Broughton racer Gary Johnson has rightfully earned his place as one of the leading competitors on the roads, despite only making his road racing debut in 2007.
He was rapid from the off and quickly established himself as one of the sport’s leading riders, landing the 2011 TT Supersport title on the East Coast Construction Honda.
He followed that up with a second success last year, winning the 2014 TT Supersport title on the Smiths Triumph Racing Team’s 675R, giving the Shropshire-based outfit a TT debut to remember.
He suffered a huge off just a day after landing that second TT Victory when he lost control of his Lincs Lifting Kawasaki in the Superstock TT on the climb out of Ramsey, breaking his collarbone, vertebrae and several bones in his hand.
After spending his career riding between the hedges and armco he knows what kit works, and what doesn’t. Here he shares his hard earned kit wisdom.
HELMET: “I have always been an Arai man – I’ve been wearing them since I started motocrossing when I was seven years old. Yes, I did wear a Shoei or a year when I did my first TT, and had top borrow a couple of Michael Rutter’s visors, but to be honest I’m happy with both brands, though Arai always just pipped to for me. They always made a real effort getting the helmet to fit just so, constantly adjusting the padding and internals to make it fit better, to make it fit tighter.
“It took a lot for me to move away from Arai, a hell of a lot, but after talking to Bell my mind was made up; they’re investing a huge amount in technology and it seemed like a good opportunity to be part of something exciting. It’s got nothing to do with money, for me it was a decision based purely on quality.
“They started off by flying me to the states and scanning my head and then built my helmet around my head, creating a uniquely snug fit. This service is not available in the UK at the moment, but it is available in the US, and Bell are looking at introducing this service to the UK soon.
“The results of the scan are amazing – the helmet fits me like nothing else I’ve worn. They use a typical carbon shell, the same materials as other manufacturers, but increase the amount of high density protection foam, which is crucial for protecting your head in an off. They’re done this by reducing the amount of cushioning material they use. I prefer a helmet to be tight, and will gladly sacrifice some comfort for snugness. The protective foam on most helmets is 13mm, but the foam used in the crucial areas of my helmet is now 5mm thicker, which is reassuring – it’s one of the highest-quality, most protective helmets you can buy. Now, because of the fit and the tightness, if you pull or twist the helmet, my head will move too.
“The downsides to this snugness is the lack of cushioning. It can get a little uncomfortable if I’m honest, but not so much as to be distracting or painful.
“Other brilliant features of the Bell are its stability at speed, so you don’t get fatigued, the field of vision and the clarity of vision on offer, the secure but quick and easy to use visor mechanism and just how quiet it is. I love my helmets to be quiet, the quieter the better as far as I’m concerned, and this is excellent.
“It’s this attention to detail and the amount of time and money they’re prepared to spend at developing new technologies that makes this co-operation exciting. I’ve tested the Bell and the Arai RX-7GP back to back and the Bell was better – the strap, the vision, the level of protection,the visor change, everything was better.
“The most important things for me, in order of importance, are stability, vision and protection, and I can’t speak highly enough of the Bell. It’s that good it’s moved everything on to another level.”
“Bell are the oldest helmet manufacturer in the world, but they’re not resting on their laurels and they’re at the forefront of helmet technology. They’re keen to introduce the scanning process to the UK and they’re pushing the boundaries. A simple example of this is their attitude to visors. When I was wearing Arai at the TT, if anything happened to an Arai sidepod when you’re sat on the bike while it’s being being refuelled you’re fucked. They knew this, so they’d make sure their visors were brand new and silicon oiled so that the changes went as smoothly as possible. Their visor change mechanism is pretty archaic to be honest, but because they’d spend a lot of time preparing everything, it all went like clockwork.
“Bell have a different approach. They’ve spent a lot of time making it as easy to change the visor as possible, without compromising helmet integrity or visor security. They’ve asked for my input, they listened to what I had to say and they’ve succeeded in creating a system that’s quick, safe and easy to use.
“Another example of this innovative approach is the chinbar. They’ve cut a bit out of the chin bar, a little half-moon shape, to help me see what’s to the side of me without having to move my head when I’m tucked in and my chin’s flat against the tank. It’s a simple idea, but they’re listened and implemented it.
“The crash in the Tuesday Superstock race at the 2014 TT was by far the biggest crash I’ve had yet and easily the hardest I’ve ever hit my head. I lost the front at 120mph when I hot a slight damp patch tipping in at Tower Bends near the Ramsey Hairpin, which ran my rear wheel wide. I went over the wall and down the banking, and when I woke up I was in a tree. I hit my head hard three times on the ground as I tumbled. I hit the ground that hard that I dented the carbon shell, and the high density foam around the vents had stress fractures in it.
“I was knocked out, but I came to straight away and was fully coherent. I was even joking with the medics. I had a massive bruise on my head, three deep lines on the top of my head where I headbutted the vents from the inside, but that was it, and that’s a pretty strong testimony to just how strong and protective my Bell helmet is. I’m still alive and I have no mental issues or memory problems – I can remember everything up to the point I lost the front, and I can remember everything from waking up in the tree. It works and I trust it, and that says everything you need to know.”
LEATHERS: “With leathers it’s all about the fit. My body shape is long and lanky. I’ve got really long arms and legs, a big back but very narrow shoulders caused by me breaking my collarbone, so it’s hard for me to find an off-the-peg suit that fits. If I wear a standard 42in set of leathers with a back protector in they’re fine, but as soon as I get in a racing crouch, it feels as if the sleeves are being pulled down. It can be quite uncomfortable and distracting, dangerous even, so I always have extra material in the stretch panels.
“You spend one-and-three-quarter hours in your suit per race at the TT, so they need to be right. You can’t have them so loose that they’re flapping around, but they can’t be so tight that they cause arm pump.
“I like kangaroo leather because it’s tough while still being supple and flexible, but cow hide is pretty good too. When I crashed at the TT the made-to-measure Gimoto suit I was wearing performed well – the leather didn’t pierce and the stitching didn’t burst, though I did get some friction burning to my right shoulder as the weaker material on the stretch panel ground away.
“They’re a quality bit of kit, they look pretty cool and they’re well made. They’re popular in the BSB paddock for a reason – they work.”
GLOVES: “Gloves are usually a compromise between fit, feel and protection. Too tight and they’ll give you arm pump. Too thick and you’ll lack feel. Too much protection and they’ll be too thick. It’s a viscous circle.
“I wear Held Titan gloves and I can honestly say they’re the best on the market. They’re the same gloves you can buy at a dealer’s and they’re easily the best gloves I’ve ever worn.
“They use the best materials – titanium protection on the knuckles, thick stingray leather on the vulnerable areas of the glove to stop your hand from digging in when you slide, and Kevlar stitching thoughout – and it shows. These gloves have been built to withstand a proper pounding. When I crashed at the TT I got away with breaking a bone in the back of my hand. When I look at the state of the gloves – as I slid down the road and tumbled down the bank I squashed and ground away the titanium knuckle armour and the heavy duty the stingray material – I think I got away lightly, they’ve clearly taken a proper battering. I hit walls and trees before I came to a stop, and although everything is worn down, they’re still intact.
“On the bike itself they’re superb. They don’t restrict my movement, they fit well, they’re comfortable and I don’t get any arm pump. Yes, they’re a bit heavier than other gloves, and they do need bedding in, but I’ve put them to the ultimate test and I can live with their extra weight.
“I’ve worn lighter gloves before and I’m not keen. At the NorthWest 200 I was wearing a set of Spidi gloves. I was following a bike at some 170mph when it flicked a stone up at my finger. I can still remember the pain now. I thought it had taken my finger off, but I didn’t throttle off. I just carried on, what else do you do? It was absolute agony and after the race I found out I had broken my finger. I’m certain that wouldn’t have happened if I’d have been wearing the Helds.”
BOOTS: “I want my boots to be as protective as possible without being uncomfortable or restricting movement. You spend a lot of time on your feet on the bike, so you need your boots to be comfortable.
“I want boots to have an inner boot/sock, have lots of external protection and a secure locking mechanism.
I wear Falco boots in customised colours. They’re got a lot of heavy duty plastic on the outer, good ankle protection and a snug locking mechanism. I wore Daytona before, and although they have probably the most protective inner boot on the market, they don’t protect the bridge of the foot. They caused me no issues they’re hideously expensive.
“These Falco boots of mine performed well – everything worked as it should. The heavy duty external plastic stopped my feet from digging in and allowed me to slide. To give you some idea of just how strong they are, I stuck a tank pad sticker on the heel of each of my boots before the race. When they’re on it’s like trying to pull off Velcro. When I looked at my boots after the crash I realised I had ground one of the stickers away completely, yet my boots were fine. Yes, they’d been through the mill, but they were intact, and I suffered no injuries to my feet. Enough said.”
BACK PROTECTOR: “I always wear a back protector. I wear a Forcefield L2K back protector, the same as you can buy off the shelf, and it’s brilliant – it’s reassuringly protective without being intrusive, even when I’m tucked in with my chin on the tank. And it’s comfortable too as it moulds to your body. My crashed one is still good to go, so I know it’s tough. It just gives me that extra peace of mind.
“However, I don’t wear a back protector. I know I should but it just doesn’t feel comfortable when I’m tucked in. I know that’s wrong but it just doesn’t feel right, and when you’re riding full chat, things like that matter. I know I’d adapt if I gave it time, but I just can’t find the right moment to give it a proper test.”
COMPRESSION SUITS: “I wear Forcefield or Gimoto base layers and I’ve got to say both work well. They wick away the sweat, regulate the core’s temperature and make it easy to get into and out of your leathers. I’m all for kit that makes your life easier and more comfortable, and these tick both boxes.”
EARPLUGS: “As far as I’m concerned I like it as quiet as possible, the quieter the better. I can’t stand any noise and always wear them. Always. I push them in as far as I can get them. Sometimes I need a set of pliers to get them out, but I’d rather that than not wear any at all.
“I wear standard disposable earplugs. I don’t have a particularly long or open ear canal shape so I can get away with wearing standard ones. Of course, I’d really like to get a set of custom earplugs, but I’m a typical racer and I’d just end up losing them. I lose everything, so my mechanic always carries a couple of sets of earplugs, just in case.”