Motorcycle Gear for Beginners

June 25, 2020
Whether you’re a beginner getting on a motorcycle for the first time or an experienced veteran of many riding seasons, it’s important to wear all your gear, all the time. This mantra is reflected in the acronym: ATGATT. It’s easy to remember and a simple principle to follow, but what exactly constitutes a full set of motorcycle gear? The obvious may come to mind first: a helmet. What may not be so obvious, however, is the lack of mandatory helmet laws. As of early 2020, it is legal for one to ride without a motorcycle helmet in most US states (provided the operator is at least 21 years old), with only 19 states having universal helmet laws (which apply to both the operator and any passengers). Helmets undoubtedly save lives and prevent injury. In fact, the IIHS—or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety—has found that helmets reduce the risk of death by about 37% and reduce the risk of serious head injury by 67%. However, a helmet is not the only gear you’ll need. Specialized jackets, pants, boots, and gloves also all work together to protect you and prevent serious injury or even death, and are all necessary components if you’re wisely following ATGATT. A one-piece motorcycle suit may be used in lieu of the jacket and pants if one prefers its tradeoffs. Now that we’ve established what exactly goes into proper motorcycle gear, let’s get into the details!


Helmets come in a variety of styles and shapes but none provide quite the level of protection that a full-face helmet does. Modular, half, and open face helmets variously trade comfort or breathability for a reduction in safety. Regardless of your choice of helmet, make sure to replace it within five years, as per the recommendation of manufacturers. After five years, the performance of the helmet will have degraded due to the deterioration of its adhesives and materials. If you’re in the US, look for helmets with a DOT rating, or alternatively the ECE 22.05 standard of the European Union. The Snell Foundation also conducts independent testing of helmets in the US.


Motorcycle jackets aren’t your ordinary jackets you can buy in any department store, they’re specialized pieces of equipment designed to keep a rider safe in the event of a slide or crash. To that end, most motorcycle jackets are made of leather or textile materials, and sometimes a combination of the two. High-quality textile jackets are not only water-resistant, they’re able to resist abrasion as strongly as leather and are often more affordable than their leather counterparts. Look for jackets with body armor that have a CE safety rating, which is a rating used formally in Europe and informally in the US to grade the protection of motorcycle body armor.


Just as in the case of jackets, motorcycle pants are specialized tools for your use and safety—regular denim jeans will not cut it! Furthermore, motorcycle pants are also made from leather or a textile material, the latter of which is usually a highly abrasion resistant type of nylon fabric under the brand name Cordura. While jeans that include built-in kevlar panels that provide some abrasion resistance are available, they simply do not offer the same holistic protection that a pair of well-designed riding pants do. We recommend pants that are equipped with CE-rated armor in the hips and knees.


Look for motorcycle boots with oil-resistance, non-slip soles, and good ankle support. In the event of a crash, leg, ankle, and foot protection is paramount. If a rider’s boots aren’t sturdy enough, they will not provide enough protection to prevent serious injury. As with any other piece of equipment, take your time picking out the right boots for you and shop in person, not online. This way, you’ll be able to evaluate each pair’s fit, sturdiness, and overall level of protection. Make sure your boots cover your ankles at a minimum and remember that armor never hurts!


Gloves are not just an afterthought when it comes to proper motorcycle gear, they are an integral part of the all the gear, all the time mentality. 27 small bones make up each of your hands and they’re the first line of defense in the event of a crash—as humans, we’ve evolved to instinctually extend our hands and protect our head when falling. Thus, picking the right gloves is just as important as picking any other piece of motorcycle equipment. Good gloves are made of strong, abrasion resistant materials (with robust stitching) and should cover your hands completely. Armor at the base of the palms isn’t offered with every pair of gloves but is certainly a welcome feature.


If you’re looking to go to the track; leaning over your bike and channeling your inner-Valentino Rossi, a one-piece leather suit will be your best bet. For riding on the street, a one-piece textile suit will suffice and indeed provide a great mix of comfort and convenience.


ATGATT: all the gear, all the time. That’s all you need to know. Put this mantra into practice and you’ll be well on your way to being as safe as you can be as a motorcyclist on the road. Looking for more information? Check out our previous guides on traveling on a motorcycle and the basics of general motorcycle safety. Safe travels this riding season!
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