What Should I Wear To Ride My Motorcycle?Tue, 14/04/2015
We all think that it won’t happen to us, but it’s more or less inevitable that at some point in your motorcycling life you will have an accident. Whether it’s through fault of your own or somebody else’s, it’s going to hurt.
And although there are currently no laws in the U.K. to govern it, most bikers take their personal safety serious and choose to protect themselves against this risk, as well as the elements.
The market is flooded with motorcycle clothing of many different varieties, qualities and levels of protection. These pages aim to give you a base knowledge of why these items are a MUST for todays motorcyclist and what to look for when choosing your new wardrobe
The only piece of protective equipment required by law when riding a motorbike is a helmet that conforms to current standards.
A good quality crash helmet can literally be a life saver in the event of an accident on your motorbike.
There is a lot learn about helmets if you are new to riding and even if you are a seasoned rider with many miles under your belt there may be something you’ve over looked or things that have changed since you last checked.
Have a look at our dedicated ‘Motorcycle Helmets’ section: We talk about the standards required of helmets in the UK, how they are tested to make sure they meet these standards and how they are independently rated. We also look at how to make sure you get the best possible fit and to make sure you get the right helmet for you along with advice on some of the different features to look for when choosing a new helmet.
The difference between getting the right helmet and the wrong one can be devastating so don’t take the risk, know what you are looking for and how to find it
After your helmet, gloves should be the next priority on your shopping list. No matter how small the incident, if you come off your bike the first thing to hit the ground is almost always your hands. It’s a natural reaction to put your hands out to break your fall.
From a stand still falling off your bike will be sore but at 30 or 40mph it will take the skin clean off of your palms, break or dislocate your fingers and more than likely leave you needing surgery.
Leather is a must; textile, ski style gloves may be warm but they won’t provide the abrasion resistance you need on a bike.
Double layered palms will obviously offer a greater barrier to the road surface and heat from the friction than a single layer.
Some gloves have plastic, carbon or nylon blocks over the knuckles and in the palm to help you slide and keep the softer areas off the ground.
Double stitching will help keep the panels together through the impact.
A fastening around the wrist will stop the glove from coming off in an impact. There is no point wearing gloves if they aren’t going to be on your hands at the point of impact.
Gauntlets that pull up over the cuff of your sleeve will keep the wet weather out and stop the wind creeping up your sleeve.
Different gloves for the winter and the summer! It’s important to be warm and dry in the winter but equally cool and comfortable in the summer. Make sure you can still use the controls comfortably in both pairs without compromising safety.
Jacket And Trousers
Motorcycle jackets and trousers typically are made from one of three main groups of materials:
Leathers are used almost exclusively on their own with a simple polyester lining for comfort and compartments to hold protective inserts at key joints (Shoulders, elbows, spine, hips & knees). Cow hide is most commonly used but others such as Kangaroo and Stingray can also be found as they have much higher abrasion resistance.
Denims for motorcycling are sewn together using Kevlar threads for added strength in the stitching along with Kevlar fibres in the material to give extra abrasion resistance and stop them from ripping. Kevlar can also be used as a material to line denim trousers to provide and extra layer of protection should the outer layer fail during an impact with the road. The same technology is also applied to some gloves and boots (this usually appears in a hard resin coating with an appearance similar to carbon fibre).
Textiles are made from heavy grade nylons, normally 300-500 denier, and often combined with Cordura fibres which strengthen the overall construction of the fabric. Cordura threads can also be stitched into the face fabric in a series of small squares or grid pattern- this is called ‘Rip-Stop’ and the thread helps to contain any rips to the squares that have been penetrated and stops the rip from spreading.
jackets and trousers (or jeans as they are sometimes known) are a fundamental part of a motorcyclists protective equipment. They form the main barrier between the rider and the wind, rain, flies, debris and risk of injury in the event of an accident. Therefore it’s important to choose the right style for the riding you want to do. Many jackets and trousers are available as a matching set, or suit. They will match in style and materials; they will connect to each other for greater all-round protection and can usually been found in a range of colours to coordinate with your bike. Others are individual pieces which can be mixed and matched in a combination of your choosing. Styles vary but you will notice that most have similar features regardless of whether they are intended for weekend ride-outs on a sports bike or a 6 month adventure through the Himalayas. Some key features on jackets to look out for are:
Neoprene collar and cuffs with additional fasteners to ensure comfort and prevent chaffing.
YKK zips, especially to the main body , with a storm flap over the top to keep the wind and rain out.
Vent pockets- Zips in the body that open to reveal a mesh panel to allow airflow through the jacket when its hot.
Inner lining- detachable linings to keep you warm in the winter but can be removed in the summer.
Storage pockets- You’ll need somewhere to keep your visor cloth, keys, phone, etc. while you’re riding. Adventure jackets will also have a map pocket on the back.
Removable CE approved armour to the spine, shoulders and elbows. They will need cleaning after a warm summer!
Reflective strips on the front and back for extra visibility.
Sleeve zips for ease of use with gloves.
Adjustable fastenings around the waist and upper arms for a more comfortable fit.
Waterproof and breathable membrane.
Strong abrasion resistant outer material with double stitching.
Internal zip for attaching the jacket to the jeans.
Just as our head, arms and bodies need to be protected, so do our legs. And that is why just as much care and attention should go in to choosing the right jeans. In any accident the first part of your body guaranteed to contact the ground at some point is your legs.
With the high heat of the engine between your legs and the summer sun beating down the temptation to just jump on the bike in cotton trousers, normal denim jeans or even shorts can be all too irresistible at times; but is it really worth it? At just 5mph nylons and polyesters will start to melt from the heat of the friction as you slide along the road, adhering itself to your skin, the results of which doesn’t bare thinking about.
The common assumption that normal denim is as good as Kevlar lined jeans in a slide is a myth. At low speeds (up to 20mph) on a flat surface normal denim will scuff, seams will burst and you might find small rips along the legs, but any faster and over gravel or road debris, etc. they will rip to shreds in seconds exposing your legs to the road. The outer layer of the Kevlar jeans may scuff and rip slightly but the weaved lining inside will stay intact, vitally keeping your bare skin off the road and preventing a serious case of road rash.
Here are some points to look out for when choosing a pair of riding jeans, whether it be leather, textile or armoured denim.
Check for a snug but comfortable fit. Make sure they are long enough that they don’t ride up the legs once you are on the bike.
Zip around the waist to connect the jeans to your jacket. This gives good all-round protection by stopping the jacket and jeans from separating and exposing your back if you fall off.
Zipped pockets for storage.
Vent pockets- open to reveal mesh air vent to allow air flow in the summer.
Leg zips to seal the legs over your riding boots.
Removable CE approved armour at the hips and knees.
Braces- Some jeans will have built in braces for extra comfort when you’re not on the bike.
Stretch panels around waist and above or behind the knees to aid movement and comfort when riding.
Removable lining will keep you warm in the winter but can be removed in the summer.
- If choosing denim riding jeans check for Kevlar lining or other similar fabric.
The outer layers of our protective clothing do a fantastic job of keeping us warm, dry, comfortable and safe from debris, friction from the road and lots more besides; But what about the initial impact with solid objects such as cars, other bikes or even the ground?
Body armour, in one form or another, is a big consideration when choosing your riding gear. Most bike jackets and trousers come fitted with foam inserts like those shown below, typically fitted at the spine, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. These offer a good basic level of protection from an impact. Some people choose to upgrade these to lighter or more durable materials.
The armour tends to be made in block or waffle patterns contoured to fit around the area they protect and are often cut in such a way that they not only dampen the blow of the impact but also protect the joints from hyperextension.
Harder outer materials such as nylon will also aid in sliding after the initial fall. Sliding to a stop is preferable to bumping and bouncing as the risk of injury is greatly reduced. Heat related injuries such as friction burns are more likely but on balance with the alternatives and knowing that we have heat/friction protection from the leather or textile around the armour this is a much better option.
For those items that don’t come with built in armour such as some race leathers, a range of protection is also available to wear under your suit such as the upper body protector shown here. Similar items for the legs and hips are also available.
Rider Airbags are also now available and proving popular on the race tracks although are still too expensive for most road users. They provide excellent protection for your head and neck when you fall off your bike.
There are different styles of boots on the market to choose from. The style you choose will probably be dictated by the type of bike you ride and the sort of riding you do most often.
Typically we look for certain features in a motorcycle boot: ankle protection to guard the delicate ankle bones in impact, solid soles to protect the profile of the foot when crashed from the side, good adjustable fasteners to allow the best fit possible, weather proofing to keep us warm and dry and sometimes toe sliders to protect us as we slide on the road.
Steel toe caps are NOT good for motorcycling. They may offer protection in certain circumstances but they will just as easily cut your toes off in a crash!
If the boots are fastened with a zip there should be a second fastening over the top, Velcro for example, in case the zip fails during an impact.
A moped rider might wear a lower level boot as they travel at lower speeds and generally shorter distances. Sports bike riders travel faster and on bigger, faster roads so will tend to wear boots designed for racing. Riders of cruiser style bikes tend to opt for a more traditional look while Motocross and Enduro riders wear something much higher for added protection; some examples of which are shown below.
Most people don’t realise that in order for something to be called ‘waterproof’ it actually has to pass a test to prove that it can resist a set level of water pressure before it leaks. This test is known as the Hydrostatic head test and is conducted at laboratory level.
To test a fabrics water resistance it is stretched out in a frame and a column of water placed on top. The rating a fabric receives is denoted by the height of the column of water it resisted before it allowed the water to pass through; for instance, if the column reached 1500mm high before the fabric leaked it is said to have a hydrostatic head of 1500.
To call a fabric waterproof in the UK it must have a minimum hydrostatic head of 1000. Reduced from 1500 a few years ago, this is fine for light weight jackets, tents, etc.
Most bike jacket fabrics would not achieve this level because their construction causes them to be very porous, so they use a membrane such as Gore-Tex or SympaTex sandwiched between the inner and outer fabrics to provide the level of protection expected by the end user.
Protection from 1000mm of water on top of your jacket while you are riding sounds like a lot, but actually if you were riding through a heavy downpour you would get saturated! The wind, the speed of the rain falling and your road speed all combine to give the rain drops a much higher velocity, allowing them to penetrate the fabric. Gore-Tex however has a hydrostatic head of 36,000! Much more suitable for dealing with the lashing rain and driving winds as you navigate the open roads.
Base layers are the key to a 3 part layering system which is essential to being as comfortable as possible in any outdoor activity. Both tops and bottoms are used for a complete layering system.
Sitting next to the skin, a breathable, wicking synthetic material that will draw moisture away from the skin and pass it through to the middle layer. Keeping your skin dry is key to preventing chaffing and chills while riding. They can also be thermal for use in the winter.
On top of the base layer is your insulation, or middle layer. A 100 or 200 weight fleece (or down filled layer if in particularly cold climates) compressed between the base layer and the out jacket will trap a thin layer of air which will be warmed and regulated by your own body heat. Again they will be breathable, moving moisture to keep you dry.
Finally the outer layer, the Jacket. The windproof, waterproof layer protecting you from the elements. Tough, lightweight and robust; completes the layering system to give you maximum comfort and protection while you ride.
Neck gaiters are a very popular addition the motorcyclists outfit. Usually worn under your helmet across the bridge of the nose and down around the neck they block the wind and create a comfortable environment for your neck which is otherwise exposed. A variant of the balaclava, it’s equally useful in the summer as it is in the winter. Some brands come with a bib on the front to tuck inside your jacket where as others simply sit around the neck. They are available in range of materials from neoprene to cotton to fleece, some times combinations of cotton and fleece, and a whole host of colours and patterns.
Buff are known the world over as a leader in this type of clothing. Once you master the techniques, the ways of wearing a Buff both on and off the bike are almost endless.
The true accessory for any budding racer or track day goer is a set a race leathers. These suits provide maximum protection from slides and spills on a track.
Made from some of the most durable and abrasion resistant natural hides available (kangaroo & Stingray as well as cow) these suits are designed to be snug fitting and aerodynamic while on the bike and allow you to slide to a safe stop should the worst happen. Don’t be fooled though, while they will offer protection from road rash and most have shoulder and elbow protection they won’t protect you from bumps, bruises and broken bones.
The suits come in 2 formats: 1-piece or 2-piece. The difference is obvious, 1-piece suits are all-in-1’s (like a boiler suit) while 2-piece suits are separate jacket and jeans that zip together once they are on.
Due to their construction they tend to be stiff and shaped to hold the wearer in a stable position on the bike- comfortable while you are hunched over the handlebars, not so comfy walking around the shops!
Race suits can be bought off the peg in your local shop from £150 for a basic set, tailor made from as little as £250 and go up to £1000+ for the best race quality suits.