Archive for the ‘Early Years’ Category

Fool’s Gear

Posted: April 25, 2012 in Early Years, helmets
Tags: ,

I wear a full face helmet. I’ll be honest and say that if I am only running to the grocery store in my town of less than a thousand people, I just put on a leather jacket and some sunglasses and go. But if I plan on going past the city limits, I wear an armored jacket, full-face helmet, and gloves. I always wear my old Blackhawk combat boots and some heavy jeans. And I have two big reasons for my choices in PPE.

I was about 13 years old, and enjoying an August afternoon on my beloved XR80R. Dad had parked a horse trailer partially blocking the gate to grandma and grandpa’s place. If I rode between the wooden fence post marking the west side of the gate and the trailer, which now occupied most of the driveway, it made a cool sound like a TIE fighter. The faster I shot through, the more awesome the sound. I decided to try and go through the gate in the very top of fifth gear, so I rode all the way down the lane, spun the bike around and gunned it. Now, to make it through the narrow gap, I had to  push the bike very slightly from right to left (toward the fence post) and straighten it up right away. The lane had a very shallow curve, but enough to make a difference in the very top of fifth gear, as I found out. I tried to body-english the bike over, but my knee was still hanging over the left footpeg when it crashed into the old wooden fence post. I remember the rear tire losing grip, and then going over the handlebars. Then everything went black. 

Thankfully, I had put on my full-face helmet before I set out. I was dumb and only had a t-shirt on, but I did have boots and jeans on. While the jeans did keep gravel out of my legs, they did not keep the sixty-something year old post out of my knee. I woke up face down in the gravel, with my face shield severely damaged, and the lower part was smashed up against my face. My left knee burned, and my arms were thoroughly embedded with gravel. My left pinky and ring finger were broken. I made a full recovery, using only vet wrap (like ACE bandages but better), popsicle sticks to splint my fingers, and a whole bunch of iodine on my arms. My XR80R needed to have the brake lever re-leveled, and the exhaust pipe was scuffed a little. It still ran fine. 

If I hadn’t been wearing a helmet I would have at least had a concussion and severe lacerations on my face. It’s easier to replace a helmet than a head. You are free to decide for yourself (at least in Iowa), but I would strongly recommend a helmet. A good one.

Now, why do I wear the rest of it?

My wife was driving our brand-new Subaru WRX to my armory to pick me up from my second and final deployment to Afghanistan. She was behind a couple of other cars, and there was a man and woman on a bike behind her. A Jeep two cars up slammed on its brakes and the car behind plowed into the back of it. My wife swerved into the shoulder and missed the accident. The bike swerved into the oncoming lane and the saddlebags clipped the bumper of the second car, sending the bike into a spin. 

The riders were wearing shorts, t-shirts, and flipflops. Nearly a perfect representation of MSF’s “Fool’s Gear”. The woman lost some toes and both had to be taken to the hospital for facial lacerations and broken noses. I know the results of this crash because the woman was the sister of one of my soldiers. Simply wearing a helmet, pants, and boots would have at least mitigated their injuries and probably saved them some serious cash in hospital bills and ambulance rides. 

A good helmet is about $150, a basic armored jacket is about $125, and gloves are $20-$100. All totaled, still less than the cost of an ambulance ride. You don’t have to wear protective gear, but if you don’t you are at a much higher risk of grievous injury. If you don’t mind losing pieces of your hands, feet, and face, then go for it. You can call me a dork for wearing a helmet, but if I ever get in a situation like either of those above, I will come out of it in much better shape than you will. And I’m okay with being a dork.

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On Christmas morning, 1994, I got a present that should be the envy of any ten-year-old boy. In front of the fireplace stood a 1993 Honda XR80R. Just like the one pictured below.

I had that bike until 2000, and I spent many, many hours on it. In the rain, the snow, and even on nice days. I jumped it off every jump-able surface on the farm, laid it down a few times, and wrecked hard a couple of times.  The little Honda kept on thumping along through it all. Then one day I outgrew it, sold it, and forgot about riding for eleven years.

I got back from my second and final tour in Afghanistan in August of 2011, and a couple of weeks later I was visiting my in-laws for the weekend. My father-in-law has a couple of bikes–a 2004 V-Star 1100, and a 2008-ish Honda Rebel–and he happened to be doing their end of season service when he asked for my help. He needed to change the oil in the Rebel and asked if I could ride it around the block a couple of times to get the engine warm. I said I could, and proceeded to ride the little Honda for nearly an hour. I was hooked again and set about getting my bike license.

I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course at a local community college and loved every minute of it. After that class, I became consumed with finding a bike of my own. I looked at a number of metrics, but nothing really caught my eye until I was cruising Craigslist one fateful day last month. I found a 2007 Honda Shadow Spirit 750 C2 with 5100 miles for $3000. The best part is it was only about 25 miles from my dad’s place. With cash in hand, I bought it and rode it back to the farm during an awful wind storm, with sustained winds in the 40mph range, gusting into the mid 50s. I made it without incident over narrow Missouri two-lane roads, and knew this motorcycle thing wasn’t just a PTSD-induced phase or early mid-life crisis.

I bought a riding jacket, a full-face helmet, and riding gloves, and have since put nearly a thousand miles on my prized scooter. I’ve already ridden through a hail storm, in 30-something-degree weather, and over neglected Iowa backroads. My new little Honda has been just as endearing as my XR80R was. As I continue to evolve and develop my road-going skills, I will probably stick with Honda as my brand of choice. Though I’m not a Harley hater, I’m also not about to write a check for $10k or more for a used bike. You just get a lot more bike for your money with metrics.

I plan on sharing some equipment reviews, bike reviews, random rants, and roadside revelations on this site. For now, I’m going to get some more miles under my belt and crank out a couple articles about my little Honda.