Some people see the glass half full; others see it half empty, an engineer sees a container that has twice the required capacity.

So, what happens when you send an engineer (like me) out to buy riding gear? Well, a matrix, of course.

But what is this matrix? What do I do with it? For me, this matrix lets me stand back at taking a comparative look are all of the different variations of protecting gear.

I believe that when you gear up to go riding, you should make a conscious decision on what you are wearing. You should understand that there is risk involved in your choices. Not just using a helmet because your brother had one that sorta fits or a leather jacket that is built for the disco, not for the road, but chooses quality gear that will do its job. By reviewing this matrix, you can weigh the gear against the risk. You can get a general idea of what looking cool costs against using safer gear.

So, for something entirely new and refreshing, I present to you the Frank Gates Cool/Safe Matrix.


On the left side is the totally cool rider, wild hair blowing in the wind, comfortable shorts, and a muscle T-shirt. Just the guy you warned your daughter to stay away from. Being totally cool has its risk. Even Arnold wore a leather jacket as the Terminator roaring along on his Fat Boy.

On the right is the maxed out, head to toe, protected rider. Looks like he just got off the racetrack and he is probably on a sport bike. This rider gets top ratings in the safety department, but seriously lacking in the cool department.

Myself, I choose to be somewhere in the middle, relatively protected and some pretense of being cool.

Where do you fit in?

I should point out that my definition of cool is probably different from your definition of cool. Everybody has their own style and being an individual is what riding is all about.

Here’s a brief summary of each of the distinct categories. The correct gear is especially important and there are a lot of considerations besides what looks cool. Each of these will be covered in its own post later.


To wear it or not to wear it, that is the question. And the answer is pretty easy, if you live in a state that requires you to wear a helmet, that’s your answer. If not, then it’s up to you. Personally, I will always wear a helmet. It’s the smart thing to do.

On the matrix, “none” and “novelty’ should be combined as a novelty helmet offers as much protection as no helmet. They look cool, and sometimes fool the police into thinking you have a DOT approved lid on you head. Sometimes, thy don’t fool anyone. Enough said about novelty helmets.

The remaining three are pretty self explanatory, the more helmet you have wrapped around your precious head, the less damage you will experience when that same precious head is getting up close and personal with the pavement. I probably should have put a “flip-up” full face in the list but in terms of safe vs. cool, it’s really the same as a fixed full face. Riding with the shield flipped up will put you way off the cool index.

Eye Protection

Eye protection is required in every state and there’s no fooling the local sheriff about this one. You either have eye protection or you don’t. Sunglasses are universally cool. If you wear prescription lenses, there are a whole different set if issues. A visor helps out with prescription lenses as you can wear your regular glasses behind the visor. I wear prescription lenses of this topic is near and dear to me. Goggles not only will accommodate your regular lenses but are pretty good in the rain. And finally, I put RX Glasses meaning shatterproof as the safest.

Leather Jacket

I always wear my leather jacket unless it’s up in the nineties. I wondered about this a lot and one day I asked a motorcycle cop who was watching cars reluctantly come to a complete stop (after seeing him) at a four way intersection. I told him that sometimes it was so hot in the jacket that sweat was running down my back. He said that you need to weigh the reality of heat stress against the safety of the jacket. If the heat makes you pass out, your going to go down and its good to have leather on but if you were not wearing the jacket in the first place, the heat probably would not have caused you to go down. You make the call.


And then there is the Air-Vest. I wear it all of the time with or without my jacket. Never heard of an Air-vest? It has an internal network of inflatable rubber bags that inflate when you crash. What happens is that the vest is attached to your bike, via steel lanyard, and when you go flying away from the bike, the lanyard pulls the stop out of a CO2 cartridge and the vest inflates. Check it out at


I like wearing light gloves all of the time. Every time I have gone down (which have not been many), my gloves have saved my hands from abrasion. Winter gloves are big and bulky but when the weather calls for them, they do their job.

Long Pants

Long pants, that’s it, no discussion. I wear Levis all of the time. I add chaps when it gets cold. They are a pain, but in terms of safety and weather they are just what the doctor ordered. And unlike most safe gear, they look pretty cool.


And finally, what goes on your feet. I wear engineer boots and sometimes cowboy boots. I have to be careful with my cowboy boots as sometimes when you put your feet down at a red light, road gravel will lose your footing, real quick. My engineer boots have treads which takes care of this problem.

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