I work at a motorcycle apparel store and have people coming in that say, "I need everything." So what is everything? And why do you need it? Furthermore, why does it cost so much? After selling a countless amount of gear and dealing with it daily for the past 3 years, I'll let you know what I know. For further information there are links at the end. To note, this is all based on my experience, meaning that opinions will vary. My goal is to arm you with the knowledge to make your own decision.
**NOTE: The following is my personal opinion and is not endorsed by any company, corporation, or any other entity for that matter.**Helmet
This depends on what country you're in. In the US there's the DOT (Department of Transportation) and SNELL standards. DOT is required for the helmet to be legal, while most buyers like to see the SNELL sticker on there as well. SNELL is a private foundation that does additional testing. There is also the ECE for Economic Commission for Europe, BS for British Standard, and numerous others for various countries. If your helmet has passed no standards, then you may as well wear a rock on your head. The question often comes up of which is the best, and it's heavily debated. You're welcome to search the issue for yourself and make your own conclusion. For what it's worth, my helmet is DOT and SNELL approved, but I would not hesitate to wear a helmet that has passed any of the other standards. But the most important thing is that it fits properly
. I also only recommend full face helmets. There was a study done in the UK showing that nearly 40% of all head impacts in motorcycle crashes occur along the jaw. A 3/4 or 1/2 helmet won't save you there.
Why do some helmets cost $60 while others cost $600? If they bear the same DOT sticker, then it isn't for safety reasons (although the SNELL testing does raise the price due to the cost of testing). You're paying for comfort and features. For one thing, the shells of helmets are made out of various materials. The lower end helmets are typically made of fiberglass, which is fairly heavy. Higher end helmets will be made of a composite of materials, usually carbon fiber and Kevlar. These keep the weight down and help reduce neck fatigue. Furthermore, some helmet companies will make the shells in different sizes. While a Small helmet may have a Small shell, a Large helmet will have a Large shell. This raises production costs and thus helmet costs. Some companies simply use one size shell for X-smalls to X-larges.
Then there is ventilation. Your typical $60 helmet will have poor ventilation. It will probably have vents, they just won't work. The more expensive helmets will have great airflow and multiple options on how you want that air to flow.
The interior comfort padding varies as well. Some companies use more coarse fabrics, while others use material that's almost as smooth as silk. Sometimes it will be removable so it can be cleaned easily, while other times it'll be permanent.
Aerodynamics also come into play. The cheapest helmet I've ever seen was practically a circle. While more aerodynamic than a brick, it's hardly streamlined. Higher end helmets typically have spoilers that aid in reducing turbulence and keeping the helmet pressed down onto your head.
Build quality also comes into play. Whether it be the finish on the paint or the glue that holds the vents on, you typically get what you pay for.
Helmet brands I recommend: Shoei, Arai, Icon, AGV, Suomy, HJC, Shark, X-Speed, ScorpionGloves
I'm a little more obsessive about gloves than most people. I simply don't think they've come to realize how much you use your hands, like for typing. Because of that I have extremely high standards regarding keeping my hands protected.
There are gloves for every season; meant to keep your hands insulated, allow airflow, or even create heat through electricity. Then there are gauntlet gloves that go over your sleeve, shorties that cut off at the wrist, and other gloves somewhere in between. Just about every pair of glove has some amount of leather and some amount of suede. Gauntlets protect you the most, shorties are the most convenient, and the in-betweeners attempt to compromise.
A common question is how gauntlets work. The basic idea is that in a crash you slide. With the gauntlet over your sleeve, the asphalt doesn't have the chance to pull your sleeve back and expose your skin. It's simple but important.
No matter what style glove you choose, there are key features to look for. One thing is seems; this is where gloves fail. The more seems there are the higher the likelihood of failure. So while the 20-piece 3-colored glove may look cool, it probably won't last long. Another key aspect is a double layer of leather in the palm. This is typically where you land (personal experience), so you want it to be thick. Some companies include padding here, as well as special materials that aid in sliding and prevent tearing.
A common feature is the carbon fiber or plastic knuckle. This is mostly an appeal to style. This is only beneficial if there is padding between the carbon of the glove and your knuckles. If not then it's no different than punching a rock. Higher end gloves will typically have padding on the fingers as well.
One minute detail you may notice is a piece of leather connecting the pinky finger to the ring finger. This is usually meant for racers and helps in reducing fatigue as they only use two fingers. I've heard that it's also meant to help keep your pinky from getting torn off, but I've yet to seen any motorcyclist missing a pinky for this reason.
Glove brands I recommend: Rev-It, Cortech, Dainese, Held, Racer, Spidi, Teknic, BKS, and the higher-model Alpinestars.Boots
People often say, "I'll just be commuting so I don't really need anything crazy." Why don't you? When racers crash they can typically only hit other bikes and then slide into air walls, so they're fairly safe. When you crash you can hit a guardrail, cars, deer, light poles, curbs, buildings; just about anything. In reality, commuters need MORE protection than racers. What they meant was, "I'll just be commuting, so I want something that I can comfortably wear all day." Likes gloves, you have plenty of options. Let's start at the most protection.
As you probably guessed, the race boot is the most protective. It incorporates a torsion control system designed to keep your ankle facing the right direction, reducing any extreme movements side to side. There will also be a thin sole so that you can better feel the bike under you, but this makes it uncomfortable to walk in. The sides will have some sort of padding to protect your ankles in case of an impact. The section above your toes will also be reinforced so that the shift lever doesn't wear a hole in the boot. Most also feature toe sliders, but you have to lean pretty far to use those. Basically, these work best on the bike because that's what they're meant for. They have a tendency to squeak while walking, too.
Then there are sport touring boots. They're the same as racer boots, minus the torsion system and the toe slider. Instead, they use the stiffness of the boot to aid in keeping your ankle upright. The soles are usually thicker making them more comfortable to walk in. The vast majority of these are also waterproof.
Hybrids exist as well. They're essentially shorter racing boots. They may come with toe sliders, ankle support, reinforced top sections, and whatever else you can imagine. The only difference is that they'll be cut off a few inches shorter than a race boot.
Riding shoes are just that; shoes, not boots. These will typically have a reinforced toe to protect the shoe from the shifter, and an above-the-ankle design. Some will have padding by your ankles, others will not. These will not protect from a sprain or a break. Instead, they'll protect your ankle only in a slide. While being the most comfortable off the bike, they're definitely risky.
Boot brands I recommend: TCX, Sidi, Alpinestars, Dainese, Puma, GaerneJackets
Motorcycle jackets are typically made from three materials; leather, textile, and mesh. Some jackets have a combination of these materials built in, but most are solely one or the other. Any good motorcycle jacket will also include CE (Community of Europe) approved armor in the shoulders and elbows. The armor simply means it has passed some established standard on how much/little force it is allowed to transfer to the rider. Most have a removable back pad, but the majority of the time it is not CE approved. Instead, jacket manufacturers offer the option to replace it with a CE approved one that can be purchased separately. The majority of jackets will also include a removable liner, making the jacket usable in both warm and cool weather. Just about every jacket will also have vents that allow some level of air flow.
Leather jackets protect the best and are the most expensive. Kangaroo leather is actually the best kind being 4 times stronger than cow hide and more flexible, but it's fairly rare and extremely expensive. Cow hide is the most common type, and it's perfectly adequate for street-legal speeds. Motorcycle leather is typically 2-3 times thicker than a casual leather jacket, which increases both protection and cost. The average range for leather thickness on a motorcycle jacket is 1.2-1.4mm. A high-quality leather jacket is typically capable of lasting through 5 crashes. Perforated leather is another option. Small holes will be cut into the leather to act as permanent ventilation. This type of leather is typically far more effective at providing ventilation than solid leather with zippered vents. It also causes no notable degradation of the leather's protective qualities. The drawback to leather is that it should not be worn in the rain. It soaks up water and can take days to dry afterward.
Leather jackets vary in style, between a full-on race jacket or cruiser style relaxed fit (One thing to note here is that cruiser gear is meant more to look good than to protect you. Someone who buys the gear to look cool on a cruiser will be less protected than someone who buys the gear to look cool on a sport bike). Race jackets always have CE armor in the shoulders and elbows. They'll typically include a foam pad in the back, and some are now incorporating a foam pad in the chest as well. The reason for this is comfort rather than protection. In a race tuck riders will lay down on the tank, and the pad helps to absorb any bumps in the road. Some jackets will also have a speed hump sticking out of the back designed to improve aerodynamics. The sleeves will also be pre-curved into the riding position. Most jackets will also feature a zipper either traveling around the entire circumference of the jacket or just a small one in the back. The circumference zipper is meant to keep riding pants attached to the jacket in a crash. The smaller zipper is meant simply to keep the jacket from flapping in the wind.
The majority of cruiser style leather jackets will have no padding. They will simply be 1.2-1.4mm leather. They tend to fit looser and the sleeves are typically straight.
There are plenty of jackets that fit between these two categories. They'll typically contain CE armor in them and have a more relaxed fit, with straighter sleeves and more room to breath. With a little bit of effort it's possible to find a jacket that's almost as protective as a race jacket that will look good on a cruiser too.
The advantage of textile is its price and its ability to stand up to water. It's water resistant, and most textile jackets include waterproof liners. However, it's less protective than leather. Most textile jackets will work for one or two crashes. There are also different thicknesses of textile. The measurement used to tell the thickness is called Denier. The standard textile jacket is 600 Denier, and I consider this the minimum that should ever be worn. The highest I have ever seen is 600 Denier on the majority of the jacket, with 1680 Denier in the back, shoulders, and elbows. The textile is thickened here because these are the most likely impact points. Just like leather, textile jackets typically include CE approved armor in the shoulders and elbows, as well as a removable foam pad in the back.
Mesh is on the bottom of the protective ladder. The advantage of mesh is that it keeps you reasonably cool. It's typically worn on incredibly hot days where the other option would be a t-shirt. Many mesh jackets include armor in the shoulders, elbows, and back, but it is typically NOT CE approved. These jackets are meant to last one crash, and most fail before you finish sliding.
Many jackets also include retro-reflective piping to increase nighttime safety.
Jacket brands I recommend: Rev-It, Dainese, Alpinestars, Cortech (Tourmaster), Fieldsheer, Icon, Spidi, Vanson, Teknic, BKS, Foxcreek LeatherPants
Jeans are the typical riding pant of choice, but they don't offer any protection. Anyone who has ever crashed in jeans without injury is usually amazed. Like jackets, you have the option of leather, textile, or mesh. However, one more option is added: jeans with reinforcement. This reinforcement is typically in the form of aramid (which is non-brand-name Kevlar), and some have leather.
Most leather pants come with knee sliders and CE approved knee and shin protection. Some will also include hip and tailbone padding. These are meant to be worn by themselves with just underwear underneath and are typically meant for the track. They offer the best protection but aren't practical for day to day use.
Two companies currently make leather overpants (to my knowledge). They have zippers running up the side, making them easy to step into. One includes CE approved knee armor while the other only has basic padding. These are a bit more practical, allowing you to remove them when you reach your destination. Like leather jackets they are not waterproof, but they are windproof and help keep you warm.
Textile pants typically incorporate some amount of mesh to provide airflow. They'll also usually come with a removable, waterproof liner. Just about every textile pant will have knee armor in it (some CE approved, some not), and many have hip armor as well. These hold up much better than jeans, keep you dry in the rain, and warm in the winter. Like the jackets, I recommend no less than 600 Denier (personal experience here too). Most will come as 600 Denier for the core of the pant, with 1000 (or more) on the knees and rear. These will also have zippers along the sides to make them easier to put on and take off.
Jeans with reinforcement vary in terms of protection. I know of one popular brand that only reinforces the pants in the knees, while many others reinforce the knees and the rear. Some also include removable armor in the knees and the hips. In terms of practicality these rank at the top, but for protection they're at the bottom.
Pant Brands I recommend: I won't recommend any specifically, but take into account what I wrote above when looking into all the options.Back Protection
This is my personal opinion, but I believe there are only two pieces of gear that can save your life in a street bike crash; a helmet, and a back protector. The helmet obviously protects your brain, and the back protector protects the highway that all of your brain's signals travel on. An extreme injury to your spine can cause massive problems, including paralysis and death. I have personally fractured multiple vertebrae in a crash and am lucky I can still walk. With that in mind I wear a back protector every time I get on a motorcycle.
Just about every jacket comes with some sort of foam material in the back. I wouldn't call that a back protector as the impact-absorbing qualities of those are basically nothing. They are not certified to any standard, and are placed in the jacket simply so the customer will say, "Hey, it has back protection, too." The only back protection worth buying will be certified to CE standards, either level EN1621-1 or EN1621-2 (shortened to Level 1 and Level 2).
There are two real options for back protectors; the kind that fit in your jacket (and are typically purchased separately), and the kind that can be worn alone and is secured over your shoulders and around your waist.
The kind that fits in your jacket typically offers less protection, both because it covers a smaller area and has a tendency to move around. The majority of these are only Level 1 certified. They're convenient because they're as easy to use as putting on your jacket, and they typically cost less. They also come in hard and soft models, but there is no real data supporting which style is the best.
Separate back protectors offer the best protection. They're typically larger and certified to CE Level 2 (although there are many exceptions). Many of the hard-style protectors will be articulated to allow for mobility, while soft ones conform to your body shape. Most also contain some type of ventilation. A few models also work in conjunction with chest protectors, although they tend to be the most expensive.
Brands I recommend: Joe Rocket, T-Pro, Spidi, Knox, Dainese, AlpinestarsMiscellaneous
(Work in progress)Armor
Some riders don't like to wear an entire jacket or a full pair of over pants. They might not like how it feels, looks, or how annoying it can be to carry around. Instead, they'll just buy the armor. This offers abrasion resistance in only isolated sections, but the main use of armor is to protect your joints from impact. Armor can range from just knee or elbow pads, to entire under pants or "jackets" that differ little from regular jackets or pants. Some of this armor is CE approved, but most is not. In reality, most armor by itself is worn as a "better than nothing" measure. It also tends to be a cheaper alternative than buying an entire garment. Cold Weather Gear
On page 3http://www.m13online.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=31810#p31810StorageSecurityCommunication/Music
On a final note, if you ever have a question about any particular piece of gear, try contacting the company that makes it. It has been my experience that every company is perfectly happy answering any questions a customer may have.
Image of likely places of head impact according to a UK study:http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v194/DarkNinja75/helmetDamage.gif
Non-profit website that reviews gear:http://www.webbikeworld.com/
DOT and SNELL testing information:http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/gearb ... index.html
Impact tests done by the British government on various helmets:http://sharp.direct.gov.uk/
Tear loads of certain fabrics (couldn't find the original source):http://www.advrider.com/forums/showpost ... stcount=19
Back protector information:http://highvelocitygear.com/home.html
Likely impact points in a crash:http://www.roadsafety.mccofnsw.org.au/a/91.html