The riding gear you select directly affects the overall quality of your motorcycling experience, for better or for worse. Choose the wrong gear and you can be too cold, too hot, windblown, soaking wet and more—all in the course of one ride. More important, inferior riding gear or failure to wear protective equipment will leave you exposed to greater risk in the case of an accident. The right stuff, however, delivers elevated levels of comfort, convenience, adaptability to changing weather conditions and more—all of which can boost your riding confidence and make the trip much more fun.
Today’s motorcyclists are blessed with a rich assortment of choices in riding gear, although at first glance such a wide variety may seem a bit bewildering. But once you get familiar with some of the key elements that go into the best designs, it’s easy to zero in on gear that will suit your needs and fit your fashion tastes as well. So here’s a quick review of some important features to look for when you set out to make your purchase.
Jackets and Pants
Riding gear made specifically for motorcycling is essential; these pieces offer a level of safety, comfort and function that cannot be matched by run-of-the-mill fashion wear. Riding jackets and pants can be divided into two general categories, both of which work very well: leather and textile. Built correctly, both serve to resist abrasion to your body parts in the event of a get-off. If you think your favorite denim jeans are tough enough for the job, think again; fashion denim impacting asphalt at speed can come apart on impact, leaving nothing between your skin and the road. Ouch.
Leather garments should have a thickness of 1.0mm or more; that’s noticeably thicker, stiffer and heavier than the soft, easy-to-tear stuff used for fashion wear. Textile gear should incorporate tough, high-quality synthetics ranging from about 500 denier and upwards (“denier” refers to the density of the fabric). Well-built textile suits will also include sections of heavier material in critical impact areas such as the knees, elbows and shoulders. Good riding gear will also feature body armor in these vital areas as well as a back protector to help absorb impacts in a crash. Look for armor that is “CE” rated to meet Certified European safety standards. If you live in a climate that regularly features hot weather, a jacket and pants with a mesh shell plus CE armor in the shoulder, elbows, knees and often in the back can be a valued option within your riding wardrobe.
Garments designed for the rigors of motorcycling will also incorporate double- or triple-stitched seams for added durability, plus a riding-oriented cut featuring pre-curved, rotated sleeves, expansion panels, mandarin collar and a longer tail on the jacket. Take-up straps and adjustable waist belts allow for a snug fit that won’t let the wind whistle up your sleeves or allow your jacket to flap annoyingly in the wind whether you’re layered up for cool weather, or pared down in hotter temps. A zip-out thermal liner, breathable and waterproof layer, and easy-to-use vents go a long way towards keeping you comfortable from sunup to sundown. Road-wise riders also fully understand the value of having an electric vest or jacket liner on hand to add to the mix when temperatures drop below 50º Fahrenheit. A large assortment of pockets is important for travel by motorcycle; you need to keep your wallet, cell phone and other items secure while riding, and hand warmer pockets come in handy when you’ve parked your bike. As a last thought, look for riding gear that incorporates reflective elements for enhanced nighttime conspicuity.
Regardless of local laws that may or may not mandate helmet use, smart riders wear a helmet on every ride. All motorcycle helmets sold in America must have a sticker signifying DOT approval; for helmets built to a stricter standard, look for approval by the Snell Foundation. Every person has a unique head shape, so a first-time purchase is best done in a brick-and-mortar store. Look for helpful salespeople who will not only allow you to try on different brands and sizes to find the right fit, but will also let you wear it for an extended time while in the store. Such extended wear allows you to determine whether or not a certain helmet creates uncomfortable pressure points over time—you can’t get a proper evaluation by slipping the helmet on and off after a few seconds. You’re looking for a snug fit here; the helmet shouldn’t move about appreciably on your head when you try to rotate it. If you wear glasses, look for helmets that incorporate a channel that easily admits the arms of your particular style of glasses, for a proper and comfortable fit.
For added comfort, look for a helmet that incorporates adjustable vents that permit entry of extra airflow around your head during rides in warm weather. A lighter helmet may cost more, but less weight results in less fatigue over a long ride. Better designs have also undergone extensive wind tunnel testing for superior aerodynamics and reduced wind noise, which are also important factors for reducing rider fatigue. A removable, anti-bacterial helmet liner is essential for easy cleaning, and many helmets offer a range of cheek pads to allow a more comfortable, customized fit.
Add to all this some motorcycle-specific riding gloves and sturdy motorcycle boots, and you’re ready to roll. When you decide to ride a motorcycle, understand that you’re also making a commitment to wear proper riding gear—every time you ride.