Updated: Aug 8
Adventure Motorcycling is an exciting and captivating activity that allows riders to embark on thrilling journeys, immersing themselves in unexplored landscapes while pushing their limits on the back of a motorcycle. The feeling when you ride is like no other; it’s a freedom that can’t be expressed in words - it must be experienced to be understood. Nevertheless, it is essential not to overlook the inherent dangers associated with this type of adventure. The adage that says, “There are two types of bikers: those that have crashed and those that still have to crash,” cautions riders to prepare for the inevitable.
Investing in the correct safety gear could significantly reduce the risks of severe injury and may save your life, something I have experienced firsthand. Being a newbie to the adventure motorcycling world, I did what any wannabe intrepid adventurer with a dream would do: I got my licence, bought, and kitted the bike, and I booked my first offroad adventure – that was the easy part.
Next up was the gear. Where to start?
Walking into a bike accessory shop can be daunting; there are so many options to choose from, and as an inexperienced rider, I didn’t know where to start or what to look for, and every salesperson I spoke to offered conflicting advice on what they thought I needed to get. So, I decided it was safest to stick with the brand of my motorcycle and bought BMW boots, a jacket, a liner, pants, gloves, and a rain suit from them. My first helmet was an Arai, which, at the time, was the “helmet of choice” amongst my fellow biking friends. All this gear suited the riding that I had been doing up to that point.
But as my riding skills developed, my love for the “roads less travelled” grew, and my riding became more off-road focused than on tar. The often rugged, challenging terrain and scenic, ever-changing landscapes of our beautiful country captivated my soul and became a passion to pursue.
But I had a problem: my gear was cumbersome, heavy, and just downright hot to wear during more technical off-road terrain manoeuvres. I would find myself hot and drenched in sweat, having to take off my bulky jacket at every rest stop opportunity available on hot summer days. But I surrendered to the fact that that was a small price to pay for the thrill of the ride.
Earlier this year, my partner was due for an upgrade on his riding gear. After researching the various options available in the market, he settled on the Leatt Body Protection System, worn by many of the Dakar competitors during the last desert race, which comprised a body protector, knee guards, an outer jacket and pants, and Leatt 5.5 Enduro Boots.
The gear was lightweight, easy to wear, and looked good on him.
But what sold me was how cool it kept him. Where I was left overheating and drenched in sweat on a ride we did together, he was cool and comfortable. This gear was the way to go.
The first thing I did on my return from our excursion was shop. It was time to upgrade my gear. I moved away from my BMW boots to the more supportive and robust Leatt Enduro 5.5 boots, which gave me more ankle protection. I bought the Leatt Knee and Shin Guard System, which protects your shins and guards your knees from hyperextending, and the Leatt Impact Shorts with hip protection. I opted for the fitted Alpinestars Bionic Action V2 protective jacket with torso, shoulder, and elbow protection built into a highly breathable, durable mesh vest with adjustable straps to ensure the vest stays in place even during the most rigorous activity. I chose this vest over the Leatt brand because I found the centred zip and protective pad positioning more comfortable for my specific body type. I then bought the Leatt 5.5 Enduro lightweight jacket and pants. I also upgraded my helmet from the Arai to the lighter-weight BMW GS Carbon Evo with Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS).
One would think that buying the armour protective system in components would be more costly, but the truth is that it worked out to be quite affordable and less than the price of buying the new Adventure Biking clothing range from BMW. I was Fully kitted and ready to go.
I joined the 5-day Karoo Two Motorcycle Adventure with SA Adventure in May this year, and I was excited to see how the new gear would perform when put to the test. It did not disappoint, and I believe it saved my life.
On the third day of the tour, after leaving the Baviaanskloof and heading towards Uniondale, a fellow biker in front of me missed a turn. He pulled off the road and without checking for oncoming traffic, made a U-turn back onto the road right in front of me. Of course, this was not done intentionally and was a genuine mistake. Thankfully, I noticed his oversight and had already started slowing down. As he turned in front of me, I slammed on the brakes in an attempt to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, I didn't pull my clutch in while carrying out the emergency braking procedure causing the engine to stall and my back wheel to lock up, sending me into a skid at 100 plus km/h. The result was me losing control of the bike. I was thrown on the high side and landed hard on the road, with the bike subsequently rolling over me. I was knocked unconscious as a result...
SA Adventure has a medic on every one of their motorcycle tours. On this tour, the medic was also the sweep rider and was following me. He witnessed the entire accident unfolding in front of him, and as he ran toward my motionless body, he expected the worst.
I was attended to by the tour medic at the accident scene and stabilised. My bike was loaded onto the trailer and I continued the rest of the day as a passenger in the support vehicle. Turns out, the MIPS system in my helmet protected and cushioned my head, and the body armour absorbed the shock of the impact, keeping my body protected. I feel fortunate to have walked away with only a mild concussion, a few sore muscles, and three abrasions on my right hand. My injuries were so mild that despite my broken bike, scraped gear, and torn glove, I was given the all-clear and was able to ride as a pillion with my spare helmet down to Die Hel the next day and enjoy the rest of the tour as a passenger.
After returning from the tour, I’ve had time to reflect on the accident, and I find myself with a new appreciation and a healthy respect for the sport. I shudder when I think of how it could have turned out had I been wearing inferior rider gear.
The biggest lessons I learned from my accident were:
Head protection should be a priority. Investing in a quality helmet should not be compromised. New-generation, lightweight helmets with MIPS are the way to go, in my opinion. My BMW Helmet was a write-off after my accident, but it did its job perfectly and I have already replaced it with a new BMW helmet.
Protective eyewear is essential for motorcycle safety. Off-road riding involves navigating through various terrains where the rider has a high risk of being faced with dust, stones, insects, and just about any other object nature can throw at you. Wearing goggles provides a crucial layer of protection for the rider's eyes. Without proper eye protection exposure to these elements can impair the rider's vision and potentially lead to accidents or injury. Sunglasses worn under your visor are not enough when off-road because even with a closed visor, dust particles can still find their way into the helmet and irritate the eyes. Goggles worn with an enduro or adventure-style helmet provide an additional barrier against these hazards. Not only does it offer physical protection but goggles typically feature foam rims and sponge filters that fit snugly against the face and allows airflow to prevent fogging. The elasticised straps of riding goggles often come with silicone grips that secure the goggles on the helmet that keep it in place during off-road riding, preventing any distractions or potential hazards caused by loose-fitting eye protection. The correct fit of goggles is crucial for optimal protection and comfort. By taking one's helmet along when purchasing goggles, riders can ensure that the goggles fit both their helmet and face correctly. This will enhance the overall riding experience by providing a clear and unobstructed view while minimizing any discomfort caused by ill-fitting goggles.
Body protection: Invest in protective gear that is best-in-class. Choose a reputable brand that complies with top safety standards, fits your body correctly, and is best suited to the type of riding you want to do. I highly recommend the body armor system I was wearing on the day of my accident as it actually offers way more protection in the right places than some of the most expensive adventure jackets on the market. I will be honest and admit that I was sceptical when initially shopping for the fitted body armour, it seemed rather excessive when compared to what I had before but after wearing it on a 5-day tour and experiencing the protection it provided for me, I wouldn’t venture off-road without it.
Fitted knee and shin guards are necessary protective gear for adventure riders and afford superior protection off-road compared to traditional padded adventure riding pants. Adventure riding pants have built-in protective pads, but these are not fitted to the body and can move around when riding off-road terrain and may be uncomfortable and provide inadequate protection in the event of a crash. On the other hand, fitted knee and shin guards, such as the Leatt Dual-Axis knee and shin guard system, are designed to move with the body and provide optimal protection. These guards are manufactured from lightweight and breathable materials, allowing for comfort during long rides. Additionally, the Leatt Dual-Axis knee and shin guard system incorporates dual pivots on each side that mimic natural knee motion, ensuring a comfortable fit and reducing the risk of restrictions in movement. The anatomical design for the left and right knees ensures a secure and comfortable fit. They are constructed with impact-absorbing foam covered by a hardshell chassis, providing a combination of cushioning and durability. The guards are secured to the knee using a comfortable strapping system, preventing them from sliding down or moving around during riding, and are slimline enough to fit comfortably into enduro boots without causing discomfort.
Wearing Proper Boots: I traded my BMW boots for Leatt Enduro 5.5 boots. The Leatt boot offers more support and protection, and they are comfortable to ride in. The impact foam around the ankle and heal grip inside give a general cushioned feel and there are no pressure points or hot spots after longer riding time on the pegs. The boot design is spacious and allows adequate room in the foot area suited for all foot types. The boots offer excellent lateral stability and rigidity and give a good bike feel and grip. They also have steel plates in the soles to stop your feet from bending over the footpegs when standing up off-road. The only downside, in my opinion, is that they aren’t waterproof, but I don’t believe any enduro boots are.
Training and Time in the Saddle: Knowing your bike and having the skills to respond to obstacles instinctively only come from practice. After my ordeal, I realised I had to go back to some of the basics. Learn how to manoeuvre effectively in tight spaces and across varying terrains; execute emergency stops instinctively and effectively; anticipate and avoid obstacles; and how ultimately become a better rider.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my investment in the protective gear turned out to be a life-saving investment. And yes, my protective gear now bears the scars of the accident, but they are there to remind me that the right gear can make all the difference.
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Stay Safe, Big Love, the SA Adventure Team!