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Spend enough time in a motorcycle dealership or accessory store and you’ll be surprised to see how many decisions about riding gear are made while standing in front of a full-length mirror. But how good you look in a jacket or pants has little to do with how much protection they offer in a crash, or how comfortable they’ll keep you in the heat of summer, the cold of winter, or the rain of just about any time of year. Riding gear isn’t simply a fashion statement—or it shouldn’t be thought of as such.
Instead, you need to consider it a system designed for comfort, convenience, and safety above all. Good news: The state of the art today produces gear that’s stylish and protects well. You just have to know what to look for.
Choosing the right gear starts with the right fit. Gear that’s so tight it restricts your movements slows down reactions to emergencies. If it’s a struggle to lift your foot onto the brake pedal, your pants are too tight. Same goes for your jacket if you put a sweater under it and can’t move your arms; always be thinking about layering.
Go too far the other way and you end up with gear that flaps in the wind uncomfortably. A jacket that’s too big will bunch in places that can restrict movement, and you might find that oversized wrist closures will not allow your glove gauntlets over the top. But that’s not the worst part: Loose-fitting gear can allow the armor in impact zones to shift away from your shoulders, elbows, and knees in a crash. Good protective wear is designed to fit a certain way so that the protective armor works properly in a crash.
For pure function, it’s hard to beat a one-piece suit, but not all riders are willing to risk looking geeky for the benefits. As an alternative, consider a jacket and pants set that can zip together at the waist; this feature adds another layer of protection and comfort. The jacket won’t ride up in a slide, and there’s no gap for air to leak into.
The right fit can be easier to find in gear sized by the European standard. There might be three or four different Euro sizes between another brand’s L and XL; the smaller increments translate to a more precise fit. Do your homework here, as certain brands tend to run large or small. While this is not a universal rule, the European brands tend toward the smaller end of any sizing scale, while brands built in the U.S. or specifically marketed for, ah, more robust Americans tend to run a bit larger. Checking for customer feedback on retailer websites can help, but there’s no replacement for actually trying it on.
Gear with the right cut for riding sometimes feels odd when you’re just standing around in it. Sit on your bike to see how it feels in the riding position. If you wear layers or a heated vest, try the jacket on over them. It’ll feel looser without them, but you’ll be comfortable if you need to layer. While on the topic of layering, understand that it’s a much more effective tactic than buying heavy winter gear for “off-season” riding. You can extend the value of so-called three-season garments with intelligent layering or electric gear.
Leather is still the safety king for motorcycle apparel, especially for track use. The reason is simple: When it to comes abrasion resistance, leather is the best, and probably will be until science discovers how to make a synthetic cow.
Today, though, many street riders prefer textile gear because it’s lighter and less expensive. This gear is made out of textile fabrics like Cordura nylon and polyester. Both the cost of the raw materials and the expense of working them allows lower-cost garments. The density of these fabrics is measured in denier; a higher denier means denser material and better abrasion resistance.
Those are the basics. Next month in this space, we’ll take a closer look at textile gear. What’s out there? How can you judge the quality of a garment without first crashing in it? What is the best bang for your clothing buck? We intend to answer these questions.
Why does leather resist abrasion better than synthetic materials? At a microscopic level, leather consists of bundles of fibers intertwined in a three-dimensional matrix. Any force applied to one fiber is spread out among all the surrounding ones, making the hide extremely tough and hard to tear. The threads in textile materials are woven in such a way that they can’t spread out the force as effectively, so they tear more easily.