Good motorcycle gear protects you not only from crashes, but from the elements, and other things that can make riding uncomfortable. Check out our guide on what you need to know about motorcycle gear when starting out, and see why riding geared up could be one of the most important decisions you ever make!
Whenever someone starts thinking about getting into riding motorcycles, the majority of their attention is almost always on "what bike to get." Shopping for a bike is the fun part, and when you're getting into riding, all you probably think about is how cool the motorcycle you want looks, how cool you'll look on it, and how fun it will be to experience the thrill of riding.
But what gets way too little attention, especially among riders just starting out, is motorcycle gear. For most beginners, gear is an afterthought; many will buy a helmet only because it's required by law, and other gear - if it's worn at all - is chosen because of how it looks, instead of how it protects or performs.
But this kind of thinking is completely bass-ackwards!
Why Not Wearing Gear Is Just Stupid
The cold hard truth is that getting proper motorcycle gear should be your top priority when getting into riding. Riding a motorcycle is dangerous - a lot more so when you're first starting out - and even a minor crash can injure you severely, not to mention cost a small fortune in medical bills. Sure, riding is fun and motorcycles are cool, but while your bike is what will probably get you into some kind of trouble, your gear is what is going to keep you out of it.
But motorcycle gear doesn't just protect you in a crash, it protects you from all sorts of things that suddenly become an issue when riding a motorcycle - things you may not have ever even thought of. For example, a full-face helmet will protect your head and face from traumatic injury in a crash - but it will also protect your face from being pelted by bugs, rocks, and rain while riding (and at highway speeds, those things hurt!) An armored jacket will protect your skin from being ground off by unforgiving asphalt, but will also keep you warm when wind chill makes 70 degrees feel like 50, and will keep you dry when an unsuspecting rainstorm interrupts your ride. Motorcycle gear doesn't just protect you from injury - it makes everything about riding better, because that's what it's designed to do.
It happens to the best of us. When it does, it can be in tough, armored textile or leather - or in a thin layer of cotton. Your choice.
The importance of wearing proper motorcycle gear really cannot be understated; in fact, it's so important, and so fundamental to the act of riding a motorcycle safely and responsibly, that we're going to take the position that "if you can't afford a full set-up of proper motorcycle gear, you can't afford to ride." This means that, as a beginner, it is imperative that you set aside part of your overall motorcycle budget just for gear.
The good news is that quality motorcycle gear doesn't have to cost a fortune! You can get a full complement of quality motorcycle gear - which includes a helmet, jacket, gloves, boots, and riding pants - for well under a grand. In this article, we'll tell you why each piece of gear is so important, and what you should be looking for in each one.
Still Not Convinced? Consider This...
And if you're still not convinced that you need motorcycle gear, just consider this one thought. A lot of veteran riders will tell you something to the effect of "there are only two kinds of riders: those who have already crashed, and those who will", implying that you're going to go down sooner or later, which is why you should wear gear. Well, we can't predict the future, and we're not going to tell you that you're bound to crash. You may - or you may not.
But if you do...you will find yourself in one of two positions: either praising the protective qualities of your gear, and being glad you were wearing it - or, in serious physical pain, wishing you had been. Motorcycle crashes are extraordinarily violent events that will permanently change the way you see riding. If you crash in quality gear and walk away unscathed (like I did in my own crash in 2012) your confidence in your gear, and in riding in general, will go up. If you crash without any gear on, you may never get on a bike again at all - but if you do, it's doubtful you'll do it without quality motorcycle gear on your body. In other words, whether you do it the easy way or the hard way, you're probably going to end up wearing gear eventually anyway.
Why do it the hard way? Start wearing full gear when you start riding. Gearing up and riding a motorcycle go hand in hand.
What is the Essential Motorcycle Gear?
Whenever riders talk about wearing a "full setup" of gear (commonly referred to as ATGATT: "All The Gear, All The Time), this is what they're talking about:
A key distinction to make here is that, when we say "motorcycle jacket" or "motorcycle boots," we are not talking about a style. There are plenty of jackets out there called "motorcycle jackets," but they are just fashion jackets that look "motorcycle-ish." (Just run a Google search for "motorcycle jacket" or "motorcycle boots" and you'll see what I mean.)
That stuff might look cool, but fashion designers don't know the first thing about what it takes to protect you in a crash, so that stuff doesn't count as "motorcycle gear." Real motorcycle gear is made by companies that specialize in designing products that will protect you from both crashes and from the elements too. What makes motorcycle gear is how it works, not how it looks (though most of it looks cool too.)
Everything you find on our site will be dedicated motorcycle gear built for real-world use. But as you shop for gear, you'll find some brands that specialize in specific gear items, like helmets or boots, and others that make all kinds of gear that can deck you out from head to toe.
If you want your gear to match, or just want the convenience of getting all your gear from one brand, check out do-it-all brands like Icon, Speed and Strength, and Scorpion EXO. A few other great brands that make everything except helmets are Tour Master, AGV Sport, Cortech, and Alpinestars! From there, it gets more specialized; you'll find a number of brands that only make helmets, like Shoei, HJC, and Bell, and others that only make boots, such as Gaerne or Sidi.
In the next sections, we'll go over what you should be looking for in each piece of gear you buy, to guide you in your search.
If you could buy only one single piece of gear, a helmet would be the incomparable first choice. A number of different studies on motorcycle accidents have shown that helmet use consistently reduced the fatality rate in an accident, the probability and severity of head injuries, the cost of medical treatment, the length of hospital stays, the need for special medical treatments (like ventilation and intubation) and long-term disability. Ain't nobody got time for any of those things, so you shouldn't even be thinking about getting on a bike without a helmet at any time (but especially when just starting out!)
When shopping for a helmet, you'll also see several different types of coverage different styles give you: there are full-face helmets, which completely enclose the entire head and face; ¾ helmets, which cover the entire head and ears but leave the face exposed; and half-helmets, which only cover the top of the head, and are the minimum allowed to be street-legal.
We recommend always riding with a full-face helmet. Studies show that 45% of head injuries in motorcycle accidents are sustained on or around the face, and face-planting on pavement at speed is not something you want to experience. Not just that, full-face helmets shield your face from being pelted by bugs and rocks on the road, cut down deafening wind noise, and create a nice place to install a Bluetooth communication device too.
Because full-face helmets are made of more material and have more moving parts than half- or ¾-helmets, they do tend to cost more. However, you can still find a number of solid options for around $100, and plenty of high performers for around $200. To make sure you are getting a quality helmet, make sure the model is certified by either DOT, Snell, or ECE (ECE being the most thorough of the three.) (For more information, check out this article on motorcycle helmet testing standards.)
You may also want to budget for a tinted visor if you plan to do most of your riding during the day; sunglasses don't fit comfortably inside most helmets, and a tinted visor will keep you from being blinded by the sunlight.
For more information on motorcycle helmets, check out our Street Motorcycle Helmet Buyer's Guide!
Intuitively, most people think a motorcycle jacket is the next most important piece of gear; but actually, many veteran riders think motorcycle gloves are actually a higher priority than a jacket. The reason is this: when we humans fall - in a motorcycle accident, or anywhere else - the instinctive reaction is to put our hands down.
In addition, we do almost everything with our hands, from typing, to using our phones, to eating, and you can't do any of those things with mauled hands. Imagine a typical day at work - could you make it through without the use of your hands? Didn't think so. Wear gloves.
For your motorcycle gloves, look for these features:
- Full leather construction (or at least leather palms)
- A reinforced palm (either double layers of leather, or a plastic slider) to protect the palm where you are most likely you put your hand down in a crash
- Armored knuckles, to protect them from impacts from bugs, rocks and debris while riding, and from the asphalt in a crash
- A gauntlet-style construction, which covers the entire wrist and often includes armor for the ulnar bone as well
- Ventilation to prevent the palm and fingers from sweating excessively
For more information on motorcycle gloves, check out our Ultimate Guide to Motorcycle Gloves!
Motorcycle jackets have the primary job of protecting you in a crash, and the secondary job of protecting you from the elements. In a crash, there are two things that will hurt you: abrasion (from sliding across the asphalt), and impact (slamming into hard objects, like curbs, trees, and cars.) Motorcycle jackets protect you from abrasion with extremely durable materials that can handle a slide without wearing through, and from impacts with armor embedded in the areas most sensitive to it. They also protect you from the elements by keeping you warm with removable liners, or dry with waterproof liners or shells.
Motorcycle jackets come in two main flavors: leather, and textile. Leather is the most abrasion resistant, and is generally held to be better-looking than textile, but is more expensive, and fares worse in intense heat or in rain. Textile lacks the abrasion resistance of leather, but is less expensive, and much better when varying elements like heat or rain are a factor. Overall, leather is considered to be a better option for street riding, but textile jackets do a great job and give huge bang for the buck too.
Another vital component of a jacket is armor. Most motorcycle jackets contain armor to protect from unwanted impact; the most common places for motorcycle jackets to be reinforced with armor are in the elbows, shoulders and back. Reinforcement can vary depending on the jacket. Some have only layers of dense PE foam to absorb impact; others, have flexible armor like D3O, and still others have hard cup race-style armor with sliders for maximum protection. (Check out our BikeBandit Garage video on everything you need to know about motorcycle armor!)
But regardless of the type of armor, the most important thing about a motorcycle jacket being able to protect you is that it fits properly. How well your jacket fits plays a big part in how comfortable you will be while riding, and how effectively it will protect you. Motorcycle gear should fit as snugly as possible, to keep armor where it needs to be if you get tossed down the road. As snug as possible while still allowing adequate movement of the arms is the "right" fit for a motorcycle jacket.
For more information on motorcycle jackets, check out our full Guide to Street Motorcycle Jackets!
Motorcycle accidents are really hard on feet and ankles, and the risk of injury to the area is very high in a crash. A very common kind of accident is for a bike to fall on someone's foot or ankle and crush it, or for the protruding ankle bone to grind on asphalt in a slide (ouch!) Motorcycle boots are very sturdy, with reinforced soles, sliders, and durable materials to protect the area as much as possible in a crash.
In addition, motorcycle boots should be made with a grippy, oil-resistant sole. Motorcycles are heavy, and when riding you'll need to put your foot down on some grimy roads, and the last thing you want to do is fall! If you anticipate riding in inclement weather, look for some boots with a waterproof membrane like Gore-Tex too.
For more information on motorcycle boots, check out our full Guide to Street Motorcycle Boots!
Last but not least is motorcycle pants. Motorcycle pants are probably the least common piece of motorcycle safety gear riders use, as most opt to just wear jeans - but jeans will absolutely not protect you in a crash. Many tests have shown that jeans will wear through after sliding only a few meters on abrasive asphalt, and after that, its your skin doing the grinding. Like motorcycle jackets, motorcycle pants are made of leather or textile, with armor in high-impact areas like knees and hips. Many motorcycle pants will match to jackets from the same manufacturer to make a 2-piece suit that zips together; if you do get motorcycle pants (and we recommend it) this will usually be your best option.
For more information on motorcycle pants, check out our Ultimate Motorcycle Pants Buyer's Guide!