body armour for the commute

Beating the system - the cycling commuting section

body armour for the commute

Postby adele » Mon Dec 07, 2009 5:26 pm

i'm considering the merits of investing in body armour for my inner city commute/general urban cycling for transport, and would love to hear others' views.

i am a skilled and experienced commuter cyclist, having cycled growing up in the suburbs and, since taking a job in the cbd, commuted by bike every day for 4 years. i've gotten myself out of numerous close calls unscathed through a combination of luck, skill and having a well-tuned bike, but knew it was only a matter of time before my luck ran out. my route to work is not unusually hazardous, but with close calls every second day, i knew it was inevitable that i would be hit by a car eventually.

and so it was that, a couple of weeks back, a doofus car driver failed to stop at a stop sign and sped out in front of me, leaving insufficient time for me to pull up (or even slow much) and sending me flying. i'm now recovering from surgery on my collarbone (typing left-handed thanks to a sling) and facing a further operation in 3 months. i was very lucky to run into their side rather than be hit by the front of the car & also very glad of my helmet, which did what it was supposed to and broke.

while i'm anticipating TAC will cover all out-of-pocket expenses (tbc), the pain and boredom, the risks associated with surgery, and the fact that my collarbone will for evermore be <100% are mine to bear.

while i can't imagine life without cycling (i.e. i'm going to get back in the saddle), i'm now even more cognisant of the impacts of road trauma. i've started turning my mind to ways to "insure" myself against this happening again, or at least reduce the potential impacts. there's not a lot more i can do to reduce likelihood other than reducing the amount of cycling i do, which i'm not keen on.

so my thinking is this: MTB riders (and motorbike/scooter riders) wear body armour because they've weighed up the present discomfort VS the possible future serious injury and gone in favour of the former. i wear a helmet not just because i'm legally obliged, but because i value my noggin. if i value my collarbone/elbow/knee/spine etc sufficiently - in the face of a relatively high likelihood of misadventure - maybe i should deal with the discomfort/annoyance of body armour.

that said, i've never seen a commuter cyclist wearing armour...

any thoughts?
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by BNA » Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:03 pm

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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby Pax » Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:03 pm

I have a "Mad Max" type of vision in my mind...but hey, sounds like a purely personal choice.

I won't be going the body armour but then after many many years of cycling I've only come off a few times and never been hit by a car and to be honest not had that many close shaves. I might have a very different opinion if I'd been through what just happenned to you.

Send us a pic when you are all kitted up and let us know how hot and uncomfortable you feel.

How long is your commute and are you in a hot humid area or somewhere cool??
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby adele » Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:09 pm

yeah, i definitely don't expect it would catch on - not for everybody! just something i'm mulling over

i do a 5km commute in melbourne, so most of the year it's not too sticky/hot
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby Pax » Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:12 pm

I'm thinking up here in Qld it'd be pretty uncomfortable in summer...just knix and a sleevless top is pretty uncomfortable!!!!!!!!!
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby adele » Mon Dec 07, 2009 9:21 pm

i can imagine! not to boast about melbourne's weather, but 75% of the year it's not too hot :)
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby brasstinman » Wed Dec 09, 2009 10:42 am

I couldn't see why the spine armour pads you get for motorcycle riding wouldn't be of benifit. It would add to the discomfort during hot and humid days but then again you've only got one spine.
Would shoulder pads help prevent that kind of collarbone injury?
Otherwise if you know you're having close calls wearing body armour and elbow pads etc is a small price to pay for potentially not having to have surgery or better still living.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby adele » Wed Dec 09, 2009 8:53 pm

shoulder protection wouldn't have done much for my collarbone, no. the impact was a product of my weight crushing down onto it.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby V17L » Thu Dec 10, 2009 9:00 pm

Hi Adele
Firstly, sorry to read about you crash so heal well and quick.

Body armour is an interesting thought. It's an extension of wearing a helmet and gloves. I know when I was riding my motor bike that leathers were the answer to minimise injuries of the scraping kind. Elbow and knee pads aren't going to be sticky or humid. Worth a look at anything that you feel comfortable in, I reckon.

For my commute I looked at the route and tried to get away from traffic as much as possible as another way of avoiding a crash. This meant I rode along linear park in Adelaide. It was lovely, but also had problems with walkers in dark clothing and I had trouble seeing them early inthe morning. My solution to that was brighter lights and not so fast.

Are you able to choose a different route, even if it is longer.

I think at the end of the day it is how comfortable you are with your solution. It won't make a pigs ear to anyone else if you are in another crash. It's better to be riding and comfortable than not ride, so go for it.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby hartleymartin » Fri Dec 11, 2009 12:49 am

In the few spills I have had I would say that anything more than a standard helmet, gloves and possibly elbow pads isn't going to have much net benefit. These days I only bother wearing the helmet as most of my rides are on quiet streets, cycle-paths or only very short (less than 5km) anyway.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby Chanboy » Fri Dec 11, 2009 9:34 am

For regular commutes where you are going pretty slowly in traffic, I'm not certain that body armour is going to provide a lot of protection. (yes more then wearing nothing I guess)

The type of accident you are likely to have is a blunt trauma type, either falling off your bike at slow speed, getting bumped of your bike by a car or pedestrian, or running into a car door. A helmet will protect against bashing type impact which I would expect is the likely type of issue to have in this condition.

For road riding / racing, where the speeds are up - 40-60klms, gravel rash accidents would certainly be avoided with armour - but of course, the added weight and bulkiness would make it impractical.

There are certainly some downhill sections on my ride were speeds are in the 50-60klms, and I know if I were to come off - it would result in some serious gravel rash injury... However I rather govern my speed and keep the bike in tight control then go to the extent of considering armour.

For motorbikes - leathers/armour are essential. I see guys and their gf's in shorts/shirts/sandal/singlet tops racing around on motor bikes - they just don't understand that coming off a bike at 70klms/h and sliding on the road is the equivalent of getting a angle grinder, putting it on your exposed skin, then have a person stand on the grinder.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby ruscook » Fri Dec 11, 2009 10:10 am

After having shattered my collarbone by highsiding the bike exiting a corner on the M7 cycleway at only 32kph. I am all in favour of body armour. I currently just wear the CE plastic insert from one of my old motorcycle jackets. Will it do much? Don't know, But it is designed to absorb/spread impact which should lessen the risk my skeleton has to do that all by itself :-).

So motorbike armour embedded in mesh suits would be the ultimate mix or protection, lightness and air flow. Until I see one of those I like, I'll stick with the dorky shoulder pads from my old bike jackets.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby philip » Fri Dec 11, 2009 11:23 am

Funnily enough I saw a guy commuting along the Pacific Hwy yesterday with arm guard things. Didn't look too out of place, in fact I didn't even notice until my girlfriend said "hey why is that guy wearing arm guards?". He was riding a mountain bike, perhaps his commute features some gnarly trails.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby Mulger bill » Fri Dec 11, 2009 4:31 pm

Chanboy wrote:For motorbikes - leathers/armour are essential. I see guys and their gf's in shorts/shirts/sandal/singlet tops racing around on motor bikes - they just don't understand that coming off a bike at 70klms/h and sliding on the road is the equivalent of getting a angle grinder, putting it on your exposed skin, then have a person stand on the grinder.

+ Several, for whatever reason the law only requires a helmet :roll: Stupid STUPID STUPID!
Maybe a roost guard?
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby trailgumby » Sun Dec 13, 2009 3:20 pm

philip wrote:Funnily enough I saw a guy commuting along the Pacific Hwy yesterday with arm guard things. Didn't look too out of place, in fact I didn't even notice until my girlfriend said "hey why is that guy wearing arm guards?". He was riding a mountain bike, perhaps his commute features some gnarly trails.

It's for fending off trees when they jump out in front of you on the singletrack.

They're a bit like dogs, really: they're so happy to see you when you are out in the forest appreciating the greenery, they just can't help themselves. "Oh, goody, here's a rider I'll give him a hug!" :D

The trouble is your bark tends to rub off a bit easier than theirs.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby just4tehhalibut » Fri Jan 22, 2010 10:07 pm

Why armour? Why not instead do something so that motorists give you a wide berth, such as attaching one of those flags on a spring that stick out sideways into the traffic? These establish your personal space and motorists would run the risk of damage to their paintwork or lights if they come too close. Amazing how so often a motorist would say "I didn't see you" after a bingle but how few come close to a little orange plastic flagpole; you see, as well as keeping you safe this simple device gives sight to the dumb and blind. Truly a miracle that should be considered.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby Rhubarb » Thu Jan 28, 2010 9:32 pm

Each to their own, but the idea of wearing the armour seems a bit extreme to me. I do understand your motivation though.

I have been commuting about 17kms each way to work for about 4 months now, so have just started to have a few near misses myself, although nothing real close at this stage. At 41 though, I no longer feel as bulletproof as I did riding my bmx etc at 15. The safety factor is very significant in my choice of route, with every effort made to avoid roads, only using the wide ones, and/or designated cycle lanes as a rule, and using the footpath in a couple of spots where there simply is no shoulder on the road. The vast majority of my commute is dedicated cycle path though so I'm luckier than most in that regard.

Last week on a section where I have to use the road, I had a guy pull out from a side street, swung wide and squeezed me right into the gutter without even seeing me. So I'm bringing all my winter illumination plans forward. I've purchased bright blinking LED lights, front and rear, which I'm going to run even in the afternoon, 5-6pm. I have also ordered 3 high vis, reflective shirts that I plan to wear. And when it actually gets dark I will start riding with my 900 lumen LED torch mounted on my helmet, as well as the flashers and reflectors. The ability to point a high powered beam of light towards (but not into the eyes of) cars approaching from side streets etc is gold in making your presence known.

I really am too old and soft to be hit by a car or even just come off these days, but I am looking to reduce the risk of having the accident, rather than trying to mitigate the impact of one.

Every situation is different though. Good luck with your recovery and I hope you heal well with no serious long term implications.

PS I nearly purchased some blue flashing LED lights for the front of my bike but a quick call to the local cop station confirmed they were illegal. Bummer because a blue flashing light would certainly have caught the eyes of motorists and gotten me seen.
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby Thoglette » Fri Jan 29, 2010 10:37 pm

Rhubarb wrote:Each to their own, but the idea of wearing the armour seems a bit extreme to me.


As a sometime motorcyclist, I wonder why pedals=lycra but engine=all-the-leather-you-can-eat Having come off on both at c. 40km :-(

Admittadly, leather would be a tad hot on my 30km commute....
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Re: body armour for the commute

Postby Fred Nurk » Mon Feb 01, 2010 8:28 pm

just4tehhalibut wrote:Why armour? Why not instead do something so that motorists give you a wide berth, such as attaching one of those flags on a spring that stick out sideways into the traffic? These establish your personal space and motorists would run the risk of damage to their paintwork or lights if they come too close. Amazing how so often a motorist would say "I didn't see you" after a bingle but how few come close to a little orange plastic flagpole; you see, as well as keeping you safe this simple device gives sight to the dumb and blind. Truly a miracle that should be considered.


While I admit to holding at least a little scepticism as to the effectiveness of a flag, I believe that this approach is better than the armour.

Remember, armour is there to prevent damage during the process of falling off, though indeed its much the same as the helmet. The options for higher visibility, reduced risk due to changing route, time and so on should probably be considered first.

With the case of MTB, almost all the other risks are minimised (you can't get hit by a car on single track, well not unless you're effectively doomed) and thus the next best step is to then minimise the damage when it does occur. Granted, theres only so much you can change before you start to look at armour, but still.

I ride to work early in the morning, there are less cars then, so less likely to be knocked off my bike. Since I'm still just as likely to fall off due to my own varying skill level at riding, I still wear a helmet, but figure less exposure to cars means less chance of being hit by one.
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