What’s a helmet really for? Almost certainly most would answer: “to protect the head in the event of an accident”. Even though this statement is completely true, the appropriate bike gear serves many other functions. This is what’s known as active safety, that is, everything that our gear does to assure our comfort and safety without us having to hit the ground. Let’s take a look at what it’s about and why it’s so important to be correctly geared up for the bike.
Without a doubt, the helmet is the most important part of our bike equipment. But, even something as simple as accelerating and braking makes the interior of the helmet work, absorbing the inertias and ensuring that the helmet is always well secured. This goes for the inner shell too, which is constantly working and it will, with time and use, end up losing its optimum performance. Therefore, when its capacity to secure the helmet drops, its safety does too, so it is important to be able to detect this when the time comes. On the other hand, it is essential to keep the visor clean and scratch free so it doesn’t interfere with our visibility. Also to remember that a good visor will also keep external noise out, avoid fogging up and will protect our eyes from any foreign body. Obviously, you should never use a solar visor at night and it’s very important to clean it with a damp cloth almost daily.
It is no surprise to find that the jacket is another key item for any well equipped biker and, of course, its great value isn’t just safety; a jacket is much more than that. It’s true that the protections on the elbows, shoulders, arms and even back are of vital importance in the event of a fall, but there are numerous factors to take into account. For example, protection against mosquitoes, dust, stones, water, wind, cold and even the dirty exhaust from an old truck are elements that we can encounter at any time, but with a good jacket, we’ll hardly notice them. Of course we have summer jackets with extra ventilation and winter ones with removable thermal linings and even some following the latest street fashions. Furthermore, a good jacket is just brimming with well thought out details, each pocket, Velcro or zip has been strategically placed and has its function.
It’s the same for gloves. Obviously they’re there to protect our hands from abrasion from the asphalt if we have an accident, as there’s nothing more uncomfortable than having to carry out routine, everyday activities with wounded hands. But, they’re also good for other reasons. To start with, it’s really pleasant in winter to ride the bike with nice warm hands, in the same way as it’s a real pain when they freeze, which can be dangerous due to their lack of feeling. And not just that, as gloves can also avoid calluses forming where your hands rub, like when you work the brake or the clutch. Also, some have a small visor wipe on one of the fingers, which can be very useful for optimum visibility under the worst conditions. Now they often include materials that are compatible with the touch screen of Smartphones.
As regards boots, again their function goes beyond just protecting your foot in an accident. Here, as your feet are very close to the engine, they’re useful for keeping us from getting burnt and they even protect our toes when shifting gear or from asphalt abrasions when leaning. What’s more, the soles of the boots tend to be more rigid and rugged than that of normal footwear, which can avoid an inopportune slip, on the garage floor, on the damp tarmac on a rainy day or on the dirt from a work site. There are also all types of boots, the more sporty ones probably being the best for going to work. In fact, there are boots with high levels of protection and very current designs that combine perfectly with most clothes. Needless to say, flip flops are great and really comfortable for going to the beach, but best keep them away from any two wheeled vehicle due their absolute lack of protection.
As regards bike pants, you must bear in mind that it’s not very usual to wear them for work every day and that the truth is that their use is more related to leisure activities; outings, journeys and trips with friends or alone, being basic in order to completely enjoy our bike. For active safety, we should highlight their thermal protection, protecting us from the heat of the engine, as well as, of course, all those aspects we’ve already reviewed in the section about jackets referring to external elements that could have a negative effect on our enjoyment of the bike. Also, another crucial aspect for sports riding on the track, are the sliders on the knees, as their function is to protect us from abrasion when leaning, in the same way as they are a support point and a useful warning as to how close we are to our limit.
Nevertheless, we can still crown things off to reach the maximum active safety level. When riding in the cold, for example, it’s advisable to use a neck warmer, well secured under the helmet such that not even a little bit of wind can pass through. Then, specific thermal underwear is very recommendable, as it keeps the body heat in, whilst providing good levels of ventilation. Also, it usually has a pleasant feel and might even serve to ease any internal rubbing from the jacket or pants. Even in the warmest months of summer it’s recommendable to use special technical garments in order to dissipate heat and reduce sweating.
Still, there could be exceptional circumstances that warrant taking one step further. It’s essential, for example, to always have a waterproof jacket or rain suit handy, as there’s nothing more uncomfortable as that annoying sensation of water trickling in all around our body. What’s more, a simple item that takes up very little space, such as a reflective waistcoat, could also be very useful for riding under conditions of poor visibility.
Even so, many people underestimate all the uses and functions that bike clothing can have. In fact, not only will we feel safer and more protected, but we’ll also be twice as comfortable when faced with any unexpected event. Because on the bike, all precaution is little, as it’s quite clear that we’re actually one of the most vulnerable vehicles on the roads, with permission, of course, from our friends, the bicycles.