Bikers don’t wear motorcycle clothing to simply look cool, they wear it to keep their body in one piece in the event that they are in an accident. Looking around at some of the outfits people wear when riding their motorbikes nowadays, it’s almost like they’ve forgotten the power that they have between their legs and the potential injury that a fall or collision could cause to their body. Although we hope that you’ll never need the services of a motorcycle accident lawyer, we’ve put together this quick guide to help you learn about the different kinds of protective clothing out there and why you should wear them.
Motorcycle clothing through history
As motorcycles became faster and more powerful, collisions started to become more frequent and were also increasingly likely to be fatal. Despite this, believe it or not; it really wasn’t until the early 20th century that people began thinking about how their clothes could help protect them on the bike. Even on the racetrack, riders were only wearing a glorified woolen turtleneck, and it wasn’t until 1910 that we saw the first leather skullcap helmets start to emerge onto the scene, and even these were optional.
In 1935, following the death of T.E Lawrence, head protection finally became more of a priority in the UK and the US, and World War II riders were mandated to wear crash helmets made of cork or tin. When it comes to the kinds of helmets we wear today, the first full-face helmet wasn’t designed until the 1960s, becoming mandatory by law in the UK for all riders in 1973 but remaining optional in some states in the US and in many other countries across the world. Today, there’s an abundance of protective clothing on the market, but it is mostly down to the rider to choose to wear it.
Modern-day motorcycle protective clothing
Bikes nowadays are lighter, faster and more powerful than they’ve ever been before, but regardless of whether you’re cruising on a vintage Indian Scout, or eating up the miles on a Kawasaki Ninja, a fall or a collision with another vehicle can kill you. Optional or not, there is still a growing market for motorcycle protective clothing, as more people begin to realize that they only have one body, and therefore, they need to protect it. Here’s a quick round-up of the kinds of protective gear out there and how they’ll help to protect you if you take a fall.
Aside from doing the obvious and protecting your brain, helmets also help to dampen wind noise and to protect your hearing. There are six main types of motorcycle helmet – full face, modular, open face, half, off-road, and dual-sport.
A full-face helmet provides maximum protection for your head and neck, and the built-in chin-bar provides additional protection for your chin and jaw. The chin-bar on a full-face is what sets it apart from many other helmets, and, considering that the chin encounters 50% of severe impacts during an accident, it’s a nifty feature to have.
Modular helmets are also often referred to as flip-up helmets because the chin bar and visor clip can be flipped up to open the front of the helmet. This hinge structure slightly reduces the strength of modular helmets when compared to a full-face, but they still provide an excellent amount of protection.
Open face helmets cover the top, back, and sides of the rider’s head but crucially do not have a chin-bar. Because the front of the helmet is open, riders are more exposed to the elements and to road debris.
Covering just the top of your head, half helmets are the least protective type of motorcycle helmet, leaving the face, neck, chin, and ears all exposed. Most half helmets don’t even come with a visor, and so although they may provide the best airflow, they offer very little overall protection.
Designed for use off-road by Motocross and dirt bike riders, off-road helmets are typically designed for maximum protection and minimal weight but crucially do not come with any eye protection like a full-face helmet, and so riders must wear goggles.
A mix between a full-face helmet and an off-road helmet, dual-sport helmets look like off-road helmets from the outside but are designed for the road too and have more padding like a full-face.
Eye protection not only protects your eyes from debris that could be flicked up from the road but is also practical, as it stops the wind from making your eyes water. Some helmets already have eye-protection built-in, but others, like half and open-face helmets, do not, and so you will need to buy some separately. Goggles provide the best protection as they sit flush against the face, but glasses will also help to protect your eyes from debris and incoming bugs.
Whether they’re all in one or two separate pieces, leathers aren’t just there for show. In the event of a collision, if you are not wearing leathers, then there’s not a lot standing between your skin and the surface of the road, and you risk experiencing some serious abrasive injuries. Some leathers also come with built-in pads and guards for extra protection of the knees, elbows, and back, but these can also be purchased and worn separately. If you’re buying your first set of leathers, then don’t forget about your bottom half, a leather jacket and jeans may look cool, but your knees may never recover if you take a fall.
Gauntlet style gloves that extend above the wrist offer maximum protection for your fingers and hands. It’s a basic human reflex to put your arms out in front of you when you fall, but doing this at speed on a road surface can cause a lot more harm than good. Motorcycle gloves are designed to be warm and to protect your hands from windchill, but they also come with padding and rigidity to help keep your hands, fingers, and wrists in the right place should you find yourself reaching for the ground.
Although it’s possible to ride in trainers, motorcycle boots offer your feet and lower leg the most protection, and they’re also designed to grip the pedals better too. Aside from shielding you from pebbles and debris that could be kicked up from cars or riders in front of you, boots also protect your fragile feet and toes by adding rigidity to your lower limbs.
There’s a long-standing joke that if you ask a room full of bikers if you should wear ear protection, then half of the room will say ‘what did you say?’. Although you may love the sound of your bike’s engine and the wind rushing through your hair, over time, this noise will damage your hearing, and you could find yourself experiencing hearing loss. To protect your ears, you should consider wearing some form of ear protection. Full face helmets already provide some degree of protection from the wind and road noise, but it’s still worthwhile considering some earplugs if you are going to be riding regularly or for long distances.
A lot of people think of body armor as being a bit excessive, but it can save your life. Lots of motorbike garments, including trousers, jackets, boots, and gloves, contain body armor of some sort already, but if you don’t have it built into your clothes, then you can also buy and wear it separately. Body armor comes in a lot of shapes and sizes, from full armored suits to individual armored knee and elbow guards – it may be an investment, but it’s worth it if you are serious about protecting yourself as much as possible when on the bike.
Last but not least, we come to high visibility clothing. High visibility clothing may not protect your body from an impact, but it could help to stop you from getting into a collision in the first place. Cars and other road users pose a significant risk to motorbikes and time and time again we hear stories or bikes that just ‘weren’t seen’. It doesn’t matter how much of an experienced rider you are, you are still at risk of the negligence of other road users, but wearing high vis clothing could help. Reflective strips on your leathers or a high-vis tabard could save your life in a situation where a driver may not have seen you.
The conclusion on motorcycle safety clothing
At the end of the day, even with advancements in motorcycle safety technology, it is up to each motorbike rider to decide how seriously they are going to take their own safety on the road and what protective clothing they are going to wear, but if we have one piece of advice, it’s WATGATT – Wear All The Gear All The Time. Full body armor, a full-face helmet, and a high vis jacket may seem like overkill, but it could save your life one day.