Are you thinking of starting out on two wheels? Want to learn to ride a motorbike, but unsure of all the gear that is needed? Daunted by the amount (and cost) of protective clothing required? Then look no further, in this article I’m going to go through all that is required and what is recommended to get you started.
Let’s not beat about the bush, there is a lot of up front clothing to buy before going out on a motorcycle. Although only a helmet is actually required by law (in the UK), it is recommended you do wear suitable protective clothing too; gloves, boots as bare minimum; strong jacket and trousers should then be next on the list.
Many training schools do provide a helmet and gloves for your CBT, so you need not go shopping immediately before starting out. Strong walking boots, tough jeans and jacket will suffice for your first day. Afterwards, if the motorcycling bug does get you, start to look at purchasing you own gear.
At the very least, you should plan on purchasing the following.
Your helmet should adhere to the BS 6658:1985 standard and carry a kite mark. The more you spend, the more it may exceed this standard and give better comfort, sound proofing, ventilation etc. However the most important thing is the helmet should fit you well and be snug. For your first helmet, do visit a motorcycle shop and get an assistant to try them on you and check sizes. Invariably you need a snugger size than you first think.
Essential: wind chill will numb your fingers in minutes on all but the hottest of days. Fall off and everyone instinctively puts their hands out to break their fall. Hand gliding on tarmac is not fun. Don’t get hung up on knuckle protection, this is aimed at those leaning hard with knee down, hand inches from road and getting stones flying up. For real world riding, palm protection is more useful.
Summer gloves are thinner, cooler and generally cheaper. Look for water proof textiles like Gore-tex, however leather gloves can be waterproofed yourself using Nikwax kits and the like. If you want to ride through the winter, all year round gloves won’t cut it, budget on spending around £100 on a decent padded pair or even going for heated gloves. Silk liner gloves are a good cheap option to help keep fingers warm too.
Starting out, a strong pair of hiking or work boots, even Doc Martins can suffice. Watch out for loose laces that can get caught in chain though! Also bear in mind you’ll wear the soles out quickly and rub through the top toe of the left foot from gear changing. Do avoid steel toe caps, if a heavy vehicles goes over your toes it will squash the steel trapping or cutting your toes. You may also find gear changing more difficult with steel toes caps.
Proper motorcycle boots often feature more protection, be harder wearing and have better buckles and fastening. Again look for waterproof materials like Goretex, and leather boots can be waterproofed with Nikwax. If you plan to commute to work, you should be able to find some discreet boots that look smart enough to wear at the office under your work trousers.
Jacket & Trousers
The big question here is whether to go for leather or textile. Leather invariable offer more hard wearing protection, but textiles can be more waterproof, warmer and sometimes cheaper. Look for shoulder, elbow, knee and back protection built in (sometimes these are optional additions to slot in). However these are only good if the fit is good and they don’t move about. Goretex can provide great waterproofing, but doesn’t come cheap. Features to look for are:-
- Thermal liners that can be removed for summer.
- Handy pockets (or lack of).
- Zip open vents.
- Reflective panels to help you get seen on the road.
- Matching waist zips for joining jacket and trousers together.
Some people favour race style leather, but bear in mind these are cut for the race posture. No good if you’re on a sit back cruiser style bike or want to wear them while you chill out for (soft) drink. Biker clothing need not be multi-colour leather either, Kevlar jeans are a great casual look but still afford plenty of protection and Barbour’s latest biker jackets are smart and wouldn’t attract attention at a posh restaurant.
After that you should consider the following, to prepare yourself for less pleasant weather conditions:
Waterproof over trousers/suit.
If you didn’t opt for water proof textile jacket and trousers, consider a simply water proof over suit or trousers. I have a basic £20 pair of Hein Gericke over trousers and keep at the bottom of my bag, handy for when the weather turns wet. Cheap and effective. As my leather trouser are tight fit, these waterproofs go over my boots and stop rain running down my leg and into my boots.
Thermal base layers
If you plan to ride in the cold weather, then you should factor in some thermals. If it is below 10C and you’re on the bike for more than 30 mins, then I would wear thermals. Once your body gets cold, riding is no longer fun, your concentration drops and inevitable you make potentially dangerous mistakes. Simple leggings, long sleeve vests and thick socks from the super market are fine, you just need something warm and thin.
The neck is often left exposed to the wind and outside of summer, a neck gaiter is essential. Basically a tube of fabric to go around your neck, they come in many sizes and materials to cater for all kinds of weather conditions; from small thin cotton ones for summer, to huge, fleece ones that are more like balaclavas that cover head and shoulders. No need to spend a fortune, these are found on the front of magazines or super cheap on ebay.
The Pinlock visor insert, although not essential, is one of those items that once you’ve tried it you’ll never go without again. It slots on the inside of your helmet visor providing a kind of double glazing, that prevents misting up. Once you’ve ridden around in the rain or on a cold day you’ll realise why this is such a boon. No longer do you have to keep your visor open and get a cold and wet face.
Wind noise can be a big issue, unless you’ve got a very expensive helmet. At 70mph, 100dB is easily achieved and can cause permanent hearing damage after just an hour or two. So do yourself a favour and pick up some ear plugs to help protect your hearing. Even some cheap disposable ones are better than nowt.
Go Second Hand
The initial outlay for gear when starting can be very expensive and off putting, however this need not be a reason to sacrifice safety. A lot of biking gear can be picked up second hand very cheaply. Be it from bikers giving up the hobby, upgrading themselves, outgrown or swapping clothes to match their new bike! Biking clothing, by its very nature is hard wearing, so can can last many years.
Check out ebay and classifieds on biker forums, you never know what you can pick up cheap. One word of caution, don’t buy a helmet second hand without knowing its history. Once a helmet has had a knock the protective foam inside may have cracked or be weakened, thus offering little or no protection in a crash.