Once youve got a license and a new bike and finally head out on the road, make sure you’re wearing the right stuff every time you saddle up. Cars are in essence safety equipment. But on a bike you need to be proactive and choose the right stuff to keep you safe. We tested the newest helmets, jackets, boots, gloves, pants, suits and eyewear in a long evaluation of riding gear. And we wore it all on some of the most brutal roads in the Northeast, so you can get smart before you shop.
This is indisputably the most important piece of protective gear you’ll buy. It serves the vital protective function of shielding your head from impacting the roadway, so make sure to buy one that’s Department of Transportation approved and that provides full-face coverage. You may also want to look at helmet choices that are approved by the Snell Memorial Foundation. What’s the difference? Generally the DOT tests for the most typical impacts and Snell tests for the more severe impacts.The best helmets pass both tests.
A T-shirt won’t help you when you go down. Unless you want to experience the asphalt cheese grater firsthand, we recommend wearing a real motorcycle jacket. The best ones combine tough abrasion-resistant shells with body armor for key strike zones (areas that would contact the ground first during a fall) like the elbows and shoulders.
On a bike, your feet are bombarded from all sides: the asphalt flying underneath like an out-of-control treadmill; bugs and road debris battering from all sides and a high-revving engine that would just love to scorch your instep. You need special protection. And sneakers or regular shoes don’t cut it. In safety tests, reports have found that dress shoes and sneakers provide as much real crash protection as a pair of flip-flops. Yes, it’s true. So make sure to buy proper boots. All motorcycle boots should provide a stiff toe box for firm shifting and a nonslip sole for standing while stopped, and should cover your ankles to protect them in a crash.
The best motorcycle gloves not only provide protection from, say, bugs and other flying debris–not to mention from abrasion in a crash–they also improve grip and comfort, making a motorcycle’s hand controls easier to operate. Look for leather construction and external seams, which will prevent irritation on long rides. Short gloves are designed to slip under the cuff on a jacket, while long gauntlet-style gloves will cover the cuff. Selecting a jacket and gloves together will help you decide which style you prefer.
As with jackets, ordinary street pants may seem like a good idea. That is, until you go skidding down the highway with nothing but a layer of cotton between the road and your butt. The best pants are made out of leather or durable textile materials, and include padding for your hips and knees.
Rather than zippering together separate jacket and pants, many riders choose to go with one-piece suits. There aren’t any gaps for rain or wind to sneak in, and in the event of a fall, there aren’t any seams to fail and expose skin to street. Textile one-pieces are suitable for commuting since they can go right over street clothes, while snug-fitting leathers are better suited for performance riding.
Clear visibility is a necessity on any moving vehicle. Sunglasses help limit the blinding effects of the sun. Riders with open-face helmets should look for snug-fitting glasses to seal the wind out, while those with full-face helmets can get away with nearly any pair of well-made glasses.