We’ve probably, one time or another, been in need of replacement motorcycling clothing or equipment…whether it’s a new jacket or helmet, etc and I often hear or see advertised equipment that promises so much but does it ever really deliver on that promise?
What’s more I often hear many a rider proclaiming how much they have spent on their top quality equipment because it is the best and will save their lives if it is ever called upon to do so, but is there any truth in this and can it be ever substantiated.
I have attended countless motorcycle accidents where the so called top quality equipment failed to save a rider’s life, in fact it has seemed to have the same performance as the lower quality gear too. I have personally seen the most expensive helmets shattered and resulted in fatalities, but the same can be said of the cheaper helmets too…all resulting from very similar impacts!
At many accident scenes I have witnessed where injuries have been minimised by the wearing of general protection, sometimes it is the really expensive brands and sometimes too the lesser known brands.
I’m often asked which is the best equipment to have and which will perform best for a rider in an accident. I’ll tend to give a standard response: “Well, it depends on what kind of crash you want to have!”, because regardless of branding and expense all protective equipment will offer some good levels of protection, even multiple layers of everyday clothing will perform to a certain degree, but all equipment will only protect up to a certain point and then it fails to deliver.
At post accident scenes when talking with patients or witnesses I often hear two claims…either when the rider has survivable injuries.. “Well the protective clothing did it’s job and saved his life!” or when the rider has unsurvivable injuries or even has standard injuries… “Well that protection didn’t do anything did it!’
Of course we have to understand that much of the cost of equipment is based on styling, comfort & fit and the types of materials used, but for now I’ll put those to one side and just concentrate on approved clothing and protective qualities only. I mention this because if equipment is not approved and or is fake then it is likely not to have undergone at least some standard industry testing or may even fail a lot sooner than legitimate brands. There is some anecdotal evidence of this and I have seen some examples of poor quality items failing in accident scenarios, but it would be difficult to say for sure, however these types of items are usually made of poor quality materials which will fail and wear through a lot sooner than approved clothing will.
At many accidents, injuries have been sustained where there was a failure of the equipment, e.g a helmet strap breaking, clothing stitching breaking, zips ripping apart or even armour that has shattered too. I’ve seen this with all types of equipment and all types of brands but usually it seems to have happened with older equipment.
So possibly this is a key point to keep in mind… that equipment may degrade slightly, or rather just enough, over time that it may even fail at the most crucial time.
As well as dealing with & analysing equipment in post accidents, I have often performed my own tests of equipment and try to demonstrate how equipment functions, how it protects but mostly how and wear it does not!
I always try to emphasise that any substantial impact to the body will result in an injury or fatality with a high probability regardless of the type of protection worn, however light & glancing impacts will tend to result in lesser, minor or non injuries and any slide or slight rolling along the surface, the protective equipment will offer some good abrasion resistance too.
So this is the key thing to remember, that the protective equipment tends to perform at its best at low speed, low angle impacts with less dense objects or for slides along the surface without any objects collided with.
The best protective performance will generally be derived from items that are constructed of better quality, harder wearing and ‘thicker’ materials. So multiple layers of thicker garments, or thick leather or textile etc.
Whenever I buy or look at any equipment, I tend to ignore brands, but concentrate on comfort and fit and mostly the material that it is made of. I have not been adverse to buying certain items online but really seeing, touching and trying on items in a store is probably the best practice to follow. If I buy items online I’ll make the final assessment when I receive the goods and check the quality.
One question I’m often asked is “Would you buy cheap products & equipment?” well the answer to that is…probably! It depends if it has been tested to an acceptable standard, is the material durable and is its construction of sound quality?
I do not tend to consider items as having a time – life limit…more an on condition – life limit. So if I’m wearing or using lesser quality or even wearing less equipment, I tend to change my riding style to suit. I generally ride a lot more conservatively, however regardless of brand or expense of equipment, I never assume that it will save my life or provide optimum protection and when wearing cheaper products I do not assume that it will be suitable for more than a single season. The old adage: ‘you get what you pay for!’ is probably most suited to motorcycle protective clothing & equipment!…but spending a fortune on equipment is not always justified or supported with evidence from accident scenes.
All equipment has a performance limit, some more than others but usually the difference is marginal in comparison because at higher impact forces all equipment suffers a rapid decrease in performance. So when I wear protective clothing or equipment I always try to ride in a manner to always avoid an accident, never wanting to test the protective qualities…but I always wear some, just in case I do have an accident and I ‘hope’ it will protect me somewhat or just minimise some of my injuries.