It starts with your feet. When you first sit on a motorcycle, what's the first thing that touches the ground? This simple action sends a strong message from the bottom of your feet to your brain telling you either "Oh X@#%^!" or "Oh Yes!!!"
Before I dive in, I also want to mention how the right boots have helped me ride much taller bikes. Click here to read my article about Motorcycles for Short Riders. :-)
Maybe you're a new rider, or maybe you've been struggling on a bike that you know you can ride/manage but could use a little extra help. There are two key features that a pair of protective motorcycle boots can give you over your favorite pair of casual boots:
Armor, Reinforced soles providing shock absorption and impact protection, reinforced in key impact points: ankles, toes, heelcup, shin, sometimes torsion (no ankle twisting) control.
There are 2 key differences in the way that a protective boot is designed that differentiates them from any casual/street boot:
- Staying on your feet. You'll find that most riding boots have a zipper/velcro system to keep the boot from coming off your foot, no matter what happens. And you'll notice that this system is often on the side of the boot, not on the top like a casual shoe. Velcro and zippers are a girl's best friend. Have you ever driven by an accident scene and see shoes lying on the road, nowhere near the feet they came from? There are certainly many factors involved in an accident, and it's not always the case that your shoes will fall off if something happens. But, that's just one of the risks we take as riders.
- Keep (parts of or all of ) your foot from being crushed. We don't have to be doing very much for a 400lb bike to sprain, fracture or break your ankle. Just imagine backing your motorcycle out of the driveway, with slippery pavement or oil and losing your footing and dropping the bike just while moving it? What is there to protect your ankle bone from being crushed by the weight of the motorcycle? Now add a little velocity and force to that in the form of riding anywhere from 5mph-50mph and see what happens.
The traction you can gain within the ball of your foot can be more than what you'll get in the entire sole of a casual shoe. You've also probably been told that you "must" flat foot with both feet on your motorcycle. Well, I don't know who wrote that rule but I've never flat footed any motorcycle or scooter I've ever ridden. However, that's not to say that you should be attempting to ride something beyond your experience level. But, it is possible and it can be done, if you go about it the right way.
For me, that was starting on a 50cc scooter that only weighed ~200lbs and then a motorcycle that weighed 325lbs, and then another motorcycle that weighed 450lbs (very top heavy too) and finally back down to a gentler 438lb beast with a much lower center of gravity ('03 Suzuki SV650S. *swoon*). I never flat footed both feet on any of these bikes and I couldn't have ridden any of them without wearing a great pair of boots to offer me the added traction.
I never imagined that real riding boots would help me ride better and more often.
What can a protective boot offer you in addition to protection?
- GORE-TEX membrane to provide breathability, waterproofing andinsulation. There's something amazing about the way GT can insulate when it's cold and allow just enough breathability when it's hot. I've worn my Daytonas between 35 and 100 degrees fahrenheit (no humidity). Of course, I'm also wearing smart wool socks in the winter and moisture wicking socks in the summer to help manage the temperature of my feet (cotton doesn't cut it).
- Adjustable Fit; Some boots have larger calves to accommodate pants and different leg shapes. Or, we might have leather pants that are tapered for tucking into boots.
- Zippers and Velcro; are one of the best manmade inventions, ever! Besides making it really easy to get your boots on and off, and at the same time they're going to provide a very secure fit. You'll also find some boots have a velcro zipper pull that attaches to the top of the boot where a velcro flap secures around your calf. You might also see a velcro flap over the zipper so the zipper cant become undone on its own in the event of an accident. Generally, you're going to see laces on more casual looking motorcycle shoes/boots that are fine for local/city riding, but not the best option for freeway/weekend riding speeds.
- Height; How about an extra inch or two of vertical height? Yes, they can offer a little more height depending on the brand.
So how should your riding boots fit? Well, they should fit snug, just like everything else. One thing to be remember is that most likely, your boots are going to be made of some sort of animal hide, most commonly cow. Cow hide stretches out after you break them in, so initially you want to find a boot with a snug fit so that when they do break in, they will fit just right. Never buy boots the way they feel in the store, but how they will feel 2-3 weeks / 100-200 miles from now.
Keep in mind that your boots should be so snug around the ankles that it keeps your foot from sliding back and forth. If you have narrow ankles but are trying on a boot with a larger ankle space, then it'll never be fully secure. Different boots have different fitment profiles (e.g. Sidi/wide, Dainese/narrow, Alpinestars/wide footbed, narrower ankle) and it's important to find the right for your body type (just like the rest of your body).
On the Bike
- Your foot position is going to change while on the pegs, off the pegs, breaking and shifting. See how your foot feels while doing all these things.
- If you can feel your foot moving sideways or back and forth inside the boot, consider going down a size.
- It's normal for your heel to move around a little bit, because you need a little bit of wiggle room there when you move your foot from the pavement to the pegs.
Off the Bike
- Take a step and then see if the boot is wrinkling too much above the toes, similar to when you try on a pair of shoes that are one size too big.
- If that looks fine, make sure that you can't move your foot side to side. They shouldn't be squeezing your foot but just know that they will stretch out in WIDTH and never in length.
- You should also notice that when you walk normally, your feet don't move around from front to back like they might in a normal shoe.
Choosing a boot also depends greatly on what kind of "foot fit" you have. Something people forget is that boots, just like helmets/jackets/gloves/pants also fit differently based on brand. Here's my quick breakdown:
- Dainese/ great for skinny ankles/calves and low arches/insteps and flat feet. It's a narrower shoe which hugs your foot/ankle/heel all over. They're most comfortable boots are the TRQ TourGTX, Nighthawk, Fulcrum and Long Range WP because they have Skywalk soles made for walking! And btw, the TRQ Tour are the most protective street boots because they offer full torsion (no ankle twisting) control. No other touring boot offers this.
- TCX and Sidi/ Fit profile is WIDE and large in the ankle/heels/calves/instep. If you need a phatter boot, you want one of these brands.
- Alpinestars/ Fit profile is in between Dainese and TCX/Sidi in my mind. I feel like they give you a wider toebox but a more fitted ankle/heel space and not as roomy as Sidis in the ankles/heels.
Overall any "shoe" style will fit looser, like a casual shoe. Anything that's barely above your ankle likely won't have adjustability in the ankles/calves so if you have skinny ankles they'll swim on you. My advice if you have wide feet but skinny legs/heels to choose dainese and size yourself up a size so they'll be wide enough.
American brands like Icon/Firstgear/Cortech/etc they will mostly have wider fit profiles everywhere and be looser overall. So I would avoid them if you have slender/narrow feet or want a snugger fit around the ankles/legs.
There are also fit variations depending on lifestyle: race v. dual sport v. offroad v. touring function. Check out this article I wrote for WomenADV Magazine on those options: