Expect the Unexpected
If you're new to riding or new to wearing gear, it doesn't matter whether you riding a motorcycle or scooter. The risks are the same and you are equally at risk of injury on either type of bike.
If you're saving up for either kind, you should consider saving up a portion of your bike purchase for gear too. At the very minimum, you should look to spend the following, and these are for mid level gear options:
- $300 on a helmet (full face)
- $200-$400 on a jacket (textile and/or leather)
- $100 gloves (full fingered, leather)
- $200 boots (protective)
- $200 pants (abrasion resistant)
These numbers are in my opinion, the minimum you should expect to spend on basic gear. Yes, THAT much! Riding is a risky sport. Let's be honest here, you are on a 2 wheeled vehicle, out in the middle of traffic, between cars and trucks that have steel bodies, airbags and every other safety feature imaginable to keep them from being injured. What do YOU have? Nothing! Except gear. Aside from rider education, learning the basic emergency techniques/skills that you need to minimize the risks, gear is all you have to protect Yourself. So consider increasing your budget to increase your chances of Not getting seriously injured while riding.
But, I also know that as a rider who also commutes across town at most, say 3-5 miles, it's much more difficult to dress fully head to toe. I'm probably one of the few percent who actually do. I feel naked without my jacket, riding pants, boots and gloves on. So if you can't bring yourself to wear overpants for such a short trip, all other parts are a must. There are a ton of options out there, and if you spend some time shopping I know you'll find something that works and fits your budget. (If you can't, please contact me, I'm here to help)
Depending on the kind of riding you're doing, you'll find a variety of options out there (more for men than women, unfortunately). Everything from textile, ventilated pants for summer to fully waterproof, insulated pants for winter, to full leathers (1 piece, 2 piece, perforated, non perforated) to textile/leather hybrids for different temperatures. There is something for everyone.
Many gear options are also being made for the commuter in mind too. Not everything is for sportbike riders anymore. Now you can find everything from scooter friendly gear (articulated ideally for upright riding and a short reach) to commuter friendly options too, to dual sport/adventure riding gear. Companies such as Aether, REV'IT, Dainese, Roland Sands and Alpinestars are making really simple, casual friendly looking gear (for men too) that doesn't make you look like you just got off your scooter/motorcycle.
The other thing to consider about investing in gear is that the reason you're spending a significant amount of money is for safety/protection. Why is it easy to spend $200 on a new kitchen appliance, but it's impossible to consider spending more than that on your head, hands, chest, back, hips, knees, legs, ankles, feet? Why do we have absolutely no problem dropping money on a new stereo, ipod, iphone, laptop, tv, but we can't bring ourselves to spend on protective gear? They aren't just clothes. They offer real features that lower the risks of injury while riding your motorcycle. And did you know that your insurance company may reimburse you for any safety gear that is damaged in an accident? I know State Farm does, I've been with them for almost 20 years and they definitely do.
There is a happy medium. There are lots of options out there available on the market for riders, especially women riders. But finding it, making sense of it, figuring out what fits, what doesn't, and what works is another issue. That's why I'm here to help you make sense of it all and help you find what you're looking for.
So now that you've decided "YES, I'm going to invest in motorcycle gear!" I've got a few tips and information to help you navigate the world that is protective motorcycle apparel.
It's a completely different experience from shopping for casual clothes, so I've put together these Shopping Rules to help you understand how to determine proper fit when it comes to gear. It's a completely backwards experience, so be open and give it a chance.
Feel free to use my tips to share with your fellow riders. Or if you're a member of a riding group or club, it's a great piece of information to share at your next meeting/event.
Always judge proper fit on a motorcycle (or in riding position)
We're so used to standing in front of the mirror when we shop for our casual clothes, it's easy to forget this when you walk into a motorcycle dealership. There's so much to see, so much to touch and try on. It can be overwhelming. It's definitely important to see yourself in the mirror, or ask your shopping buddy what she thinks to make sure you like the gear you're trying on. But, that can't be the last step. You need to walk over to the nearest motorcycle or scooter, or, if you rode there, ask the apparel salesperson if you can step outside really quick and try it on your own.
This is especially important if you ride say, a sportbike and you're trying on a jacket that is more fitted for touring / commuting. You may find it too short in the arms, or not comfortable in sport riding position because the fit wasn't intended for your bike. The fit differences can vary greatly because of this. If you didn't ride there, then find the nearest bike that matches your riding profile. You may find that a jacket fits great on an upright, dual sport but fits horribly on a super sport. That may make or break your decision to buy that jacket, especially if you want one jacket to work on all your bikes (lucky you, if you have more than one!).
If it's too comfortable, it's probably too big
When I come home after a long day at work, I like to change out of my work/outside clothes, and change into something way more comfortable. I put on my fleece pants, walk over to my husband's closet, grab one of his tshirts and a sweatshirt (he's 6', 200lbs), walk over to the couch and start relaxing. There's absolutely no purpose to what I'm wearing except enjoying the couch. Ahhh.
The key word is too. We want comfort, but it's really easy to fall into the "just a little bigger" trap when we try on gear. It's such an opposite experience for many people. What? I need to wear these gloves THAT snug? Why does my helmet need to be so tight around the cheeks? Why does this jacket have to be this fitted around the torso? The reason is because you're about to ride a motorcycle, you need more than just a piece of cloth covering your body. You need arms that are fitted and have enough length from the shoulders to the wrists to allow for full reach. You need a fitted torso so that you're not cold when it starts getting windy and extra air isn't blowing around there. You need a pant leg that isn't so wide that your knee armor is swinging from side to side. You need gloves that aren't too big at the palms because you might get blisters after awhile from them.
The reason why there's body armor at the shoulders, elbows, hips and knees, is because those areas are where you're likely to impact first if you fall down. Sad, but true. You might fall off your motorcycles (most likely due to someone else's fault) and your gear is there to protect you. It needs to be right up against you body to fully do it's job. Armor is an extension of your own body, and it won't be if it's sliding around unsecured.
Fit, then budget
It's so important to ignore price tags while you're shopping at first. Let yourself enjoy, just in the beginning, the possibility that you can afford anything you want in the store. By ignoring price tags, you may miss out on something that fits you like a glove. Many times, a more expensive piece of gear may fit better than other less expensive options.
And finding that fit in the beginning is the most difficult part. But once you figure out what brands/styles/fits work best, it's a much easier process the next time you go shopping and you'll know exactly what to look for, or what brands to seek out.
If you find that you still can't afford the high priced item you've just fallen in love with, that company probably has more options in their catalog. Often times, a dealer can only afford to put out one or two options on their apparel floors, so it doesn't hurt to ask to see what else they have to offer that fits in your budget.
Try on everything until you find the right shape/fit
And with that fit, you must keep trying things on until you find the right shape for your body type.
Ladies, when we shop, we have so much more to think about than men do. Guys, you have it so easy! As women, we have something called Curves. Curvy hips, thighs, a bust and waists, to name a few. We have a few different shapes that we have to deal with including pears, apples, hourglasses and everything in between. Often times, are top halves are different sizes than our bottom halves. We need to find gear that fits every curve and then some.
The difference between many manufacturers is fit. Some have European cuts (long, lean, narrow), some have American cuts (generous, curvy, broad). And then some are in between, for the average shaped woman. Keep tryin things on until you get a sense of what companies make the best fit for your body type and shape. Unfortunately, you may find that the most expensive options fit the best (and not only in smaller, petite sizes, but plus sizes as well) but at least it will give you a frame of reference for what fits.
Gentlemen, although you don't have curves to deal with, you do have two shapes to deal with. Circles and squares, and sometimes rectangles. Many of you have long arms and long but narrow torsos. I recommend an American brand for circles and squares and European brands for rectangles. The narrower your torso, the more of a European fit you may need.
Rule # 5
Leather should start out snug so it can stretch and break in
If your new boots, gloves, jacket or pants are made of leather (manmade or natural), you'll need to let them in break in and stretch out. Up to 1/8" in some cases, depending on the brand. If you buy that new pair of gloves in the way in which it fits at the moment you're trying them on, they will likely loosen up and stretch out over time. Same with your jacket. After you've ridden a couple hundred miles, you'll notice everything fits a little wider, a little looser everywhere.
Thinking about the fit in that moment you're trying something on, ask yourself if you just need a teeny bit more room everywhere? If the answer is yes, then you've got the right size. Because after it stretches out, you'll have the perfect fit. There a few exceptions, in the case of gloves that have kangaroo palms, since kangaroo doesn't stretch very much. But your apparel salesperson should be able to tell you exactly what to expect from brand to brand.
Real Gear v. Fake Gear
Many of us ride motorcycles everyday, we're breaking stereotypes. We're not all bikers and we're not all racers. We're everything in between and more. We value ourselves so much that we're willing to invest some real money into our gear and wear it everytime we ride.
We want and need gear that protects and performs just as well as the men's, if not better! (We are the driving force of 99% of the households in America, aren't we?) When you start shopping, you're going to see so many options, many marketed specifically for women.
There's been a horrific trend of "marketing" products to us without anything in mind except how it looks. It's hard not to be drawn to something because of the way it appears. But, when we start shopping for gear, we must draw a line in the sand and realize that not everything is mean for riding and that Safety and Protection MUST be our first priority.
Real Gear has a few key qualities that makes it something for riding (and crashing) in. Let's be honest, we're buying gear in order to protect our bodies, in the case of an accident (which we can NEVER predict - e.g. Getting rear ended while stopped at a red light back in '09, or being cut off by a driver who turns left in front of us!). So let's try and prioritize ourselves for a change instead of putting our needs in the backseat above our friends/family.
So how do we define Real Gear?
Body armor is first and foremost. Typically you'll find elbow and shoulder armor in a jacket, modest hip foam and knee armor in pants, and some reinforcement on your boots (ankles, toes, heel cup, outside of the toes). If it has no pockets for removable armor, it might not be meant for riding in.
However, there are a few exceptions to the rule such as Vanson. Some of their jackets don't come with armor and it's up to you to pick out the right armor. I've only seen this happen in a couple of high end jacket such as Vanson and Dainese and sometimes it's model specific. If it's a textile jacket, what kind of abrasion resistant material is being used to help with heat resistance? (Hint: Polyester burns quickly. Try Cordura® or Ballistic Nylon). If it's leather, why is that leather jacket better than another one? Is there something unique about the way they've treated the leather to make it perform better under the stresses of heat and abrasion or impact?
Here in the US, you can make anything and call it motorcycle gear and then sell it. Who's to say what's really protective and what isn't? Unfortunately, that responsibility falls to the rider.
The easiest way to tell if something is designed and manufactured for riding is if it's more comfortable while riding. It sounds backwards, but ideally something will fit you better on the bike than off. That's fully zipped, buttoned and cinched. It should be awful standing up in front of the mirror and far more comfortable on the bike.
You'll find that the arms are a little longer so you can reach forward, it'll feel tight between your shoulders across your bust, there should be enough room across the back of your shoulders so it doesn't feel like you're pulling against the seams. The arms will have a precurved look to them, while on the hanger, pants might be higher in the back than in the front, and boots will kind of look like a ski boot, slightly bent forward with some accordion fold above the arch to accommodate your ankles bending forward.
Some gear is going to be more comfortable in one riding position than others, so don't be surprised if you find that it works on one style of bike (e.g. Dual Sport) and not another (Sport), since they can require slightly different types of articulation.
What kinds of things has the manufacturer added to make the jacket functional and make your ride more comfortable? Do they have you, the Rider in mind? Hopefully someone spent some time on the bike, actually riding in the gear to test out how it performs in real riding conditions.
One of my jackets has a zipper that zip opens from the bottom to the top so that the pocket doesn't open up easily while riding.
My boots have fully adjustable velcro panels at the calves, so I can make them more snug when I wear textile pants and then looser when I wear my leather pants (which taper at the ankle so I can wear them inside the boot).
Maybe your textile jacket has vents in key spots up the arms or across the chest to provide useful airflow. On a lot of women's jackets, you'll find adjustments on the sides of the waist and sometimes in the back.
If your jacket doesn't offer you anything to make your ride more comfortable and less distracting it might be time to reconsider what kind of gear you're wearing or that recent purchase at the mall.
No matter what you ride, gear is key. I hope you wear something that fits you, works for you and most importantly, protects you.