Have you ever seen road rash, or what the doctors at the hospital have to do to clean it? If not, you should look it up so you know exactly what that looks like. It’s not pretty. Your gear is the only thing keeping you from nasty scars, serious injury or death, and that’s what you need to think about when buying. I’m a pretty big proponent of ATGATT (All the Gear, All the Time), and my recommendations and bias will reflect that. No matter what you think about gear, you should always buy the best you can afford. Don’t buy something based on looks or dealer/store recommendations alone, make sure you’re doing research about what you’re buying. Quality gear is usually going to last a long time if you take care of it. There are a ton of options for all sorts of styles and weather. For the cold, you need to first stop the wind against your skin and then insulate yourself, and layers are the most effective. For the heat, mesh is pretty effective up to a certain temperature; above around 91-94*F (your skin temperature) it’s a little better to stop the wind from hitting your skin, so covering up a little works better. It might seem counter-intuitive, but at that temperature wind acts just like wind chill in the winter, so it’s actually heating you up as you ride. You might feel a little warmer when stopped, but once you’re moving it will be fine, plus you’re less at risk of dehydration. That’s a whole other topic though. My point is, gear is extremely important. And the most important thing about gear is that it fits properly. Anything that’s too big is going to move around and not keep armor in place, and a helmet that’s too big will be noisier, move around and vibrate in the wind more, and in a crash could move around and cause more injury (face hitting the inside of the helmet) or come right off. Buy things that feel snug, because most things will break in and feel right on you. Here are a few things to think about for the basic items you want to be wearing:
- Helmet – I don’t care if the state you’re riding in doesn’t require a helmet, wear a helmet. If there’s one thing you should spend a little more money on and get a better one than the basic, it’s a helmet. Sure, a $150 may still prevent a concussion, but it’s also not built the same. There are different types and number of layers of foam, those soft pads inside may not be as nice, and the outer shell might not be built to the same standards. The single most important part of a helmet is fit: it should be as snug as possible without giving you a headache. Remember that cheekpads and the inside soft pads will probably break in a little, so err on the smaller side if you’re between sizes. Again, as long as it’s not giving you a headache it’s not too tight. You want DOT rating at a minimum, but you should really pursue SNELL or ECE ratings if possible. And you cruiser guys, you should strongly consider a full-face. I know it may not look the part, but do you like your teeth? Or how your face looks now? Rhetorical questions, but the Hurt Report says that just under 20% of crashes damage the chin of full-face helmets.
- Jacket – You should wear one. It doesn’t matter how hot it is outside, you can find a jacket that should be pretty comfortable. I’m a pretty big fan of leather no matter what the temperature is, but there are good textile and mesh jackets. You want to look for CE rated body armor in at the elbows (at the very least). You also have to be careful about CE rated; seems like companies are slapping “CE rated” stickers or labels on everything these days, even stuff that may not actually be CE rated or maybe a lower level, which means you should do a little research before buying anything. I explain a bit more about the different materials below under “riding pants”. I love my leather jacket, and I’ve gotten so used to wearing it that I just don’t feel that safe when I wear something different. If you have a spot for a back insert, it’s a good idea to spend the little bit of extra money on one. Dunno about you, but my spine is one of those areas that I just really want as much protection for as I can get. If you decide to not ride with a jacket, at least do a long-sleeve shirt; it’s going to shred as soon as you hit pavement or dirt, but it will at least keep bugs and road grime and sun off your skin.
- Gloves – Please, please wear gloves. Humans instinctively put their hands out to catch themselves when they fall, which means your hands are gonna take a beating if you wipe out. But even if you don’t, gloves shield your hands from heat, cold, sun, wind, bugs, rocks, rain, and everything else out there. You don’t need to spend a ton to get some gloves with good protection. Degloved body parts are not pretty.
- Boots – Notice how this bullet isn’t titled anything other than boots? Yeah, that’s because you shouldn’t be wearing anything else. Flip-flops, sneakers, dress shoes, whatever you got that ain’t boots, don’t wear them on the bike. Ankle protection is key here. During a fall, your ankle is quite easily damaged. Since your bone sticks out a bit in that area, it tends to hit the ground if you’re on your side, and the tendons and ligaments are pretty easily damaged. For these reasons, ideally you want both abrasion and impact protection. Shin protection is a bonus.
- Riding pants – First thing: never ever wear shorts. Burns, bugs, rocks, dirt, they’re all not fun, and that’s even before we start talking about what happens in a crash. Just don’t. Next step up, and most people’s go-to, are jeans. They are what I would consider the bare minimum to ride. They’re better than nothing, they will protect you from bugs and grime, minimize damage from burns, rocks and other small hazards, and will provide a tiny bit of protection in a crash. But they shred awfully fast [read: instantly] when sliding on asphalt. Denim is just cotton, after all. You should check out a video of that, and I think that video will probably change your mind about wearing them. I admit, I have been wearing regular jeans on the road since I started, and I still do to this day. I don’t necessarily like it, and that’s why I’m shopping around for some riding pants now. Moto-specific riding pants come in a bunch of flavors, just like jackets. First, you have riding jeans. These are reinforced jeans, usually with kevlar or some other abrasion-resistant material, and will probably have pads in the knee. These still have your jean look, but offer more protection. Then there are mesh pants, which offer the best airflow but trade off a little in protection. All depends on the materials used, but most mesh pants will come with armor in the knees, as well as reinforced areas where mesh isn’t in order to maximize both protection and airflow. A step above those are textile pants, which will usually be a woven synthetic material of some sort, think ballistic nylon or kevlar or Cordura. This gear will protect pretty well. It should have armor in it, though see my note above about CE rated stuff. One big advantage is this stuff can be made waterproof. If you’re looking to ride in the rain, textile is what you want. One downside to mesh and textile is that it is synthetic, so it will eventually melt at certain temperatures. Companies are getting pretty good about making gear pretty resistant to melting, and while it takes a good bit of sliding to melt enough to actually affect you, it can happen. Right now, the best protection is leather. And not just any leather, but real leather with an appropriate thickness. This stuff isn’t cheap, but it’s typically made well and will last a long time if taken care of well. Where textile will typically only last one crash before replacement, leather can sometimes be used perfectly fine after an incident. It’s thicker and heavier, which offers a bit more protection during an off. There’s a reason why tracks require a full leather suit. Plus, there’s just something about the smell, look and feel of leather that’s unique and can’t be replaced.
- Ear plugs – You should really wear ear plugs. Once your hearing is gone, it doesn’t come back, and best case scenario is that you simply lose hearing. You know that ringing in your ears for the day or days after a ride? Yeah that’s exactly what tinnitus can sound like. Want to live with that for the rest of your life? Wind is incredibly loud, even in a full-face helmet. And they actually help you hear stuff around you better. Since they cancel out the wind, you can hear car noises and other things more clearly above 45mph or so. There are tons of earplugs out there, from the cheap foamies to custom-fitted plugs, so there’s really no excuse not to have these.
- Base layers – Winter or summer, base layers are great. A lot of people just wear cotton shirts, and cotton is pretty terrible as far as base layers go; when it gets wet, it sticks to your skin and traps moisture. Most people only think of wearing base layers in the winter, but they are very useful in the summer as well. In hot weather, base layers act as a sweat wick, and pull sweat away from your skin in order to cool you. They are really nice under any sort of leather gear, because they make it real easy to get on and off. When the weather gets cold, base layers are more important. On a bike, unless you have heated gear, your body is the only thing generating heat. That heat is precious, so you need to keep it in! You want some insulating base layers. Merino wool is great for this, and there are also a lot of synthetic fabrics out there that will do the job well. Remember, for cold weather, you want to both stop the wind and insulate yourself, and that begins with base layers. Keep the heat as close to your body as possible. And you don’t want to get anything wet, sweat is bad in the winter, which is why multiple layers are good (you can shed layers as you need to in order to regulate your body temperature).
- Head sock – Before even talking about temperature, I love a head sock for a couple reasons. It keeps your hair somewhat respectable instead of having wild helmet-hair, and it covers your ears so your ears don’t fold over when you put your helmet on. It also makes the fit in your helmet a bit more snug, though that may not be great for every person, but it’s a cheap way to tailor your helmet fit. In the summer it serves as a way to wick sweat and also act as barrier between the gunk and sweat on your head and the pads in your helmet. Not all helmets have removeable pads to wash, so this helps a little. It can keep bugs and road grime away from your neck if you choose to cover that as well. In the winter, these keep your head warm. Your head can lose a ton of body heat, so it’s pretty important to keep it warm. A balaclava will also keep your neck, ears, and face warm, so it should be considered essential gear if you’re riding in low temperatures.
- Rain gear – I will admit I don’t know a ton about rain gear, I actually don’t own any as I don’t ride in the rain (it’s a comfort thing mostly). But, if you’re looking for rain gear, you want good stuff. Gore-Tex is a tried and true option, and there are a lot of great companies out there making good stuff. I unfortunately can’t say much here other than to really do your research, don’t buy something without knowing what you’re getting, or you may likely be buying again.
Some of that was a little disorganized, but hopefully it helped you out a little bit. One thing I can say for sure is that once I started wearing quality protective gear, anything less leaves me feeling nervous. This is something that may save your life, or at the very least save you from having some gnarly scars, so spending a little extra money on it is worth it in my opinion. Most people spend extra on safety feature packages in a car, and this is basically the same thing.
If you have anything more to add let me know!
Be safe out there, and ride your own ride.