbon fibre and featuring such “Iron Man” tech as Bluetooth communications, radar sensors, cameras and head-up display screens.

Helmets come in three basic types. Open-face helmets seem to be the first choice of cruiser riders, hipsters and those who live in hot climates. They are also the cheapest — and for good reason. They have no chin protection and some do not even have guards over the ears.

Crash statistics from the US Hurt Report show that the most common area of impact on motorcycle helmets is the chin at 19.4% which spells “ouch” for open-face helmet wearers. The least vulnerable place is the very top of the head at 0.4%.

Other helmet types are full face and modular or flip-up which have higher safety ratings than open-face helmets. Modular helmets are handy for touring riders as they can stop, flip up the helmet and take a photo of the scenery or fill up at a servo without having to remove their helmet. However, note that it is illegal to ride around with the chin bar open unless you’re a police officer or the chin bar flips right over to the back and is secure in that position.

Full-face or road or race helmets with a one-piece shell are more structurally sound and therefore safer than modular helmets. That’s why all road racers wear them. Off-road helmets have a peak and no visor so you will need to wear shatterproof glasses or goggles.

Adventure helmets are a hybrid of off-road and road helmets with a visor and peak. The shell can be made of various compounds from plastics to fibreglass and carbon fibre. Plastic shells are light but not as strong as the others, while carbon fibre is the lightest, strongest and also the most expensive.

Light weight is also important as a primary safety factor as it means it will be less tiring on a long trip and therefore less likely to distract riders from riding safely. Once you have picked the right style and composition of helmet to suit your riding, you will need to buy a helmet that fits correctly and doesn’t have any pressure points which could become uncomfortable and dangerously distracting.

The only way to do this is to go to a motorcycle shop and try them on. The Australian Motorcycle Council advises you not to buy online even if you know your helmet size as every helmet fits differently.

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The most obvious next choice of protection is the jacket which come in basically two types, leather and textile. The ubiquitous leather jacket looks “cool” on the Fonze in “Happy Days" and Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones”, but they are also hot in an Aussie summer. Remember, keeping cool is an important safety factor in our climate, so check whether there is enough ventilation to allow airflow.

Leather is the most abrasion resistant material, but modern textile fabrics also have high abrasion resistance. Another important factoring is padding, check that there are approved impact pads in the shoulders, elbows and back.

Most riding gear has all these details on the manufacturer’s tags. You can also get independent assessment of both the safety and comfort levels by checking the award-winning Australian safety initiative MotoCAP.

The online service provided by various motoring clubs and governments agencies has now assessed more than 400 jackets, pants and gloves.

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The most common injuries in motorcycle crashes are to the riders’ feet or legs, representing 30% of non-fatal injuries, according to leading US public health institute the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

So a sturdy pair of pants is essential, however, jeans are not suitable riding gear. Denim has a tested abrasion resistance level of 0.5 seconds before it breaks, exposing the skin. Even if you fall off your bike at 50km/h, you will slide for several seconds, so your denim jeans are useless.

The minimum abrasion protection required for any sort of European safety certification is four seconds. Like jackets, riding pants come in leather and textile with similar abrasion, comfort and impact standards to jackets. There are even denim pants that have abrasion resistance close to leather thanks to a weave that includes bullet-resistant kevlar.

Some pants will also have a zip at the back that attaches to your jacket to prevent the two separating in a slide down the road. Make sure the legs are either slim enough to fit inside boots or wide enough to go over the top of your boots.

Rider pictured below is wearing denim kevlar riding pants.


Sandshoes are flimsy and lightweight, so they are not good protection, besides, the laces can get caught in the footpegs, gear shifter or foot brake, they also don’t have any ankle protection.

You can get away with sturdy ankle-high work boots with laces so long as you tuck them in or shorten them. However, slip-on boots are pointless as they will also easily slip off in a crash, it’s best to wear boots that zip, clip or tie above the ankle.

There is now a range of specialised motorcycle boots available for all types of riding from road racing to dirt biking, touring, commuting and more, they include such safety features as ankle protection, non-slip soles, non-twisting structural support and extra protection in the toes.

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If you fall, you immediately put your hands out to protect yourself so it’s important to always wear gloves. Once again, they come in leather and textile types with varying levels of protection and comfort which are rated on the MotoCAP site.

Rider safety image min

Mandatory gear

Victorian Police have previously called for mandatory boots and gloves, but it has been rejected by rider representative groups who say it would require complex and confusing certification. They would rather see education and encouragement of riders to wear the appropriate gear or our government taxes and levies being directed toward subsidies for gloves, boots and other safety gear to make them more attractive.

Ultimately it is up to you the type of gear you wear, some subscribe to the ATGATT theory which stands for All The Gear All The Time. That one time you ride without the appropriate gear could be the one time your brakes fail.

So apart from wearing the right gear all the time, I also advise riders to check their brake pads for wear before every ride and choose the right type of pads. Famous car brake company Bendix Brakes is now making pads for motorcycles.

Bendix Moto Ultimate + ceramic pads have low dust, noise and wear, but have increased feel at low and moderate speeds. These are best for sporty bikes, scooters and commuters.

For highway riding and bigger motorcycles your best bet is Bendix Street Road Track sinter pads which have stable friction in all conditions; hot, cold, wet or dry. They also have strong initial bite and low fade even at high temperatures such as heavy braking on a twisting road.