All luggaged up

I had some Cameron Barker panniers (see header image). They’re now discontinued and they didn’t work so well on the cruiser, the mounting system probably works better on conventional tourers and adventure bikes but I’ve torn the fabric where the eyelets meet the system due to the bungees pulling at an odd angle. They were very waterproof so top marks for that.


Held bag an Givi Topbox, and a tiny stowaway

My pannier supports met with an unfortunate incident involving my mother not listening and enthusiastically operating a powered garage door. I sought out a cheap alternative.


Parked up fuelling myself with coffee after getting petrol. Yes that is a plank of wood on the back. Stops the sidestand sinking on soft ground.

I tried a Held Waterproof Tail Carry Bag. The 30 litre option is plenty to supplement my 45 litre topbox. It’s really simple, a red PVC tarpaulin bag will a roll top, some compression straps and a shoulder strap for off the bike. I bought some rok straps to secure it to the pillion seat. They fit in seconds and are far more secure than standard bungees. I’ve been using it since the autumn and it’s not let me down. Really simple. Really waterproof.



Magnets on my tank

My leathers are less sweaty than my textiles so I have worn them through most of this year. If it starts raining hard I need to get waterproofs on fast or it will be too late. On an overnight or longer trip I will have a lot of carefully packed luggage, and extracting waterproofs is a pain. On a recreational ride I don’t want a top box. A small tank bag is the answer. I had a little Frank Thomas one. It was terrible, determined to move about and come off. No Headstock strap and the magnets were really weak.

I bought an Oxford X4 based on BCF recommendations. The magnets are insanely strong, and on a removable board. There are Velcro straps so it can be used as a tail-pack if required. The zips have some kind of rubbery shroud so are water resistant. There’s a satnav holder, an A5 map holder that’s just big enough for my Philips Compact Atlas or directions printed on booklet mode. It has a headstock strap too. Most importantly, it stays put really well. Right now it’s carrying my waterproof overjacket, my waterproof trousers, my goretex winter gloves, visor cleaning kit, hand sanitiser, a spare buff, a pen, an tyre pressure gauge, my disk lock and (because I fail at packing) my ledergris and boot brush. My phone and wallet sometimes end up in the top section, and sometimes I use the map holder.

It stayed put during every crazy run I’ve made since I’ve had it and feels really well made. It is quite small at 4 litres, so consider a bigger one from the same range if you want something to carry everything. For the bits of tat that I want straight away, it’s perfect. Highly recommended.

All luggaged up

All luggaged up

Take your armour and insert it in the appropriate cavity

So I have some pretty decent kit, some mid-price kit and some cheap kit. I’ve crashed in some of it. Worst I’ve had is some ligament damage from throwing my bike down the road in a different direction to myself and not getting my foot out from under it before rolling over. Didn’t hit the solid object, all is good.


That’s the knee armour I was wearing when I did that. Dual layer foam. It’s been in storage for about two years and is going crusty and brittle around the edges. See the waffle pattern on the inside of the left pad? That’s the weave of the trousers embossed into the foam. I think these were done with. Granted that knee hit the ground and at least one layer of the 1200 denier nylon was worn through so it did its job, don’t think it would work as well a second time.


Here’s the hip armour that came with it. No CE approval marking. Trousers were advertised as having CE approved armour in the knee and hip. Buyer beware. Note that some of the edge looks slightly blistered? This matches the scuff mark in the outside of the trousers that follows the outline of the hip insert. I’m quite glad it was there. Again, single use. Would I buy those trousers again? Yes if that was my budget. They were cheap and did their job.

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Above is an elbow pad from my leather jacket, approved to EN1621-1 1997 as a type A elbow protector. The type A means it’s the smaller coverage area, and given the thin foam across most of it, I suspect only the vented area would dissipate the 50 joule test load with no more than 35kN as required. I’d expect to see this kind of armour used for skateboards and similar with the addition of a little velcro. The plastic shell is great for abrasion resistance but that’s what the surrounding leather jacket is for. Accordingly this is not in a jacket.

Some maths:

Work = Force x Distance

Work/Force = Distance

Therefore we can calculate the distance over which minimum standard armour will dissipate the test force. In this case EN1621-1:1997 armour will dissipate the 50J force over at least 1.4mm. 50J is the same amount of energy as a mass of approximately 5kg dropped from a metre. That’s not huge compared to the forces involved in an accident. Consider how thick the armour is and how much more it can deform before it becomes useless. In the case of the above armour much more.

EN1621-1:2012 brings in tiered standards, level one as we know it, and level 2 specifying a maximum of 20kN in the same test, which means a dissipation over at least 2.5mm. This standard also requires that performance be retained after hydrolythic ageing and in cold, hot and wet conditions.

Forcefield Knee Forcefield side

The above armour is Forcefield Net armour, one of the few aftermarket products that meets EN-1621-1/2012 Level 2, and on the B template so sized for a large person. I bought some for my RST leather trousers. It’s remarkably flexible, quite light and easily conforms to the shape of my knees, I shall have more of these. Hopefully I won’t test the claim that these work for repeated impacts, as I have plenty of armour with permanent marks in it. The original armour was the RST A-template armour shown below.

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I can’t see why RST put this in their products, the pocket is big enough for a B-template insert but they’ve cut away at it to make it smaller and lighter the internal curvature is too small so the edges dig into my knee.

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The RST trousers had no hip armour, but there were pockets for some. The forcefield hip armour is made from 4 layers of Nitrex and can be easily cut to shape. It’s only level 1, but it’s arguably the best that I could find.


My IXS Tromso trousers came with some kind of comfort padding as pictured above. It’s no better than cardboard. Initially used the forcefield insert, as these are the same shape as my RST trousers. The shape matches well with a D3O insert, so I’m trying those in the IXS trousers. The D3O material is a non-newtonian oobleck-like material, the harder you hit it the stiffer it gets. It’s more flexible than the Forcefield and has smoother edges, so it’s less likely to present a hard edge behind the less abrasion resistant textiles.


I’ve not got my hands on any knox aftermarket kit yet. I’ll find some inserts that knox upgrades and write them up separately.

See also:

Nights in dirty black armour

Modern motorcycle kit is pretty good and technology is advancing rapidly, partly driven by aggressive European standards, and partly by high rider interest in the protectiveness of their kit. Extensive media coverage of top-flight disciplines like MotoGP mean we are bombarded with footage of gladatorial heroes having huge crashes and walking away unscathed. Here Bradley Smith escapes with a few bruises.

I’m not going to discuss helmets here. A good one that fits well is essential.

Boots have long been covered by EU PPE Directives, which which involve a manufacturer demonstrating how an item protects adequately whilst preserving adequate mobility. Historically such approvial has been limited to expensive specialist boots, such as Altberg’s range which are designed for emergency services use, with a price tag to reflect this. Such designs, including my much loved Altberg Clubman Classics, were typically big bulky leather monsters that were hard to find on the shelves or only available made to order. Now there are are number of boots in modern sports or sports touring styles proudly bearing their CE PPE approval as a badge of quality, budget manufacturer Tuzo offering a CE boot for £60.

Almost every rider has at least one decent jacket. Leather jackets differ from fashion jackets in thickness of leather and quality and type of stitching. One can typically expect seven seconds of sliding down the road before failure whereas stitching on a fashion jacket may split on impact offering nothing more that a false sense of security. Often the surface may be treated to provide some degree of drizzle resistance. Textile jackets are made of thick abrasion resistant nylon, and usually have a waterproof membrane inside. Quality varies from lasting half as long as leather to similar performances. Commonly elbows and shoulders will have heavy reinforcement layers, expensive jackets using leather, stingray or synthetic equivalents in these locations. CE PPE kit is getting more common, but still a rarity and expensive. Some kind of CE approved shoulder and elbow armour is expected, and there is usually a pocket for a back protector, but often this is an optional extra, or worse a foam packing pad is included. I’m not sure the inclusion of packing pads or comfort pads is a responsible approach. Perhaps it’s better than nothing but I suspect it may be a deterrent to adding proper armour. The counterargument is it makes the rider aware that something is supposed to go in that pocket. I’d been told my first leather jacket had a back protector but it did not carry approval markings. It appears virtually identical to a level one approved insert I have, but appearances can be deceiving.

There is a rumour that regular denim jeans are adequate leg protection. They aren’t. Come off at 30mph and you’re looking at severe skin loss. 20mph is enough to put a hole in a layer of 1600 denier nylon reinforcing the knee some budget waterproof textiles. There were several layers and armour inserts, so plenty of abrasion resistance left. My more upmarket Frank Thomas trousers have titanium sliders over the kneecap as that point is so likely to suffer point abrasion. Such sliders are also seen on high end race suits and jackets at the elbows and shoulders, but should not be confused with the replaceable hockey puck sliders on the outside of the knees on race suits which offer abrasion resistance for knee-down track riding. Marc Marquez et al may have similar upon the elbow. Both kinds of slider can be seen in this video, note the silvery titainium triangles and white plastic blobs with the Alpinestars logo at the shoulders and kneecaps sit almost flush with the suit whereas the hockey pucks sit proud and have a single flat surface to present to the track.

Leather trousers are again the thing to beat. Some high quality textiles manage this although almost as good is usually the case. Draggin produce kevlar lined jeans that meet CE standards, although to reach the abraision resistance of leather the trousers are thicker, hotter and heavier than leathers and require a mesh lining, defeating the comfort appeal of denim, so all that remains in their favour is the look. Admittedly they’re less obviously bikewear than leathers making it easier to blend in when off the bike.

Trousers and jackets that zip together are awesome, as this prevents trousers slipping down, jackets riding up and hopefully keeps both parts in place during an accident. It also keeps the wind out. Zup make adapters that allow you to velcro together a two-piece for convenience or fit a mismatched set. I have some Zup velcro parts and they work to keep the wind out, but I wouldn’t say they were as safe as zipping everything together. They also make adapters to zip mismatched sets together or extend matching sets. I will try their zip-together adapters shortly. One-piece suits are great for the track and dedicated recreational sport riding, but are uncomfortable of the bike, and are only really suited to sport-bike riding positions. Furthermore they look ridiculous if one is in the least bit tubby.

Decent gloves are essential. Leather fashion gloves are likely to split at the sight of tarmac, textile ski gloves or similar might keep you warm but are not significantly abrasion resistant. Leather is the dominant material, with waterproof membranes and thermal linings for wet and cold days through to unlined vented leather with the seams on the outside for the height of summer. All kinds of fancy knuckle guards are popular, but beware cheap rigid armour, what you need on the knuckles is impact absorption, which nitrex or other deformable armour may be better at. Hard knuckle armour is more important on faired bikes as the edge of the fairing is a painful thing to punch. Often neglected are the scaphoid and palm of the hand, which are most likely to hit the ground first. More modern glove designs are more likely to have some extra protection here, my summer gloves have a thick nitrex foam pad covered in a low friction abrasion resistant stingray replacement material called Superfabric. Most important of all is that the gloves fasten securely so they will not come off in an accident. I had some traditional gauntlet style gloves that were warm and comfortable but had an annoying press stud strap that did not work well, and I have modified my winter gloves the hook section of the Velcro did not extend far enough.

Armoured inserts are discussed in a companion article.

Countersteering, tailgating and roadrage.

Been riding a lot in the evening rush hour lately. I hate it. For a start it’s more of a mad 240 minute scramble. But when there are things to be done things get done. I’ve noticed a pattern of behaviour I don’t like . It starts with someone following too close. It’s always a Ford Focus, driven very aggressively and following very closely, particularly through sections where the traffic ahead of me is behaving unpredictably and eroding my braking distance. At some point I will need to turn off and will check behind me (as if i can see anything beyond ), indicate, change my position in the road, flash my brake light, then break and change gear ready to make the turn, perhaps being ready to stop or indeed stopping if it’s a right turn across oncoming traffic. Shoulder check in the direction of turn, and start turning, a nice tight precise turn to put me in the command position in the road I’m turning into, without cutting into lanes I shouldn’t be in. Then the tailgater passes me beating up their horn. I had assumed this was mere rage at being slowed down. Then I saw this:

Yes it’s yet more of a bike riding towards the camera along a white line. What I hadn’t noticed is how far the bike moves away from the direction of turn as countersteering takes place. And so I have a new theory: Expert tailgater has forced car into a space with no clearance and is then spooked as the bike appears to move back into the space that was vacated. I’m not sure whether to someone who doesn’t get bikes the act of turning looks like a rider might be changing their mind at the last minute, or whether there was a serious collision risk. So how to minimise the latter? I guess i could refuse to give up command of the road, that is staying in or near the centre of my lane, until I am committed to turn so that the tailgater cannot squeeze into a space that is too small. Or I push right into the gutter or onto the centre-line of the road and slow down more to allow more room. It’s not an issue that’s in any of my books. I’m for the former, choosing not to allow following vehicles past.

In Australia it is probably impossible to ride a motorcycle legally.

Rule 271: Riding on motor bikes
(1) The rider of a motor bike that is moving (other than a rider who is walking beside and pushing a motorbike), or the rider of a motorbike that is stationary but not parked, must:

(a) sit astride the rider’s seat facing forwards; and
(b) ride with at least 1 hand on the handlebars; and
(c) if the motorbike is moving — keep both feet on the footrests designed for use by the rider of the motorbike.

This seems like what you do riding a motorcycle right? Right? Well most of the time yes. Let us examine the fallacies:

  • One must sit. No. Speedhumps, potholes, and rough terrain are often better tackled stood on the pegs, isolating body movement from bike movement. Furthermore moving body positions posterior and seat are frequently briefly detached. Being unable to shift weight around on a bike to aid cornering and breaking is very dangerous indeed.
  • Facing forward. Except when checking for other vehicles in areas unseen in mirrors. I’m quite fond of the looking over shoulder into the space I’m about to move into. My instructor calls this shoulder-checks or lifesavers. I think one is supposed to do that in cars too, but then one is supposed to use car mirrors.
  • keep both feet on the footrests There is this instantaneous transition between zero and nonzero velocity, it takes time to get feet onto footrests and doing so too quickly would upset the bike, similarly a smooth stop is achieved by bringing a foot down as the bike comes to a halt. Furthermore, it’s quite hard to keep contact with the pegs as one moves from a comfortable and controllable riding position to a position where a foot covers the brake pedal or is underneath or above the toe operated gearshift. Heal/toe shifters I think are completely impossible to use without some detachment of the foot. And then there is cornering on loose surfaces or at very low speeds where the done thing by trained riders is to extend the inside foot for balance. Lastly, at some point in a journey a quick stretch of a leg is most useful, and likely dangerous to suppress until the the motorcycle can be stopped as precise use of the foot controls is required to operate a motorcycle safely and the discomfort of cramp is very distracting.

This is what happens when people who have very little idea about how something works and do not consult properly with people who do get to make laws. Yes it’s quite obvious that feet go on pegs, bum goes on seat and one faces the direction of travel. That is not the same as this is required at all times for safe riding. At least they got the one hand on the bars thing correct. Visors need adjusting, hand signals need making, occasional non handlebar controls on bike may need adjusting.

Read more on this lunacy at http://motorbikewriter.com/kevin-bartlett-fights-stupid-motorcycle-rules

Steering is countersteering.

Motorcycle racing games amuse me, there is all this detailed simulation of moving weight around forwards and backwards to manage grip during acceleration and braking, yet the most basic part is utterly wrong move control stick left, bike goes left. This further propagates the misconceptions of how two wheeled vehicles steer.

On a motorcycle (or bicycle) apply a small force to the handlebars turning the front wheel to the right (usually by pushing on the left bar) and the bike will lean over to the left. Stop applying that force and the caster effect will cause the front wheel to turn itself to follow a stable curved trajectory.

At very low speeds, frictional forces between the tyre and road may prevent the castor effect so the rider must both initiate a small amount of lean and then turn the bars to follow the curve himself. It may be the case that a slow turn can be initiated by muscling the bars around and moving the body to balance, this will likely cause a wobble that will need steering input to correct, resulting in a similar counter steering manoeuvre.

Beyond walking pace steering is a brief light push on a bar to initiate lean, then applying no force to either bar as the wheel aligns to the lean angle by the caster effect. Small pushes on either bar adjust the angle of turn. Briefly push the bars so the wheel points further into the curve and the bike will stand up. Of course it’s all about knowing how hard and how long to push for, which is something one picks up with practice very quickly.

My point is the control input the rider makes is a torque (turning force) on the bars, not a degree of rotation as it would be on a four wheeled vehicle.

Furthermore one cannot steer a bike by leaning alone. This myth propagates as changes in body position executed badly cause a torque on the bars and thus turning. The Califonia Superbike school has a bike with one set of bars fixed to the frame of the bike and another fixed to the front forks, turning the front wheel in the conventional manner. It is a tool used to demonstrate to riders that lean alone will not steer a bike as a moving bike is incredibly stable.