You got your license, picked up a Harley T-Shirt and some sunglasses and think you're ready to hit the road? Think again. When it comes to hurtling down the highway at 80mph on a steel horse, you're going to want to have some good gear that offers great protection. Unless you hate being so pretty, that is.
By Doug Wagner
This is part 2 in our Beginner's Guide to Motorcycles. Be sure to check out Part 1: Training and Getting the License.
Sure, riding a motorcycle is cool, but sporting a leather jacket, while adding to the “cool” factor, is there to keep the rider safe. Proper-fitting, good quality gear is VERY important.
Keep in mind when you're driving a car, you essentially have a steel cage protecting you. You're not directly exposed to your environment. Some cars even have warning sensors and multiple airbags among other safety features. On a motorcycle, it's just you and the bike. If a rock flies up and you're in a car, it would probably hit your windshield. On a motorcycle, that same rock could hit your helmet or your body. Anything you can do to protect yourself is encouraged and helpful.
You'll definitely need a helmet, and I'd recommend getting a full-face helmet. They provide the best all-around protection for your head. Besides, when half your face is ripped off because you thought the half-helmet looked better on you, you'll wish you had gotten the full-face helmet anyway.
There's definitely a difference in terms of quality and comfort between no-name brand helmets you can get on eBay for 20 bucks versus respected brand name helmets for $200. When you start passing $350-$400, the discrepancies aren't as clear, but then again, think about what it's protecting. Are you saying your head/face/brain isn't worth a couple hundred bucks more? Don't know about you, but I'd say my head is worth at least $600…
Also, you're going to be wearing it a lot or at least whenever you're riding. So, it has to fit correctly and comfortably. Try not to buy your helmet online. It's best to go into a store and try it on first-hand. It should fit snugly and not shift if you quickly move your head side to side or up and down. A store clerk can probably help out with this. If you fall in love with a particular helmet that fits perfectly and the store's price is a bit out of your range, you can then try to find it cheaper online – just make sure you make a note of the size before you leave the store. Although, sometimes it's nice to support your local motorcycle shops, so I cannot fully condone this method.
Try not to buy used, either. Yes, you can find some good deals, but you cannot be entirely sure about the helmet's history. It could have been involved in a crash, dropped, thrown around, become warped, been mistreated, or it could have molded to someone else's head over the years. You also don't want your helmet to be too old. It's just not worth the risk.
A lot of riders wear jeans but there are definite benefits to wearing riding pants, such as, double-stitching, added padding, or sewn-in Kevlar, for example. Jeans can rip open quickly when falling at high speeds, but they're obviously better than wearing shorts or a pair of old khakis.
Jacket and Gloves
Of course, your jacket is also important. You'll want to throw some money at this piece of gear but there's a fair amount to consider. Leather vs. textile. Color. Visibility. Reflective areas. Removable liners, removable armor. Pockets…
You'll see some people make fun of that one motorcyclist with the fluorescent orange jacket, the bright yellow helmet, the neon green gloves, the reflective safety vest, and flashy red pants, and say he looks ridiculous, but they have to be able to see him to make fun of him. This “crazy” rider has the right idea in that he wants to make sure he's seen out on the road. That or he has an odd fashion sense. Either way, I'd much rather look ridiculous and be seen than look “cool” and be invisible to drivers around me.
Gloves are essential and invaluable for all they provide. They improve your grip, keep your hands warm, and protect them. You may want to consider different types of gloves depending on the type of riding you'll be doing, the temperature, weather, etc.
Also, depending on where you live, another good investment would be a rain suit. They're inexpensive, light, and compact, so it's easy to bring one with you or store one on your bike.
The gear you'll need is one of the hidden, often underestimated costs of getting a bike, so just make sure you factor that into your budget. Depending on what type of gear you purchase, it could set you back anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over a grand. That may seem like a lot if you're just starting out but, as I mentioned, you also don't want to be too frugal in this department. A few hundred here can save you thousands down the road. Knowing you can get up from an accident with relatively minor injuries is much more desirable to waking up a couple days later in a hospital with severe injuries and being told you can't go back to work for a few weeks. Also, the indirect comfort factor that comes from having proper safety gear is helpful both mentally and physically.
One way to save money is to buy gear from the previous year. For instance, when the 2010 gear starts hitting the shelves, the retailer is probably going to want to sell off the 2009 gear as quickly as possible. You can find some decent deals this way. They're looking to clear their inventory, so don't be afraid to talk the prices down a bit further.
One useful saying to remember is “All The Gear, All The Time” (ATGATT). Whether you're planning to ride across the country or go for a quick ride around the block, wear all your gear! It's a great habit to develop especially since, just like with cars, most accidents happen within just a few miles of the owner's home.
You don't want to be “that guy” that cruises around in shorts and flips-flops without a helmet. Yikes. That's just a disaster waiting to happen.
A friend once told me, “There are two types of riders: those who have had their first accident, and those who are going to have their first accident.” Now, that may seem a bit pessimistic and I'm sure there are plenty of motorcycle riders who've never had any sort of spill, but there are also thousands of riders who fit in that first category. Regardless of which camp you fall into, it's best to be prepared with “ATGATT.”