Pavement is a Cheese Grater

One of my well-intentioned but non-motorcycle-riding friends continues to send me articles that she finds on the web to try to discourage me from riding my Harley again. I know she cares, but I really wish she would lay off. I understand the risks and work hard to minimize them. I know that I cannot completely eliminate all risk, and I understand that riding a motorcycle — especially on congested suburban roads where I live — is dangerous.

I learned many lessons from my experience when I crashed while riding my Harley to work on May 31. One of the most important lessons was…

…that wearing full protective gear directly minimized injuries. While I suffered 3 broken ribs, it was the avoidance of “road rash” that enabled me to return to work and to my regular life activities significantly more quickly.

RoadrashThe term “road rash” sounds like a minor little thing, like an itch that can be cured with a topical cream.

Far from it. There are three types of road rash: first degree — minor redness with no broken skin; second degree — broken skin but not deep; and third degree — skin torn off down to the bone. Some recent statistics I have seen is that for motorcyclists, more than 3/4 of those who have a crash have skin abrasions (aka “road rash”) have the third-degree form.

This means that 3/4 of all motorcycle-related road rash abrasions tear the skin off to the bone. That type of injury is extremely painful, requires surgical repair, and results in permanent scarring. These injuries can more easily become infected and result in sepsis — a life-threatening introduction of infection in the blood stream and traveling to all organs.

Three people I know who have had motorcycle-crash-caused abrasions told me that they lost use of their arms, wrists, hands, fingers, knees, and/or feet for weeks while the injuries were treated, bandaged, and healed. They lost significant time from work. They couldn’t do things that you and I take for granted — like holding a fork and cutting food with a knife, dressing themselves, walking up or down stairs, or bathing. Essentially they became temporarily disabled, and the length of time that they couldn’t care for themselves varied from two to ten weeks, depending on the extent of the abrasions they incurred.

The text in the above image is from an article that my well-intentioned friend sent to me. It was written by a paramedic in New York. Yep, all “high-and-mighty/I know better” approach. I’ve heard that from my friends at the fire department where I am a Life Member. Yeah, I get it… road rash is awful because flesh and pavement are incompatible, and the abrasive injuries that result are debilitating and often permanent because skin never heals back to its complete smoothness.

The problem with the article is that it is using a fear approach to try to influence a change of behavior — in this case, stop riding or choose not to ride a motorcycle. There have been hundreds of studies that show that the fear-based approach does not work. People will take risk; it is a part of human nature. The better approach is to educate and learn about the risks for certain activities, and actively employ methods to reduce the risk.

In a motorcycle crash, one of the risks is getting extensive abrasions that tear skin to the bone — third degree road rash. A t-shirt and fingerless gloves do nothing to prevent it. A thin t-shirt provides no protection at all. Fingerless gloves make you look cool, but don’t protect the fingers. Motorcycle crash road rash happens there most often, because when you are falling, what do you naturally do? You naturally throw your hands out in front of you to protect your body during a fall. What hits the pavement first? Your hands and fingers that get broken and have skin abraded to the bone.

Denim jeans provide little protection as well. You know how some people like to tear holes in jeans on purpose and wear them that way as a fashion statement? Denim tears easily — and in a motorcycle crash, denim jeans are about as unprotective as a t-shirt.

The lesson that I learned from my motorcycle crash is that my strong affinity for wearing leather breeches or jeans, protective ballistic nylon jacket, sturdy boots, a DOT-labeled helmet, and gloves all the time was directly the reason why I had no road rash abrasions at all, anywhere. I hit the pavement at about 40mph (64kph) and if not for my protective gear, the skin on my legs, arms, and backside of my torso would have been shredded to the bone.

Now three months later, I can sit here writing this blog post with fully functional fingers and non-scarred skin on my arms, legs, and torso, without thinking about it. The consequences of choices to accept the gentle but persistent ribbing from my biker buddies, the odd and questioning looks, and the occasional reference to me being one of the Village People are all acceptable. I would rather be made fun of and laughed about behind my back than having more serious injuries because I did not protect myself.

Once again, I am a strong believer in ATGATT — all the gear, all the time. My walking, talking, smooth-skined functioning body can attest.

Life is short: understand the risks faced when motorcycling, and take action to reduce them.