Discuss: protection is all in the mind

MAG's Ian Mutch questions the absolute necessity off head-to-toe riding gear

Discuss: protection is all in the mind

THE sun's out and so are squids (stupidly quick, under-dressed and imminently dead) riding in T-shirts. 

But surely the most important piece of safety equipment is the mind?

Ian Mutch, Editor of the Motorcycle Action Group's magazine The Road, explains why he's more concerned with what's going on inside the helmet than the shell on the outside. 

'It was a hot day in London, the temperature in the low 80s. I was sitting at the lights on Kings Road, Chelsea, when a guy pulled up next to me dressed in the full power ranger kit. I was wearing thin cargo pants, a light cotton jacket, an open face helmet and no gloves. He turned toward me, his red face pinched tight like a tormented monkey in a research laboratory. Sweat trickled down his nose. He looked me up and down critically and shook his head slowly while looking at his tank. The lights went green and he took off like a ground-to-air missile, disappearing around the bend at what must have been 40mph. I heard the crash seconds later. As I rounded the bend he was on his feet, picking a path back through a carpet of broken plastic, his red crotch rocket on its side. A woman in a four-by-four was hanging out of the driver’s window looking concerned as he strode toward her, the index finger of his right hand pointing in her direction. I wish he had glanced my way. I was ready with a sad headshake for his benefit. But I had faded from the orbit of his interest.

'He didn’t seem to be hurt but he did look angry and my guess is he was still angry when he told the story of the "stupid bint" down the pub. I mean, it was his road and she was reversing out of parking space into the main road, his main road; just what the hell did she think she was doing?

'He was fortunate to have had all that gear on, and while he may have had a scuffed elbow here and a grazed knee slider there, he was okay. His £500 helmet had helped too. Of course it would all need to be replaced now, as it was scuffed and scratched and that’s the insurance company’s problem, not ours. I mean they print money don’t they and they just rip us off, don’t they? So if we crash through no fault of our own whatsoever then hey, it’s only right that they should cough up, isn’t it?

'Yes it was a good job our head-wagging chum had all that kit on, unlike the half-wit in the cargo pants – what an amateur! If only he’d seen a few A&E cases of people who’d come off in the wrong gear and scraped themselves down the tarmac.

'Of course there is a balance to be struck. If I was going to take a bike round the Nurburgring, I’d wear all that protective kit. But if I am bimbling about in London, I wouldn’t, and I don’t and I didn’t even as a courier for five years in the 1980s. I dressed to be comfortable and I put my faith in what was inside my head, not what I wrapped it in. In the summer, I wore no gloves because the greater sensitivity gave me more control. The hotter it was, the more I loved it and the less I wore. I wore an old climbing helmet that weighed about as much as an apple, and trainers. Some of the other riders gave me the look that the power ranger did that day. Sometimes I’d explain my attitude. Sometimes I’d argue with them. Sometimes I’d go and visit them in hospital.

'Okay, if you are going to war you probably need armour, but on a motorcycle I am a pacifist.'

IAN Mutch is Editor of the Motorcycle Action Group's monthly magazine The Road and author of six books on motorcycle travel and biker lifestyle. 

What's your view? Tell us if you think Mutch has got it wrong.

  • A version of this article was first published in September 2013.