BikeBandit.com's Motorcycle Boot Buyer's Guide
So many boots, so little time! With so many great choices, it can be tough to pick the perfect boot.
After a fun, quick ride to your destination – it could be the commute to your office or a weekend sprint to a restaurant at the end of your favorite windy road – the first thing you do is tug off your gloves, pop that snug helmet off, and peel off your armored riding jacket. It feels good to yank off all that heavy riding gear after a long ride.
But what about your boots? No, the boots usually stay on; they’re the one piece of motorcycling gear that we riders usually wear all day while we’re out on our bikes, and they have to protect us in the event of an accident, but still be comfortable enough to walk around wherever our day takes us. We commuters demand even more of our boots. We want all the protection of a motorcycle boot, but in disguise; something conservative and stylish enough to wear all day at the office or on campus.
You know you should be wearing sturdy leather boots on a motorcycle. But there are so many leather boots out there, and they are certainly not all created equal. In our Motorcycle Boot Buyer’s Guide, we’ll tell you all about what makes a motorcycle boot different from a regular boot, what you should look for, and how to pick the best one for you and your unique needs.
Did you know? The US Center for Disease Control published a study finding that fully 30% of all non-fatal injuries in motorcycle accidents were to the leg and foot (see here for more details.)
What Makes Motorcycle Boots Different
Some motorcycle boots, like the Alpinestars Tech 10 Boots or the Sidi ST Motorcycle Boots , are unmistakably racing-derived sport boots that you would usually only see off-road or on a track. But others aren’t so easy to identify as “motorcycle boots,” and customers sometimes feel they’re paying more money for a brand, and just getting the same construction as you would find in a work or outdoors boot.
But it isn’t all marketing hype. The fact is, motorcycle boots are designed with rider-specific features in mind. Many of these you can’t see, like molded ankle protection, increased torsional stiffness to prevent flexing, and oil-resistant soles to prevent a slip when putting a foot down on the road.
With a purpose-built touring boot like the Sidi Adventure Gore-Tex, you KNOW you're getting features engineered specifically for what you encounter out on the road.
Others you may not be able to see, such as built-in shifter pads, buckles or lace-retention designs to prevent snagging, and double or triple stitching in seams that could come apart in a crash. While good motorcycle boots share many characteristics with high-quality work boots, its small features like these that make motorcycle boots designed just for your unique needs as a rider.
But not all motorcycle boots scream "I'm a biker!" Take the Alpinestars FastBack WP for example, which is waterproof, has built-in ankle protection and an integrated shift pad, but looks like an every-day shoe.
But Motorcycle Boots Are So Expensive!
Its as true in here as it is everywhere else: “You get what you pay for.” Like a high-quality pair of work boots, good motorcycle boots have to be durable, comfortable, and protective; but unlike work boots, they need to stay together being ground into asphalt at highway speeds in order to save your skin. The engineering and materials to make this happen aren’t cheap; but they are cheaper than surgery, skin grafts, and lost time at work. An old piece of motorcycle wisdom applies here: “Don’t dress for the ride; dress for the crash.”
If you are on a small budget, even the cheapest motorcycle boots are better than everyday shoes. If you get in a crash wearing a $100 pair of boots, you may not walk away without a scratch, but you will avoid a lot of damage that a typical fashion or work boot may not have been able to prevent.
Not all motorcycle boots will have you maxing our your credit cards. The Joe Rocket Ballistic Touring boot is packed with protection and motorcycle-specific features for under $100 bucks!
What To Look For In Motorcycle Boots
For any boot to give you adequate protection, it should come at least up over the ankle and have stable construction at the top of the boot to give you the right amount of support. A high-top boot may be stiffer and less comfortable than something that only comes up to your ankle, but it does a world of difference for protection.
One of the many injuries that are common during a crash happens when the foot is trapped during the fall; this motion can break, sprain and injure an ankle if it does not have enough support from your boot. In addition, because the ankle bone juts out of the leg, it can easily be scraped into the ground during a slide, even in a simple low-side crash. This is why a full height boot is best because it supports the ankle as well as keeps your foot protected.
Many ordinary walking shoes are made out of a canvas or soft leather which aren't too substantial when it comes to hitting the asphalt. This is why most motorcycle boots are made out of much thicker leather in order to have a high abrasion resistance. Recently, however, some boot manufacturers have been producing boots with textile materials that are both abrasion resistant and more breathable. Look for reinforcements in high-wear areas, like double layers of leather, textile, or even plastic sliders.
If you commute or ride in varying weather, you’ll need some weather protection, and many motorcycle boots are built with that in mind. If your kicks are made of leather, make sure that it's treated leather. Untreated leather has a tendency to absorb water rather than repel it which can make for a very uncomfortable day if they get soaked on your ride.
From laces to Velcro, how your boots open and close is a fairly personal choice. Laces tend to be popular because of the ease of removing the boot and the precise fit they give; the down side is that they may come undone while riding, and the hooks at the top of many laced boots can snag on part of the bike while mounting or dismounting. Some boots, like the Icon Super Duty 4 Motorcycle Boots, come with a buckle to strap laces down, which is a good safety feature.
Other forms of closures such as Velcro and buckles are also very common with motorcycle boots. These types of closures often allow a rider to get a much more secure fit than laces, and are typically found on race boots to ensure that a boot will stay on in the event of a high speed crash.
The Icon Super Duty 4 Motorcycle Boot combines laces with a buckle closure for security. They look pretty badass too.
When shopping for boots, keep an eye on how it is constructed. The best boots will be put together with double- or triple-stitching to make sure they stay together even in a nasty accident. How the sole is connected to the boot is also a huge factor. A sole that is glued on is not as long-lasting or as strong in a crash; boots that have the soles sewn on rather than just glued on will both protect your feet more and last a longer.
Depending on the type of riding that you will be doing, you'll need a sole that gives you the right amount of grip. A softer sole will have a tendency to grip the footpeg better but will wear down a lot faster. A harder sole will have better durability but give you less grip. Either way, make sure that the soles are oil resistant, especially with street riding. Oil build up on the roads can really be a rider's downfall (literally) if they're not wearing boots that have oil resistant soles, especially in wet conditions.
Side-by-side: Boot soles from the Sidi Vortice (left) and the Sidi Sport Rain (right.)
When buying boots online, like in BikeBandit.com's Footwear Store, be sure to check the manufacturer's sizing guide, as each manufacturer makes their boot sizes slightly differently. Many good motorcycle boots are from European manufacturers, so you may need to convert your US size into an EU size (many European boots also have a tendency to have a narrower fit.) Also keep in mind the socks that you'll be wearing when you ride while trying on boots. If you like to ride wearing some really thick socks, that will affect how your boot fits. When you get your boots shipped, try them on with a pair of the socks you like to ride in.
When you put on and take off the boots, you'll notice that most boots will be a lot tougher to get on and off than normal shoes. It may be a pain, but if a boot is harder to get off, it's less likely to fly off in a crash and leave your foot exposed in its time of need.
Armor and Protection
Extra armor and padding is always a plus when it comes to protection, especially with racing boots. Many racing or sport boots will come with built in armor made out of Kevlar, carbon or plastic that is placed in high impact and fragile areas.
With street boots, it's common to find pairs that come with steel plates around the toe area to keep your toes from getting crushed. Many riders fear that this can break free of the boot during a crash and sever toes, but this is almost impossible (MythBusters actually did an episode on exactly this topic in their 3rd season and disproved that myth.) Steel plated toes have been proven to protect feet and should be considered.
The Alpinestars Supertech R is a top-of-the-line, armored road racing boot for maximum protection on the street or track.
When it comes to boot maintenance, some boots, like track boots, come with a fitted bootie that not only allows for a racer to get the best fit possible, it can also be taken out to be cleaned or aired out. Another huge perk is to get a pair of racing boots that has removable and replaceable parts such as toe-sliders like these Cortech Latigo Road Race Motorcycle Boot Replacement Toe Sliders that can get chewed up fairly quickly. This will allow you to just change out quickly worn down parts rather than buy a whole new pair of boots.
They Fit You, But Do They Fit Your Bike?
After you've found a good pair of kicks that fit your foot and your style, make sure that it also fits your bike. You don't want to invest in a pair of boots only to find out that the shifter pad is too thick and it won't squeeze in between the foot control and the gear shifter. Plus a heel that is too big will just get in the way and make it harder for you to move your foot where it needs to be quickly.
Footwear may seem like such a simple buy, but there really is a lot that goes into a good pair of motorcycle boots. Take your time in searing through your options and don't be afraid to drop a little extra money for the good stuff. If you ever actually need all the extra protection good motorcycle boots offer, you’ll be glad you invested in it.
At the end of the day, the right boot has to look good with the rest of your stuff. Photo credit: Jason, Dime City Cycles.