What is it?When deciding to hop on the saddle of a motorcycle, it doesn't take long to realize there isn't a lot between you and the asphalt flying by your feet. Deciding what to wear while you do so is a decision with life-saving potential.
Why do it?Many of us who ride motorcycles put a lot of thought into our surroundings, our technique, and what is going on with our bike. Many folks undergo training, starting usually with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course. Bare none, this is the best bet for developing safe riding habits, which are your best protection. After all, better to avoid the accident than need to survive one!
But that's the problem with accidents, we can't completely eliminate them. As riders we know that we're surrounded by vehicles many times larger than us, often piloted by distracted drivers. We can't see everything. So why not wear something to give us an edge if things go sour?
How did I learn it?I've been riding for just over 2 years, having come to it rather late in life. As a kid I did a few trips on a dirt bike, but my mother was adamant that we wouldn't get motorcycles under her roof. It was many years before I was in a position to feel I could afford a bike and that the urge really welled up. I knew about the MSF course and decided it was a great way to see if it was something I wanted to do. My (now) wife took the course with me.
Fortunately, I have friends who've ridden for much longer and pulled me into the right riding group. These were all folks who loved to ride (I mean, really ride. A lot!) and encouraged me to not only look around and pick the right bike for me, but to wear gear while riding. Any questions I had, they answered, and if I weren't so very tall I would likely have been able to borrow a lot of gear. I found there is a lot more to it than just wearing a helmet and gloves.
now having over 20,000 miles under my belt (I told you, we ride a lot :), I'm what is called an "ATGATT" guy. ATGATT stands for "All The Gear, All The Time" and means you gear up for each ride you go out on. I'll admit, if I go the 1/2 mile to Lowes, I don't wear my riding pants, but I still wear everything else. Further than that, it's ATGATT.
How do you learn it?I'll give you a general run down here. The concept is easy, choosing what you personally wear is then up to you. Before I go any further, let me state that, while I encourage ATGATT, this is your choice and needs to be. I don't favor legal requirements for safety gear. I just personally find that the insurance and slight discomfort of gear is an insurance policy I'm glad to have!
Helmets- The obvious, and in many places required, piece of starting equipment. First, you must understand that not all helmets are created equal! The half-helmet seen on many cruiser riders, often to meet the minimum requirement, will not provide the protection of a full-face helmet. You can read a great article here that can give you a lot more detail, but in short a full-face helmet not only protects your face should you crash, it takes a lot of strain off your eyes, keeps bugs out of your teeth, and - when properly fitted - is quite comfortable for hours on end. When picking one out, I recommend going to a dealer and trying them on. Wear it around the store for a while. Notice any pinch points or discomfort. I bought my first helmet because I really liked the style, but I can't wear it for more than 30 minutes without a headache! I have an odd head shape and eventually spent a little over $500 on the right helmet. Yes, $500, but most people won't have that issue. Still, $500 is cheap insurance I hope never to need!
Gloves- You'll want these. The cheapest option is to go to the Home Depot and pick up some leather work gloves. While better than nothing, they may come off in an accident and provide less impact protection. I currently have 5 pairs of gloves. 1 in a rain pair I don't wear often, another is for summer and is vented to keep my hands cool (but also has armour!),1 pair is for cold weather riding, and 2 leather gauntlet-style pairs with additional armour in the knuckles. Of the bunch, these are my favorites. The added benefit of covering the wrist and lower forearm is worth the expense, though there are certainly fine, less expensive options.
Jacket- The days when a leather riding jacket was your only option are long past. While leather still gives some of the best(if not THE best) abrasion protection, textile jackets are quite tough. to boot, some of the fabrics are designed to actually slide along asphalt, which may sound strange until you read about the damage from rolling. either way, both materials are far, far better than bare arms. The old saying is that the road demands payment in skin. Better it be from a cow (or artificial, for the textiles) than your own! Additionally, modern jackets often have armour around your joints (shoulders, elbows, back) to reduce impact damage. While I've only been riding for 2 years, 20 years of armoured sword fighting has taught me how valuable the stuff is. Coming off a bike at 50 mph onto a shoulder sounds painful. Doing it while wearing armour sounds...well, still painful, but less likely to leave me in traction for the next year.
I should mention while discussing jackets and pants that comfort is the biggest reason people seem to give not to wear the stuff. Well, this, too, has been thought of. While not as protective as the regular gear, there are "mesh" options which breath very well and still provide a layer between you and the road. I wear mesh when it breaks 80 degrees as I sweat like a cold Coke otherwise. When I'm moving, I find it's not far off from maybe a long sleeve t-shirt. If you can find it in something other than black, all the better!
Pants- Everything I said about jackets applies here. I will say I'm not a fan of chaps as they leave one big gap, IE that part humans seem the most likely to slide on! However, adding a pair of armoured jeans underneath would help take care of that vulnerability. Pants are so often overlooked as we often feel jeans offer plenty of protection, but try slamming your knee into a door and you may reconsider. :)
Boots- This is an area most riders do right away, often right after burning their ankle on an exhaust pipe. Anything that comes over the ankle is a good call, especially in leather. A quick look will show you a number with additional armour and protection. I like to try boots on when I have the option, as I have odd feet, but I've found some places will let you return them if you have any trouble.
What else can you tell me that may not be common knowledge?I consider staying dry important. I ride as much of the time as I can, which means if the roads are dry and not salty, and the temp is over, say, 30, I'll hop on the bike. My new bike has better wind protection, so I expect that temp to go lower this year. Except for my mesh gear and many of my gloves, everything is "waterproof". I use the quotes because this stuff sees a lot of wear and will lose it's protection over time, so re-waterproofing is important.
There are one-piece suit options, as well, that make it easy to get in and out quickly. I would love one, but with my size, Aerostitch is my only real option. I do like the versatility of jackets and pants, though, as I can mix and match, or take a jacket off when arriving somewhere wile leaving on the pants.
Finally, if you ride late into the season, consider heated gear for underneath everything. Just don't exceed what your motorcycle can put out in power and you'll stay nice and toasty!