Before you hop onto your motorcycle, be sure you're dressed for a safe ride. Your clothing, shoes, and eyewear can protect you from flying debris, such as gravel kicked up by a truck ahead of you, and can prevent injury in case of a low-speed spill or a more serious crash. They also keep you comfortable, protect you from the elements and may even make you a safer driver.
Here are the must-haves when it comes to dressing for responsible motorcycle driving:
Always wear a U.S. Department of Transportation-certified helmet that's constructed from the most durable materials and provides air venting to keep you cool and reduce driver fatigue. Newer models of helmets also provide protection from ultraviolet rays and tinted visors for better visibility at sunrise and sunset, plus a wide range of peripheral vision. A good helmet is lightweight, which reduces neck strain, and should also cut down on road noise.
Protect yourself from wind chill while driving. Dr. Ray Ochs, director of training systems for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, says, "On a cold day (40 degrees F) riding at 60 mph, the temperature feels like 25 F, or just below freezing. Dress properly for the chill."
Consumer Reports' recent motorcycle study warns against wind chill temperatures, saying that while riding at only 30 mph, the same 40-degree temperature still reaches the freezing point. So choose your riding wardrobe for protection from chill, and also choose a vented motorcycle jacket that provides airflow and meshed material inside to cool you on very hot days.
A specifically designed motorcycle jacket is most preferable, and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends leather as the best protector against abrasion, should you take a fall. Tough materials such as denim and corduroy are also acceptable to prevent road rash from a tumble.
"Choose brightly colored clothing to make yourself more visible. If you wear dark clothing, consider adding reflective tape or a vest for evening riding," says Ochs. You can spare your leather jacket from the damage of reflective tape by applying it to your helmet or to the backs of your boots instead. Always be visible to other drivers.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation warns against wearing jeans or sweatpants, instead suggesting a thick material such as leather or specifically designed motorcycle-riding pants, some of which actually zip up with the riding jacket to provide more warmth.
Over-the-ankle boots provide extra protection for your ankles, and rubber-soled footwear guarantees top traction while riding and while stopped. Sneakers are not safe enough to wear while riding.
A quality pair of leather motorcycle-riding gloves offers not only a good grip on handlebars but also protection for your knuckles, fingers and hands against any flying rocks, gravel or debris kicked up by cars and trucks ahead of you on the road.
A full-face helmet with visor is Consumer Reports' top recommendation, protecting your eyes from flying insects and road debris. Or you can wear specified motorcycle goggles for full eye protection, and shatterproof motorcycle sunglasses are also a good choice. Be sure your eyewear is always clean and unscratched for unobstructed vision while riding.
Things get noisy when you're riding a motorcycle, and while today's high-tech helmets provide some protection against noise, it's also smart -- according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation -- to wear disposable foam earplugs while riding. These cut down on engine and wind noise but still allow you to hear other vehicles and sirens on the road.
Your state's motorcycle laws might specify which kinds of hearing protection methods are required and which are forbidden. Never wear iPod ear buds or other headphones while riding; loud music going directly into your ear can prevent you from hearing a siren approaching from behind or a vehicle attempting to pass you.
--Gear for Passengers
If you're taking a friend for a ride, pass along these must-have wardrobe requirements so that he or she can dress appropriately, and always stow an extra pair of riding gloves and ear plugs in your motorcycle storage bin.
Visit your local motorcycle supply store to stock up on the best brands of motorcycle clothing and accessories. Experts at the store can advise you on item features, and you may be able to try on those motorcycle pants and hop on an actual bike to test for comfort.