In an ideal world all motorcyclists would cover themselves from head to toe in the best protective gear money can buy. But things aren’t ideal. Not everyone can afford top the range safety equipment. Sometimes, the heat conspires against riders – who really likes being clad head to toe in thick cow leather when the temperature is over 90 degrees? And is it really necessary to wear all the gear for a quick five minute ride down to the shops?
This article isn’t designed to beat you over the head telling you to wear ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time). You’ve chosen to ride a motorcycle (a risky mode of transport), you can choose your risk level when it comes to protecting your body. But perhaps after reading through some of the statistics and findings of this article, you’ll have a change of heart and realise that it is worth your while putting one some proper motorcycle pants.
Also, this article won’t focus too heavily on head injuries from not wearing a helmet. Firstly because if you’re reading an article on motorcycle safety, I’d dare say you wear a helmet. And secondly, if you don’t wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, there’s really nothing that hasn’t already been said to change your mind. Unhelmeted riders are 40% more likely to die from a head injury than someone wearing a helmet and if that’s a statistic you’d like to be a part of, more power to you.
What this article will look at is the risks to other parts of your body from not being fully geared up. What are the chances that you’ll injure your shins, forearm or elbow? What possible injuries are likely to your feet if you decide not to wear proper motorcycle shoes? We’ve based this article on a number of sources. One is from the Motorcycle Council of NSW which in turn based its findings on multiple sources since 1981. The second source is a journal article by the George Institute for Global Health, which published its findings in 2011, making it one of the more recent studies conducted. We’ve also collated data and read published journals plus information from the US Centre for Disease Control.
Keep in mind that with our findings, they are collated from presentations to hospitals or as reported by paramedics. So if you have an accident where you get cuts or bruises and you just go to a GP, that statistic will not be captured here. Nor obviously would it be captures if you have a crash and don’t hurt yourself at all. So keep that in mind when reading below.
We’ve also made an infographic to capture the most important factors in an easy to read format which you can look at below.
So let’s take a look at the various parts of your body and see what gets hurts the most.
Your arms (excluding your hands) are the second most likely part of your body to be injured in a crash. Thankfully, the majority of arm related injuries are soft tissue injuries which can be greatly reduced or eliminated by wearing a proper fitting jacket.
The most likely place to get an injury on your arm is the forearm and many times, the soft tissue damage will occur where your arm is exposed between your glove and the cuff of your jacket. Hence, a gauntlet style glove that overlaps the jacket sleeve offers the greatest protection.
Fractures do occur too, and though armor in the elbow and forearm will reduce this, it’s not a failsafe. Good armor in the elbow is critical – you really want CE2 rated armor here as a chipped elbow is actually a far worse injury than a fracture. A chipped elbow will result in the elbow hurting when moved and the elbow may click or lock.
For those that did not wear any sort of protection, 91.9% sustained an injury to their arms (the highest injury being abrasions and cuts, followed by bruising, sprains and then fractures). Of those that did wear a jacket, 78.3% had an injury, reducing to 69.7% if that jacket was armored, with brusing and some abrasion being the most likely result. Most interestingly though is that those that wore an armored jack were almost half as likely to receive a fracture as those that wore no protective clothing on their arms. That’s a huge improvement in protection.
Back and Spine
A spinal injury is probably one of the most feared by any person, motorcyclist or not. Medical science still cannot do much to help with spinal injuries compared to a broken arm or leg. Paralysis is almost always permanent. Thankfully, back injuries are amongst the rarest of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.
Unfortunately, there’ s not much you can do to prevent back injuries. Research suggests that most motorcycle-crash back injuries are caused by bending and torsional forces, not direct impacts to the spine (EU 2003). Foam inserts do nothing. In fact, one study showed that those with foam inserts in their jackets had a higher injury rate than those without any padding.
Those with a proper back protector did fair slightly better, reducing the injury rate to only 8%. But given back protectors are there to soften direct impacts, and not torsional forces, there’s little one can do to truly protect the spine at current levels of protective technology.