A Beginner’s Guide To Choosing The Best Motorcycle Gear

Tips for newbies looking for the best motorcycle gear.

Beginner motorcycle gear guide, featuring all of the best protective apparel for you on your motorcycle.
When it comes to protective gear, there are always trade-offs. Racing leathers excel in providing the highest level of protection but are good for little else. Enjoying a good read is difficult while one is cooking sous vide in a set of leathers.Photo: Seth Richards

Right now is a great time to get into the world of motorcycling, considering the abundance of new bikes and gear from which to choose. However, when it comes to finding the best motorcycle protective gear especially, the number of options can be overwhelming.

Shopping for a solid pair of gloves online can be like searching for new music on Spotify: before you know it, your trail which started with Robert Johnson has inexplicably lead to Enya and a weird mix of Ambient Chillwave. This simple guide is intended to help you navigate the gear world by getting you to ask the right questions before shelling out for a product that doesn't fit your needs. As for Spotify, you're on your own.

Motorcycle gloves protect your hands from coming into contact with the road, meaning abrasion and impact resistance compared to a fine layer of the epidermis.
GP Pro gloves from Alpinestars have a race-inspired aesthetic with protective features derived from lessons learned at the racetrack. In spite of their bulky appearance, they offer plenty of lever feel and flexibility on the bike. Not everyone is willing to wear gloves this technical, so options are spanning the aesthetic and functional spectrum. The four-wheeled crowd can keep their fingerless driving gloves.Photo: Seth Richards

It has to be said right off the bat that protective motorcycle gear is crucial—even more so for a new rider. The adage, "Dress for the slide, not the ride," holds. These days, there are plenty of options that are protective, functional, and stylish. The excuse of "it's too hot to wear a jacket," doesn't hold up since there is a ton of protective hot weather riding gear out there. If you're willing to drop some serious coin on a cool jacket but still ride in plain old blue jeans and sneakers, you may want to rethink your strategy. Okay, we'll get off our soapbox.

Choosing The Best Motorcycle Gear

When we evaluate gear, we take into account factors such as value, levels of protection, style, and functionality. It's unlikely that you'll find a piece of gear that gets a perfect score in every category. Even if you decide you want to get all decked out, you're going to have to decide what qualities you value most. If convenience and style are your priority, you may need to sacrifice a level of protection or functionality. For example, a stylish pair of riding denim—which is way more protective than normal jeans, by the way—are not ideal for long-distance tours where you might want waterproof material and higher levels of protection. Which brings us to the next point.

Buy Riding-Style-Appropriate Gear

Identifying the type of riding you’re going to do will go a long way toward helping you narrow down your choices. Do you need gear you can wear on and off the bike? What kind of weather will you be riding in? Answering these questions will help you determine what type of gear you should look for.

Touring motorcycle gear is made to have some water/rain resistance while also keeping the rider cool when it’s dry.
A lot of gear made for touring uses an inner shell or membrane for water resistance. While that keeps you from getting wet, it also prevents airflow. The Expedition jacket from Aether forgoes an inner liner, using three-layer Japanese nylon that’s water-resistant all on its own. Check out all those vents to keep things cool.Photo: Aether

What's Better, Leather Or Textile?

Abrasion resistance is the name of the game when it comes to choosing what your gear is made from. We could go on and on comparing different textiles and leathers, but let's keep it simple. Leather is still probably the most abrasion-resistant of any material, but it has its drawbacks. If you plan on commuting daily or going on long trips where you might encounter rain, leather is not a great choice. Not only will you get soaked, but the leather can transfer its dye to your skin, giving you a blue-ish Smurf tint (if your gear is black), and it can take a long time to dry. Also, even perforated leather can be a bit stifling in hot weather.

Leather has a high abrasion resistance, which is why it was placed on high-impact areas of this Robinson jacket by Vanson Leather.
The Robinson jacket, built by Vanson Leathers exclusively for Union Garage, is undoubtedly stylish with its flannel lining and waxed-cotton shell. Waxed cotton is pretty waterproof but it does not have the high abrasion resistance of a material like Cordura. Cleverly, the designers incorporated leather in the shoulders and elbows, common areas of impact, for added protection.Photo: Union Garage

As equally important as abrasion resistance in a piece of gear is impact protection. It's important to look for gear that is CE-rated, which indicates how much force a given product can absorb. CE level 1 is less protective than CE level 2.

A motorcycle back protector, like this one from Forcefield, protects your spine during a crash.
This Forcefield back protector is about the size of your childhood sled (Rosebud!), but it offers a high level of protection. Most jackets feature a pocket for a back protector that is thinner and less full-coverage than this stand-alone type.Photo: Seth Richards

You Get What You Pay For When It Comes To Motorcycle Gear

We all want to save money where we can, but it’s important to buy gear from a reputable brand that specifically designs gear for motorcycling. Sure, a leather jacket from Joe Rocket or Dainese is likely more expensive than the one you’d pick up from a mall department store, but you’re paying more for hard-earned expertise.

In addition to armor, reinforced stitching, and comfort features like stretch panels and ventilation, a properly fitting bike jacket fits in a particular way that prevents material from folding or catching in a way that wears quickly or shifts armor away from the proper position in the event of a get-off.

Full-face helmets are the best when it comes to keeping your chin intact. Look for a DOT and Snell sticker to make sure that your head will stay protected.
In spite of what curmudgeons at your local dive bar may say, full-face helmets hardly inhibit your field of vision. Besides, a comfortable, quiet helmet that protects your face from Biblical plague-levels of bugs is a good thing—unless you’re looking for a free exfoliation treatment. Make sure to buy a helmet that passes safety standards such as Snell, ECE, or DOT (indicated by a sticker on the back of the helmet).Photo: Seth Richards