No one likes to crash. Not even your motorcycle, believe it or not, which is why crash protection is a vital part of building a durable adventure-touring machine. Logically, crash protection gear is designed to protect the parts of the motorcycle that would hit the ground in a slow-speed tip-over or even a moderate low-side crash. If, for example, your cylinder-protection guards take the hit when you stumble on some gravel in the parking lot, the cost of replacement is much less than the cylinder covers themselves. Or a gas tank. Or the really nice heated hand grips you’ve just installed.
But there’s more to it than just staying out of your dealer’s parts department. An equally important goal of crash protection is “functional durability.” And this means simply that if you have a low-speed incident, crash protection will preserve the functionality of the bike. In short, you can keep going. Or get home.
Want an example? Let’s say you tip over to the left on a bike without any protection. It’s possible the bike will land on the left handlebar and footpeg, and it’s equally likely that the force of the drop will bend or snap the clutch lever and even the shift-lever tip. So here’s the situation you’re in: Just after the fall, you dust yourself off, hoist the bike, and take stock of the damage only to realize you can’t disengage the clutch or shift gears. From a 5-mph fall! This is inconvenient near home, but a true buzzkill when you’re out on the road, far from a dealer.
Crash protection for your ADV motorcycle falls into several interlocking categories.
Motorcycle Skid Plates
Any motorcycle taken more than 60 feet off road needs some form of a skid plate. If you misjudge a log in your path or bottom out over a rock bed with softball-sized stones, the damage done to the oil sump and exhaust system could be enough to end your day. No amount of JB Weld will glue the oil-filter back together.
A well-designed skid plate, like the SW-MOTECH Aluminum Skid Plate provides full under-engine coverage from the exhaust system all the way back the the suspension or swingarm pivot, leaving no part of the bike’s tender underbelly exposed to rocks, mud, or errant lumber. (Why does that log you just jumped always look smaller from a distance?)
When shopping for a skid plate, make sure it’s compatible with the bike’s stock centerstand, if there is one, but also that it’s compatible with aftermarket centerstands. Easy access to the oil drain plug will make regular maintenance easier, so that’s a plus, as are protective side plates to save the engine case, exhaust system, and any exposed wiring from damage.
Finally, the best skid plates have slits or holes to permit cooling air to reach the exhaust system, and they will have drainage holes to allow water and mud to escape from the low point. Your adventure ride doesn’t get better when it’s heavier.
Motorcycle Engine Guards, aka Crash Bars
Engine guards provide a similar kind of protection, only further up the sides of the bike. For example, SW-MOTECH’s Engine Guards wrap around the engine and any exposed bodywork form a protective shield. When, not if, you go down on the side, the guards take the brunt of the fall, protecting the side cases and radiator shrouds on most bikes. For opposed-twin BMWs, lower crash bars can keep the expensive cylinder heads themselves from contacting terrain, preventing expensive cosmetic damage or worse—a motorcycle that won’t run.
A premium engine guard will have high-strength hardware and be a straightforward bolt-on installation, with sturdy attachment points and a design that doesn’t block access for maintenance. Another benefit of tubular engine guards is the opportunity to mount high-performance auxiliary lighting in a way that both protects the lights and provides optimum positioning.
Motorcycle Hand Guards
A well-designed set of hand guards do more than protect your fingers from the environment. Most hand guards provided by the original manufacturers are basic plastic shells, usually without enough structural strength to prevent an encounter with a low-hanging branch or rock pile from punishing your hands and, possibly, damaging the control.
An example of affordable hand guards are the Barkbusters VPS system, which includes an alloy backbone for strength and replaceable plastic deflectors. In fact, if you’d like even more weather coverage, you can upgrade to the Barkbusters Storm deflectors for the colder months.
It’s important to choose hand guards that specific to your motorcycle because there are dozens of small differences in control placement, bar bend, and other factors that influence fit. Many riders can make “universal” system fit acceptably, but a kit designed for your bike is always best.
Especially if you ride in large groups, you’ll want dedicated protection for your motorcycle’s headlight. Thrown rocks can easily chip or flat-out break today’s high-tech composite headlights, so something like SW-MOTECH’s Headlight Guard is a good investment for on-the-trail safety. Plus, have you priced a replacement headlight lately?
The Small Stuff
Believe it or not, the idea of crash protection extends beyond those parts that might hit the ground in a fall. There are many ways to protect important parts of the bike that are vulnerable to damage from debris or even just wear and tear from riding. Things like SW-MOTECH’s brake-reservoir covers, which prevent you from kicking that fragile plastic brake-fluid reservoir—important because a contaminated brake system is bad deal on the trail. Consider also R&G’s Shocktube shock protectors, which simply wrap around the shock to keep grime and water away from the spring and shock shaft.
Don’t forget about your bike’s main radiator. R&G’s Stainless Steel Radiator Guard keep gravel from piercing the radiator core. For bikes with a remote oil cooler, there’s the SW-MOTECH Oil Cooler Protector, performing the same function for your motorcycle’s oil radiator.
When you consider crash protection as a whole, think about what could happen, not what you hope will happen on the trail. Anything you can do to keep the damage from a minor crash from making the bike unrideable is worth consideration. Because halfway up the toughest trail you’ve ever ridden on the way to the summit of your dreams—there are no tow trucks.