Monday, September 24, 2012


Third in a series…

My nurse friend wants to ensure that her son on a new-to-him Honda 750 Shadow is properly outfitted for safety.  Posts one and two regarded helmets and gloves.

As a guy who has ridden for the better part of forty years, I cringe when I see riders in T-shirts – or riders in gear with their girlfriends aft in tank tops or less – batting through suburban traffic or racing between lanes on the freeway.  Perhaps it is because I have daughters, both of whom are married and well past that stage.  Or maybe I’ve just seen a bit too much.

Today I own five motorcycle jackets: three textile, two leather.  (Yikes! I have no idea how I’ve acquired so many.)  Each jacket has a specific purpose and is worn on specific riding occasions, although there is much overlap in their use.   

Each of the jackets has some type of reinforcement at probable impact points like shoulders and elbows.  In some cases the reinforcement is thick foam padding, in others a less pliant more armor-like material.  

Each jacket has zippers that open vents allowing air to course through and cool the rider. 

Some of the jackets have an interior zipper in the lower back area that matches the zipper at the top of riding pants.  When connected, this lessens the calamity of pants and jacket separating to expose bare back to chip-seal at 55 miles per hour.   

Closures at the neck and cuffs may be snaps or hook-n-loop like Velcro®. 

Synthetic jackets come in a variety of colors.  Black is a favorite but bright or “Hi-Viz” colors are far more see-able by others on the road and, therefore, a good safety choice.  Many jackets come with reflective piping making them more visible at night.  Many come with removable liners making the garment useful in both cooler and warmer riding conditions. 

Jacket fit is incredibly important.  The jacket should be snug enough to protect you in a fall but not so uncomfortably tight that you are tempted to leave it on a hanger at home.  It should shield the rider from such diverse elements as rain, cold, and heat.  It might help if it were stylish, but trading safety for style, something I’ve admittedly done, is always a bad bargain.  It should be kept clean and dry and inspected for signs of wear – a cause for replacement – before it is called upon to sacrifice itself for you.

Textile jackets’ exterior material is engineered out of synthetic fabric.  It is strong, light, breathable and will experience less abrasion when sliding along the pavement.

On a steamy summer day in the Sacramento Valley, a t-shirt covered by a textile jacket feels much like having only the t-shirt on in terms of ventilation and coolness.  The function of the jacket then is to provide a layer of protection between the skin and the tarmac and to hold those impact pads in place. 

One of the textile jackets is a three-season coat.  It is three-quarter length, belted, padded, and brightly colored. It is my ultimate go-to on road trips.  There is plenty of room for gloves, maps, notebooks, telephones and small kitchen sinks in the various pockets.  Slipping a Gore-Tex rain parka underneath this puppy, I find I have really good protection from rain and even hail.  Adding a layer or two of turtleneck or sweatshirt or wool allows me to retain enough warmth to ride nearly twelve months out of the year. 

The leather jackets are dissimilar.  One cuts the winter chill.  The other is strictly a late spring to early fall garment.  The heavier of the two has a shell of much thicker leather prompting me to believe I would fare better in a crash if wearing it.  The removable lightly quilted liner, I have recently found, makes the unit extremely tight around my midsection – but keeps me incredibly warm on short mid-winter trips.  Interior pockets hold a checkbook or datebook; exterior pockets accommodate light gloves or a small camera.

The other leather jacket, which I like a lot, I’m embarrassed to say, I purchased because of its cool Guzzi logo.  Styled and built in Europe, it was on the sale rack, so I snared it.  The leather appears to be much thinner and the padding much more “foamy.”  I’m not sure I’d like hitting the pavement in this one although I’m sure it would spare me from abrasion.  But it certainly looks groovy.

One of the great things about adopting a hobby or a sport – be it woodworking or waterskiing – is the plethora of tools and equipment one must acquire in order to fully enjoy the endeavor.  Motorcycling is no different.  Good equipment makes the experience much safer and more satisfying.  


As twelve and ten-year-olds, my brother and I (with permission of our folks) launched the family’s classic Old Town wood and canvas canoe in a rain swollen Chico Creek one October Saturday.  Chico Creek bisects beautiful Bidwell Park, heading westerly toward the Sacramento River.  Our five acres lay west of town.  That would be our point of disembarkation.

Sans life jackets and clad in Army surplus fatigue jackets – the look of the day [mid-60s] for kids our age – to insulate us from the foggy 40 degree cold, we put in.   The swift autumn current would carry us the six miles home.  The first five-and-a-half miles were trouble free.  However, only a few hundred yards upstream from the house, an ancient sycamore tree had collapsed the night before, much of it landing across Chico Creek.  The venerable Old Town, speeding downstream, rounded a swirling bend and immediately lodged its bow in the windfall.  The boat lifted, cracked, twisted and pitched us into the drink.  Our fatigue jackets filled with heavy frigid water as the current dragged us away from the canoe.  Somehow we clambered out, hiked home and spent about forty-five minutes in a hot shower thawing.

A few years later, that Army fatigue jacket – I’d now almost grown into it – served as my insulator from scrapes and bruises as I puttered around town and into the woods on my first motorcycle.  It was the wrong tool for that application as well. 

How we survive our youth is one of life’s great mysteries.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, September 22, 2012


On facts and fiction:

1.   Facts are inconvenient.  A major candidate’s campaign mucky-muck declared that fact checkers would not direct the campaign.  One must ask: Why not?

2.   That fact checkers oft-times find one campaign less bound to constitutional principal, historic or economic precept, or the plain old truth, does not imply that said fact check organization favors one effort over the other.  It does imply something about the “one campaign.”

3.   Having recently reread the Ten Commandments, I find only one speaks to the issue of telling the truth: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Ex 20:16)  Why is it okay to bear false witness against thine opponent in matters political?  Why isn’t there a commandment that simply says: Thou shalt not fib?

On economics and the budget:

4.   The debt is greater now, in terms of dollars, not in percentage of GDP, than it has been throughout our history.  Inconveniently, this is because we waged two – some might say questionable – wars on a nation’s credit card.  It is unclear why furthering debt for international conflict is more acceptable than furthering debt to help Americans at home.

5.   In times of recession, the government traditionally increases expenditure, circulating money through government-sponsored projects implemented by private industry, in order to pull the country out of the malaise – unless we are misguidedly concerned about "burgeoning" debt.  Or we have a political party who’s admitted “top priority” is to deny the current administration a second term.

6.   Folks wishing to “shrink the government until it can fit into a toilet and then flush the toilet” (think Grover Norquist and his minions) would be well advised to research other nations of the world where the citizenry is allowed more freedom and opportunity for their tax dollars than what is enjoyed here.  Then, if they think they like the place, hell, move there.  We’ll welcome you back after your dose of reality.  In the meantime, many of us would like a government that serves the needs of its people – and fairly taxes said people to cover the costs.

On punditry: 

7.   The media are not liberal.  An organization may not be as far to the right as Fox News but it doesn’t follow that that organization is liberal.

8.   Some media have a decidedly liberal slant.  So?

9.   A well-known major mouthpiece is more interested in selling mattresses and Snapple and promoting his personal brand through bombast, shock and insult than in promoting what’s good for the United States.  If the other side paid better, I’d wager he’d jump.  And, yes, I do listen to Rush on occasion.

10.   Political postings on Facebook frequently serve to provide belly laughs to those who agree and inflame those who don’t.  Too many of such postings do not further the debate; instead, they widen the divide.  And, yes, I do find some of them quite humorous.

If, indeed, this is the most important election to come along in years, the outcome will be specious at best unless all Americans look past what is convenient to believe, or what profits each of us individually. 

We need to pay attention to real issues and respond – sometimes rather inconveniently – in a manner that honors the greater good.  I believe Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Edward R. Murrow, Ike, members of “the Greatest Generation” and a host of others would agree.  Probably including Jesus.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Second in a series…

Recall the good friend and colleague Registered Nurse whose son, after being exposed by his mother to this blog, decided to purchase a Honda Shadow 750 upon his return from Africa, as his first bike.  Her query of me: “What stuff should he have to be as safe as possible?”

“If something happens to my hands, I’ll find myself livin’ under a bridge in less than month.”  So spoke an affiliate of mine who works with his hands, freelancing as a piano mover and a mid-weight equipment operator. 

“So why’re you wearing THOSE gloves?” I asked pointing to the pair of hardware store Wells Lamonts. Great for wrapping around a shovel I’m thinking but not so hot on a twist grip. 

It’s been said that the cheapest thing on a BMW is the rider, and this guy is no exception.  Dismounting his meticulously cared for 80s era vintage R80RT, he as much as said, Gloves schmuvs.  “I get these for twelve bucks a pair an use ‘em for everything.  Why should I spend five times that?” 

“I don’t know.  Because you don’t want to end up under a bridge somewhere?”

Gloves are an important piece of motorcycle safety equipment.  I’m no expert, but chances are, if one takes an unintended dismount at any kind of speed, hands, or portions of them, will be worn off as they skid along an unforgiving section of pavement.  Quality motorcycle gloves provide extra protection in such an event.  Constructed of combinations of leather and a synthetic fabric sometimes known as Cordura (a trademark registered product of DuPont Corporation.)  High quality gloves may include an envelope of gel that can provide extra cushion for impact points in the event of a fall.   
While leather palms may abrade as one skids across the pavement, better the leather than the flesh. 

Motorcycle gloves are engineered for specific purposes.  As a road rider who occasionally finds some gravel to enjoy, I have four pair.  I choose the glove for the ride I anticipate I’ll be taking.

Around town in spring summer and fall, I wear a short glove with a hook and loop strap (Velcro®) that secures them at my wrist.  Made fully of leather, a gel pack pads the palm and a portion of the back.  The gloves fit nicely at the end of any jacket I may choose to wear, but usually, these are worn with a light leather jacket or with a summer weight mesh jacket. 

They are stylish (the least of my concerns) and fit nicely in my helmet or tank bag for storage – or in a jacket pocket if that’s more convenient when checking out some local bookstore or bistro in town.

On a road trip or if I know I’m doing some gravel, I choose ventilated gloves with a longer gauntlet that is snugged under the end of the jacket sleeve.  This pair has a poly-plastic vent atop the knuckles that allows the flow of air in.  The fingers are leather (kangaroo, I believe) but the body is perforated thus aiding in cooling and breathability.  There is a gel pad in the palm. 

A Velcro attachment secures the wrists.  These gloves are durable and have proven to be my go to choice for versatility.  If I were counseling a beginner, something like this might be my first choice for an “only pair.”  They aren’t cheap, but remember the whole living-under-a-bridge concern…

Winter and rainy day riding can be quite an experience – and a good thing to do to keep one’s skills fresh in the “off season.”  My waterproof winter gloves are thickly padded providing some insulation from cold blasts at speed.  Their long gauntlets stuff inside the sleeves of my three-quarter length three-season jacket, but can slip over the ends of the insulated leather jacket I sometimes wear. 

I find that the middle finger of my throttle hand sometimes gets very cold – even numb – a situation that is both uncomfortable and distracting.  I stop occasionally and dip the finger in hot coffee (a dumb thing to do) while the waitress stares at me incredulously.  Still, well-insulated winter gloves are essential because hand dexterity is exceptionally critical when operating the bike.  I try to always have these with me – particularly on  long trips – in order to accommodate changing weather conditions.

My back up pair of gloves is a pair of lambskin leather jobs from Germany.  Their interior lining is softer than the proverbial baby’s bottom.  They have the gel and they’re really attractive.  They’ve proven to be rugged and durable, providing a little bit more coverage and warmth than the shorties mentioned earlier.   Although this pair is pricy, something of similar design and construction would be another excellent choice for an “only pair.”

Properly fitting gloves need to, well, fit like a glove.  They should not be so tight as to restrict hand movement or bind fingers.  They should not be so loose as to compromise positive contact with controls and switchgear.  They should be thick enough to protect from impact and/or cold, but not so thick as to inhibit one’s ability to feel those switches and levers.  They should be kept clean and allowed to dry thoroughly after wet-weather or hot, sweaty use.  And they should be replaced regularly.  The last thing a rider wants to find out is that their gloves have rotted out 3/100ths of a second after having met the pavement.

Gloves are an essential part of the safe rider’s gear.  On that bad day, they could prove to be the difference between simply an unfortunate spill and finding yourself living under a bridge somewhere.  Don’t skimp.


[Update (14 Sep 12):  Check the thoughtful words shared by Tina Ingle, Cordura brand account manager, regarding the Church's representation /misrepresentation of Cordura applications in motorcycle gear.  It is located in our comment section below this post.  Thanks for the clarification, Tina.]

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, September 10, 2012


First in a series…

A professional acquaintance of mine – a Registered Nurse – approached me the other day brimming with chagrin or, perhaps, something else.  It seems her son had returned from overseas and, after having read portions of my blog (which, I believe she turned him on to), purchased a Honda 750 Shadow.  As all concerned mothers are, she was interested in him surviving this phase.  (After 40+ years of my riding, my mom is still concerned about my “phase.”)  The conversation steered itself toward riding gear.  I promised to gather some resources and share some thoughts, all of which prompts this short series of posts.

The most important single piece of riding gear one can use is a helmet.  Helmets are engineered to withstand and distribute tremendous force all in an effort to protect the rider’s delicate cranium better than the mere ¼ inch of bone matter with which we are all naturally endowed. 

I’m no expert, but it seems to me like the physics of a bare head hitting a freeway divider at 65 miles an hour are a lot more unforgiving than that same head encased in Kevlar, Fiberglas and thick foam padding. 

Helmets must meet regulatory requirements that have been established both in the US and Europe.  Two standards setting organizations are ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and Snell.  The US Department of Transportation awards "DOT" stickers to helmets meeting specific standards, but the Snell benchmarks are far more rigorous, so I look for that Snell approval.  While most (all?) marketed helmets meet accepted standards, there are styles of helmets that are inherently safer than others. 

Full coverage helmets are one-piece units that that fully cover the rider’s head from the top of the skull to below the chin.  A thick, padded band of the same material that makes up the helmet wraps around the lower part of the face protecting the rider in situations where one may be tossed over the handlebars and skidding along the pavement on one’s face.  Full coverage helmets have a clear or tinted visor that rotates into place protecting the eyes from bugs, debris and wind.  Full coverage helmets come in range of prices, but price should be the lesser of the buyer’s concerns.  Comfort, fit – it should be very snug, ventilation, and weight should enter into one’s thinking.  Mine is white in color because it shows up better and because it is cooler on hot summer days. Also, find one from which it is easy to remove the face shield for cleaning. 

Convertible or modular helmets serve as an alternative to the full coverage model.  Although they look the same as full face, the chin bar is hinged so that with a push of the button, the bottom of the unit can be rotated up and out of the way when safe.  “When safe" does not include while riding.  Modular helmets can only fully protect the rider at speed when closed.  However, when filling up or when stopping by the side of the road for a conversation, the flip-up nature of these can prove to be more convenient than having to take the whole thing off.  Convertible helmets used to get a black eye for product integrity in the event of impact, but manufacturers and enthusiasts seem to think this is no longer the issue it once was.  Modular helmets can be a tiny bit heavier than full face.  I wear mine on short trips around town.

Open face helmets are those units the more gentrified among us may have remembered as kids.  A.J. Foyt?  Indianapolis 500?  They lack the chin bar.  Snaps are provided around the front from ear to forehead to ear so that plastic eye protection can be added.  Open face helmets are cooler but do not afford all the protection that the full-face units provide.  I use mine only if I am driving around the block to dry the bike after a wash.  And once my open face helmet is worn out, I’ll not replace it.

Shorty helmets offer the least protection.  While many are padded like their afore-mentioned cousins, chances are that in the even of an impact, parts of the head and neck will be less protected.


Snell Foundation helmet standards:

How to identify unsafe helmets (from the National Highway Traffic safety Administration:

Enthusiast magazines offer product reviews on helmets from time to time.  Here are just a few of many, many magazine websites worth exploring:

Also: plugging “Motorcycle Helmet Product Review” into your search engine may access many on-line sources.

California has a mandatory helmet law for all riders of motorcycles.  Three years back, riding home from work, I-80 was clogged.  Rescue personnel had arrived, their bobbling red lights indicative that something up ahead wasn’t good.  To avoid the jam, I exited, taking an available off-ramp to an overpass and planned to use surface streets to wind my way home.  Looking down on the six-lane, medicos were just draping a green plastic sheet over a crumpled body recently moved away from the concrete divide.  Later, I found out that the victim had just rented the Harley he’d wrecked some three miles up the road.  In keeping with the law, he had equipped himself with a “beanie” style helmet, one that is thin in structure and that passes over the rider’s ears, offering little protection for the temple or the base of the skull.  Frequently this style of inadequate protection bears an after-market protest sticker reading “Helmet Laws Suck.”  The Church of the Open Road believes that being dead (or permanently disabled) sucks more.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road press