Being Safe: Guide to Motorcycle Protective Gear

motorcycle protective gear overview
Photo by dan barbus

Riding your motorcycle connects you intimately with motion. You feel in control and empowered, but the fact is you are exposed on the outside of a powerful vehicle. If you should be struck by another vehicle, lose control, or hit anything, you risk traumatic injury.

Importance of Safety Gear

Some people think gear won’t help, but motorcycle safety gear can indeed make a significant difference when an accident occurs. A European study from SAE International about motorcycle accidents found that wearing motorcycle clothing reduced injuries, lowered hospital stays by an average of 7 days, and lessened permanent disabilities by 40 percent compared to accidents without protective gear.

Risk might be part of the appeal of riding motorcycles, but no one really wants to experience injury and death. Protective gear presents a logical way to mitigate risks.

Overview of Motorcycle Riding Gear

Some riding situations demand more protective gear than others, so it’s important to consider how you intend to use your motorcycle when choosing gear. For example, a daily commuter in heavy traffic faces more risks than a casual rider who enjoys weekend rides in fair weather.

Helmets

motorcycle helmets

Photo by Jeff Boyd

In crashes, head injuries are the top reason for fatalities.

Protecting your head while riding a motorcycle is so crucial to safety that most states require it by law. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that helmets save lives.

To pick out a helmet with good protective properties follow these tips:

  • The helmet must have a DOT-approved rating at a minimum. Helmets with Snell Memorial Foundation approval have passed more rigorous tests.
  • Full-faced helmets that enclose the chin deliver the most complete protection.
  • With an open-face helmet you should have a snap-on face shield or sturdy goggles to deflect stones and flying objects from your eyes.
  • Half helmets that only cover the skull, called “shorties”, are more likely to come off the head on impact.
  • Vision and hearing are not limited by helmets.

Gloves

motorcycle glove

Photo by DianeWorth

Even if you throw a mean punch, your knuckles won’t win against flying debris or skidding across asphalt.

When choosing motorcycle gloves consider:

  • Comfort and mobility. You need to be able to move your fingers properly and feel the controls.
  • Season. Insulated gloves for cold weather are available. You have summer, multi-season, and winter rated choices.
  • Materials. Leather is the most common material, followed closely by strong nylon. Higher tech materials include Kevlar, titanium or carbon fibers, silicone gel padding and thinsulate.

Jacket

motorcycle jacket

The leather motorcycle jacket is the most iconic piece of gear. If there’s a chance you might go skidding down the road, you’ll want some bull hide over your back.

  • For optimal protection, a leather jacket should use hide with a thickness of 1.1 mm to 1.4 mm.
  • With proper care, leather jackets last many years.
  • Synthetic fabric jackets have better ventilation for hot weather, are lighter than leather and more easily waterproofed.
  • Synthetic materials are protective but do not resist abrasion as much as good leather.

Pants

Motorcycle Pants

Data analysis by the CDC shows that over half of nonfatal injuries were to leg/foot or head/neck areas. You have three main choices in motorcycle pants: leather, synthetic or denim.

  • Leather pants give you great protection from abrasion but will not soften the impact. They last for years.
  • Synthetic nylon, polyester and Kevlar pants are lighter weight than leather and more comfortable. Only the types with Kevlar panels protect from abrasion.
  • Denim motorcycle pants look more like normal pants. Denim is a cooler and more comfortable material than both leather and the synthetics. Sometimes they come with padding for extra protection.

Body Armor

Motorcycle Body Armor

Body armor for the torso and legs extends the technology of the helmet to more of the body. Although chosen for many uses, body armor is especially appropriate to off-road and extreme sport riding because of the high likelihood of falls.

In general, body armor for motorcyclists aims to reduce or prevent injuries to the ribs, spine and internal organs.

  • Memory foam armor absorbs the most impact force.
  • Hard armor resists impacts with hard plastic.
  • Foam armor is the least expensive and therefore only offers minimal impact absorption.

Boots

You want to have some sturdy footwear to protect your feet when riding. A flying stone or bolt on the road would tear through a normal shoe and maybe break a toe.

Boots are essential to motorcycling, and you have many styles to choose from.

  • General categories of boots are: road and track racing, sport street riding, casual commuting, wet weather, and motocross or off-road.
  • To be honest, motorcycle boots take effort to get on and off. They have extra closures and straps to ensure that they stay on in a crash.
  • They usually don’t have laces because the laces might catch on the motorcycle.
  • They have internal reinforcements to protect your feet. They are stiff to walk in.

Read our guide on motorcycle boots to learn more.

Other Bike Safety Gear

If it’s part of your body, there is protective gear for it. You can get armor and braces for:

  • Elbows
  • Shins
  • Knees
  • Neck
  • Shoulders

Braces for specific areas are a good choice if you have an old injury to protect.

And don’t forget about your ears. Earplugs make sure you don’t destroy your hearing while you’re rumbling down the road.


motorcycle safety gear overview

Photo by Motographer

You ride a motorcycle because you like to feel the elements. You like the challenge of controlling a powerful machine. The experience puts you in the moment and releases you from your problems.

But these joys come with risk. Protective motorcycle gear helps you avoid or reduce injuries when bad things happen. Without gear a simple fall could mean pain and hospital time.

Or you could walk away because you wore protection.

Protective gear is not wishful thinking. Just because riding a motorcycle includes inherent dangers it does not mean you can’t take precautions. According to a motorcycle accident study commissioned by the European Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers most crashes occur below 35 miles per hours and 40 percent of them involve skidding. Protective gear makes a substantial difference in the outcomes of many crashes.

You owe it to yourself to wear protective gear. Think about how you use your bike and make appropriate choices so you can brave the open road with confidence.

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