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Motorcycle Gear Guide from A to Z - What to Wear and When

Added April 1, 2020
Someone riding a motorcycle wearing a black helmet

Riding a motorcycle can be one of life's peak enjoyments, but it's not without its risks. Luckily, risk can be tremendously minimized with protective safety gear while also looking good.

There are so many options and considerations that even expert riders may be surprised by all the options available to them!

What is motorcycle gear?

If it's going to protect your hide, it's made for your ride! Some examples include a full-face helmet and an armored leather jacket. It's no coincidence that wearing motorcycle gear is also being cool. Motorcycle apparel can't help but look good!

What is NOT motorcycle gear?

If it's not explicitly designed to be motorcycle gear, it's not motorcycle gear. Work and engineering boots, for example, don't provide protection at any riding speed. Wallet chains are also not motorcycle gear even though they look like they might be. Wallet chains are something to avoid since they present additional risk in the event of an accident. 

What is ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time)?

ATGATT stands for "All Gear, All The Time." It's a riding philosophy that stresses always wearing gear that will provide coverage for your entire body. That also means no clothing like leather chaps or chain wallets. Your full-body protective gear can range from one-piece racing leather suit and armored textile jackets to Kevlar-lined jeans. There are many options!

What's better, leather or textile?

High-quality textiles can resist abrasion as effectively as leather, and often have water-resistant membranes that will keep you from getting soaked during inclement weather. Textile may be more affordable, but it's not as durable as leather. Leather, meanwhile, isn't as adaptable to all types of weather. So is one better than the other? It depends on what you need and what you can get!

How should my bike gear fit?

Your bike gear should be snug, yet unobtrusive. When trying items out, sit in the position you sit while riding. Make sure you're comfortable and that no armor is digging into your skin or moving around. Also, make sure none of your gear gets in the way of controlling your bike.

Is proper motorcycle gear expensive?

When it comes to motorcycle gear, be willing to pay more to get more. Craftsmanship isn't free! And you shouldn't put a price on your wellbeing. But if you know what you're looking for, you can find a good deal!

How do I choose the best motorcycle gear?

To select the best gear, you need to know how to identify and differentiate gear. Clothing isn't one size fits all, so you should buy gear to fit the nature of your ride (weather, terrain, etc.) as well as how you sit while riding.

-Leather

At a minimum, the leather used for motorcycle gear is 1 millimeter thick (although a pair of motorcycle gloves may go as low as .6 millimeters worth of thickness). You should avoid exotic leather, sheep leather, and faux leather. When examining leather, watch for red-flags like a gummy, paper-thin, or cardboard-like texture. Also, steer clear of leather with any mold infestation. Even new leather can grow mold if it's stored improperly.

-Textile fabrics

When working with textiles, you'll want to lean on polyamide or polyester. The minimum denier* you should accept is 450, although 600 or more is preferred. Vinyl is unacceptable, but Cordura is good.

-Kevlar/Aramid

More Kevlar means more coverage! There's even the option of buying clothing where the Kevlar is blended with an elastic material or woven into the outer cotton fabric, as is often done with denim jeans.

-Stitching

Double, or even triple, stitching at common impact areas is a must. Guard those elbows and knees! The threading should be either nylon or aramid/Kevlar.

-Reinforced impact points

Because elbows and knees are key joint areas in the body, additional material in your jacket or pants in these areas is a good idea.

-Perforated fabric and mesh panels for ventilation

Perforated leather or mesh fabric should not be found at the outer elbows, shoulders, knees, hips, or butt. These areas need to be covered! Acceptable locations for mesh or perforation are the inside sleeves, chest area, and inside or front of your thighs.

-Reinforced palms in gloves

Reinforced leather panels, palm sliders, and additional armor are all excellent ideas. Palm sliders can be plastic/TPU, Superfabric, or stingray leather, which is leather made from stingrays (some claim it's upwards of 25 times stronger than cowhide leather).

Motorcycle helmets

An in-depth study on motorcycle safety concluded that a large number of injuries that occur during riding accidents impact the face and chin, which are not protected by open-face or three quarter style helmets. So, strongly consider wearing a full-face helmet that meets DOT standards.

Don’t forget to keep your helmet current!

After five years, the adhesive and materials that absorb the force of impact begin to degrade. Helmets aren't one size fits all, so get the helmet that fits your ride. That means purchasing a helmet that's designed for dirt or street riding, for example.

You'll see a sticker on your helmet that shows that it has a DOT rating, that's the minimum legal rating your helmet can have.

As a result, it's recommended that people make their helmet purchases from reputable sources. A Harley-Davidson® dealer will help you choose the right helmet for you.

Motorcycle jackets

Leather and textile are what motorcycle jackets are made of, and Harley-Davidson sells both types. Jackets made explicitly for motorcycles have many features that standard jackets lack. To reinforce the stitching from abrasion and to increase strength, seams are doubled up. The jackets are made to fit tight in high-speed wind to make sure they don't flap. Some jackets are equipped with CE-approved body armor to help protect your most vulnerable parts in the event of a crash!

Choose the jacket that's designed to be worn with the type of bike you ride. Different bikes put your body into various positions, so the right jacket will fit snugly when you're in that position. Also, don't forget the sort of weather you typically ride in. Some jackets have a breathable mesh that's great for warm weather but not for when it's cold. Harley-Davidson has jackets for every occasion!

Motorcycle pants or riding jeans

Cotton has less than a quarter of the abrasion resistance of leather so if you're going to wear jeans, you'll want Kevlar lined ones like the Sidari Abrasion-Resistant Denim Jeans.

Leather and abrasion-resistant textiles are the best materials for your ride, so the Men's FXRG® Waterproof Overpant is an excellent pick. Some tips for getting the right riding pants for you: wear them on a bike or sit in a way that's as close as possible to how you sit while riding. Make sure they're snug and comfortable, and that the armor doesn't move around or dig into you.

Over the ankle motorcycle boots

Sturdy, oil-resistant boots with non-slip soles and proper ankle support are indispensable. You'll want sturdy heel and toe boxes too. At a minimum, your boots should cover your ankles, like the Men's Bradford Performance Boots.

Leather motorcycle gloves

Your hands will likely be the first thing to hit the ground as you brace for impact. That means you want a pair of sturdy gloves that provide 100% hand cover. You'll want your gloves made of durable material with reinforced stitching. Armor at the base of your palm is especially useful because that's where your hands are going to land if you fall. Make sure, though, that you can still control your bike without any interference caused by the gloves!

Sunglasses and goggles

Eyewear, such as a pair of sunglasses or goggles, can provide additional coverage for your eyes in the event of an incident. Eyewear also provides coverage from the damaging effects of UV rays, can prevent you from being temporarily blinded by the sun, and can keep debris out of your eyes. Remember NOT to wear tinted eyewear at night, as it can limit visibility.

Rain gear

Your ride doesn't have to end just because it's raining, thanks to rain gear. An item like the Full Speed Reflective Rain Suit will shield you from the elements, which not only prolong your ride but also make you more comfortable. The reflective aspect of your riding suit enhances your visibility to other motorists.

Heated motorcycle gear

Heated gear can provide comfort so your physical integrity isn't being undermined by rain or cold.

Body armor

CE-approved body armor may provide increased protection in the event of an accident. Since your safety is of utmost importance, it's a legitimate consideration!

What about accessories?

Many items can make your ride more comfortable. In particular, devices that facilitate hands-free use of technology reduce risk while still allowing you to make use of all the benefits of living in the digital age.

-Tool kit

With a tool kit, you can make minor or significant repairs to your bike while on the road or at home. Tool kits are also useful because they can be used to repair things other than bikes!

-Phone bike mount

A phone mount is useful because a phone is useful! Easy access to your phone can help you contact people, follow directions, choose music to listen to, etc. You'll also be able to monitor any alerts that your phone delivers, so, if need be, you can pull over to address an important notification.

-Bluetooth communication system

A Bluetooth communication system is an excellent investment because it allows you to control your phone hands-free using voice commands. You can take phone calls, listen to music, change the destination on your GPS, etc. 

-GPS devices

A GPS device is useful because it has a bigger screen than your phone and is a device dedicated to providing you with directions. It's designed to be as effective as possible to deliver those directions. The Road Tech Zumo 590 Navigation System, for example, is a Bluetooth® compatible, 5-inch touch screen device that also provides local weather updates in addition to directions. You can even upgrade to get live traffic reports!

-Insurance Coverage

Motorcycle insurance is indispensable in the event of an unexpected incident. You can also get insurance coverage that protects you in the event of minor trip setbacks like a flat tire, so you don't have to cancel your ride. Insurance also provides you with peace of mind, making for a smoother ride.

Other common questions:

Since motorcycle gear is so different from regular clothes, there's a lot more to consider. More consideration, however, is a plus because it allows you to get gear that suits you better! Here are some frequently asked gear questions.

-What is the difference between CE level 1 armor vs. level 2 armor?

Body armor is supposed to absorb and spread out the effects of impact while also keeping you as free as possible from the residual force. Levels of body armor are measured using the CE level system. CE stands for Conformité Européenne or European Conformity. The mark shows that the product in question has met the standards of the European Union regarding health, safety, and environmental protection.

To get CE approval, the following test is applied to armor: 37 lbs. per foot of force is dropped on the armor nine times, and the amount of impact transmitted is measured. The less energy that gets transmitted, the more protective the armor. Level 1 is thinner and less bulky; level 2 is thicker. Which is better for you depends on your comfort and how the armor fits.

-Is there motorcycle gear for women?

There is motorcycle gear for women. The issue is that too often, items made explicitly for women are usually lower in quality. So, it's essential to go to a reputable and trustworthy source like Harley-Davidson, where you'll find high-quality items designed for women with women in mind instead of just tweaking men's clothing to fit women.

-Should my passenger wear as much gear as I do?

Your passenger should always have the same protection as you the rider.

-What is the most comfortable gear for summer riding?

During the summer, you can wear perforated motorcycle gear or gear with ventilation zippers. Jackets and pants can have panels on the inside of sleeves, the chest, and the front of thighs. Air vents follow the same location pattern.

-Is counterfeit or fake motorcycle gear safe to buy and wear?

Counterfeit motorcycle apparel exposes you to risk, even if it's made in the same factory as the gear it imitates. Outside of the increased risk of injury, there's also the additional possibility of getting hurt as a result of exposure to lower quality materials and design.

For example, you can get rashes or blisters just because of leftover dye in your fake pair of gloves. Or, your counterfeit product may expose you to dangerous levels of the chemicals commonly used to process leather.

-Should I Wear A Full-Face Helmet Or A Half-Helmet?

For maximum protection, go with a full-face helmet. The danger is that a half helmet exposes you to permanently damaging your face.

Bottom Line on Bike Gear

Motorcycle gear will give you peace of mind and a great look. Don't skimp on research, trying out items, or getting yourself the best items available. You want to wear the right gear so you can keep riding as long as possible.

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*Denier is a unit of measurement. It quantifies how much 9 kilometers of a given material's thread weighs in grams. The measurement is usually abbreviated to a lower case "d." So a 50-denier thread will be written as "50d". Why 9 kilometers? Because a single strand of silk is roughly one denier (a 9km strand of silk weighs one gram).