Good riding gear will offer comfortable protection from the elements without compromising the benefits you get from riding— the sights, the feelings, the smells, and the sounds.
Cars protect the occupants of the vehicle from the elements and other vehicles that motorcycles don’t have; windows, bumpers, air bags, and steel side-impact structures. Motorcyclists protect themselves with what they wear.
Beyond weather protection, you need gear because cars prey on motorcycles and they are out to get us. Car drivers are insulated and distracted from the activity of actually driving their cars by so cell phones, texting and so on. The bottom line: assume every single vehicle on the road is out to get you, and you’ll be right.
Gear Versus Clothes
Motorcyclists need protection from weather, abrasion, impact, invisibility, and bad music. Properly designed riding gear can protect you from the first four. Sun, wind, rain and extreme temperatures are the elements requiring consideration. We’ll need to weigh abrasion protection in your decision, because sliding body parts rapidly along an asphalt or cement surface is an excellent way to remove skin and flesh (which presumably you want to avoid). We all understand the need limit the damage from bouncing against, and getting hit by, stuff.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of choosing riding gear like we choose street clothes. But motorcycle gear is more like the gear worn by fighter pilots or fire fighters; protection should be the first criterion.
Plan to Upgrade
All professionals equip themselves with the latest and best gear available. Professional motorcyclists, too, use the best protective gear available. But your typical riding environment is much different than professional racers—it’s worse! If you consider yourself a serious rider, keep in touch with advances in riding and plan to upgrade your gear, when something measurably better comes along.
Here are the 6+1 motorcycle riding gear essentials.
A good-fitting, well-designed, DOT or Snell-approved helmet is a great riding companion. Besides the obvious help a helmet provides if you attempt to dribble your melon on the tarmac, it keeps your head dry when it rains, warm when it’s cold, quiet in a 70-mph wind, and even keeps you cooler on hot days by controlling the rate of evaporation. The helmet also protects you from bugs and sand that go “splat” and “ping” on a helmet at 70 mph but could leave a scar on a bare forehead.
Regardless of the jacket you wear, make sure it has protective armor on the shoulders, elbows, and back. The jacket also needs to be comfortable, but fit tight enough so armor stays put in case of a get off. The armor in your jacket should be designed similarly to a helmet, with a hard outside shell and a shock-absorbing inside, and closed-cell foam that’s soft and pliable when moved slowly but that stiffens right up and provides protection when whacked hard. An alternative to built-in armor is armored underwear that is worn under less-protective jackets (and pants and jeans), if you need to look a certain way while riding.
Choose bright colors with high conspicuity to ensure you’re seen by other traffic. Reflective strips incorporated into the design of the jacket will help. Especially if you ride in high-traffic areas, such as when commuting on your motorcycle, you can take a tip from road workers and wear a hi-viz green vest with reflective strips over the top of any jacket. These vests are relatively inexpensive and easy to stow.
For protection from rain, you’ve got two choices. You can choose to wear a dedicated rain suit over your riding gear. Or you can chose waterproof riding gear that incorporates a breathable inner fabric like Gore-Tex. The disadvantage of integrated gear is that it is typically more expensive than a rain suit. The advantage of waterproof riding gear is that you don’t need to stow, and then stop and change into, a rain suit when it begins to rain.
Pants have the same considerations as jackets—protection from the elements, abrasion resistance, and impact protection—with the additional issue of being comfortable enough in the “seat area” so as not be a pain in the “seat area.”
Leather boots with a minimum 8 inches of height are required by professional racing organizations, and that seems to be a good standard to use for all types of motorcycle riding. Look for impact padding or armor on the inside and outside of the ankle as well. If you will be riding in the rain, get boots that are waterproof and keep them treated to maintain their water-repelling properties.
It’s easy to take the functioning of our hands for granted, because they are used in just about everything we do. As important as your hands are, the parts and materials of which they are made are easily damaged. You’ll need a variety of gloves to protect your hands for different riding conditions.
6) EyewearTo safeguard your eyes while riding, you need protection from flying debris like dust and bugs, and you’ll need some shading from bright light. Regardless of the specific method you choose, your glasses, goggles, or face shield need to be shatterproof.
Although a windshield isn’t riding gear, it is an accessory that provides some of the same functions as riding gear such as shielding you from the wind (and wind noise), rain, bugs, and the occasional unlucky or slow bird. And just like riding gear, it’s rare to find one that is right for every size and shape of rider.
There are a wide range of manufacturers and models from which to choose, from small handlebar-mounted screens to large shields integrated into frame-mounted fairings.
A phrase used by some veteran motorcyclists is ATGATT, which is an acronym that stands for “All The Gear, All The Time.” Even the best gear won’t protect you if it’s at home in the closet. Even if you are going on a short ride, even just to the store, you should put on your protective riding gear.
Because of factors beyond anyone’s control, if you ride long enough, you will need the extra protection of specialized riding gear. No one plans to have an accident, of course, but they happen to even the best riders. Like all aspects of motorcycling, keeping your balance is important. We’re all bound by the same laws of physics and probability. Keep your arrogance and vanity in check, and suit up. Riding is risky enough without tempting fate by riding “naked.”
** The preceding is excerpted from the book, The Perfect Motorcycle: How to Choose, Find and Buy the Perfect New or Used Bike. The information provided here will give you a framework to guide your motorcycle inspections and purchases. Space limitations preclude an in-depth discussion of the subject. You can find out about the book at www.theperfectmotorcycle.com. There are also 18 checklists and worksheets available for download at www.theperfectmotorcycle.com/download-worksheets-and-che.html that you can use to supplement the information in the book.