How to adapt motorcycle gear to protect you in a riot

Dailies, How To -



This picture comes from Athens, where continued economic protests erupted into violent rioting this week. News outlets peg the numbers of people involved between 50,000 and 100,000 and there’s reports of deaths, injuries and many arrests. 2011 has been a year marked by protests and rioting from Egypt to Syria to the revolution in Libya and now even the so-far-peaceful Occupy protests in US cities. As demonstrated in this picture, mass protests can turn violent unexpectedly, but you might already have the gear to protect yourself in them waiting in your closet. Your motorcycle closet.

Modern motorcycle safety gear is pretty amazing stuff. While it won’t protect you from a bullet, it will protect you from some serious, serious impacts. This video comes from the MotoGP race at Mugello in 2004 where Kawasaki rider Shinya Nakano’s rear tire delaminated at 205mph, causing a huge crash. Nakano walked away with only a concussion.

Ever gotten into a fight while wearing motorcycle armor? It’s a pretty empowering feeling. Someone hits you and it doesn’t hurt. Ever punched someone while wearing hard-knuckle motorcycle gloves? It hurts, not you. Sorry, Sam. The same equipment that’s made to protect GP racers from 200mph+ impacts can be adapted to protect you from any other sort of impact. Like this baton to the head for example. Bet this guy wishes he’d worn a visor.

Non-peaceful protests in the first world don’t often tend to result in actual shooting. More often the violence is physical and impact in nature. Motorcycle gear can’t help you with tear gas or fire hoses, but it can provide some protection against batons, bricks, baseball bats, fists, hooves, shields and low-velocity projectiles like beanbags and rubber bullets.

Head, Face, Ears and Eyes

The most vulnerable area of your body is also one of the easiest to protect. Modern helmets are incredibly safe, very well ventilated and offer excellent vision. Look for one with ECE 22.05 rather than Snell certification. Not only will it be lighter and therefore reduce fatigue and make it easier perform physical activity in, but the impact-absorption material is softer, making it better suited to ameliorating the impact of a riot baton or baseball bat.

We’d suggest going for a full-face or 3/4 helmet. Novelty lids of the kind worn by cruiser riders may not cover your ears and often have weak chin straps. It only requires 12lbs of force to tear off a human ear, so you definitely want those covered and a poorly-retained helmet can cause neck injury if it shifts and pull during an impact or fall.

The Fulmer V2 is an excellent, DOT-approved, affordable 3/4 helmet.

A 3/4 helmet may initially give you a better feeling of sensory perception through eyes and ears, but this is a bit of an illusion. Goggles are more restrictive of peripheral vision than most full-face helmets are, the minimum standard for visor appertures exceeds a human’s useful field of side-to-side vision. Getting whacked in the face with a baton or bat, without the protection of a chin bar is going to suck, too.

To pass minimum Snell standards, for instance, a visor must withstand being shot with a lead pellet travelling at 311mph in three separate places without being penetrated or shattering.

The problem with full-faces is that the visors can fog up at low speeds and if you’re breathing heavy. If you’re on foot, that’s low speed. If you plan to use a full-face with visor, we suggest fitting it with a popular, low-cost anti-fog insert such as FogCity or Pinlock, which, in our experience, are completely effective at preventing fogging.

Another biker trick can be adapted to boost your senses in a crowded, noisy situation. Contrary to popular belief, ear plugs don’t so much as turn down the volume as turn down the noise, leaving room for signal. It’s actually easier to hear what’s going on around you in a noisy environment if the overall level of that noise is reduced to something manageable.

It’s also worth noting that helmets act like the crumple zones in cars, destroying themselves to absorb the energy of impacts before it reaches your head. If you get whacked on your helmet with a baseball bat, it’s probably a good idea to get a new one before your next track day.

Another, oft overlooked, application for a helmet is as a melee weapon. Fasten the chin strap and hold the helmet by it and you’ll have a heavy, blunt object with which to bludgeon enemies of the people.


A variety of protection exists for motorcyclist’s necks, but most of it is designed to prevent extreme hyperflexion, hyperextension or crushing forces while providing very little impact protection for the neck itself. In a riot, you’re much less likely to experience forces as high as those that come into play during a motorcycle crash, so you’re really looking for coverage, not something to prevent your head from getting shoved down between your shoulders.

Fortunately, the cheapest form of neck protection is the most applicable here. The humble neck roll, commonly available for less than $40, will fill up the area between shoulder and helmet, protecting against baton and bat impacts there while also providing some cushioning of extreme head movements.

Shoulders and Arms

Photo: David Rinella for GQ

The pointy bits of your body are most prone to impacts and injury in a fall. Not only are they at the extreme edges of your body, but they’re not typically cushioned by fat or muscle. You also need them to work if you want to defend yourself or run away.

Luckily, protection for these areas and more is incorporated into virtually every motorcycle jacket. That protection is designed to be used by athletes performing professional sports, so it’s flexible, light and very effective. Elbow someone in the face while wearing armor and you’ll agree.

You want it to fit snugly without preventing the full range of movement and you want the armor to fall in the right places so it fully covers your elbows and shoulders.

As a bonus, many common leather and textile bike jackets are low key enough to wear on the street without drawing unwanted attention. That means you can take advantage of the protection they offer without standing out as someone ready to charge a sheild wall.

Back and Chest

This Dainese Wave Pro MX harness provides all the torso and neck protection an actor in a bad SciFi movie could ever want.

Real back and chest protection is less common than elbow and shoulder armor, with chest protection being a fairly recent innovation. The benefits of both are obvious: Your spine is a vulnerable thing and it sucks if you damage it. The vital organs in your chest — stuff like your heart — keeps you alive. Protecting both is a good idea.

Back and chest protectors come in a variety of forms and, depending on their design, can be worn independently, incorporated into a jacket or included in an MX-style torso rig.

Look for a “CE” certification. Unlike elbow and shoulder protectors, gear makers tend to incorporate as standard only cheesy foam protectors that don’t do much. You want a hard plastic shell with some sort of impact absorbing substance behind it. The hard shell spread outs impact force and protects against penetration, the cushioning material, well, cushions. Choose protectors that work with the rest of the protection you’re wearing and if you have to choose just one, go for the back protector first.

Coccyx and Hip

Ever heard of someone falling down and injuring their tailbone? It happens, even to people just going about day-to-day, humdrum activities. It’s also apparently a bitch to heal and very painful. Many compression shorts designed for dirt bike riding provide impact protection for the coccyx, pelvis and hip, as well as the front of the thighs.

Those areas of protection are also shared by gear designed for football players, baseball catchers and riot cops, they’re just common impact areas, especially as a leg thrust forward provides a convenient “catch” for a down-sweeping weapon.

Designed for action sports, these compression shorts don’t restrict movement and ventilate very well. Just don’t try to wear them under skinny jeans.

Knee and Shins

Like neck, this is an area where some of the fancier motorcycle protection likely isn’t applicable. We ride dirt bikes in fancy knee braces that restrict front-to-rear, twisting and side-to-side movement in order to prevent our knees from getting blown out in a high speed crash. These braces restrict movement, making walking or running difficult. You really want to retain the ability to run away if you’re preparing for a riot.

Cheap impact protection designed for off-road and on-road applications is available. Icon’s Field Armor range is a great example and is designed to strap over jeans. Other, slimmer, protectors come incorporated in motorcycle-specific trousers or can be sewn into regular jeans. As a bonus, knee protection makes kneeling on pavement pretty comfortable. If you get arrested at a protest or riot, you’ll likely end up kneeling for a while.

Feet and Ankles

Another area where fancy bike stuff isn’t totally applicable, but where lessons can still be learned from bikes. If you need a secure footing and plan strenuous activities, then you want a solid boot with an 8-inch height. Look for oil-resistant, highly textured soles to prevent slipping; that heigh supports your ankle, protection it from sprains and twists. Safety toes and instep protection also help reduce impact energy and crushing forces, as do steel shanks in the sole and inserts created specifically for that purpose.

Shop at a surplus store and you can often find all of these features at very affordable prices. Don’t order online unless you’re already familiar with the product, fit is crucial.


This is one of the best examples of motorcycle safety being applicable to personal protection in a riot. Hands are incredibly vulnerable in motorcycle accidents, yet gloves need to retain the subtle feel we need to operate a fast motorcycle at its limits, so gloves have evolved to the point where they offer massive protection, but are easy and comfortable to wear.

With motorcycle-specific gloves, not only are you getting materials, quality and construction that can resist heavy abrasion, but there’s typically massive impact protection on the knuckles too, while the backs of the fingers and hand are often lined in a tight Kevlar weave designed to resist abrasion and cutting.

We like the Icon Pursuit gloves for stealthy urban activities. They’re really tough, the perforated leather breathes well and it doesn’t look like you’re wearing brass knuckles.


Those helmets aren’t much protection against Molotov cocktails.

Rolling into Wall Street wearing a helmet, MX torso rig, neck roll and combat boots will probably get you arrested. Hell, in most parts of America, wearing the above while walking down the street will get you arrested. But, you could get way with a leather jacket, tough jeans, gloves and some boots, right? There’s also the fact that bike gear, no matter how good, doesn’t make you invulnerable. If it’s used correctly, it can reduce the force of impacts and abrasion, that’s all. The idea here is more to learn about the ways in which motorcyclists protect themselves, then adopt some of those lessons to potential violence on the street. If the sheer amount of large, frequently violent protests that have taken place this year and their geographical scope is anything to go by, then this is something that more and more people may want to learn.

Thanks for the idea, Nick.

Athens rioting images via ZeroHedge.

  • FZR 1000 Alex

    Shh now the secret is out there and tough guy cagers are more likely to back down after getting out of their car to confront the biker they just cut off.

  • Kirill

    I enjoyed this article way too much. BTW, its sheer, not shear (last sentence)

  • Edward

    Do people here like ZeroHedge? I enjoy it, and think they provide a valuable source of deeper financial news, but if there isn’t any news (especially bad news) they tend to just have annoying doom predictions.


    • Rydre

      You’re dead on.

      I will say that you have to go onto that site knowing they’re biased towards the apocalypse – not to say they’re wrong, but that they will post some misleading charts/numbers.

      Still, I end up being there as much as here.

    • Gregory

      I’ll add it to my daily reading list. Thank you for the suggestion.

  • Paul DiGi

    Every time I suite up and look at my carbon fiber knuckles my desire to fight doubles. Good article Wes. Also I love all the pictures of fire, violence, weapons, then you putting along on that BMW.

    • JRl

      The same thing used to happen to me when I used to drive my beat up Land Rover Discovery…it always made me want to run into other cars!

    • The other Joe

      Putting? That’s a 6 cylinder 1600cc bike! Don’t let the seating position fool you.

  • Paul DiGi (It’s okay, I’m in a boy band.)

    Oh and I updated my username for easy recognition.

    • Wes Siler

      You go girl.

  • Brian

    Great article. My black-belt girlfriend likes to beat on me when I’m wearing my motorcycle jacket. And I’m a skinny dude.

  • $Lindz$

    It’s funny you mention the Dainese armor as bad sci-fi costuming…

    It’s been brought to my attention that a little bit of bondo and an airbrush has turned said armor into military gear for “Terra Nova” on TV.

    That’s a Jacket Wave V with the forearms cut off and the Devil logo bondo’d over and then airbrushed “weathered military olive drab look”.


    • Wes Siler

      Yeah, you see that soooo often. Makes you wonder why Dainese doesn’t cough up a little cash or free products to keep that logo in…

      • Edward

        The majority of people who watch the show wouldn’t know what they were seeing, I would guess.

    • Ben Incarnate

      Same thing has gone on for many years with with paintball equipment like masks and such.

  • stefano

    So i was down at the OWS to-do the other day when things were getting testy with the NYPD. it suddenly occurs to me that the cops are seriously eyeing me over though i’m really not doing anything. and that’s when i look down and realize that in A-Stars leather jacket with full shoulder/elbow/chest/back protection, motogloves and a fullface black helmet in hand – i am seriously fucking prepared for battle.

    and then shortly after i remembered that i was going to meet friends at a bar so i rode home sans altercation. Im sure you guys would have gotten a kick out of seeing a dude in full gear getting arrested on the news though

  • Gregory


    My mother loved this. She just agreed to buy me a new full-face for Christmas.

  • CG

    None of it will stop a bullet, so mind who you are protesting against. I.e. not the Chinese or Syrian military unless you are feeling REALLY martyrific that day. I think it was Paul Johnson, the great historian, who noted that Ghandi was lucky to be protesting against the British, as opposed, to, say, Stalin. Hard to know how many Ghandi’s perished in the Gulag. But, on the lighter note, many motorcycle boots are crap for running, and, frankly, a lot of motorcycle gear is kind of heavy and stiff, so swinging back could be a trick…

  • DavidMG

    LOL, this is so wrong.

    Funnily enough, I was just on the phone an hour ago talking to someone that just came back from Athens and was telling me about the riots.

    • Edward

      Do Tell. What was the report from someone there?

  • karinajean

    “There’s also the fact that bike gear, no matter how good, doesn’t make you invulnerable.”

    it might make you invisible, though – I’ve been wondering if THAT is the problem with cars not seeing me. invisibility might be the edge that protesters need in a riot situation!

    • The other Joe

      Hey, you could be on to something here. Imagine the possibilities for that. Spec ops in leathers, super badass AND invisible to the enemy.

  • Chris Davis

    You might want to point out that Kevlar (while marketed to us for it’s abrasion resistance) is also fireproof, so put on your Kevlar-backed pants at the next Molotov cocktail party. You won’t be able to walk through waist-high fire without a singe to your manly bits, but it should do a fair bit to protect your knees and sphincter. Added bonus: Kevlar shrinks when exposed to flame so it’s a great (if risky) way to turn your baggy Icons into skinny jeans.

  • super20

    I used to work in the middle of a dangerous neighborhood in N. Philly, and travelled through an even worse section to get home. My DRZ400 was a prime target for theft, once while I was on it. I rolled up to a stop sign and a guy stepped off the curb with a huge smile on his face and reached for the throttle. I hit him flush on the cheekbone with a kevlar knuckled race gloved right hand as he leaned in to try and muscle me off the bike, and whatta ya know, he let go of the bike.
    Got hit flush in the back with a hunk of brick another time, tossed by a teenager. Roadcrafter and back protector saved the day. I don’t think he expected me to shrug off the hit, turn the bike around, hop the curb, and chase him down the sidewalk. There was a cop sitting in his squad car on the next corner, so I turned over the little juvie to him. Turns out he recognized me since he was the one that caught a guy stealing my bike out of the parking lot at work a few weeks before.
    Funny thing is, no one ever bothered me when I was riding the Buell.

    • Kirill

      More proof that nobody cares about Buells

  • live2fly

    You forgot to mention that motorcycle gear would be equally appropriate for a zombie apocalypse…

    • The other Joe

      Protect your brains!

  • pplassm

    Having been in a fight against un-armored humans, I can attest to the effectiveness of motorcycle protective gear, particularly the helmet. Those guys lost.

    • The other Joe

      Did you use Trinity’s front flip move from Matrix Reloaded? Works every time!

  • Tony T.

    I crashed in the Pursuit gloves yesterday and they held up to a low-speed getoff just fine. Weren’t even scuffed. They aren’t ideal if you’re rioting in under-45F conditions, though.

  • John

    I;m super late to the party,,but it reminds me of this

  • John

    Also keep in mind that a really great punch from a big enough person or a hit with a bat is not the same as falling off a bike & hitting your head on the ground.

    A hit to the head by a punch or a bat can reach as high as 500 ft-lb. The average helmet is safety rated to only about 221 ft-lb. You’re definitely much better off wearing the helmet, but You’re still going to get well knocked on your ass…

  • Ratlanta

    I always wonder why this logic is never applied in zombie movies. Preparation for a trackday = preparation for the zombie apocalypse. If the kevlar stitching is really strong it can help keep your limbs from being pulled off by the dreadfuls.

    Wes, how well would your fancy Icon suit work in the zombie apocalypse?

    • The other Joe

      Sounds like a job for Mythbusters!

      • Sean Smith

        They’d probably just make up some pseudo science and say that cars are better ;)

  • Гена

    I see no protection for the most important guy parts.

    • Ratlanta

      Wear a cup.

  • sanjuro

    Wearing a full-face helmet in a fight is a bad deal.

    You can’t see or hear what is around you. That’s why police where half shells with a flip down visor.