Rider’s guide to motorcycle protective gear

Last updated: January 1

Maybe you’re new to motorcycling and still learning the ropes. Or you’re a seasoned rider looking to upgrade your gear. Motorcyclists have many reasons to ride. Some use motorcycles to get where they need to go, some go on road trips, and others find opportunities to bond with other motorcycle enthusiasts. Whatever your reason for getting into the saddle, finding safe, comfortable protective gear can help you ride safely for many years to come.

In this guide we’ll outline some of the essential pieces of equipment to keep you safe and comfortable on your rides, no matter the riding conditions.

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Reducing injury & maximizing comfort

Properly fitting protective gear is designed to help reduce injuries in an accident and keep you safe in different driving conditions. But the level of protectiveness is not the only consideration when choosing the right protective gear for the job.

Discomfort caused by uncomfortable gear can be a distraction on the road, according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). This can make it difficult to stay focused on the road, increasing the odds of an accident. This is why it’s important to find protective gear that’s comfortable, so that you can keep focus and comfort out on the road.

Here is an overview of what areas of your body you should focus on first when it comes to protective gear:

  • Head: Choose a helmet that meets the Department of Transportation’s standards, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) says. This includes helmets that weigh more than one pound (three is typically ideal), have sturdy chin straps and a thick enough liner, to name a few.
  • Hands and feet: Look for boots that go over your ankle and have oil-resistant, rubber-based composite soles, says the MSF. Also, consider full-fingered motorcycle gloves that fit properly. They may help improve your grip on the handlebars and help protect your hands from the elements or from injury in a crash.
  • Torso and arms: The MSF suggest riders wear abrasion-resistant fabrics or leather that fit comfortably to help protect against injury in the event of a crash. Riding jackets typically run longer in the sleeves and wider across the shoulders to account for riding position.
  • Legs: A rider’s legs should be covered and protected. Look for abrasion-resistant materials that are also wind-resistant, waterproof or have reflective areas to help make you more visible on the road, the MSF suggests.

We will dive into more detail for each of these areas below.

Protective gear for different weather conditions

The weather may play a role in what gear you choose for your ride. Consider these tips to stay both comfortable and safe in all sorts of weather:

  • Hot temperatures: Wear at least one layer to help keep your body cooler. Consider adding a jacket for additional protection. Look for apparel with mesh panels to help your skin breathe.
  • Rain: In case you get caught in the rain, choose gear that is breathable and store additional layers in your backpack or saddlebags, suggests Cycle World. The MSF says a yellow or orange rain suit is a good option for visibility on the road.
  • Cold temperatures: On the coldest days, it’s important to dress in warm gear. MSF suggests wearing an insulated winter riding suit or choosing multiple layers. Consider thermal undergarments closest to your skin and a windproof layer on the outside. Insulated gloves and boots may help keep your hands and feet warm, too.

Choosing the right safety gear

There are countless types of safety gear to choose from. Finding what works best for you starts with understanding what type of protection different types of gear offer.

Helmets

Helmets are one of the most important pieces of safety gear for motorcyclists. In an accident, protecting your head can mean the difference between life and death. But it’s important to find a helmet that fits properly and is made with quality material.

No matter the style of helmet, there are a few things to be on the lookout for to increase the odds that the helmet is well made:

  • A sticker on the outside of the helmet with the letters DOT may certify that your helmet meets or exceeds Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 (FMVSS 218)
  • A SNELL or ANSI label may also indicate that a helmet reaches the federal safety standards according to FMVSS 218.
  • The Manufacturer’s labeling should appear on the outside or inside of the helmet. If it is FMVSS 218 certified, it’ll include the manufacturer’s name, model, size, month, materials and year of manufacturing, plus other owner’s information.

Full helmet

Full-face helmets offer the most protection, according to the Motorcycle Legal Foundation, because it covers the entire rider’s head and face. Its chin bar keeps the helmet sturdy and the face visor offers increased protection from debris and the elements.

One drawback, however, is the lack of ventilation, says the Motorbike Writer, especially in hot weather. Full-faced helmets can also make it difficult to hear traffic sounds, like horns and sirens.

¾ helmet

The ¾ open-face helmet is similar to a full-face but doesn’t protect the chin or face, according to the MSF. But you can purchase a snap-on face shield for added protection. Goggles are also another option to fend against road debris but only cover the eyes.

½ helmet

Unlike full-face and ¾ helmets, ½ helmets only cover the crown of the head, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Although they offer more ventilation, they are among the least protective of helmets. You can, however, find ½ helmets that are approved by the Department of Transportation, says the Motorcycle Legal Foundation.

Jackets

In terms of protection, jackets are second to helmets — and the right jacket offers a crucial layer of protection. Here are a couple things to consider when looking for the jacket that suits you best.

Jacket Materials

Leather or membrane materials typically offer the best protection, according to California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Jackets with reflective materials are also worth considering, which can make you more visible to other drivers, especially at night.

Whichever material you choose, thicker is always better, says the Motorcycle Legal Foundation. Whether it’s made of leather or a more breathable membrane material, thicker jackets tend to withstand abrasion and offer better protection.

Weather Conditions

Ideally, says Gear Patrol, you want a jacket that can withstand any climate and help you brave the elements—from riding in the rain or snow to hitting the road in the depths of summer. For this reason, a wind- and rain-proof shell, ventilation and armor that doesn’t restrict range of motion are the makings of an ideal jacket.

In rainy or snowy months, it’s important to wear waterproof materials to keep you dry. In cold weather, the MSF recommends wearing several layers of clothing to aid in keeping you warm and give you the ability to remove layers to maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the day.

Pants

Regardless of the temperature, the MSF recommends motorcyclists always wear long pants on the road. This protects your legs from debris, provides better protection in the event of an accident and reduces your chances of becoming dehydrated.

As with jackets, there are many materials of pants to choose from. Finding the right pants for the conditions, balanced with comfort is the key to comfort and safety on the road.

Denim vs leather

Denim and leather are both common materials for riding and can provide you with a decent level of protection on the road. Motorcycle jeans differ from normal jeans in that they typically offer extra room for armor, are more tear-resistant and come with cooling components, according to MotoSport.

If you want more protection and are less concerned about the weight or heat of the material, leather may be right for you. If you are looking for a lighter material, denim may be more comfortable. However, if you do choose to wear denim on the road, choosing a pair of pants designed specifically for motorcycling can give you a greater level of protection due to the more durable materials. Some may be reinforced with leather or heavier materials for an added level of protection.

Kevlar

Kevlar and similar materials are strong, abrasion-resistant and lightweight. While Kevlar pants are available, other types of pant materials, like riding jeans, may also come reinforced with Kevlar. According to the MSF, Kevlar provides a high level of injury protection, making it a good option for riders who want light-weight pants.

Balancing protection and comfort

As mentioned before, comfort is important on the road, and striking a balance between the protection and comfort are key to both an enjoyable and safe riding experience.

Suits

Motorcycle protective suits are another way you can protect yourself out on the road. Motorcycle suits come in the same types of materials that jackets and pants may come in. And as with any riding wear, the type of material and protection level that will serve you comes down to the riding conditions and your preference.

One-Piece

One-piece suits offer arguably better protection than jackets and pants, and are typically more waterproof, according to the Motorcycle Legal Foundation. Suit materials come in leather or breathable textile materials. As with jackets and pants, they should be form-fitting—not too tight and not too bulky.

Two-Piece

Two-piece riding suits come in two pieces, a top and a bottom. Two-piece suits typically come paired together so they can attach at the waist to act like a one-piece suit but allow for a greater level of flexibility by detaching them and wearing the suit as two separate pieces, says the Motorcycle Legal Foundation.

Ventilation

Temperature regulation in riding suits is essential to maintaining safe and comfortable riding conditions on the road. The two main modes of ventilation are either perforated materials or zippers that promote airflow, according to Motorcycle Gear Hub.

Perforations are tiny holes strategically punched into the material to allow for effective ventilation throughout the jacket. Ventilating zippers are often found in more expensive gear and help regulate the amount of airflow throughout the material.

Perforations tend to offer the best airflow but, because of the tiny holes, the material may not be as durable. Zippers don’t offer as much ventilation, but riders have control over airflow coming in.

Boots

Riding boots and other similar footwear can help protect you in a variety of situations, according to the MSF. They offer protection against burns from exhaust pipes or injury from road debris. Picking the right boots can also give you a stronger grip on pavement and keep your feet in place on the pegs as you ride.

The MSF recommends wearing boots with oil-resistant, rubber-based composite soles. They also recommend wearing boots that cover your ankle. Some boots may come with plastic or metal guards that can offer greater protection in the event of an accident.

Gloves

Motorcycle gloves can protect your hands from injury and the elements out on the road. But to work they need to fit properly, says the MSF. Motorcycle gloves should cover your hands and wrists and have a snug fit. Loose fitting gloves may reduce your ability to grip the handlebars of the motorcycle and should be avoided.

Gloves made specifically for motorcycle protection often come with grips intended to make gripping the motorcycle handlebars easier. Waterproof gloves can also be a good idea when riding in bad weather conditions.

Additional protective gear to consider

A windshield on your bike isn’t enough when it comes to face protection, says the California DMV. The best option is a face shield that covers the whole face. Motorcycle goggles or visors can help you maintain a good field of view in all weather and light conditions. Visors may even protect riders’ faces and eyes in the event of an accident. But some riders may encounter issues with fogging in their visors. There are various methods to reduce this, such as helmet ventilation and in some cases, anti-mist products.

Elbow/Shin/Knee guards

Elbow, shin and knee guards are types of body armor that can be placed over other vulnerable body parts to protect you from injury. Some protective jackets, pants or suits may come with built-in pieces for protection.

According to AGVSport, body armor, including elbow, shin and knee guards, are made from a combination of hard thermoplastic resins and foam liners to absorb the energy from impact in the event of a crash. These can either be inserted into pockets on jackets, pants and other types of motorcycle apparel, or strapped on top of protective gear.

Body armor

Motorcycle body armor is sometimes a component of motorcycle jackets, pants or suits but can be purchased separately, according to the Motorcycle Legal Foundation. Its role is to protect riders from impact in the case of an accident. These pieces can protect different parts of your body from your arms, shoulders, back and chest.

Proper motorcycle safety protective gear can help provide a buffer between you and the environment—and can save your life. By planning your attire in advance, you can ride knowing that you’ve taken important precautions for your safety and comfort