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Why Riding in Shorts Is Not THAT Dangerous

Summer is approaching quickly in the northern hemisphere and people like me, who use a motorcycle daily to reach their jobs and even shopping are beginning to feel the warmth of the hot season.
Personally, I am not a huge fan of heat and that's why I sometimes ride the (not that many) miles between my home and my workplace wearing shorts instead of long pants. And no, I never wear Cordura or leather trousers in the city.

Sometimes, mornings are as cold as 6-7 Celsius (43-45 F) and I feel the chill. My helmet, my gloves and the leather jacket manage to keep my body temperature within decent margins and the cold air invigorates me, and the vibe is good.

I have never crashed badly because I am constantly on the lookout for dumb, reckless or ignorant drivers. The roads are full of guys like this, and I know this from all the perspectives: driver, rider, cyclist, pedestrian, and, occasionally, TV viewer. They're out there, and me, my traffic experience, my instincts and the good working condition of my bike are the only things that keep me on the "not crashed" or "in good health" side of statistics.

Sometimes even I know that there is a good dose of sheer luck involved in this, and it's best not to forget about this while out in the "urban wilderness" on two wheels. We all know fellow riders who are incredibly unlucky, even though they are not reckless idiots behind the handlebars, so any now and then I do remind me that I am lucky.

However, it happened to be asked, and not in the most polite or friendly manner, why I am so mindless and wear shorts while riding the bike around the town. As my answer was not immediate, the chap went on to lecture me about road rash, about how dangerous roads are, and how much I will regret, wishing to have worn trousers that day.

After he was through with the lecture, I grabbed my phone and showed him some videos of abrasion tests carried out by specialized labs to determine how much protection casual garments offer. If I remember well, there was also one of TAC Victoria's amazing road safety videos containing such info.

Basically, the usual clothes we wear every day in our homes, at work, going out eating or drinking with friends and family are worth less than a speck of dirt when the day we crash comes. If you don't believe me, just carry out a small research on Google and YouTube and the results should be more than eloquent.

I crashed once in the city, doing maybe 40 km/h (25 mph) wearing jeans because it was October or so. The moment my right knee met the asphalt, the weave was all gone. Luckily, the low speed and the fact that I was also braking meant I didn't slide on the road, but the jeans were of little use.

That is because casual clothes have very low abrasion resistance and will give way in a matter of fractions of a second, exposing the skin with the results we all know (and fear). The only things that seem to add some protection are leather garments or other types of technical clothing that have been manufactured with this in mind.

Almost the same thing happens with shoes. In most cases, it matters little if you are wearing sneakers or ankle boots; they have just the same odds of flying off your feet, with their misleading protection only lasting tenths of a second, if any at all. Riding with tall army boots well laced to your feet could make a difference, or maybe engineer boots that buckle up for putting on and taking off. As for the rest, when the bell rings, casual footwear is worth zero.

I went on to tell this fellow that this is why I never ride without a helmet and gloves. The hands and the head are, in most cases, the first body parts that get in contact with "reality" when luck runs out and a rider crashes. It's the least motorcyclists can do to take care of themselves.

In the absence of riding boots well strapped to the feet, when Cordura or Kevlar denim riding trousers with integrated armor, going out for a ride wearing only a t-shirt or a vest, and without gloves is just like riding completely naked, give or take. The big difference is that nobody will pull you over if you're not naked. And if I ever go out knowing that I feel like riding like mad man, I would dress up.

I went on to tell him that even a helmet that is not fastened properly is often just as good at protecting the pudding (brain) as a shower cap. It will fly away when the bike starts wobbling or bucks the rider, and by the time the cranium says hello to the road surface, that helmet will be as good as none.

After such a rather lengthy reply to his first question, I started to see a change in the guy’s eyes, but to this day I am still not sure what sort of change it was. It could have been the look of distrust, or perhaps the look of someone who has a revelation.

The fact is that I told this fellow: "So now, maybe you can understand why I only 'dress for the slide and not for the ride' when I go outside the town, on a trip. In the city, the speed is low and I am all eyes, so much more than when on the highway. Out there, when we do 100 mph or so, on the freeway, things are different, and if I will go down there, I'd certainly love to have as many enduring layers between my ass and the road. A good helmet, a good jacket and good trousers, tough boots and no-nonsense, fingerless gloves are the things I would wear any day when leaving on a bike trip. And even then, I would not forget about my good-old luck, as little or much as it may be left in for me.

I also know that even the city can have some pretty nasty surprises for me, but after all, we all ride in the wake of danger, don’t we? It’s just that I understand this while trying to feel as comfortable riding my bike as possible. It’s me and my riding that makes the difference, and that difference has nothing to do with camo shorts or jour jeans. We’ll both go down the same way when the fat lady sings."

And I really mean this.


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