DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission from purchases made through these links. But it will cost you absolutely nothing extra.
Motorcycle riding safety gear is as mandatory as wearing a seat belt in a car. But with the myriad of helmets on the market, choosing the right one can be intimidating. And that’s just the helmet – you’ve still got jackets, pants, armor, boots, and gloves to think about. In this blog, you’ll discover: – Why you must wear All The Gear All The Time – The 4 kinds of motorcycle helmets – and the 1 type you SHOULD buy – Things to consider when choosing a helmet (and why you must NEVER buy a used helmet) – The 2 different types of motorcycle jackets – The ratings for motorcycle armor – What kind of footwear you must use
Why You Need Full Motorcycle Riding Safety Gear (It’s Not A Fashion Statement)
One thing that can’t be denied about riding a motorcycle is that you’re much more vulnerable in a crash. Therefore, think of your gear as a wearable seat belt – it’s there to protect your body and your skin from being shredded off if you have a crash. A long slide without motorcycle riding safety gear can shred your skin badly. Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture of what that might look like:
It’s not a pretty picture – but it serves as a point: be ATGATT (“All The Gear All The Time”). Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about what kind of motorcycle riding safety gear you’ll need. Let’s start with the thing that protects your head – the helmet. In many countries, you’re required by law to wear a helmet, and rightfully so – severe damage to your brain isn’t something to be taken lightly.
5 Main Types of Motorcycles Helmets
There are 5 main types of helmets, each one having different characteristics. Let’s go through each one.
Prefer to get the information in podcast form? Check out the 30 Minute Motorcycle Podcast episode about motorcycle helmets:
Half helmets (or “brain buckets”)
The only reason why I even bring up brain buckets is to get one thing clear – they’re useless for anything more powerful than a bicycle. If you have a crash, your chin and most of your face are unprotected, resulting in some nasty damage (most likely a broken jaw). Bottom line – don’t bother with a half helmet – you’re better off wearing a metal colander on your head.
¾ helmets/open-face helmets
¾ helmets were quite common back in the 1960s and 1970s. While they offer much better protection when compared to brain buckets, keep in mind that your chin is still vulnerable, since your face is still exposed. Because of this, these helmets are more appropriate for moped and scooter riders. Even then, it’s worth noting that a ¾ helmet might not have proper eye protection (although there are kinds that come with built-in visors). If you decide to wear one, make sure to get a good pair of goggles or a face shield to protect your eyes from bugs and other debris. It’s unpleasant when a bug flies into your eye when you’re walking – but at least you’re still able to see. If a bug flies into your eye at speeds of 90 km/h, you might go blind in that eye. Bottom line – if you must wear a 3/4 helmet, get some good eye protection as well.
Many riders swear by the full-face helmet – and it’s easy to see why – in terms of overall protection, you can’t beat a full-face helmet. Unlike the brain bucket and the ¾ helmet, full-face helmets are designed with a robust chin guard to give you the best possible protection for both your face and your head. They also come with visors, giving you plenty of protection for your eyes as well. And if the visor gets scratched up or damaged, it can be replaced easily.
Off-road helmets/dirt bike helmets
Off-road helmets are common with dirt bikers and enduro riders.
Unlike the previously mentioned helmets, off-road helmets have peaks to deflect rocks and dirt being kicked up from the wheels (also known as “roost”).
Unlike a ¾ helmet, an off-road helmet offers sturdy face protection. However, similar to the ¾ helmet, the off-road helmet doesn’t offer much in terms of eye protection – remember to get a good pair of goggles.
I’d recommend getting an off-road helmet if you’re planning to do more trail riding or dirt biking than street riding. Otherwise, get a full-face helmet.
Modular helmets (or “flip up helmets”)
Modular helmets are similar to full-face helmets, with one main difference – the chin guard can be flipped open like a visor. This gives you the safety of a full face, with the comfort of a ¾ helmet. However, remember that the modular helmet’s weakest link is the hinges. If you crash, a modular helmet won’t protect you as well as a full-face helmet.
Buying a helmet – things to consider
OK, we’ve established that you need a full-face helmet for motorcycling (unless you want to do more off-road riding, in which case you want an off-road helmet). But there are other things to keep in mind too, including safety ratings and of course your head shape. And while we’re on that topic – why is it such a bad idea to buy a used helmet?
Motorcycle Helmet Ratings to check for
A good quality helmet will have an ECE rating. ECE stands for “Economic Commission for Europe” and is a standard used by more than 50 European countries. Each country has its own individual safety rating. For example:
There’s also the SNELL rating given by the Snell Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization that prides itself on its thorough crash helmet test. Because of this, if you buy a helmet with this rating, you’re getting the best protection money can buy. To see if a helmet is SNELL certified, head to the SNELL website.
- Australia and New Zealand have the AUS 1698-2006 rating
- Sweden has the SIS rating
- The UK has the BSI rating
The best way to determine if a helmet fits you is to try it on. A brand new helmet might feel hard the first time you put it on. That’s completely normal; the helmet’s inside will shape itself to your head over time. On the other hand, if you experience pressure or pain on your forehead or your temple, the helmet is not made to fit your head type. Try to flip the helmet forward by grabbing onto the front chin guard and pulling it downwards while the chinstrap is connected.
The helmet should remain still – if it doesn’t, it’s too big for your head. Try shaking your head while wearing the helmet. If the helmet doesn’t follow your head movements, it’s too big for your head.
For more information about helmet fit, check out this video from RevZilla where Spurgeon Dunbar explains how to check that a helmet fits you:
Why Buying Used Helmets Is a Bad Idea
Even though buying a used helmet might save you some coin, buying a used helmet won’t save your life. And the reason for this is very simple. Inside the helmet, there’s some hard styrofoam that will mold itself to your head shape the more you wear it. Because a used helmet will have formed itself into the head shape of the last owner – a head shape that might be different from yours. If you ride with a helmet that’s formed after someone else’s head shape, the helmet might come off at the time when you need it the most. In addition, the helmet could have been damaged.
When Do You Replace Your Helmet?
It depends on how often you wear it. As a general rule of thumb, a frequently worn helmet should be replaced every 2-3 years. If the helmet is used rarely and properly cared for, it may last for 5-6 years before it needs to be replaced.
Now, we’ll move on to the upper part of your body. Specifically, we’re going to talk about jackets, gloves, and motorcycle armor.
Prefer to get this information in podcast form? Check out the 30 Minute Motorcycling Podcast episode about motorcycle jackets, gloves, and armor ratings:
If you’ve ever been on a boat, then you know how important it is to wear a life-preserving jacket – if you fall overboard, the jacket will keep you afloat and save you from drowning. A motorcycle jacket is similar – except for dry land. If you have a crash, your jacket will act as a protective layer – instead of having your skin scraped off, the layer on your jacket will take that scrape for you. It’s easy to replace a jacket – can’t say the same for your skin. There are two main types of motorcycle jackets:
For decades, a leather jacket was the main choice for bikers all over the world – it offered good protection and warmth during the fall and early spring. And it still does. However, keep in mind that a leather jacket can be uncomfortable in the summer or very hot weather. Also – any leather jacket won’t do. “Fashion leather”, as it’s sometimes called isn’t designed to protect you in a crash.
Here’s a video from the YouTube channel DanDanTheFireMan that talks about “fashion leather” (as well as some other things you shouldn’t wear while riding a motorcycle:)
Textile jackets are usually made from polyester and nylon. This makes textile jackets great for riding in hot weather.
Textile jackets are often made to fit over your regular clothes. If that’s the case, make sure that you:
- Have room underneath for additional layers
- You have a non-restricted form of movement
Also, keep an eye out for a “CE” mark – this will tell you that the jacket has protective properties.
Yes, you must wear gloves at all times while riding a motorcycle – even in the summer. I know what you might be thinking:
“Easy for you to say – you live in Northern Europe. I live in Texas, where it’s 110 in the summer!”
Well, it doesn’t matter if you live in Texas, Arizona, Egypt or on Planet Mercury – you still have to wear motorcycle gloves. And to explain why I want you to do something. Look at your hand (especially your fingers).
With the exception of your thumb, notice how thin your fingers are?
In a crash, your fingers as especially vulnerable. Since there’s not much flesh on them, it’s possible to grind them down to the bare bone.
Disgusting, isn’t it? But like road rash, it serves to prove a point – wear proper motorcycle gloves.
During colder weather, you can wear heavier, insulated or even heated gloves.
Motorcycle armor & armor ratings
To increase your level of protection, you want to get armor for your protective clothing. If the jacket has armor on it, it will say so on the product description. Other times, you’ll have to buy armor pads separately. Either way, make sure that the armor you’re getting is suited for motorcycle use.
The armor rating to look for is “EN1621:”
- The “EN” stands for “European Norm”
- “1621” states that the armor is for motorcycle use.
In addition, you might see “EN1621-1” or “EN1621-2:”
- EN1621-1: the armor is to be used anywhere EXCEPT on the back
- EN1621-2: the armor is to be used on the back
NOTE: if you see the rating “EN/CE” on a piece of armor; avoid it. This type of armor is designed for bicycles.
We’re almost ready with motorcycle riding safety gear. We’ve covered the head and shoulders – now, we’ll move on to the knees and toes.
Prefer to get this information in podcast form? Listen to the 30 Minute Motorcycling Podcast episode about motorcycle trousers and boots:
There are two important factors you must take into account when buying a pair of motorcycle trousers:
- They must cover your legs completely
- They should have slots for knee armor pads or knee protectors
Knee injuries are unpleasant, so the more you can protect yourself from them, the better.
Apart from that, make sure that your trousers fit you properly – just like your jacket.
Even though you can get shoes designed for motorcycling, there’s no better choice than a pair of good, sturdy motorcycle boots. Remember – it’s not a fashion statement – these boots will protect you better in a crash than a pair of low-cut shoes ever will. A good pair of motorcycle boots protect your feet from cold and wet and protect your shins from knocks and bumps. It’s because of this reason why it’s important to get a pair of boots with shin and ankle protectors – these injuries are a lot more common than you might think. For example, if you drop your bike on your foot, you can sprain your ankle severely if you just wear a pair of regular shoes.
So what kind of boots should you get?
Regardless of the material that the boots are made from, you want to make sure that:
- The boots are comfortable
- You can operate the gear shifter and the rear brake with ease.
It’s also a good idea to consider getting boots with shin and ankle protection – shin and ankle injuries are more common than you think. All it takes is for you to drop your bike on your leg, and next thing you know, you’re walking around like Cotton Hill:
That’s why boots with shin and ankle protectors can be a real saver.
Not only that, but they’ll also protect your feet from getting burned by the exhaust or any bare metal parts while you ride.
And that’s it-you’re ATGATT!