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The Head-to-Toe Beginner’s Guide to Motorcycle Gear

(CC0 License – Public Domain)

There’s a lot for new motorcycle riders to be excited about: learning how to ride, choosing a first motorcycle, and finally hitting the road and experiencing one’s surroundings as they can only be experienced from the back of a bike.

But as exciting as all of this is, it’s also serious business, and there’s more to getting started than just getting licensed and buying a new bike. Being properly outfitted in protective motorcycle gear is as crucial to motorcycle safety as proper training.

If you’re a beginning motorcyclist looking for some guidance on getting properly outfitted to ride, the following rundown should give you everything you need to get started finding the gear you need to ride in safety and comfort.

The Helmet

Helmets are undoubtedly the most important piece of safety gear any motorcyclist can wear. Even a minor fall off of a motorcycle can result in a serious head injury if the rider isn’t wearing a helmet, to say nothing of more serious accidents. Here are the basics of what to look for in a motorcycle helmet:

  • DOT Certification: The U.S. Department of Transportation has a specific standard for motorcycle helmets (the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard no. 218), which outlines minimum performance ratings for metrics like impact absorption. Motorcycle helmets that meet this standard will feature a DOT sticker on the back or inside; don’t buy a helmet without this sticker.
  • Fit & Retention: A motorcycle helmet should fit snugly, but without being so tight that it’s uncomfortable. This will prevent the helmet from coming off or under-performing in an accident. Here’s a good basic test when finding a good fit: securely strap on the helmet and, gripping it from the back, try to pull it off over your head. With a helmet that fits properly, you won’t be able to.
  • Comfort: Discomfort is distracting, and no one wants to be distracted while they’re riding.
  • Style: Fashion should probably be the least of anyone’s concerns when shopping for a motorcycle helmet, but there are some choices when it comes to style. Full-face, open face, motocross, and half-helmets are all options. Full-face models offer the best protection, but many riders prefer open-face or half-helmets for comfort reasons.

The Jacket

What helmets do for your head, a good jacket does for your arms, shoulders, and torso. There are a lot of options when it comes to jackets, and it’s important to know what to look for.

  • Leather vs. Textile: A high-quality leather motorcycle jacket is about more than just looking cool. Leather offers excellent abrasion resistance, but might not be the best option for shock absorption. Many modern textile jackets are made from materials like Cordura or Kevlar, which also provide protection against abrasions, and are often a lot cooler than leather in warmer weather.
  • Armor: Armor and textile jackets are both available with built-in body armor to protect against falls. At minimum, look for a jacket with armor in the shoulders, back, and elbows with at least a “CE” safety rating.
  • Fit: A good motorcycle jacket should fit snugly without restricting movement. When trying on a motorcycle jacket, zip it up completely and try to approximate the position you take on your bike. If it’s too snug in the arms and shoulder to hold comfortably in the store, you can be it will be too snug on the road.

The Pants

Motorcycle pants protect your lower extremities from abrasions and impacts – shins, knees, hips, and bottom are all dependent on good motorcycle pants in a fall. Here are some of the most common options for motorcycle pants.

  • Leather: Leather pants, like jackets, offer superior abrasion resistance. However they’re often relatively uncomfortable, especially in warm weather. Most leather pants lack additional armor.
  • Textile: Textile riding pants are made with abrasion-resistant materials like Kevlar, and more often feature built-in-armor in high-impact areas like the knees and hips. As with jackets, these often feature better breathability than leather. Many manufacturers also make Kevlar and armor-reinforced denim jeans that strike a balance between style and safety.
  • Overpants: For commuters and others who don’t want to get to their destination with just armored riding pants, motorcycle over-pants are armored, abrasion-resistant pants designed to be worn over regular street clothes or denim motorcycle jeans.

The Boots

Footwear might not be as important for safety as a helmet or jacket, but it is a concern. Motorcycle boots provide protection to the ankle, shin, toes, and sole in the event of a crash, as well as offering improved grip and comfort on long rides when compared to normal street shoes. Here are some of the most common options for motorcycle boots.

  • Touring Boots: Touring boots are probably the most popular style of motorcycle boot. Generally tall to provide ankle support and shin protection, these boots are designed for commuting and long rides.
  • Short Boots: While not as protective in most cases as touring boots, short boots are often more comfortable, and offer a sneaker-like style and fit without completely sacrificing safety.
  • Cruiser Boots: Cruiser boots are heavy-duty boots designed for long rides on v-twin cruiser-style bikes. Heights vary, but typically cruiser boots offer great grip and superb protection against impacts and abrasions.

At the end of the day, the best motorcycle gear for you is what you’re most comfortable in – provided it offers at least a minimum amount of protection. Those just beginning will need some time to find out just what that is, but that’s all a part of the fun.

Teammates Old and New

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DeSales University Hall of Fame Class of 2016

The article “Teammates Old and New” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 11/25/16.

A few weeks ago I received an email from the athletic department of DeSales University, which I graduated from with a degree in mathematics way back in 1987. I was to be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at a banquet in late September during alumni weekend. The news came as quite a surprise given that nearly 30 years have passed since my graduation. I ran cross-country while at DeSales and achieved some success that helped (along with the efforts of many others) establish the foundations of a program that has since become a force to be reckoned with. I am honored to have been selected, and it got me thinking about my team and the times I spent running in the woods around that idyllic Center Valley, PA, campus.

Initially, I was a bit melancholy at the thought that it was the last team I was ever on. After graduation I ran other races and dabbled in biathlons and triathlons, mud runs, rock climbing, and fun runs, but never again had that sense of team that I’d had during my college days. I missed the shared activity and nervous excitement of a long training run or upcoming meet, missed the elation after winning as a team, each doing his part and getting the job done as a unit. But then I thought about motorcycling and the ways it has given me back some of what I miss about my college running days.

When you’re on a team with someone, especially a team centered around running, you spend a lot of time side by side clocking countless miles (I calculated having ran a minimum of 6,000 over the four years I spent at DeSales) talking about life and love and, in our case, some tragic losses. You become more than just teammates and often forge bonds that last the rest of your life, which is certainly true for me.

It is the same with motorcycling. I ran a riding group with nearly 200 members for a few years and while I did I realized I felt many (more…)

Riding Your First Motorcycle

vulcan-900Many people, men and women alike, believe that motorcycles are easy to handle. After all, most of us mastered a bicycle by the age of eight and like a bicycle, motorcycles have two wheels as well. How difficult can they really be to manage on the road? The average person can get a bicycle up to around 30 mph on a flat surface. A pro cyclist can get to around 50 mph. A motorcycle can go from zero to more than 60 mph in under 4 seconds. That’s a steep increase over a bicycle, and one that should be your first clue that riding a motorcycle is going to take quite a bit of practice to get right.

If you are in the market for your first motorcycle or you know, as many riders do, that your life will be enriched through the travel options that owning a motorcycle will bring, you should take a few things into consideration before making your purchase and before hopping on the seat to take it for a spin. A motorcycle does not come equipped with an airbag or safety features like an automobile, and until you have been through some training, you simply do not want to just “hop on” and try to ride away into the sunset. A simple mistake when driving a car may end with a small scratch or even a slight fender dent. Making a mistake on a motorcycle can end your life. Be aware though that while riding a motorcycle is often thought to be dangerous, so are many other things in life and you can control the danger level by gaining experience and learning to be safe.

Before you ride your first bike, you may want to consider taking a motorcycle safety course with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) as they offer safety courses nationwide for motorcycle owners and those interested in riding. Taking a course is not mandatory, but (more…)

To Feel Normal Again (Full Text)

The article “To Feel Normal Again” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 05/03/16.

I believe that half the trouble in the world comes from people asking ‘What have I achieved?’ rather than ‘What have I enjoyed?‘”

Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion

I’ve always loved movies with first-person narration, one character telling a story and his thoughts about the events. I’ve quoted The Shawshank Redemption before and recently watched it again during the El Niño-inspired storm of the decade here in southeastern Pennsylvania. A favorite scene is the one in which the main character, Andy, negotiates for his crew to receive three beers each in return for some accounting work done for a guard. When others question Andy’s motives, the narrator says, “. . . me, I think he did it to feel normal again, if only for a short while.”

Winter RideThe analogy stuck with me, as so many things do, and I thought about riding and the places it takes me that have nothing to do with the stuff of daily life. Normal, for me, is that space where I am one with the task at hand and thinking of nothing else, and that’s certainly true of riding. Normal is the place where (more…)

Weather On The Go

wbNow ScreenIf you’re anything like me you ride often, whether weekend day trips, daily commuting or extended multi-day trips. I commute in southeastern Pennsylvania throughout the year which means I ride in all types of weather, rain, occasionally snow, fog, high winds. Now on weekend rides or day trips that’s fine; but one thing I don’t do is commute in bad weather. My work occasionally involves being outside and I prefer not to have to deal with inclement weather on work days and the requisite clothing considerations that entails. With that in mind I’ve been using the WeatherBug weather app for a while now and with good results.

The widget on my Galaxy S5 (which I refer to often without ever needing to open the app) is unobtrusive and (more…)

When My Ship Comes In

Zen-Motorcyclist_DSC_3658-772x625The article “When My Ship Comes In” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 10/25/15.

One of my father’s catch phrases was “when my ship comes in.” What he really meant to say was “We don’t have the means to afford it now, but one day we will.” Mr. Bud was a Navy man who, after his discharge, worked one job for the rest of his life. He was a mechanic with forearms like Popeye from turning wrenches for a living. When you’re a child you don’t know anything about income, class, or (more…)

Not Your Father’s WD40

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A new staple in my maintenance routine.

Who among us didn’t grow up seeing that yellow and blue can in the garage that came out whenever dad worked on the car or lawnmower? You may have heard the rumors that WD-40 was made gel lubricantfrom fish oil (it’s not) or that it’s not really a lubricant and shouldn’t be used on motorcycle chains… both are incorrect. “WD” in fact stands for “Water Displacement”, the 40 represents the 40th “recipe” of the original product. WD-40 has come a long way and I was surprised to here from them about (more…)

The Means To Notice It All

The article “The Means To Notice It All” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 9/22/2016.

This past Mother’s Day, my girlfriend Erica and I rode to a farm not far from my home that she had lived on for a time. We were visiting the owner, Sally, who Erica had grown close to during the time she spent there and who she’s remained friends with ever since. As I approached on the cycle down a long, narrow, winding gravel driveway and under an idyllic train trestle, I spotted horses and donkeys in the fields, chicken coops and tractor barns, all the stuff of a working farm. The sky wasn’t looking so good, but it was a May day, I’ve ridden in the rain before, and besides, the dark clouds and winds created the kind of weather I’ve always loved riding in.

the-meansSally, a strong, no-nonsense woman, appeared to be close to my mother Mary’s age. She actually reminded me a bit of my mom. A bird had made a nest in a broken light fixture on her porch and laid eggs. Sally saw to it that the switch to the light was disabled and a sign was posted warning visitors to use the side door lest they suffer the wrath of a mother protecting her young.

I sat on the floor as we spoke, petting Sally’s huge, fleshy-faced English Mastiff. We covered a lot of topics. Sally is sharp, up-front, an avid reader, and direct, the sort of person I love talking to. I got the feeling that with her there are no games or fear of offending, just smart conversation. Eventually the talk turned to motorcycles, and (more…)