Don’t ‘catch’ a case of road rash this year

by Jeff on March 21, 2009

By Jeff Cobb
Motorcycle Safety News


Photo Courtesy Rick Slark

There’s a reason why racers don’t play around with how they gear up before they ride.

Aside from the head injury issue, your skin is so easy to shred and scrape off it is not even funny.

Riding a motorcycle or scooter without protective gear is a recipe to one day have to contend with “road rash.”

In calling every major hospital system in the Philadelphia area, and the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it seems everyone knows road rash is a bad deal, but hard data is limited.

Based on lots of anecdotal accounts, here are some quick facts:

•    If you ride in shorts, a T-shirt, or even jeans, a shirt and street shoes, or flip flops, you are asking for trouble.
•    Even low speed crashes (25-45 mph) can completely abrade your skin, and expose and begin to remove raw flesh, and higher speed crashes can mangle and even kill you.
•    The skin over your joints (elbows, knees, hips, ankles, knuckles) is thin over bone, and the bone makes a nice hard surface to provide more pressure to remove skin quickly.
•    Such injuries can take two years to heal, and require skin grafts which can cost upwards of $100,000 and be painful the whole time you are trying to mend.

Christine Pearson a spokesperson for the CDC said your skin, the body’s largest organ, is your vital first defense against all kinds of infections and diseases.

Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, consultant in infectious disease at the Mayo Clinic said cases of “superbugs” like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ) are becoming surprisingly more common.

In 2007, she said the Mayo Clinic estimated 95,000 Americans were infected with the antibiotic-resistant infection, and 19,000 people died from it.

Sampathkumar estimated one million or more Americans are carrying these superbugs on their skin, and they may never know it or have a problem, until a cut or scrape – like from road rash – lets the bugs gets past the defensive layer of their skin.

“And then it goes in through your skin into your bloodstream,” Sampathkumar said of the rising numbers of cases, “and that’s the scary part. We are used to thinking about this in older people, and it is happening in young and previously healthy people.”

Rae Tyson, an experienced motorcycle rider, and spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said some of the worst crashes he’s seen are simply road rash cases where a large percentage of the skin is scuffed off.

“If you are involved in a crash, you are going to leave the motorcycle and make contact with some hard object, and it may involve sliding down the road on your back, or your arm, [etc.],” he said, “And unless you have some protection from something hard [like leathers or a textile suit] between you and the road, you are going to end up with a very uncomfortable and painful injury.”

The human body, Tyson said, does not stand up at all to sliding on a pavement. Street clothes rip in milliseconds, and your skin and bones are for all intents and purposes, as good as naked.

The road has been likened to a giant belt sander.

Tyson said riding without gear that can withstand the abrasion long enough for you to come to a stop is a huge roll of the dice.

And what does Dr. Sampathkumar recommend to anyone contemplating to take their chances because the day is too hot, or they don’t feel like wearing gear?

“Don’t do it,” she said. It’s that simple.

Jeff Cobb is the editor and publisher of Motorcycle Safety News. Comments, and questions can be directed to

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