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Motorcycle Gear for Staying Safe

Picture this, the door swings open, you strut through in your black leather jacket and boots, doing your best to conjure Marlon Brando in the Wild One.  Everyone turns; you are clearly the coolest person in the room.

There is clearly no better reason than that feeling to buy motorcycle gear. 

Well, except this one – safety.  The clothing we choose to wear during riding is the only thing between our skin and the road and it is incredibly important.

A study done in Munich in 1986 found that motorcyclists wearing protective gear (heavy jacket, gloves, boots etc.) could expect a reduction in injuries of 30% or more. ("Modern Armor", Motorvike.com)

So what do you need?

Jacket Information on Types of Materials
Pants Information on Reflectivity
Riding Suits Helmets
Gloves Accessories and Products for Increased Visibility
Boots  

Jacket

The head, arms, and legs are the most often injured in a crash. (Motorcycle Safety Brochure from the NHTSA)   Learn how to keep your head safe by reading our section about helmets.  To protect your arms, you need a good motorcycle jacket.

A good jacket will be made of nylon, leather, or Kevlar and be well constructed.  Check out the seams at any of your sharp points (elbows, shoulders, etc).  The stitching should be strong and enforced at these points.  Also, a good jacket will include heavy padding on the elbow, spine (yes, that's very important!) and the shoulders.  Additionally, if the jacket is nylon or Kevlar, it should include reflective stripes.  Read more about reflectivity here and view some reflectivity products.

Whether it means going to a store or ordering a couple of different jackets to try, the first time you buy a jacket, you need to try it on and make sure it fits.  An ill-fitting jacket might result in injury if the protective parts of the jacket shift during a fall or accident.  But it can't be too tight, make sure you have room for a sweatshirt or vest on cold days.

Also, sit on your bike with the jacket on.  It might feel great standing up but make sure it's long enough to cover your back while on your motorcycle and that it is not uncomfortable.  Make sure the sleeves should be long enough to cover your wrists when your arms are on the handlebars.

If you are winter rider, check out jackets that have side laces and a belt that allow you to adjust the jacket to your body.  This allows you to fit the jacket after putting on some warm layers.  Many jackets have zip out linings, therefore they can be used all year round.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you are lucky enough to live in year round warm weather or are a summer rider, check out summer-only jackets which are thin and highly perforated for ventilation, but still have armor.

Pants

That covers the arms, now, let's address the legs.  Many riders wear jeans, but it's worth it to invest in pants made specifically for motorcycle riders.  Like a jacket, good pants will be made of leather, nylon, or Kevlar.  For winter riding, pants can not only offer protection, they can keep you warm.  Insulated pants or chaps are a good choice and can be bought coated for rain resistance.

Riding Suits

If you are serious about riding, and want to really protect your limbs, you can invest in a one or two piece suit.   Although a bit expensive, these offer substantial protection in case of a fall and go on and off quickly.  If you are going to the office, you can fit a suit right over your (other) suit or khakis. 

Look for a suit that offers lots of armor pads, and has good venting; these can get hot in the summer. 

Gloves

Gloves should be worn regardless or weather, and there are different types for warm and cold weather.  Warm weather gloves are usually leather or Kevlar and good ones have carbon fiber knuckle protection and are un-insulated but provide protection should you fall.

Winter gloves provide the same level of protection, but are insulated. Waterproofing is also a good idea.

Watch fit when buying gloves, if they are too bulky in the palm, you could lose the feel of the bike and the controls.  Good gloves should also have long gauntlet cuffs that fit over your jacket sleeve to prevent wind from getting up your sleeve. Watch any seams between your hand and the grip or between fingers.  A couple of hours with a seam rubbing your hand and you'll be hurting.

Reflectivity and bright colors add to us being seen and this can be carried all the way to our gloves.  Here are some reflective riding gloves featuring 3M Scotchlite Reflective Material.

Boots

Whew! You're finally dressed and ready to go riding.  Until you look down and see your bare toes wiggling around.  Last thing you need are some protective boots. 

A motorcyclist should have boots with a short heel; this allows the boot to fit on the motorcycle peg while still providing good ankle support.  Boots should be at least 6" tall as that will offer some ankle protection.  Boots can be as high as 17", which are useful for use against cold wind. 

Leather is a great choice for a boot, as leather provides much greater protection than that stylish, yet utterly thin, fabric on your new Nikes.  

Make sure the boot has a good, durable rubber sole that provides traction and slip resistance.  The thicker the sole, the more the boot will absorb the vibration of the bike.

Information on Materials

So you are ready to buy your gear – and the question is – leather or synthetic?  Well tomato or to-mat-to?  Riders recommend and prefer both, here's what we know about each:

Leathers

If you decide on leather, make sure you check what kind of leather you are buying.

Cowhide, is known for its strength and is preferable.  Any leather jacket you buy should be at least 1 millimeter thick. Another option is Buffalo Hide, which is less common but also is very durable and is great for riding. 

If you see motorcycle wear made of pigskin, buy it, wear it to a club, or pose in your closet mirror while listening to "Born to be Wild".  But do not wear it to ride a motorcycle, pigskin is very soft, tears easily and is not durable enough for motorcycle riding. 

Although we all love a good deal, oftentimes the best leathers are the most expensive.  This probably isn't the area to scrimp in, remember, the best hide will save your hide.  (Sorry, I had to make that joke at least once.)

If you'd like to know more, check out Chillowee.com's guide to hides.

Synthetic materials

Man-made materials are increasingly common choice for motorcycle gear as they offer improved weather protection and can often be more comfortable than leather.  Common materials include ballistic nylon (also called Codura nylon), Kevlar, or blends of several materials. 

When you are buying synthetic gear, be sure to check out the strength of the piece of clothing.  The piece should be able to maintain its structure and integrity in a crash.  Be sure that it has an ability to slide, not grab the road. 

Finally, be sure to check out the material's ability to stretch and breathe.  You want to be safe, but you also want to be comfortable. 

Information on Reflectivity

One of the additional advantages of synthetic material is that they often involve reflective fabrics or highly visible fabrics, that increase visibility. 

Fluorescent clothing may reduce motorcycle injuries and death. British researchers who analyzed 463 motorcycle drivers admitted to hospital following a road traffic incident and 1233 other drivers (control group) to evaluate how wearing conspicuous attire affected the risk of having an accident. They found that with reflective or fluorescent clothing the risk of a crash injury was reduced by 37%, with a white helmet by 24%, and with headlights by 27%. ("Motorcycle Rider Conspicuity and Crash Related Injury: Case-control Study")

If you are riding in a highly populated urban area, wear Day-Glo colors combined with reflective panels and tape.  High visibility colors are the best way to be seen during the day and the best choice is yellow, which is the color most visible to the human eye. here are some reflective motorcycle vests and reflective motorcycle gloves.

A vest is a good choice when you want to be seen on your bike, but not necessarily off it.  They are easy on, easy off; not all of us want to wear Day Glo orange in the grocery store. 

Colors do not offer us much protection at night.  Advances in reflective technology, offer us a way to be easily visible at night with retro-reflective materials.  These materials reflect light back at its source.  Leather can also be equipped with reflectively, often in the piping or logo.

Reflectivity is always a good choice when choosing gear.  You can also add reflectivity to your existing gear with reflective tape kits, which allow you to sew or adhere tape to your bike or clothing.

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