Ditch the backpack, Princess

Published by Liane Langlois on

How to avoid a sore back in the morning!

By: R. Bruce Thomas

Yes, I'm calling many of you big, tough riders a Princess.

And I can understand how that might upset you.

And I'm OK with that as I think I now have your attention.

Think back to when you were young, or when you had young children, and recall the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale called The Princess and the Pea. A Prince was trying to find a wife of royal lineage and, after a young girl claiming to be a Princess arrived at the castle one day, the Prince's mother did a test by placing a single pea beneath a stack of mattresses. When the girl complained of a sore back in the morning this was taken as proof of her heritage as only royalty would be so sensitive to such a small flaw in otherwise perfect bedding.

Are you that sensitive? I'd rather you didn't find out.

I've always had a carry-rack or hard luggage on my motorcycles and I cringe every time I see a rider, or the pretty young thing on the pillion seat, riding with a backpack on. Sometimes they are stuffed with all kinds of items including tennis racquets poking out the top. I recently saw an ad for a major-brand jacket with a built-in backpack that can hold up to a 17” laptop. Ugghhh!

And I hate to be that guy, which is why I don't talk about it often, but it is relevant here and I am that guy, so here goes.

At almost 2 PM on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon one August I saw a car and knew it wasn't stopping and there was no time for me to do anything. The fact that I had the green light was irrelevant. I heard the crunch and then saw pavement, sky, pavement, sky.....  I learned later, from the police officers who came to the emergency room, that I had stopped rolling about 70 meters (200 feet!) from the point of impact after bouncing off the hood and windshield of the car. This was at posted city speeds, but who knows how fast he was going after having spent hours on the highway.

I've mentioned before that I'm an ATGATT (all the gear, all the time) rider and I've got top quality gear. In fact, that day was the first day I wore my new $1,100 custom-tailored kevlar jacket and riding pants. All of the triple-density body armour saved my body from an immense amount of damage, although there was plenty anyhow. Unlike most gear, which gets shredded in the event and thrown away afterwards (Oh look, it did its job!!), the manufacturer repaired the small amount of damage on both pieces and I wore them for six years once I was able to ride again.

My motorcycle was a write-off and the repair estimate on the six year old Toyota was $25,000. That's not a typo. Twenty five thousand (ask me sometime and I might show you pictures). And my body was in the middle of that two vehicle mess for a very short, but also never-ending, period of time.

In recent years there are more and more spine/back protectors on the market and being included in riding gear off the shelf. Some are quite good and some are very narrow and I'd consider them useless.  Hoping that they might remain in position1 and protect your spine from a backpack full of stuff as you flip down the road, or from the laptop in the pouch on your back as you bounce off a windshield, is foolish. Protecting your spine is the important thing, so make sure you are wearing a quality back protector; just don't add extra items into the mix2. Especially not anything bigger than a pea.

My answer to the opposing lawyer, when he asked if I wore all of my gear, all of the time, even though I was close to home and only out for a short shopping excursion, was that I can't see the future. If I could see the future, I'd have known that someone like his client was going to blow through a red light and t-bone me. I'd also win the lottery every week. But I'd still wear all of my gear, all of the time. My lawyer later told me not to be such a smartass.

But it's true. None of us know what the future holds. The best we can do is be prepared for the worst. I'm here today as proof that proper preparation makes a huge difference in the outcome of an unforeseeable, unpleasant, and totally unavoidable event. If I can help reduce somebody’s level of injury or prevent others from having to deal with all the pain and crap that I had to deal with, and nearly 9 years later am still dealing with, I'll be happy.

Get some soft luggage. Or hard luggage.  Or a tailbag. Do anything except for wearing a backpack as they are immense compared to a pea, and you don't want to test your sensitivity in that way.

OK, Princess?


1 – In Paragraph 5 on Page 103, Section 12 Conclusion, of The Dynamics Of Motorcycle Crashes – 2020 report (available at https://investigativeresearch.org/the-dynamics-of-motorcycle-crashes-2020/) the authors of the report wonder whether body armour was “adequately restrained in position, or did they move out of position and thereby fail to protect the intended part(s) of the body?” While the paragraph seems to be focused on injuries to shoulders and upper arms I believe the above question should be applied to all body armour and, in respect to this article, spinal protectors particularly. As mentioned, some jacket armour that I have seen would likely not do their job what with the contortions and abnormal motions a body goes through post-collision. I’ve also used gear where pieces of the armour were held in place by Velcro and double-sided tape. These pieces did not stay in place in normal riding and I’d never trust them to protect me in a crash.

2 - Further detail on back injuries is provided in Annex III: Comments on Trajectory and Back Injuries of the same report which should convince anyone that, while not specifically asked as part of the survey, wearing a backpack can only exacerbate potential injuries in the event of a crash.

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