Better Safe Than Sorry

BY MARK MCKENZIE                                                                                                                                    

I’ve always worn a helmet – that was one of my dad’s rules. The jacket and gloves were seasonal. At least that was my rule until two summers ago.

It was one of those beautiful Florida weekends just made for riding – bright sun, light breeze, mid-80s, near zero chance of rain. I had recently finished my project of stripping down, cleaning, and reassembling my late father’s 1986 Gold Wing Interstate and decided to make the three-hour trip from Jacksonville to Lake Wales to show my mom the finished product. I chose the half-shell helmet so I could enjoy the breeze and scents of the Ocala National Forest. I debated the jacket and gloves since it was getting warm, but chose to wear them so my wife wouldn’t worry excessively. Besides, the jacket is a light weight mesh you can see through when held up to the light so the breeze comes right through. It’s probably not much protection, but it’s better than a t-shirt.

The trip south was picture perfect. I got an early start so it was still cool enough for the jacket and gloves (that means mid-70s in Florida). The old Gold Wing ran flawlessly. No traffic through the forest, just the smell of fresh pine and an occasional patch of smoke from the controlled burns. The half-shell was definitely the right choice. The next morning I prepared for the return trip, but after visiting a little longer than planned it was getting warm.

I opted for the jacket and gloves anyway. Looking forward to a repeat of the previous day, I crossed over Interstate 4 and headed for the Ocala National Forest. An occasional stoplight made the jacket a little warm, but not so much that I would interrupt the ride to take it off and stow it. Once I hit the forest it was another perfect ride. Unfortunately, the forest is only half the trip.

Upon emerging from the forest I suffered through the stoplights of Palatka and then headed north on U.S. Highway 17. Traffic was light and stoplights are few so it was still a pleasant 60 mph ride. The perfect ride ended abruptly just south of Green Cove Springs when a south bound driver decided to make a left turn in front of me. I hit the brakes hard, but saw I was on a collision course with her right rear fender. I eased off the front brake just a little and turned a little left. Then things really got exciting.

As soon as I started to turn, the front wheel locked up and the Gold Wing slid out from beneath me. Two thoughts ran through my head – keep your face off the pavement and slide rather than tumble. Feeling my nose nearing the asphalt, I put my gloved left hand out to roll myself onto my back. To stop the roll and keep from tumbling, I reached my other hand out and just rode the back of my jacket to stop. Once the slide was over I got up, put my sunglasses back on, and walked out of the road to assess my injuries.

My left knee had hit the pavement first and that would take a few stitches to close. To my amazement (and the driver’s), I had no other injuries. I went from 60 mph to zero on asphalt with no road rash! The Power Trip VTX mesh jacket was scuffed, but intact. The light weight Easton batting gloves were worn through the padded palm, but not through to mine. The helmet never hit anything.

Here are the lessons learned: Beware of the cross streets for obvious reasons. Beware of the country roads – we ride there to enjoy the scenery and not worry about traffic, but so do the drivers of other vehicles. If you’re ever in an accident you may need your helmet; you’re more likely to need your jacket and gloves. It may be 98 degrees (110 degrees or more on the pavement), but I’d rather suffer from the heat at a stoplight than suffer with asphalt road rash. Protective riding gear, like insurance and condoms, can’t be added after you’ve had a need for it.

I replaced the Power Trip VTX mesh jacket with the same and upgraded the batting gloves to actual riding gloves. I’ve suffered in the Florida heat some afternoons and felt that I’ve not needed the jacket or gloves, but if I ever do, I’ll be prepared.

Mark W. McKenzie is the adversary fleet support team lead at the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast. He rides a 2007 Honda VTX 1300R and a 1986 Honda Gold Wing Interstate. McKenzie has been riding for 42 years.