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.

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