Gearing Up
A Guide to the Basics of Motorcycle Safety Gear

Buying gear can be overwhelming: dealerships and online superstores are full of expensive products promising to combine style with protection, but what do we really need? Find out where it’s safe to be frugal – and where pinching pennies will cost you more in the long run.

One of the major benefits to riding motorcycles is the increased sensory stimulation: scents and sounds that would otherwise be muted by the confines of a car come alive around us. Of course, that same lack of restriction also increases exposure to the elements and therefore to danger. Because of this, motorcyclists must compensate with wearable protective gear.

The good news: Motorcycle safety gear is by no means in short supply. Catalogs, online retailers, and motorcycle dealerships all offer a variety of goodies and accessories designed to protect riders.

The bad news: Rarely does motorcycle gear come cheap, and the inundation of products can make it difficult to tell the difference between essential and superfluous.

That’s why we are here to help. Let’s take a look at the basics of motorcycle gear for a greater understanding of what you need to ride and what you can skip.

The Basics


While not all states (or countries) make wearing helmets mandatory, protecting the skull from impact should be a top priority for riders of all skill levels and disciplines. A full-face (integrated visor) helmet offers the best protection but does so with a few shortcomings, namely increased weight and decreased environmental interaction.

Wearing partial coverage helmets allows for more direct environmental interaction but makes eye protection like goggles or glasses a necessity.

Some modular (convertible) helmets are dual-certified as both full-face and open-face status, where the chin bar can be locked into place while riding but “flipped up” or removed entirely when stopped.

According to research conducted in 2008 on motorcycle riders who had crashed, results concluded that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by roughly 69% and fatality by 42%

Gearing Up - Did you know

Motorcycle helmets contain decals on the back indicating the degree of safety certification performed. DOT represents the United States Department of Transportation safety certification. It is the minimum requirement for any approved motorcycle helmet and must be clearly displayed for the purchaser and/or an officer of the law. Snell is an independent testing laboratory which tests helmets more rigorously and stricter than the DOT standard. If a helmet doesn’t wear either label, do not purchase it or use it for motorcycling

Gearing Up - DOT Helmet


Not only are gloves essential for debris protection and temperature insulation, they serve as an invaluable purpose in the event of a crash, where we instinctually attempt to break our fall with our palms. Wearing gloves can reduce the risk of injury to the hands by 45% and reduces the risk of open wounds by 73% Additionally, a decent pair of gloves reduces risk of burns when performing simple maintenance in and around a hot engine compartment. Finally, studies link colder temperatures and skin exposure to delayed motor response. In an environment where fractions of a single second can make a difference, keeping digits warm is invaluable.

Jackets & Pants

Like with helmets, there is no universal set standard when it comes to selection of clothing when operating a motorcycle. Motorcyclists have traditionally been associated with the use of leather for this simple reason: Not only does leather offer resistance to the wind when traveling at highway speeds, it is surprisingly beneficial in diffusing friction from the road in the event of a crash. These days, synthetics and polymers in textiles offer alternatives to genuine cow skin but the goals when assembling a riding outfit remain unchanged.


While footwear is a personal preference, there are factors (such as a non-skid sole and oil resistance) to seriously consider when making a selection. Wearing the proper motorcycle boots can reduce the risk of injury by 45% and reduce the risk of an open wound by 90%

Leather work boots can work in a pinch, but purpose-built motorcycling gear is preferable because the toe-box is typically lower-profile than a typical work boot. This makes getting a foot under the shift-lever less cumbersome. Additionally, specifically placed lugs are designed to keep feet on foot pegs. Ankle protection against impact and twisting is usually accomplished through ergonomically designed plates. Finally, the risk of laces coming untied and entangled during a ride is avoided by plastic or metal enclosures typically found on riding boots.

Gearing Up - Motorcycle Gear Diagram

While we covered the essentials that no motorcyclist should consider riding without, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to protective gear on the market today. The good news is that with a little common sense, deciphering what is crucial and what you can do without isn’t a daunting task.

Beyond the Basics

Back and Chest Protectors

Full protector jackets (or racing suits) are the absolute best bet from a safety standpoint. Full protector jackets offer friction resistant outer materials and an air chamber. The trouble, however, is twofold: they tend to contain heat and are rarely cheap. The good news? Many of their qualities can be duplicated through individual back, chest, and neck protectors designed to keep the spine safe. These protectors attach around the waist and the neck and are worn under your jacket. Using these protectors will reduce the risk of injury by 23% and a 63% reduction of an open wound injury

If the thought of adding additional layers to your riding gear cramps your style, some degree of spinal safety can be attained through armor inserts for your riding jacket. Most riding jackets come standard with a removable spine protector insert.

Elbow and Knee Guards

While dedicated riding gear often includes some degree of joint protection, riders who only sport leather or denim need to protect their elbows and knees. Separate knee and elbow guards are available in a wide variety of shapes, styles (over or under clothing) and price points. These key areas of the body are often damaged in a crash: 50% of crashed riders injured their knees, with 56% of crashed riders having arm injuries

Gearing Up - Motorcycle Gear Diagram

Just like helmets’ DOT & Snell certification, motorcycle protective components should boast a CE certification (for Conformité Européenne). Never purchase or use gear that lack this standard.

Gearing Up - Motorcycle Gear Diagram

Fatigue, especially during long rides, has been linked to the droning sound of air rushing around the helmet. An affordable and simple solution is to use foam earplugs, which are typically sold in disposable and reusable varieties.

Riding a motorcycle is exhilarating, exciting, and life changing. However, it is also dangerous. Make sure you are wearing the proper gear before heading out on your bike. Preparing for a safe ride – without breaking the bank – is the first step to enjoying the open road!

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