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Motorcycle Safety Gear: Safety Trumps Style

Choosing between stylish riding gear and walking away after a crash is a no-brainer. Maybe the motorcycle safety gear you choose can't prevent an accident, but making smart choices about your protective wear can make all the difference if something does happen.

A woman wearing a motorcycle helmet.

Use Your Head: Protection Starts at the Top

Many riders would say that a helmet is the most important piece of safety gear. A good helmet starts by insuring significant impact and accident protection and also helps you hear and see better when you're riding.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, a rider without a helmet is 40% more likely to suffer a fatal head injury—and helmets saved over 19,000 lives from 1984 to 2006.

Snell vs. DOT: Dueling Helmet Standards

When shopping for helmets, riders may notice decals from either the Department of Transportation (DOT) or Snell Memorial Foundation (Snell). Both standards address rider safety, but there are important differences between the two certifications.

Every motorcycle helmet sold in the U.S. is required to meet the DOT's FMVSS 218 standard. The Snell helmet standard, however, is based on a rigorous test developed by the Snell Memorial Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that develops voluntary standards for motorcycle helmets and other headgear. Helmets are voluntarily submitted by the manufacturers for testing which includes 7 test types, from impact to shell penetration tests to flame resistance testing. Helmets are certified only after technicians verify they meet Snell standards.

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Guidelines to Selecting the Right Helmet

  • Get the proper fit. The helmet you buy should grip your cheeks, your jaw, and the top and sides of your head.
  • Avoid used helmets. Unfortunately, there's no way to guarantee a used helmet hasn't been compromised by a crash.
  • Remember that wear and tear may significantly reduce protection over time.
  • Full-face helmets offer greater protection than three-quarter or half-shell styles.

Getting Off On the Right Foot

When you're riding, your feet keep you balanced at stoplights and take a beating from the elements when you're moving. That's why regular tennis shoes or cowboy boots aren't smart options. To stay comfortable—and safe—as you're riding, consider a pair of high-quality motorcycle boots.

A stiff rubber sole provides protection when you're moving and traction when you stop. Good soles can actually prevent you from tipping over if you plant your foot in gravel, oil or sand. Also, consider boots with a heel—they may offer a better "hold" on your bike's pegs.

The best boots protect both your feet and your legs. While the majority of boots are made of leather, the best boots are also reinforced in critical areas—shin, ankle, and calf—with a stronger material like Kevlar. Often called "ankle armor," these reinforcements can protect you from flying debris while you're moving and can actually protect you from leg injuries in a crash.

Choosing comfortable boots is vital. Boots that fit properly are snug enough to stay on if you wreck, but loose enough to allow proper circulation. Quality boots also help your feet stay dry and cool. Look for water-proof or water-resistant materials, as well as a ventilation system that lets your feet breathe.

Get a Grip On Smart Protection

Like boots, good gloves offer both comfort and protection. Gloves protect your hands from the weather. They may also be your first line of defense in a crash, since it's second nature to extend your hands during a fall. Look for gloves that protect your whole hand, including palms, fingers, and wrists. And to make sure you actually wear them, choose gloves that will be comfortable in any weather. Increased comfort can lead to better control, especially if you're riding for extended periods of time.

Tough As Leather

Leather may sometimes seem like a fashion statement, but quality leathers are an important first layer of defense between rider and road. Leather doesn't "grab" like other materials, so a rider wearing leathers in an accident may be more likely to slide, instead of tumbling head over heel, an advantage which can greatly reduce the chance of serious injuries.

Just Add Armor

There's no such thing as too much protection, so many riders add body armor to their riding attire. Built directly into jackets and pants or worn under gear you're already wearing, armor adds an additional layer of protection.

Memory foam armor is similar to the material inside motorcycle helmets and offers the highest impact absorption.

Hard armor is generally impact-resistant plastic with a foam interior. Hard armor tends to have less give in a fall.

Foam armor, usually made with inexpensive foam, offers the least amount of protection.

Dress for the Fall, Not the Trip

Even if you're just making a quick run to the store, don't take a shortcut with your protective gear. Jeans and a windbreaker won't be enough if you're sliding across the pavement. Heavy leather riding gear may seem like overkill—and sure, it's miserable on the hottest days—but it can help prevent road rash, broken bones, or worse.

Check out our motorcycle safety tips article for more info on riding safe and smart.

Smart Protection Doesn't Stop With Your Gear

Crashing your bike isn't something you want to think about, but if it happens you need high-quality protection. Get a no-obligation motorcycle insurance quote today or call 1-877-379-BIKE to learn more about Allstate's Motorcycle Insurance.

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