To improve motorcycle safety many countries mandate the wearing of protective clothing by motorcyclists, especially a helmet. Other protective gear may include certain types of jackets, gloves, boots, and pants. Jackets meant for motorcyclists are typically made of nylon, leather, or Kevlar. These jackets typically include heavy padding on the elbow, spine, and shoulder regions. Gloves are generally made of leather or Kevlar and some include carbon fiber knuckle protection. Boots, especially those for sport riding, include reinforcement and plastic caps on the ankle and toe areas. A well-protected motorcyclist will wear boots with heels that fit on motorcycle foot rests (pegs) and provide good ankle support. Pants are usually leather, nylon, or Kevlar. Except for helmets, none of these items are required by law in any state in the U.S. but are recommended by many of those who ride.
"Off road" riders wear a range of plastic armour to protect against injury from falling off, hitting other riders and bikes, debris kicked up from the rear wheel of leading bikes, and from running into track barriers protecting the public. This armour protects the extremities from breakage and dislocation and the back and chest from strain and broken bones. Although fairly efficient, it is of course not always completely effective. Many riders wear "roost protectors" designed specifically to protect against painful debris from other bikes, but are of no use in a fall or collision.
Originally, motorcycle leathers were adapted from tank corps gear immediately following World War I. Duster coats, which tended to catch in the wheels, were switched for short coats. Wide-pegged breeches were worn by some motorcycle police and by dispatch riders in World War II, but were largely abandoned in the post-war years because of their association with certain Nazi uniforms.
Currently there are two major styles of motorcycle leathers: the tight fitting and sometimes colorful one or two piece suits based on motorcycle racing leathers; and the somewhat looser fitting leather trousers and jackets, usually black and often decorated with metal studs and tassels. The latter style, the jackets in particular, are also worn by people who are fond of the style but do not ride motorcycles. The classic American Perfecto motorcycle jacket with epaulets and diagonal zipper, made famous by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, (1954) was invented in 1928 by Irving Schott, of Schott NYC in New York City. Leather chaps, adapted from cowboy gear, were used by American bikers starting in the early 1960s.
Many modern leathers have armour on the inside at major impact regions such as shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and back. The energy absorbers and load spreaders range from high density foam to foam backed hard polymers and carbon fibre. It is designed to spread the impact load and shear strains to prevent and reduce harm levels of injury and disablement. In Europe, by law, it has to have a CE mark. However, the present European performance level is considered by some to be very low. They argue that a much higher standard is required, because there are many superior materials and combinations available. There are also motorcycle jackets that use an airbag system, which deploys in the event of an accident, inflating to protect the riders neck, torso, and lower back.
Typically, an accident at a race track will result in the racers sliding, rolling and tumbling for comparatively long distances and long times compared to an accident on the public road. This is because of the large safety run-off areas found on most race tracks; hence racers have a much lower probability of hitting hard vertical solid objects during a crash. Some racing leathers have additional protection properties to increase sliding and decrease bouncing and rotation. Racers mostly hit horizontal surfaces experiencing large high speed shear strains which may cause ligament tears. To decrease or prevent such injuries, most modern racing suits have an area that helps sliding at the knees, shoulders and elbows – often made of titanium or high-density plastic, so the rider slides more along the track environment and so decreases the bouncing and rotation through the air, which may cause worse injuries from angular accelerations and rotational forces.
Increasingly, motorcyclists are choosing protective equipment constructed of man-made textiles rather than leather due to their improved weather protection, from heat, cold and water, and the increased utility these garments tend to provide in terms of pockets and vents. Common materials include high density (600–1000 Denier) ballistic nylon (e.g., Cordura) and Kevlar (or blends of Kevlar, Cordura, and Lycra) and often include waterproof liners made from materials such as Goretex. These artificial fabrics are said by some motorcyclists to be more comfortable, particularly in warm weather. The textile garments typically take less time to dry out, whereas leather gear may remain wet (and cold) for some time. However, some textile fabrics offer less abrasion protection than leather gear.
|Denier Measurement||Material||Pounds of Force Until Tear||Abrasion Cycles Until Failure|
|"Safe-Seam" Leather||80 - 100||1200 - 1700|
|Air Mesh Kevlar||1260||970|
|Stretch Kevlar Blend||420||1800|
Textile protective clothing is also nearly always worn over ordinary clothing, whereas leather suits — particularly those manufactured for racing — are not. In addition, synthetic fabrics generally provide better protection from inclement weather. For these reasons, synthetics are often practical for commuters and can help make motorcycles an attractive alternative to four wheeled vehicles.
Not all textile clothing is made from synthetic materials. Heavy weight waxed cotton was used for many years before the development of modern materials, typified by the jackets made by companies such as Belstaff.
Performance claims range for textile motorcycle clothing from somewhat less to somewhat better than competition grade leathers. Key elements of performance include:
Additional protection may be provided by armour (CE approved is desirable) and airbag systems.
As with other protective gear, having light colored clothing improves your conspicuity (visibility to other people using the road).
Boots are worn by motorcycle riders and passengers to prevent or reduce harm to their feet and ankles while riding and in the event of a crash. Tough, strong, moderately flexible boots with stiff soles provide the rider protection from a number of risks. Boots with oil-resistant, rubber-based composite soles give a grip on the pavement and help keep the rider's feet on the pegs. If the boots have heels, they should be low and wide to provide a stable base when standing with the bike. In a crash, boots may prevent or reduce foot and ankle injuries. As with jackets and trousers, boots should be designed specifically for motorcycling, using materials and seam construction that are impact, abrasion, cut, tear and burst resistant. Strong, tough, and flexible leather or synthetic fabrics have suitable properties. Boots should also have energy absorbers and load spreaders on the shin, inside and outside of each ankle. A stiff sole working laterally helps prevent or decrease crash injuries caused by crushing and shear strain.
A motorcycle helmet is protective headgear used by motorcycle riders. The primary goal of a motorcycle helmet is to protect the rider's head during impact, although many helmets provide additional protection such as a face shield. In some countries the wearing of motorcycle helmets is mandatory.
Helmets are made in 2 main layers: hard and energy-absorbing. The hard shell spreads an impact over a larger area, while the liner (often polystyrene foam) absorbs energy so less is transferred to the skull & brain.
There are 2 main styles: open-face and full-face. An open-face helmet will protect everything but the face. Full-face helmets protect the skull, plus providing protection for the lower jaw as well as the face itself. Full-face helmets offer much more protection than open-face helmets.
Several manufacturers have introduced full-face helmets with a flip-up front, combining the protection of a full-face with the ease of communication and donning / doffing that an open-face gives.
Studies have consistently shown that wearing a helmet:
As with other protective gear, a light colored helmet improves the user's visibility.
Motorcycling gloves are typically gloves made of leather. They may have gauntlets to protect the rider's wrists from injury, and help reduce drafts while riding in colder climates. Motorcycling gloves typically have reinforced palms intended to protect the rider from abrasion injuries in case of an accident.
Optional features include additional protection or weatherproofing. For touring gloves, such additional features may include advanced insulating materials and waterproof/breathable fabric, although touring gloves may still lack advanced armouring features used in motorcycle racing gloves.
Gloves intended for motorcycle racing typically incorporate precurved finger sections and the best available protection, obtained through additional armour incorporated within the glove. Although maximum tacility is an obvious starting point for racing gloves, additional protection should not be discarded. Additional protection may involve titanium or carbon panels for knuckles and the joints of the fingers. Furthermore, racing gloves may and often do incorporate additional wrist and other protection panels to protect the heel of the hand, back of the hand and other easily injured parts of the hand.