Time to get your kit on


Motorbikes/Summer gear: It's that time of year when motorcyclists should be adjusting their gear to the, hopefully, more clement climate, writes John Brophy

Now it can be told: there is a secret ceremony for bikers, which takes place about the second week in May. It's called the unzipping of the linings, when the weather is warm enough to wear your bike jacket without the winter stuffing.

It normally occurs when the hawthorn is in bloom, proving the old saying about not casting a clout till May is out, but it may also inspire thoughts of getting a lighter jacket for summer use and leaving the zipping untouched.

We all know how motorbikes have left their traditional social enclosures and have expanded into the office working classes. Proof of this comes with the newer styles of jacket. They are designed to look like casual rainwear, with colours in shades like navy blue or light grey rather than the traditional black, but they still have complete protection, especially on elbows and back, the areas most vulnerable to abrasions in the event of nasty things happening.

This is the style needed by those who want to get on with their own job and use a motorbike for transport. Certainly there are very fancy jackets with fringes up to nine inches long - enough to make Buffalo Bill jealous - if you have a fully-chromed dragster monster, but not everyone wants this image.

In Ireland, compared with Britain or continental Europe, there is still a reluctance to concede that sane business people, for whom time is money, use motorbikes. All they need is a small locker room where they can change out their gear and store it, especially when wet, while attending the Important Meeting.

The most important thing is to arrive at the meeting safe and dry. That's the dilemma about over-trousers. For a short journey around town a light pair of nylon covers will do, but there is a big difference between "shower-proof" and "waterproof".

Light scooter-type leggings are easier to use, since you don't have to remove your shoes to get out of them. Any cover will probably keep you dry for about 10 minutes, but if your journey is longer than that - and most commuter journeys are - you'll need something stronger.

There is a handy suburban shower-proof kit, with its own carrying bag on sale for €99. The bag is very useful, since there is always a problem about what to do with the weatherproof gear, once you have left the bike. Certainly you can use a top box, which will hold a helmet, boots and over-trousers, but if the bike is left in a public place you risk opportunists breaking open the box just to see what's inside.

That's why it can be better to have boots as plain as possible, which won't cause any comment if you wear them as part of a non-bike outfit. I use a pair of German-made Daytona boots, which have the advantage of having removable tops if the weather is fine; you can unzip the tops, though normally it's better to keep them on for wind protection for the shins. The climate at 50 mph is decidedly cooler than for stationary mortals.

Scooters normally have the advantage that the under-saddle compartment is big enough to hold a helmet. There are devices to secure helmets while the machine is parked, but you do risk either having the chinstrap cut, or having the helmet used as a rubbish bin - or worse.

Helmets come in many kinds. For small scooters buzzing round town you can get chinless ones with just a little Perspex peak for €129. At the other end of the scale, there are models such as the Roof Boxer at €329.

There is also a design by Nolan, where the hinge on the visor is on an eccentric pattern, which allows for a more aerodynamic shape. This sounds airy-fairy until you've had a journey of a couple of hours at higher speeds: if your helmet has a lot of wind drag, your neck muscles will let you know.

A change of gloves is also part of the Great Unzipping. Heavy winter gloves worn in the summer can cause perspiration on the hands, which will be uncomfortable, especially in heavy traffic where you're using the clutch far more frequently than on the open road. Light summer gloves can be had for €45, but if you want stuff that's waterproof, you need to go a little more expensive.

FOR around €50 you can get the mitts which fit about the ends of the handlebars, but now is probably the time of year when most folk will be removing rather than fitting them.

Except in the warmest weather, you need windproof sleeves: there is a special frisson in having a cool gale whistling up to your armpits and meeting in the middle, and it's not something that can be endured for too long.

The old advice still holds: you should spend as much as you can afford, and you won't get more than you pay for. With summers like we've been having, this could mean you'll learn the hard way and end up in Drowned Rat mode before you realise that the greatest lie in the English language is a word called "waterproof".