Riding Gear 101

So… you’ve got your provisional licence, you’re booked in for you CBT or DAS, you’ve got your eye on a lovely shiny motorbike… what else do you need?

ATGATT

All the gear all the time (ATGATT) is a fundamental of safe riding. There’s lots of other slogans and mnemonics, I quite like Ride for the Slide too, but fundamentally, riding motorbike can be dangerous, so you should always wear the right gear when you ride, just in case. It doesn’t take much googling of ‘Road Rash’ to see some of the consequences of not wearing the right gear. The emphasis on wearing the right gear is important, it’s not going to do you any good hanging up at home.

The Basics

  1. Helmet
  2. Gloves
  3. Jacket
  4. Boots
  5. Jeans
  6. Earplugs

I’ve put those in the order of importance (in my view), but, personally, I wouldn’t ride without the first 5 and try not to ride without earplugs either. Worth noting that you can also get one piece suits instead of separate jackets and jeans, I’m not going to talk about them here as I’ve no experience of them. Plus, no one wants to see my obese frame squeezed into a tight leather suit…

1. Helmet

In the UK, it is a legal requirement that you wear a helmet when riding your motorbike, with an exception if you are Sikh and wear a turban. The helmet needs to conform to BS 6658:1985, ECE22.05 (soon to be .06) or an EEA standard equivalent to the BS. If you’re buying your helmet from a reputable dealer, it will meet at least one of these.

DO NOT BUY A SECOND HAND HELMET or a helmet from an online retailer you don’t trust. A helmet that’s had a knock might not protect you from another. Helmets also mould to your head over time, so someone else’s won’t fit you correctly.

Some helmets will also carry a SHARP rating, from 1-5 which is an additional level of testing to give some comparison of how safe a helmet is (5 being the safest). Not all helmets are tested by SHARP.

A quick look in a showroom or on the interweb will show you there are a plethora of helmets available. You should find the one that’s right for you.

Helmets come in a range of sizes and shapes, so what one person swears is the most comfortable helmet ever might feel like a medieval torture device to you. So there really is no substitute for trying them. If you have a massive head like me, you’ll find the ranges get limited too.

Getting the fit right is really important as a badly fitting helmet won’t be as safe and if it’s uncomfortable will likely be a distraction whilst riding.

Key features to think about are

  • Style of helmet – full face (the safest), modular or flip-front, adventure, motocross or open face. Personally I’d avoid open face as a significant proportion of injuries to the head in a motorbike accident are to the chin and jaw. Think about how you’re going to ride and work out the best match.
  • Construction of the helmet- thermoplastic is cheaper, but won’t last as long, through to carbon fibre which will be lighter but cost more.
  • Ventilation – if it’s for riding in town, make sure it’s got plenty.
  • Anti-fog this could be a coating on the visor, or better a pinlock insert which is a bit like having double glazing and about the best way to keep your visor clear.
  • Sun visor – some helmets have a drop down sun visor, which is quite convenient. Interestingly premium brand Arai do not.
  • Glasses grooves/cut outs to make space for the arms of your glasses, important if you wear them when you ride.
  • Colour can make a difference to how visible you are to other road users. It’s not an accident that police motorcyclists have white helmets.
  • There are a host of other features to look out for, I recommend having a look at Bike Social’s helmet review to get a bit more of an idea.

I currently mainly use a Shoei Neotec II, I find the flip front convenient and it fits my head very comfortably.

2. Gloves

Not to be overlooked, gloves are a key part of protecting yourself. If you take a spill, it’s quite likely that the first thing that will hit the ground will be your hand. Injuries to your hands are really debilitating, so definitely best avoided.

As with helmets, finding gloves that fit properly is important. Look for ones that are CE rated, they’ll have a level 1 or 2 rating, with 2 being more protective. There’s a nice explanation on Sportsbikeshop.co.uk of what the ratings mean and how they’re tested.

Think about the types of riding you’ll be doing. Will you be riding in the wet? If so, then waterproof gloves are essential. If you’re riding in winter, then you’ll want insulated, or even heated gloves.

I have several pairs of gloves as I’ve not found one that’s perfect for all conditions.

In summer I use Knox Orsa as they’re really well ventilated, when it’s wet Held QuattroTempi Goretex and when it’s really cold Held Warm and Dry, the latter have an inventive dual chamber so you can make them more or less cosy.

3. Jacket

There’s a huge range of jackets out there. They provide important protection from the elements and from injuries if you have an accident.

Generally jackets will fall into two main categories, leather or textile. Each have pros and cons, but either way they should be CE marked (more on that below). Have a think about when and why you’re riding and the type of jacket that will suit.

Protection from injury is a key feature, so make sure your jacket is CE marked. It should have armour in the elbows, shoulders and back, these will be rated 1 or 2, which is determined by the level of force they transmit to you, the higher the number the greater the protection. Your jacket will also have an abrasion resistance rating, which go from C to AAA. You can find more about the ratings at Bennett’s Bike Social. I’d not be happy with anything less than AA.

Alongside the protection if you have an accident, it’s worth thinking about how visible a jacket makes you as this might help avoid one. There is a wealth of high-vis and reflective options available, not to everyone’s taste, but if you’re going to be riding at night or in rubbish weather it’s definitely what I’d do.

Protection from the elements is obviously going to depend on the climate you’re riding in. If it’s hot and dry, look for ventilated or jackets with mesh. If it’s wet and cold, look for water proofing and insulation.

There are a host of different waterproofing materials Fortnine did a nice comparison I’d always err on the side of forking out a little extra for Goretex though.

It really does come down to when and where you’re going to be riding though. I have a Dane goretex textile jacket with a thermal liner that I’ll use from Autumn through to Spring (the liner comes out when it’s warmer out), a Dane mesh jacket for the summer (don’t ask me the names of them, something very Danish sounding) and just acquired an Enginehawk Hawkeye leather jacket, mainly for going to work in as it’s a bit less conspicuous in the office.

4. Boots

Boots are important if you fall off as they will give some protection from impacts, abrasion and in most cases some crush protection in case you bike lands on top of you. They should also offer some protection from hot engine parts.

There are a myriad of styles and types, from sports boots that wouldn’t look out of place on a Power Ranger to casual styles that could almost pass for normal shoes. As with everything else, think about how and when you’ll use your bike.

Waterproofing is pretty important unless you only ride on lovely sunny days… nothing worse than cold wet feet. However, they can get a bit sweaty when it’s hot. Personally, again, I like goretex.

Protection is generally at the heel, toe and ankle with some having additional shin protection. Boots may also offer some protection against torsion (or twisting) which can lead to broken ankles. The CE rating will give a 1 or 2 for protection at the main points.

Most boots are leather, but, vegan friendly alternatives are more available, not just for they’re cow hugging properties, but because they can also offer more versatility and better comfort.

I have a pair of gortex Sidi touring boots that I think offer a good balance of protection and comfort and some TCX boots that look like normal boots for commuting.

5. Jeans

Some people are quite happy to ride in normal denim jeans. Proper denim does offer a degree of abrasion resistance Fortnine tested the difference between regular and motorbike jeans and if I wasn’t convinced before, I certainly am now that proper protective jeans are important.

As with jackets, there’s a big variety of jeans, from ones that look like normal jeans, to leather, to textiles. Like everything else on the list, there will be something to suit exactly what you do with your bike.

Protection will consist of an abrasion resistant material, such as Aramid, particularly in the areas like your knees or bum that are likely to be the ones that you slide on if you come off. There will also hopefully be knee and hip armour. The ratings for these are the same as for jackets above. They should also give some protection from hot engine parts and exhausts.

I use Route One Lexington jeans for work, as I can normally get away without needing to change in the (relatively casual) office. They were also the only denim style jeans that I found that fitted comfortably around my calves, everything else tended towards tight. For non-commute riding I’ve got Dane goretex textiles with a warm liner for the colder months and some well vented Dane textiles for summer.

6. Earplugs

Your hearing is important and easily damaged. It’s worth protecting it. Motorbikes are loud and the wind noise at speed even more so. So makes sense to wear earplugs.

At the most basic, foam earplugs are a few pence a pair and can be reused a few times before they are completely minging. They will do the job of protecting your hearing.

More expensive silicone ear plugs are much more durable and can be washed, they also tend to be more specific in the attenuation of noise to cut wind/engine noise but let you hear more of everything else.

At the top end are custom made plugs, which are fitted to your ears. I have a pair of these on order from Custom Fit Guards will let you know how well they work in a few weeks.

Conclusion

Wearing the right gear, every time you ride is a sensible mitigation for the risks of riding. The only compulsion is a helmet, but, for me ATGATT is the only option. I’m always staggered to see people riding an expensive bike in shorts, t-shirt and trainers.

Let me know what you think on what’s important when buying your first bike gear @boblearnstoride on twitter.

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