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Dress For The Fall, Not The Ride
(Comfort is just as important)

By: James R. Davis

Having just completed a 1,400 mile tour from Houston, Texas to Tupolo, Mississippi in order to explore the Natchez Trace, it seems a good time to reflect on what was learned during that trip.

Let me describe the environment first. Cash and I packed our bikes and began our tour at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 12, 1998. It was 34 degrees when we left - COLD! We traveled all day and reached Vicksburg, Mississippi before stopping for the night. The next day we made it to Tupolo, Mississippi ending our travel away from home. The temperature fell to 22 degrees that night. On the return trip the temperatures steadily rose both days reaching the mid 60's before we arrived back in Houston on Sunday afternoon. While there were storms all around us, not one drop of water fell on us during those four days.

Neither Cash nor I will ride our bikes 20 feet without first donning a helmet. Similarly, we invariably wear leather chaps to protect our legs. Until this year we would wear our leather jackets in any weather up to a temperature of about 90 degrees. When it got that hot we would either wear lighter leather or some form of synthetic jacket. And, of course, we wear boots and gloves. Obviously, our primary intention in wearing this PROTECTIVE GEAR is to protect us from a potential fall from the bikes, not because it is stylish nor even because in the case of the helmet, it is often the law.

However, on this trip neither of us had any trouble whatever. We did not dump our bikes. We did not fall from them. We had no mechanical trouble. But I can assure you that we did not feel that we had overdressed! (Indeed, we had not put enough layers of clothes on for the first two days.)

What we discovered early the very first day was that without dressing as we had we could not have driven our bikes more than about 50 miles, let alone 1,400 miles. That is, our PROTECTIVE GEAR was a requirement for COMFORT!!! The oft denigrated helmet was absolutely essential from that point of view. Our faces and our eyes could not have handled sub-freezing temperatures without those helmets. Our hands could not have handled the controls for longer than about five minutes without the gloves (and liners) we were wearing. Our feet could not have handled the wind chill effects of traveling at 70 MPH without high topped boots and the protection of our chaps.

In fact, as I said earlier, our PROTECTIVE GEAR was inadequate to keep us as comfortable as we needed to be without adding more layers of clothing under them than we normally wear.

But there are limits. I, for example, wore long johns, sweatpants, and loose pants under my chaps. The sweatpants were too bulky and tended to bind my knees when I bent them. Off went the sweats and the loose pants and they were replaced with a pair of jeans. That combination worked just fine.

Similarly, both Cash and I wear glove liners under our leather gloves when the temperature drops. For the first two days we found that was not enough. So, we resorted to an old trick we learned on an earlier tour - we placed a pair of latex gloves on over the liners, then put the leather gloves on top of both. Cash found that if she wore her tighter leather gloves over the latex gloves there was insufficient protection. She switched to a larger set of leather gloves and found that the additional layer of air made all the difference in the world. In my case, after about an hour of wearing those latex gloves I found my hands were so wet from sweat that I was getting colder each time we stopped than had I not worn them at all. But they made the difference that was required while we were on the rode and my hands were too cold to control my bike properly.

And now about leather jackets - this year both Cash and I purchased new jackets for our riding COMFORT and PROTECTION. We selected the Kilimanjaro style jacket made by FirstGear. These are made of a wonderful fabric called Hypertex rather than leather. We believe that we would not have been able to complete this latest tour had we not worn these jackets.

The jackets are long - coming six or eight inches below our waist lines. All zippers are covered and sealed from direct exposure to the wind. There are MANY, MANY pockets in these jackets, many of which are easily accessible with gloved hands, all are protected from the wind, and some are deep enough to easily hold my MSF range cards while instructing my classes. The jackets are waterproof and very, very important, the arm cuffs are designed to overlap a pair of gloves and easily seal, via Velcro straps, around them. There are many ingeniously located air flow control vents that are zipper sealed when you want to 'bundle up'. The shoulders have light reflective material on them and there is a long light reflective strip on the back that you can hide or show at will. There is a removable jacket liner that can be worn by itself if you wish. Finally, these jackets have built-in soft armor at the shoulders, elbows, upper and lower back. Retail price of these jackets is about $270.

Do I think that a leather jacket provides more protection than these jackets? Yep! From slides. But nothing I have ever worn provides as much PROTECTION and COMFORT in as widely diverse weather as these jackets provide. And, one can always add hard armor in place of the soft armor for even more protection.

So, while I absolutely believe that you should dress for the fall, not just for the ride, COMFORT is just as important most of the time.

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(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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