What gear should you wear for your ride?
Gear expert Chris Hurren gives you advice on what gear to wear when riding around town or on the open road.
As motorcycle riders, we know there’s a high chance we may end up off our bike and sliding down the road. While we can reduce the possibility of a crash with training and motorcycle selection, we can never eliminate it due to the variable nature of the on-road environment. No one can predict the location of that freak oil spill or animal on the road that makes the bike lose its grip and toss us into the air.
The best thing we can do is buy and wear the right gear to help us out if we stray from our bike seat at speed.
When we crash a motorcycle, there are three main risks to our body that gear can protect us from: impact, abrasion, and skin shear.
Protecting from impact
Every crash involves impact. Impact can be either small or large depending on what we hit. Most good gear can deal with the small impacts that come from hitting a road surface in a high side crash. Impact protectors help by covering your important bony, protruding, and hard to fix parts of your body. These are your head, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, knuckles, palms, wrists, and ankles.
Impact protectors absorb and distribute the crash impact to protect your body. In clothing, most impact protectors are removable, so make sure you leave them in and they’re in the right place. With gloves and boots make sure they have impact protectors covering these critical parts.
Most gear doesn’t provide much protection in high impact crashes. These include crashes with other vehicles or something on the side of the road like a tree or post. The impact protectors mentioned above will reduce the impact severity, but they won’t eliminate impact damage. Airbag jackets, and back and chest impact protection, may lessen your injury severity, but aren’t common in most jackets. If you have the cash to get an airbag jacket, go for an electronically deployed one as these act much faster than the lanyard styles.
Protecting from abrasion
Nobody wants to have road rash cleaned by a scrubbing brush in the hospital after a crash. Well-designed motorcycle gear is the best way to reduce or prevent abrasion injury.
Abrasion occurs when you slide down the road. A chip seal road will rip into your clothing causing seams to burst and fabric to wear away. A normal pair of denim jeans will be worn through after sliding less than 8 metres on a chip seal road. A fleecy hoody will most likely burst open at the seams when you first hit the road, instantly exposing your skin. We slide on our feet/ankles, knees, sides of our legs, buttocks, hands, outer arms, shoulders and head. These are the places we need extra protection.
Resistance to abrasion is provided by a thick layer of high strength material between you and the road. Nice thick leather is normally the best, as it’s both strong and abrasion resistant. Protective denim can be good, but make sure you go for a garment that has a thick protective liner inside. Protective textiles should be selected with thicker heavier fabrics in the key zones of knees, sides of the leg, buttocks, arms and shoulders. Multiple layers of textiles in the key zones are beneficial. Gloves should have extra protection for the little finger and good quality double layer leather in the palm. A palm slider is good to have as we always put our hands down to protect ourselves.
Protecting from skin shear
Skin shear is where the clothing you’re wearing grips up with your skin during a crash and shears your flesh apart under the skin. Both painful and often occurring without breaking the skin or damaging the clothing. Skin shear is easy to prevent by making sure that you have a slippery liner fabric on the inside of your gear. It’s the reason why some bike racers wear silk under their leathers. This is more likely to occur in a low speed crash or crashes with high impact force.
Understanding protection for your riding situation
The best way to understand the level of protection a garment will give is to have a look at the MotoCAP website. Find at least three garments you like then go into a store and try them on. A garment is only protective if you’re wearing it, so make sure it feels right on, and off, the bike before you lay down your money. It’s better to compromise a little on protection and get something you really feel comfortable in than to buy a garment you only wear some of the time because it’s not right.
When you look at MotoCAP it’s impossible to get an item of clothing that has five stars for protection and comfort. While five stars is the best, it’s not always necessary to have such a high level of protection. Wearing any starred product is generally better than wearing clothing not designed for motorcycle use. For example, a scooter rider who normally rides in track suit pants will be more protected riding in a pair of two-star protective denim pants.
Riding around town
If you ride around town at 60km/hr or less, then your protection requirements are lower than if you ride at high speeds. Low speed crashes have lower abrasion damage so a 2/10 for abrasion should be enough in most cases. Low speed crashes are more likely to result in burst failure - look for an 8/10 or higher rating. Impact damage is just as important at low speed as it is at high, so go for a 6/10 or higher. There’s a lot of urban gear now available such as protective hoodies, denims and chino pants, waxed textile jackets, and riding shirts. These can give you more protection than normal clothing and don’t make you look out of place on a scooter or when you get to your destination. Don’t forget to add a pair of short gloves with knuckle protection and a shoe with a bit of ankle protection like a Doc Martin to your ensemble. Whatever you do don’t ride in sneakers or slip-ons, as these offer no foot protection in a crash.
Town plus motorway riding
If you ride around town and do a bit of higher speed motorway work, then your protection requirements are a little higher. The risk of abrasion damage increases, so an abrasion score of 4/10 or higher becomes important. This type of riding results in low and high speed crashes, so burst protection of 8/10 or higher is recommended. You should also have impact protection of at least 6/10 . A good leather or protective textile jacket combined with one of the higher performing denim jeans or protective textile-pants can be the best way to go. Find a longer glove with wrist protection and add a good riding shoe or boot with ankle protection.
Open road riding
On the open road, the speed of riding goes up. And although a crash is less likely, the damage that can occur is increased. Winding roads increase the possibility of a crash with a high likelihood of impact. The risk of abrasion damage increases, so a 5/10 or higher becomes important. Burst protection of 8/10 or higher is recommended, along with impact protection of at least 6/10. A leather jacket combined with a high performing protective denim or leather pant is the best way to go. Rain protection is easily achieved with a light weight - and preferably high-vis - rain ensemble over the top of your favorite gear. Over wrist length gloves with good impact protection is a must along with rider specific footwear.
Riding on a hot day
If you’re riding on a hot day don’t forget your thermal comfort. If we don’t let the sweat and heat escape from around our body, we can overheat. This effects our reaction time and ability to problem solve. Use the MotoCAP comfort rating to select clothing that breathes better for a hot ride. Tests are conducted with all vents closed, so if clothing has vents then these could improve it for use on a hot day. Make sure vents let the air flow through to your body and they’re not blocked by water resistant membranes. On a hot day, mesh textile jackets, protective denim, and some of the new textile urban gear can give you protection without too much compromise for comfort. Just make sure you keep the impact protection in the important places.
A crash can happen on any road at any time so always dress for the journey and enjoy your destination.