I'd always heard that riding gear consisted of a leather jacket, jeans and a helmet. And I didn't question it, because damn near every motorcycle rider I saw was wearing a leather jacket, jeans and a helmet. Go figure. Sure, the occasional sport-bike rider would speed by in an elaborate strappy number with jagged stripes, brand names and patches everywhere, but I thought it was mostly a style thing. Hey, some dudes wear Tapout shirts on purpose; there's just no accounting for taste. Then, doing the research, I learned that you're supposed to have actual riding gear designed for that purpose.
Source.It's the same concept as that first image, just not as cool.
And I can tell you firsthand that it is all just as uncomfortable, constricting and awkward-looking as you'd expect. And that it's also totally badass. Motorcycle protective gear is, by definition, insanely durable. Jackets, pants, bags and damn near every other type of clothing is made out of the toughest fabrics on the planet: Kevlar, Cordura, ballistic nylon -- this is shit that, when layered properly, stops bullets and knives. That's not to mention the thick, padded gauntlets with carbon fiber knuckles meant to withstand crashes at highway speeds and impenetrable leather boots with oil-resistant non-slip soles. And beyond all that, there are pads, inserts and plates hidden all throughout the fabric to protect your major joints and body parts.
For the more nerdily inclined among you, you're probably already getting it: It's not "safety gear," it's fucking armor.
Riding gear is a full suit of armor that is socially acceptable to wear in public. You walk into a Starbucks wearing your period authentic replica half-plate, and at best you're going to get some impolite stares; at worst, you're going to get a news piece with the headline "Police Fell Local Knight With Bear Mace, Mocking Laughter."
Source."Behold! Rygarth is here to claim what is rightfully his: a vanilla latte!"
But you walk in there in motorcycle gear and, depending on how much the other customers want to piss off their father, you're either a responsible commuter or a naughty rebellion just waiting for a sexy coup.
I have no idea why I didn't know this -- why every motorcycle rider wasn't constantly daring me to hit them (seriously, hit me, guys! It's awesome!) and laughing as my blows rain off of their helmets. I have no idea why zombie movies even exist anymore, because they sell full suits of bite-proof armor in your local auto parts store. The drama would probably be somewhat diminished if every episode of The Walking Dead was just a smugly grinning Rick wading unharmed through the undead horde.
Even though a lot of riding gear is designed to resemble ordinary clothing as much as possible, you're still leaving the house with hardened knuckles, slip-resistant boots, knife-proof fabric and impact pads. That's like, half a super power. So while you may look like this:
You feel like this:
One of the first things the instructor at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course said to us was "It's a lot like riding a bicycle."
And she was right; she just didn't finish the sentence.
I'm sure what she meant to say was "It's a lot like riding a bicycle ... off a cliff."
The basic principle is the same, sure, but if you've ridden a bicycle and are therefore counting on already possessing the skill set needed to ride a motorcycle, you are in for a terrifying, bloody disappointment. Some of the very basic maneuvers will feel familiar -- most of the time you steer, take off and stop using the same motions -- but there's so much more. For instance, for reasons that are entirely beyond me, motorcycles have the clutch on the handlebar and the gear shifter at your foot, forcing me to assume that Bill Motorcycle, the inventor of the motorcycle, was either medically dyslexic or some sort of drunken acrobat who exclusively rode bikes while doing headstands. You also control the throttle with your hand instead of foot, and have not one but two brakes -- using either of which at the wrong time will hurl you off the bike like a meat trebuchet.
The clutch is going to be familiar to you if you've driven a stick shift before, true, but now you have to do it backward, and upside down. You'll get the concept, but the motions are just foreign enough to require an all-new learning curve. Oh, and you have to practice in live traffic -- traffic which, again, has admitted to trying to murder you in the name of ill-informed justice. The end result is you attempting to master an only half-familiar skill (that is, if you've actually driven stick before. If you haven't, it's a totally unfamiliar skill to you and oh, God, what are you doing?! That's first gear; go up, no -- up, man, brake! Shit! Tree!) with an entirely different layout, and all while careening down the road at speeds that made your great-grandfather's monocle pop out in astonishment.
Source."I have affixed it with ocular glue, good sir, and I think you shall find my monocle quite immOHMYGOD! 25 mph!?"
So yeah, sure, it's just like riding a bicycle ... while playing Moonlight Sonata, on a glockenspiel, and sprinting full bore through a psych ward full of murderers.
In short: It's awesome.
You should get a bike right now, and a full set of armor that's like blood red, and you can start zipping around like those forest speeder things from Jedi and you'll be like "WHOOOAAAA" and your bike will be like "VROOOOOO-"
You can buy Robert's other book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.