The undisputed King of Cadwell Park (he attacked the Mountain with even more aggression than Josh Brookes – just google Johnny Rea Cadwell Park jump), WSBK hard charger Johnny Rea, 27, has been at the front of the grid ever since he first began his career on two wheels riding motocross.
In 2005 he landed a ride on a Factory Honda Fireblade, and was runner-up in BSB in 2007, before switching to World Supersport with Ten Kate Honda. He took his first win at Brno and was fighting for the championship right up until the last round, when he was pipped to the title by his teammate Andrew Pitt.
He joined the WSBK series in 2009 and took took his first win at Misano the same year. He’s been a regular visitor to the podium ever since. He’s had his share of big offs and knows what kit works and what doesn’t. Here he shares his hard earned kit wisdom.
“Your helmet is your most important piece of kit. It has to be, it protects your head. The best way to explain why I wear Arai is to YouTube my crash at Misano (http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=LCjVrhchqS0&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DLCjVrhchqS0).
“It was a big crash. I landed on my head and how I didn’t suffer any head or neck injuries I’ll never know. I didn’t even get knocked out.
“My RX-7GP is an off-the-shelf, standard Arai in an S that you can buy yourself, and apart from the paint, it’s not been changed or modified in any way. What I love about it is that everything works perfectly – it fits me, the lining is comfortable and effective at wicking away the sweat, the ventilation is superb, and the vision is excellent.
“I’ve been with Arai nearly all my career, from 2004 to today, and wouldn’t trust any other helmet. I’ve been to the Arai factory in Holland, and I’ve seen them test their own lids against those from other manufacturers, with the logos removed so we didn’t know what was what. The Arai came out on top, which says everything I need to know. There’s a reason the RX7 costs so much – everything is researched and made to the highest level. I’d even buy one to race in if I had to.
“I run my own MotoCross team and have given them Arai. I don’t get given them, I’ve had to buy them, but I don’t mind because I know they work.”
“I need my leathers to be comfortable, though err on the side of tightness. They also need to fit, and all the internal and external armour needs to sit where it’s supposed to – if it moves it’s not going to do you any good in a crash. It’s no good them being too loose and rolling up when you hit the Tarmac. A good test is to pull the leather at the wrists and ankles. If they move up your arm or leg then they’re too big. You need to try them on in the correct way – by sitting as if you’re crouching on the bike. It’s no good just trying them on standing up as this wont replicate how they’ll sit on your body when you’re on the bike. When you crouch, the suit changes and you need to realise this.
“I don’t use an airbag system, I just use a standard one-piece leather race suit. I’ve not been asked if I want to wear an airbag suit, and I’m not sure I’d be interested if I was offered one – it adds some 5kg to the suit’s weight, and as the battery pack sits in the hump, it stops you from using a hydration pack.
“My leathers crash well and are nearly always repaired. I’ve been in Alpinestars most of my career and I’ve had my share of spectacular offs, yet my leathers have never holed. That speaks volumes for the quality.
“I’ve been an Alpinestars factory-supported rider since 2008, and that’s seen my leathers become even more comfortable. Before that my sponsors used to have patches on the suit, but now they’re printed, which makes the suit lighter and more aerodynamic.
“I’d quite happily wear the same suit over a whole season, they’re good enough to stand up to a few crashes, but obviously that wouldn’t keep the sponsors happy. Instead, Alpinestars allocate me with four suits, and rotate them over the course of the season. That way if I have a spill and the suit gets damaged they can send it away to be repaired or replaced.”
“There are a lot of bones in your feet, and the ankle’s a really complicated joint, so you can’t afford to take chances. You need your boots to be protective.
“I wear Supertech Rs. They’re well ventilated and light. It’s the inner boots that make them so great – they’re not so rigid that they restrict all movement, yet they feel protective. I’ve not had too many foot or leg injuries so I know they work.
“They’re also all-day comfortable. They feel like trainers – you could easily ride to a race meet and wear them all day while you’re watching the races without noticing you’re in race boots. They’re that comfy that I can wear a box-fresh set in a race with no problems – they don’t even need breaking in.
“And they’re quiet too. I’ve been on the podium a few times, and it’s on the climb up to the podium that you’ll hear a lot of riders boots squeaking and making a right old racket.”
“I’m quite picky when it comes to gloves because I need them to look after me. I’ve had a bad injury to the ring finger on my right hand, and had two wrist reconstructions on my right arm, so I’m quite prepared to sacrifice comfort for protection.
“I wear GP Techs as they have sturdy plastic armour which extends up the forearm. It takes a session to break a pair of gloves in, but once they’re worn in they’re great. I’d quite happily wear the same gloves all season, and I’m happy to continue wearing them even if I crash in them – and I can vouch that they crash well.”
BACK AND CHEST PROTECTORS:
“I wear a standard off the peg back protector that you can buy in the shops. I like my back protector to be on the short side, so that it sits just below my shoulders. It’s odd but I can’t race without one. I’d forgotten mine at Assen and just didn’t have the feeling of security, so I couldn’t push as hard as I’d have liked. My team got me another one sent out and the transformation was amazing. It’s not like you think about crashing, but it’s nice to feel protected if you do, and I don’t feel protected if I’ve not got one under my leathers. My back protector gives me peace of mind.
“Having said that I don’t wear a chest protector and I’ve never given one any thought. I’ve never had any problems with my chest, and I don’t suffer any problems with my chest hitting the bike’s tank.”
BASELAYERS AND SOCKS:
“I’ve tried everything – compression suits etc but I’ve settled on base layers. They’re brilliant. They make it easier to get your leathers on and off, they wick away moisture and they’re just so comfortable. I use mine a lot off the bike too.
“I used to wear race socks but now I wear thicker Motocross socks that come up to the knee. I’ll even wear them at really hot tracks like Misano.”
“I tried personalised earplugs but couldn’t get on with them – they’re just too fiddly. I now buy my own disposable earplugs. I wear the green Motrax plugs. I tried the orange ones but they’re a lot harder.
“A bag of earplugs will last me a whole season. I’m not saying I’m dirty but I’ll use two or three sets over a weekend, though if I get angry I’ll throw them at something.”
ANY CRASHES WHERE YOU FEEL YOUR KIT WORKED PARTICULARLY WELL?
“I’ve had some massive offs, but two spring to mind immediately. The crash at Imola in 2012 was a massive impact and I managed to walk away. I can remember thinking how lucky I was to have come away from that with no injuries.
“Misano in 2011 was even bigger and I wasn’t so lucky. I was in the first fast kink and I ran onto the white line. It was slippy and I had a massive high side. I crashed at turn 9, but my body ended up at turn 11. I don’t know if I was knocked out or not. I broke my wrist. That was one of those crashes where I was relieved that was all I got because it was so fast.”