If you are a parent who is reading this because your son or daughter is getting a scooter or their first small motorbike and you are terrified, read on. You know your own kid, but rather than make a confrontation of it, maybe controlling the risks is a better plan.
First of all, if your kid really wants two wheels, they will get them. My Dad did everything he could to stop me getting my first bike. He was not in the strongest position to argue about the dangers of motorcycling as he was still a serving paratrooper when I got my first bike, so I could point out to him that his chosen trade involved leaping out of serviceable aircraft from ridiculous heights and then when he landed people would shoot at him. Even so, emotional blackmail, loss of driving lessons, not being able to bring my mighty 100cc Kawasaki into the garden still had no effect and 24 years later I am still riding, having spent 5 years as a motorcycle courier.
The last 16 years of my life have been spent dealing with broken motorcyclists and my 9 year old daughter has already said she wants a motorbike because cars are boring. Thatâ€™s my girl! But it set me thinking. How would I kit out and try to make safe my daughterâ€™s first riding days.
So what protective kit should your novice rider get? Kids and parents are on a tight budget, so the protection has got to be good value for money, so here are my thoughts.
1. Helmet â€“ they all meet EU and British standards, so all will do their job. If you know nothing about bikes or helmets fibre glass is heavier and more robust. Polycarbonate is lighter and cheaper. However stickers and sun damage are bad news on polycarb helmets, so I personally will always go for fibreglass. Fit is more important than brand, and buckle the thing up. A helmet with an undone strap is 3 points if you are lucky and a head crushed like a melon if you are unlucky. And even if you do not fall off every other biker will think your kid is an idiot. Various studies have shown white helmets are most clearly seen. They are also the cheapest. Finally, never buy second hand helmets. The lining of a helmet is what saves skulls and brains. If that lining has been compacted, most of its shock absorbing capacity has gone, so the next line of defence is your kidâ€™s skull.
2. Boots â€“ protective gear by Adidas is great for runners, rubbish for motorcyclists. Most low speed accidents we see involve injuries to the foot and lower limbs. If you can get your kid wearing motocross boots then these are fantastic. Armoured short boots are very good too. This is where your money can be very well spent. Look for protection around the ankle bone. Even a light scooter falling on your kidâ€™s ankle can snap it. If you cannot get your kids wearing proper boots then do not be fooled that fashionable chunky boots such as Timberlands are much good for motorcyclists. They are better than trainers but only for abrasion, but not really for impact. Make boots a real issue. If you had seen the horrible foot injuries I have seen over the years you will see why all of my colleagues and I all wear good boots and why Despatch Riders spend more on boots than helmets.
3. Jacket â€“ relatively inexpensive Cordura jackets with body armour offer a good compromise of warmth, crash protection and abrasion resistance. Most of our lawyers ride in Held or Hein Gericke Cordura jackets throughout the year. A bit of venting is good, so jackets get used on hot days. A removable thermal lining means jackets get used in both hot and cold weather. Alpinestar and Dainesse look the part but all of the major manufacturers make good, practical jackets. There are decently flattering styles for female riders, and Held in particular make jackets which my young female lawyers seem to really like, and they look good too. The Highway Code recommends bright colours. Personally, all my kit is black as with my type of mileage all kit gets grey after a few months. I also ride a bike with a total of 3 powerful front lights, and my R1200GS is the size of a small bus. An urban scooterist would do well to go for a contrast colour, so blue bike and red jacket is more visible than all blue, or all grey. A fleece or a hoodie can see your child literally dying of gravel rash. At 30mph sliding along tarmac in a sweatshirt is much the same as someone taking to your child with a belt sander.
4. Trousers â€“ if you are going to have one set of trousers, go for Cordura with body armour. Ones which zip together with the jacket have two massive advantages. The first is that midriffs are not exposed in a crash, leaving skin available for abrasion. Secondly, you stay much warmer. Jeans are over rated for protection. They are marginally better than sweat pants or shorts, but offer all the protection and weather resistance of a tea bag.
5. Gloves â€“ essential for control and frozen hands cannot work the controls. All gloves are a compromise between flexibility and feel, and then protection. If your kid is going to land on his hands, he is going to bust his wrist,
Motorcycling has risks. Thatâ€™s why we wear the protective kit that gives us the best chance of walking (or maybe hobbling) away. A spill off a bike will hurt pride and body, but the right kit makes the difference between permanent injury and a bit of a battering.
The one thing that is most likely to avoid your kid getting hurt is skill and experience. Training is the real lifesaver and injury preventer. Just passing the CBT means you can control the bike. Even if you have no interest in bikes, but your kid has got the bike bug, improving your own driving and observational skills can make you a better driving guide and mentor. Think about doing your Institute of Advanced Motorists test and enrolling your kid into Bike Safe Police rider training, to start teaching them the basics of roadcraft â€“ the skill that improves your kids odds of riding and driving accident free.