Every rider has different needs, a unique attitude and wants to express that when they ride. There is a wide array of gear and accessories available to help you ride comfortably, securely and in your own inimitable style. I’ve listed some of the basic categories here along with a list of some of the major manufacturers in each.
Gear For The Rider
You don’t just hop on your motorcycle and ride away. Well, maybe some riders do. We’ve all seen those guys in shorts, T-shirt and tennis shoes flying by on their crotch rockets, weaving in and out of traffic on the Interstate. But unless you’re one of those knuckleheads you probably have a little ritual you go through each time you’re going on a ride known as gearing up. Here’s my list of some of the top gear for riders, and, if you’re riding two up, passengers.
Most states have laws requiring you to wear a helmet while riding. If you live in a state without a helmet law, congratulations, your legislators think you’re intelligent and mature enough to make that decision on your own. So prove them right and wear a helmet, even if you don’t legally have to. Years ago comedian Jerry Seinfeld did a bit on helmet laws that’s still funny, and true, today. “The point of the helmet law is to protect a brain that is functioning so poorly, it’s not even trying to stop the cracking of the head that it’s in.”
There are four basic styles or types of helmets for street riding; the full face, modular or flip-up, open face or 3/4, and the half helmet or shorty. The first two cover your entire head. The modular type helmet allows you to flip up the front of the helmet, from the chin guard to the visor, allowing a rider to eat or drink without removing the helmet. The open face model lacks the chin protection of the full face, but covers the rest of the head. The half helmet covers the top of the head and maybe a little of the back of the head depending on the model.
Before deciding which style to buy you should be aware of a study areas of the head most often suffering impact in motorcycle accidents. Almost 35 percent of impact occurred in the chin area, making the chin the part of your head that is most likely to incur impact. There are only two types of helmet that afford any protection to that part of your head, the full face and modular. I don’t know about you, but I’m fond enough of my chin that the only type of helmet I wear is a full face model.
DOT Approval: All helmets sold in the U.S. for use on public roadways must meet Department of Transportation approval. Some helmet manufacturers also submit their helmets for testing by the Snell Memorial Foundation, which uses different testing methods. Don’t purchase a helmet unless it has a DOT sticker on it. If you can find a helmet with both DOT and Snell stickers it’s passed testing by both organizations.
Fit: No two heads are exactly alike, so it’s important to try on a helmet before buying it. It should be snug, but not tight. Cheek and brow pads should touch your face.
Comfort: Look for a helmet with adequate ventilation so you’ll keep cool in the summer. It’s best if the vents are adjustable, that way you can close some of them when riding in cooler weather.
Manufacturers: There are dozens of companies making helmets. Some specialize in certain styles and some are more expensive than others. Some of the more popular brands include Nolan, Fulmer, Arai, Bell, Shoei, HJC, Bell, Scorpion and Z1R.
Strap on your helmet, throw your leg over the saddle and you’re ready to ride. Almost. Since your bike doesn’t have the protective features of a car, which is basically a steel box on wheels, you need to wear your protection on your body. There are some basic pieces of apparel and each comes in a style to match every rider’s attitude.
Jackets: One of the first pieces of gear motorcyclists buy is a jacket. Jackets come in a variety of materials; textile like ballistic nylon, Cordura and Kevlar, denim, and classic leather. Many include body armor inserts in the back and arms for added protection. If you live in area with cooler autumns and frigid winters and you ride during more than two seasons you may need more than one jacket. Many jackets come with removable linings, but some of those are too heavy for hot summer days. Mesh jackets provide adequate protection while allowing for superior air flow.
Manufacturers: Some makers of motorcycle jackets specialize in certain materials, dayglo colors or styles. Among the best known manufacturers are TourMaster, Joe Rocket, Vanson Leathers, Teknic, British Motorcycle Gear, Dainese, Alpinestars and Rev’it.
Gloves: Motorcycle gloves provide protection for your hands against abrasion in event of a crash and from road debris and weather. For winter riding you can choose electrically heated gloves that plug into an accessory outlet on your bike or connect directly to the bike’s battery via a cable. Leather is a favored material, though for summertime riding a lighter textile will allow better airflow while still providing protection.
Manufacturers: Many of the companies that make motorcycle jackets also make gloves, like TourMaster, Dainese, Alpinestars, Joe Rocket and Rev’it. Gerbing specializes in heated gloves.
Boots: Your feet do a lot of the work when you’re riding; shifting gears, braking, holding you upright at a stop. Protect them. Sturdy, over-the-ankle boots are the preferred choice for riding. And boots made specifically for bikers offer several advantages. They usually have reinforced toes, which is vital not only for protecting your feet but for keeping that left boot from wearing from constant contact with the gear shift lever. Motorcycle boots usually provide extra support in the ankle and have soles that give you a solid grip on the pegs and the ground. The key to a good boot is comfort. You want something that not only protects your feet but that also provides proper support and feels good on and off the bike. The classic motorcycle boot is the leather engineer boot, but there is a wide range of styles available from dozens of manufacturers.
Manufacturers: You’ll see some names here that you’ve read in the other categories. Some boot makers made a wide variety of styles while others specialize in footwear for a certain type of riding. They include Sidi, Bilt, Icon, Shift, Diadora, Roadgear, TourMaster, Milwaukee Motorcycle Clothing Company, Alpinestars and Joe Rocket.
Rain Gear: If you ride long enough you’re going to get caught in the rain. A rain suit will enable you to ride in comfort when the going gets wet. Most rain gear is made from vinyl or PVC material and comes in bright colors with lots of reflective areas to make you more visible to other motorists in the low light conditions that so often accompany rainy weather. You can purchase one-piece pants and jacket outfits or separate jacket and pants that are color coordinated. Make sure any rain gear you buy will fit over your regular jacket and pants. Good rain pants will be expandable at the ankles to allow you put them on over your boots. Also consider waterproof boot covers to keep your feet dry.
Manufacturers: There are many companies that make motorcycle specific rain gear, including Belstaff, Dowco, Firstgear, TourMaster, Nelson-Rigg and Frog Toggs.
Gear For The Bike
You love your bike. But there may some things you’d like to change, improve or customize. There’s an almost limitless number of accessories and gear you can add to or swap out on your motorcycle. Here’s a starter list of categories you may want to consider for your ride.
Luggage: When I bought my first bike I picked up a helmet, jacket, gloves and boots at the same time. That pretty much depleted my discretionary funds for a time. And that was fine. I was still feeling my way, new to motorcycling and my trips were pretty short. As my confidence grew so did the distance I rode. Then I started using the bike as my daily commute vehicle and realized storage space on the motorcycle was extremely limited, as in zero. A motorcycle specific messenger bag I found online provided some immediate and relatively inexpensive relief. It had room for some files, lunch, a change of shoes and not much else, but that did the trick for awhile. When my wife asked me to pick up some groceries on the way home one day it was time to add saddlebags.
Unless you have a full dress touring bike you may find yourself in a similar situation. One of the first pieces of gear for the bike that many riders add is some kind of luggage. You can opt for saddlebags, which come in a variety of materials from leather to ballistic nylon and even hard shelled bags that can be color coordinated with your bike. If you go with soft bags you’ll need to install saddlebag supports to keep the bags from getting caught in the rear wheel. Be sure to check the specs of the bags you’re interested in to make sure they’ll fit on your bike. Some large bags may require you to relocate your tail lights.
Depending on the type of bike you have a tailbag is another option. I also ride with a tank bag. Mine is magnetic so it goes on and comes off the bike easily and is big enough to hold my phone, wallet, a few tools and most anything else I’d otherwise have to stuff into my pockets. Smaller still are handlebar bags. This type of bag will usually hold a small wrench or socket set.
Manufacturers: You can find motorcycle luggage from a number of companies, like Willie & Max, Saddlemen, River Road, Chase Harper, Givi, TourMaster, Icon and Cortech.
Seats and Backrests: The average motorcycle seat is made to fit the average butt. The problem with that is very few of us are exactly average. Spend a couple of hundred miles in the saddle your backside is likely to go numb. A custom seat can cure that, but it’s going to cost you. Seat pads will provide some relief at a much smaller price, but some of the higher end pads can still cost a couple of hundred dollars. Still, if you do a lot of long distance riding either alternative will be worth the cost. Rider and passenger backrests will also add to your comfort and provide support for your lower back, especially on longer rides. Your passenger will also feel a little more secure with a backrest. Many custom seats often backrests as an option but you can also get a backrest without replacing your seat.
Manufacturers: Most motorcycle manufacturers offer custom seats and backrests made for their own bikes. Some of the high end custom seat makers include Mustang, Corbin, Russel and Sargent. Seat pad makers include Butt Buffer, GelSeat, Alaska Leather and Air Hawk. Saddlemen, National Cycle, Jardine and Grasshopper Limited. If you go to the Grasshopper Limited website and look at their backrest for the Suzuki Boulevard M50 you’ll see a photo of my bike.
Electronics: For many of us part of the allure of riding is the solitude and the adventure of discovering new places and ways to get there. Occasionally though it’s nice to be able to communicate with your passenger or co-riders, listen to some tunes or know where you’re going, or where you are. For those times there are some electronic gadgets made especially for bikers. You can opt for a GPS system, intercom or audio system. Many of them can be attached easily to the handlebars. Some can be helmet mounted. With the advent of Bluetooth you can link your GPS to your intercom and cell phone and in some cases your MP3 player.
Manufacturers: Garmin and TomTom make GPS systems specifically manufactured to withstand the vibrations of being mounted on a motorcycle with controls that are easy to operate even while wearing gloves. Bluetooth motorcycle intercoms/communication systems are made by Cardo, Interphone, BikerCom and Sena. Jensen, J & M, and Cycle Sounds are among the companies that make motorcycle audio systems.
Maintenance Gear: Even if you’re not the type to wrench on your bike your bike to get it purring just so, there are some maintenance related items you’ll want to have. If your bike has a chain final drive then you need to lube it regularly. Most bikes come with a small tool kit, and for most of us that will be enough to keep everything tight or to make adjustments to mirrors and such. But if you do more than those basic tasks to your bike you may want to consider a tool kit that includes wrenches, sockets and screwdrivers. You should also have a decent tire gauge. Two items that will come in handy for making sure your bike is ready to ride at all times are a battery tender and a small electric air compressor so you can ensure proper tire inflation before every ride. And to keep your ride sparkling use motorcycle specific wash solution. For those times that you need to store the bike, or if you have to park it outside when rain or snow is forecast a good bike cover will keep it dry.
Manufacturers: Motorcycle tool makers include BikeMaster, Motion Pro and Cruz Tools. Dowco, CoverMax and Durashield all make covers for bikes. You can pick up a good battery tender and small electric air compressor at most bike shops, automotive stores and even some big box stores.
This should be enough to get you started on your gear and accessories shopping list. For additional information on items you may want to consider check out the “Budget For More Than The Motorcycle” section of the article 5 Things You Should Know Before You Ride and for cold weather gear read Riding A Motorcycle in Winter. A trip to your local dealership can also give you a chance to see and touch some of the gear listed here in person before you buy.