Motorcycle Gear: Protect Yourself from Head to Toe

(making sure you're fully protected)
Written by Dave and Meg Stefanac
Motorcycle rider wearing proper gear

There is little that can match the joy of taking to the open road on a motorcycle. Whether you are a long-distance rider or just use your bike for weekend fun, one of the most important things you can do is dress for safety. Basic riding gear consists of a helmet, gloves, jacket and boots. Hardcore, serious bikers may want to suit up in leather riding suits. Protecting your body with the right gear and your bike with the right motorcycle insurance can ensure that your next set of wheels isn’t an ambulance gurney.

Why Bother with Motorcycle Gear?

You may think that motorcycle apparel is expensive, but when you’re sliding on your side down a highway at 40 miles per hour, you will know that your gear was worth every penny you invested in it. You’ve surely heard the old saying, “There are two kinds of motorcyclists: those who have put their bikes down, and those that haven’t—yet.”

Many collisions involving motorcycles are caused by errors made by other drivers on the road, but regardless of who is at fault, the rider will typically end up with the worst injuries. No matter how careful you are, it is impossible to avoid all road hazards. A patch of gravel or an oil spill can easily cause a crash. When you are attired in protective motorcycle gear, you can greatly reduce your risk of serious or permanent injuries—and who can put a price on that?

Helmets: Safeguard Your Noggin

Helmets are, without a doubt, the most effective gear you can wear in terms of safety. The use of a helmet that meets Department of Transportation standards is required by law for all riders in 19 states and for certain riders in an additional 28 states. Only three states (Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire) have no helmet requirements at all.

Whether or not you are legally required to wear a helmet where you ride, keep in mind a few sobering statistics from the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Traumatic brain injuries are the leading cause of motorcycle-related deaths.
  • Accidents involving traumatic head injuries cost 13 times more to treat than those that do not.
  • Helmets reduce the likelihood of death in a motorcycle crash by 37%.
  • Helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 69%.

Helmets tend to preserve your good looks too. When shopping for a helmet, you will discover that you have a very large selection. Safety considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Full-face helmets are the safest choice. In addition to preventing disfiguring injuries to your face in the event of an accident, they can also protect you from insects and flying debris such as gravel that may be kicked up by the tires of other vehicles. While they do limit your ability to talk with your passenger or other bikers, some are now outfitted with Bluetooth headsets that make communication easy.
  • Proper fit is key. Heads come in all shapes and sizes, and there is a manufacturer that specializes in every niche, if you can believe it. Be sure to try on a number of helmets until you find one that fits your head properly. The helmet should be snug enough that you cannot turn it with your hands while holding your head still, but it should also still feel comfortable.

Motorcycle Jacket: Protect Your Innards

A well-made motorcycle jacket can help to prevent broken bones and brush burns, and can even help to safeguard your internal organs.  They come in a variety of thicknesses, styles and prices. It is almost always worth the cost to invest in the best quality jacket you can afford.

To ensure the ultimate in safety when selecting a jacket, you may want to keep the following in mind:

  • Your jacket should have body armor. The more armor, the better. This will protect your skin in the event of a crash. Look for armor that is “CE” rated. Chest and spinal armor may seem like overkill, but it is really the best way to protect your rib cage, spine, heart and lungs.
  • The body armor on your jacket should allow for a full range of motion. If the jacket does not fit you properly, the breaks in armor at your elbows and shoulders may not fall in the right places.
  • Your jacket should fit you snugly and well. Motorcycle jackets are superior to regular jackets because they’re tailored for bikers. They typically have generously long sleeves that are pre-curved to suit common riding positions. If the jacket is too large or has too much give, your body armor can slide off the key areas it is meant to protect.
  • Many jackets have ventilation. This ventilation allows air to circulate through the jacket so that you do not overheat. This is ideal when riding in warmer temperatures.

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Gloves: More Important Than You May Think

The natural reaction to a fall is to put one hand down to brace yourself. If that fall is from a bike that was traveling at 45 miles per hour before going down, the damage to your hand, fingers, arm and shoulder can be severe. A suitable motorcycle glove will protect the palm of your hand and your fingers, particularly your knuckles. 

 In doing so, the glove can absorb and lessen the impact on the rest of your arm. A gauntlet will also work well with a motorcycle jacket to keep out wind and rain.

When shopping for motorcycle gloves or gauntlets, things to look for include:

  • Wind and water resistance. You may be using your gloves in rainy weather or in colder temperatures. When you’re zipping along the highway, even 70 degrees can feel miserably cold if your hands are wet. You want to ensure that your hands remain at a comfortable temperature so that you can properly control your bike. If you live in a warmer climate, you may find more comfort by investing in a mesh glove that is outfitted with palm and knuckle armor.
  • Protection for your palms and knuckles: Most motorcycle gloves are outfitted with armor to protect your knuckles and the tops of your hands. It is equally important that your gloves include protection for the palms of your hands, which may be the first part to hit the road if you catch yourself in a fall. A slider on the palm of the glove will absorb much of the impact while allowing your hand to slide along the highway while causing minimal injuries. Additionally, strategically placed gel packs can reduce fatigue from vibrating handlebars or clip-ons.
  • A retention strap that wraps snugly around your wrist. Your gloves will not do you much good if they are pulled off your hands while sliding along the pavement.

Motorcycle Pants: Prevent Road Rash and Broken Bones

Even a minor spill on a bike can lead to some pretty major road rash on your legs if they are not suitably protected. Many ride in jeans, and that is usually fine for a short ride through the neighborhood, such as for a run to the grocery store.  But if you are taking to the highways and riding for speed, traditional jeans do not offer the resistance to abrasion that you will need to prevent serious injuries. You would be best served by a pair of motorcycle pants. You can also find armored jeans that combine good looks with solid protection.

You can basically choose between leather and textile motorcycle pants. Each has its merits and downfalls.

  • Textiles: These are less expensive than leather pants, can be washed normally and usually breathe well. On the flip side, they are typically unusable after protecting against a single crash, so you may find yourself purchasing several pairs over the years.
  • Leathers: These can protect you through more than one crash, so they tend to last for years. They are typically rather pricey and they break in very nicely and tend to be quite comfortable. On the flip side, they do require special care and must be taken to the dry cleaner.

Motorcycle Boots: Don’t Leave Home without Them

If you need to stop on a slippery road or on gravel, you will need to be able to support your own weight, plus the weight of your bike, on one foot. A good riding boot will make this possible while protecting your ankle from excess strain. Boots can also save you from serious injuries to your feet if your bike goes down and drags your foot along the ground.

Purchasing boots that are specifically designed for motorcycle riding is not necessary. Solid work boots or even combat boots will usually be sufficient, but provide little protection from a bike falling on your legs. Motorcycle boots offer the best in protection and long-term comfort. The most important things to look for when shopping for boots are:

  • Boots that are strong enough to keep your feet from twisting: If you can twist the boot between the toe and the heel with your bare hands, it is not going to adequately protect you when you need it to.
  • Boots that provide adequate ankle support. The boots should be snug-fitting and should limit the articulation of your ankle while still providing the ability to shift gears.
  • Boots that provide sufficient warmth in colder climates. When riding in cooler temperatures, particularly for long periods, well-made boots can keep your feet from feeling the chill.

Stay Safe and Have Fun

As a motorcycle rider with many years of experience, I sincerely hope that your gear never has to protect you from a fall. I’ve been lucky so far; the falls I’ve had did not cause severe or permanent injuries. Wearing a good bit of protection is a lesson I’ve taken to heart.

Unfortunately, odds are that at some point you will put your bike down. It is therefore worthwhile to be protected. Stay safe out there, and talk regularly with your independent agent about your motorcycle safety and insurance needs.

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