There was a point, as I got dressed for the first day of riding in Chandigarh, that, I admit, I thought about it.
Laying out my riding gear on the bed; the heavy boots, the long jacket, thick trousers, helmet, gloves and neck brace, I wondered if I really needed it all on this first section. I mean, the city was full of young men and even families on small motorcycles, wearing little more than T-shirts and shorts, with some even forgoing helmets. What kind of a dork would I be, dressed up like a soldier from the Halo video game, riding around on an old-looking Royal Enfield around town?
I'd like to think it was just common sense on my part, but I donned everything, including the neck brace, to start the journey, trying not to think of other riders' disdain or weird looks.
You see, for me, part of the fun of owning a bike is buying the gear. But I'm not just shopping for fashion; the whole point of all this gear is to stay as safe as possible in the event of a crash. And I thought I'd feel like a right idiot if I did fall off while my safety gear was stowed away in the support van for vanity's sake. And, as it turns out, this was a very good decision.
Near the end of my Himalayan adventure, I hit a bump hard, which tossed my Enfield up and sent me flying over the handlebars. I broke my right collarbone, and you might ask, "what good was your gear then?"
But a more pertinent question would be, "how bad could it have been without it?"
Let's go through it all, starting with the jacket and trousers. Both are made of tough Cordura, an abrasion-resistant fabric, and they, along with my leather gloves and boots, protected me from any friction burns from hitting the ground. In fact, the only bruise I had was on my side where there was no armour, but my shoulder and elbows were fine and bruise free. They certainly wouldn't have been had I been wearing just a T-shirt.
The armoured boots also saved my ankles from injury, as they include hard supports around the ankles and shins. The boots, jacket, gloves and trousers were so tough that they don't even have any tears or rips, and I'll gladly use them another day.
The helmet didn't fare so well; there were deep gouges where it took the brunt of the fall, but to its credit, I barely felt hitting my head; it absorbed all the impact. Because of that, I destroyed it and left it in Leh. A helmet that has already suffered a hit is not to be used again because the foam inside that absorbs the force is now crushed and won't react the same way. At least I get to shop for a new helmet now.
But the damage to the helmet is a clue to the effectiveness of the last piece of equipment, the neck brace. This brace is relatively new to the motorcycle world, and used primarily by off-road and motocross riders. It was designed by Chris Leatt a few years ago, who was inspired to design the device after seeing a couple of riders break their necks in low-speed accidents.
The way it works is simple: it rests on the shoulders, back and sternum and acts as a stop for the helmet to prevent overextending the neck, sometimes sacrificing other, more easily repairable bones in the process. Bones like the collarbone.
I can't say for sure what injuries I would have suffered had I not been wearing the neck brace, but the combination of all the gear prevented further pain and more serious damage. That is without question.
If you've got a bike, get the gear and wear it. Looking like a dork is much better than being an idiot.