Many people live by the motto, “All the gear, all the time!” (often seen online as ATGATT) and are very vocal about it. At the opposite end of the spectrum, are riders who demand freedom to ride with no helmet, their hair blowing in the wind. New riders may not want to invest in expensive gear, only to decide riding isn’t for them after a few months, but buying a few strategic pieces now is wise. It can actually change your whole experience on the bike, and help lead to a lifelong love of riding.
Buying and using a few crucial pieces of gear from day one, not to get too serious too soon, can also help you live a long healthy life even if you never ride again.
Obviously, a helmet is at the top of the list of powersports safety gear, but the next three items should be boots, gloves, and proper eye protection. Dedicated motorcycle gear is better, but even your local Home Depot can get you started if you don’t have a local motorcycle shop. For new riders, the most likely “crash” scenario is going to involve only you, the bike, and very little speed. Practicing the basics in a parking lot, cruising slowly through the neighborhood, or just getting the hang of the clutch and gears off-road, it is possible to get hurt while barely moving. If you drop the bike on yourself and are bare handed and wearing a pair of canvas sneakers, you’ll feel it for days afterward.
The illustrations for this piece all came from the covers of Clymer manuals over the years, and frankly, we are surprised at the missing gear on some of these riders.
Boots – Not Just Made for Walking
No matter what or how you ride, boots are an essential component of your safety gear. If you started off riding dirt bikes as a youngster, you likely had this drummed into your memory by mom and dad weekend after weekend. With kick-starters, hot exhausts, and only slightly cooler air-cooled motors, dirt bike riders have a lot of reasons to wear thick, tall boots even without worrying about falling off. Modern street bikes make it easy to ride in sandals, dress shoes, or heels, but it is not a good idea.
Without boots, even if you drop the bike while parking (don’t forget the kickstand), it is possible to get a foot pinned under a hot part and suffer a nasty burn. It is hard to predict every scenario of foot/bike/earth interaction, but having sturdy boots that go at least over your ankle prevents a lot of scrapes, burns, and toe breakage. In other situations, your foot is the most likely to be the part interacting with a car’s bumper or tire, or some random rock. In a higher speed accident involving a slide along the pavement, you’ll NEED that leather over your ankle bone.
For dirt riding, you should get some dedicated dirt boots, but they can be quite cheap if you shop closeouts on out of fashion colors. For street riding, buy quality work boots, in the thick not the fashionable leather, and without a steel toe. A steel toe in certain accidents is worse than not wearing a boot at all; it can destroy your toes if it gets folded back on your foot.
Gloves – Their Fit is Legendary
When, not if you fall over on your bike at low speed, you are going to try to stop yourself by putting your hands down. Gloves, however, can also prevent you from having an accident in the first place. Even experienced riders can be surprised at how painful punching a bee in the butt can be at 60 mph, not to mention gravel, and other random road debris.
You can get suitable leather work gloves anywhere that are better than nothing and will stop bees, gravel, nuts and bolts, and UV rays. Your local hardware store likely has leather, pigskin, or deerskin (the toughest of the three) for less than $25 a pair. Some places even sell a leather “impact” glove that is a reasonable off-road choice, with pads on the fingers and knuckles.
Any of these will get you through the first few months of riding until you buy a dedicated pair of motorcycle gloves. In a pinch, if you lose or forget your good gloves, you can always pick up another pair at any hardware store.
Eyewear – Don’t Wear Those Sunglasses at Night
Much like gloves, eye protection can help prevent an accident by protecting you from getting random stuff in your eye. The best eye protection is a full-face helmet with a visor, especially at highway speeds. For off-road riding, where you really have to worry about rocks, mud, and sand in your eyes, a pair of goggles is the way to go.
If you are riding with an open face helmet, you need something to protect your eyes. Sunglasses are okay for low speed, but the wind will quickly find its way around them as speeds climb. If you are going to cruise in shades, make sure they are a good pair that is rated for impact resistance. Again, your local hardware store will have tinted and clear safety glasses for little more than generic dime store shades.
Always remember though, if you go out to ride with nothing but dark glasses protecting your eyes, be home before dark. Riding home at night, or in the rain, with no glasses is no fun. And riding when its dark with your sunglasses on might look cool, but it is an increased risk you don’t need.
Get Geared Up!
If you are thinking about getting your first bike, or getting another bike after a long hiatus, do yourself a favor and buy a good helmet now, before you need it. You are most likely to fall off in the first few months of riding, and you don’t want to chance it with a hand-me-down helmet that doesn’t fit, or some old piece with no real protection left in it. Helmet fit and age is much more critical for safety than with a leather jacket.
Buying a helmet first makes it much easier to resist the temptation to hop on and start riding without one.
Having basic boots, gloves, and eye protection involves only a minimal outlay of cash. If things don’t work out, all these items can just be re-purposed as work gear; a good pair of boots is always a good investment. If you find yourself loving the biker life, you can always upgrade later.