An Overview

Thousands of new motorcyclists are taking to the highways every year, and it’s no wonder. The thrill of thundering down the open road with its sights, sounds, and smells are all powerful lures that keep the old timers coming back for more, and entice new riders with the promise of discovering a whole new world. In a word, motorcycle riding is fun. But along with the fun comes a certain amount of assumed risk you willingly take. What’s surprising is that amid the army of new and seasoned riders alike, proper riding gear that is designed to reduce risk is perhaps the most overlooked or under-considered aspects of the motorcycle riding experience. One needn’t look around too long to find a motorcycle rider without sufficient riding gear. This article will provide a brief overview of the various components of riding gear.

The Essentials

Arguably, the two most important pieces of riding gear that should be worn are those of helmet and eyewear. The use of a helmet is a highly debated point among virtually all riders, but volumes of statistical data can be found all over the web regarding motorcycle accidents and the role of a proper helmet in the survivability of a crash. The pure and simple fact is that given the virtual headlock most states have with helmet laws, a motorcycle rider is left with no choice but to wear a helmet. But are all helmets created equal? The short is answer is no. There are myriad helmet choices available out there ranging from a simple a steel WW1 vintage lid with no liner or face shield, to a full DOT and Snell approved helmet with built-in face shield. Ultimately, the primary guiding factor in helmet selection for the rider is based on the individual’s tolerance for risk, whereby a simple steel lid offers the barest minimum of protection, and the fully approved helmet affords the greatest level of safety.

The other critical piece of essential riding gear is in proper eye protection. Virtually every automobile driver or motorcycle rider has, at some point, been tagged with a rock that has been kicked up by another vehicle. You don’t have to be a genius to know that the flying rock, though not ballistic like a bullet, is moving plenty fast to cause permanent loss of sight at a minimum or even death through the loss of control of your machine. As with helmets, there are many options available in eye protection ranging from non-safety sunglasses to full face shields that attach to your helmet. Any eyewear not rated or labeled as “safety” wear is virtually useless and will shatter upon impact with debris. Besides the plastic used in the lenses, there are other factors that should be considered in the selection of eye protection. Lens color, mitigation of wind, comfort, etc. all play an important role as well. Of course, the very best eye and face protection available is the face shield that attaches to the helmet. Here too are a variety of choices available that will give the rider varying levels of protection be it a partial visor that primarily protects the eyes and forehead, to a full-face shield.

Neck to Ankle

Okay, so now you’ve got the critical essentials, now let’s discuss the riding gear from neck to ankle. Any rider who’s been rolling on 2 wheels for awhile can tell you the value of a riding jacket/coat and gloves for comfort when the wind chill sets in, yet few riders will wear anything other than their favorite jeans for leg protection. The upshot is that many riders consider the neck to ankle components of riding gear to be largely a function of comfort or fashion only and do not consider the safety function of the gear. While comfort is certainly a vital function of safety, the real question you should be asking is whether your gear is going to protect you if you crash. You may be wondering what the best protection available is. The truth is; your neck to ankle riding gear is a matter of personal preference and the sky’s the limit for selection. Of course, all of us scruffy old timers on cruisers will be looking to black leathers, while the younger set tends to gravitate to the synthetic materials. There is no right or wrong answer here other than understanding that the gear you wear needs to offer sufficient protection against the elements, road debris or a crash. Jackets and/or coats need to be lightweight enough so as not be cumbersome, yet heavy enough to protect you from road rash. A good jacket/coat will fit well, provide movement and be able to breathe either through gussets, or through the material itself, such as Gore-tex. The better jackets will offer additional padding at the elbows and shoulders. Gloves are also an important piece of gear. The key here is a riding glove that provides freedom of movement in the fingers, sufficient grip and be insulated. Any number of gloves will perform the job sufficiently, but for those riders insisting on the ultimate in riding gloves, many are manufactured with built-in armor of sorts at the knuckles providing maximum protection. Though few casual riders wear them, riding pants are an excellent measure of additional protection, with the better gear offering padding in the hips and knees. Many “old school” riders scoff at the notion of riding pants, opting instead for leather chaps which offer decent protection without the constriction of full pants.

The Feet

Footwear is another piece of equipment many riders don’t consider, yet this is just as important as all your other riding gear. Amazingly, many riders will jump on the bike and go in whatever footwear they were wearing at the time. This lack of preparation can prove costly. In terms of options, riding boots are quite diverse in style and design ranging from lightweight riding shoes to calf-height leather boots. At a minimum, riding footwear should protect the entire foot, including the ankle, from the ever-present barrage of road debris that gets kicked up. As with jackets and pants, boots also come in leather and synthetic materials and each does an adequate job of protection. A few key things to look for in riding boots should of course be comfort, proper weight, water resistance, and sole construction that offer an excellent grip on both the pavement and pegs. Many riding boots are steel-toed and many are insulated. Which boots you choose is largely a matter of personal preference, but it’s generally a good idea to be prepared with a variety of options.

The Dry & Visible

Assuming you’re riding on a bright sunny day without a single cloud in the sky, you’re probably okay without the raingear, but you can be assured that one day you will be caught off guard by a rogue rainstorm and riding without proper wet weather gear is nothing short of misery. There are a wide range of options available here. Many “old school” riders consider their trusty leathers to be adequate wet weather protection, while other riders will pack specific raingear into the bags. The main thing to consider here is having gear that will keep you warm and dry without being bulky. This is best accomplished with breathable materials which will prevent sweating or overheating that is common in some protective raingear garments. Another key factor to consider is proper fit. Most raingear tends to be lightweight and loose fitting. Specific riding raingear will be a bit more tailored with less loose material to flap around. High-visibility gear is another piece of riding gear that should be considered. A rider on a motorcycle is much less conspicuous and far more vulnerable that persons in a car. For this reason, it is vital that the motorcycle rider be highly visible to others while out on the roads. Many riders will wear full riding suits with strips of day-glo material and reflective tape sewn into the garment. Others will wear a simple vest, similar to those worn by road highway crews. Still others will simply wear brightly colored clothing to be seen. No matter what choices you make, the operative concept here is visibility which adds to your margin of safety and an integral part of your personal risk management program.