Ask RideApart: When it comes to gear, how good is good enough?

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The first of a new series, we’re turning reader questions over to, well, our readers. In this installment, what makes good motorcycle gear? And, can the cheap stuff actually protect you?

We get a lot of questions here at RideApart. By Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and email. And, while we do a pretty good job of responding to all of them, we figure there’s a greater good that can be achieved by creating a public discussion. So, once a week or so, we’ll collate and publish them and turn it over to our fantastic community for responses. The editors will respond too, right here, where you can all see it. Have a question for us? Email
info@rideapart.com
with “Ask RideApart” in the subject. Try to keep questions relevant and interesting and on topic.

This week, reader Chris writes:

If you ask riders who the good gear manufacturers are, they will come up with Dainese, Alpinestars, Vanson or Helimot if they have a lot of money and/or live in The Bay Area. These are known entities.

If you wander around the internet, you will find a veritable plethora of different brands, some familiar – ICON, Speed and Strength, Joe Rocket, for example – and some not so familiar: River Road, Street and Steel. The cost delta between these and the higher end gear, make them an attractive alternative. True, that savings may be a false economy in that one jacket will be destroyed after one crash, while another will maintain integrity after several crashes. But we’re looking at cost of entry here, not return on investment.

The challenge then, comes while doing research. Basically, you’re trying to find out whether or not an ICON jacket and pants will come apart on you if you dismount at 80mph, for instance. That information is not readily available. Some guys will say that ICON makes great gear and they are very happy with it; others (ostensibly the more experienced set, but not necessarily) will say it’s horrible gear, remind you that it’s your life your protecting and then recommend an $800 Dainese jacket. You can imagine how disheartening that is to read.

Generically speaking, we know that leather is typically better than textile and that thicker leather is better than thinner. But this is all subjective; there is no testing standard for riding gear crash performance (save for helmets, of course) to follow.

This brings us back to the original question of: When it comes to gear, how good is good enough? If you took several brands of leather jackets with the same type of padding, would one perform that much better in a crash than the others? Enough to justify the cost delta? Yes, Vanson, Dainese and Alpinestars are vastly higher quality and will have more features than a Bilt jacket. But for single-crash protection, is Bilt good enough? Will the Joe Rocket jacket hold up, even if I need to replace it in a year because the stitching is coming apart? Are ICON jackets only good for style points, but provide no useful protection? Or is there simply no jacket (or pants) under $500 that is worth wearing if we’re concerned about crash protection?

Mind you, I keep coming back to the price point. Know that this is not about being cheap, necessarily; it’s about finding good alternatives for folks that cannot afford the top of the line.

So, do you need to spend up to Alpinestars/Dainese levels just to protect yourself, or will cheaper stuff do just as good a job? And how can you tell the difference between gear that will work and gear that won’t?

  • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

    Materials: Look at material quality and how an item of gear is put together. Do the seams feel strong? Are they stitched in multiple hidden layers? Is stuff like waterproof linings name brand (eg Gore-Tex) or some generic copy (eg DryStar)?

    Armor: In addition to soaking up energy, armor needs to fit tightly, so it stays in place during an accident, and cover as much of your body as possible. A lot of cheaper stuff uses decent, off-the-shelf armor that will be good at energy absorption, but may not cover as much of my body as, say, GP armor from Alpinestars. Look at the elbows and forearms on one of their suits for an example, the entire forearm is covered. When shopping for a jacket or suit, look for stuff like that.

    $$$$: A lot of what the more expensive brands will give you is fit, style and versatility. For example, my Dainese ADV suit costs $1,000 and probably isn’t quantifiably safer than something cheaper, but it’s insanely comfortable in any weather condition thanks to clever vents and removable linings. It also looks good and doesn’t turn me into a Teletubby when I put it on. A lot of cheaper jackets have zip off panels and whatnot, but none of them is going to hold up as well as Dainese’s equipment, nor work in such a clever manner.

  • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

    I’ll echo Wes’s sentiments. When talking about good enough, you’re talking about abrasion resistance (determined by the outside material and the sturdiness of construction) and impact protection (determined by the armor and it’s ability to stay where you need it).

    One of the main reasons we tend to gravitate towards the better known brands is because we are both not average sized men and we care a great deal more than anyone should about style and appearance (plus we have the option to be picky) and those are the brands that tend to fit us better and look nicer. As I discussed in my “The Art of Shopping For Motorcycle Gear” (http://rideapart.com/2013/03/the-art-of-shopping-for-motorcycle-gear/) article, most gear is made to fit the average American and so the fit (usually shorter and wider) is not great for us.

    Another caveat is that every brand is different, so it is hard to say that all of the brands you mentioned can be put into one category or another. You’ll have to do that research for yourself.

    All of that said, most of those brands are just fine. Do your research on each product before purchasing to make sure, but as long as the material is high quality, stitched together well, and includes quality armor you should be fine (just make sure it fits you well and the armor protects what it is supposed to and stays where you want it.

    • CP

      +1 got to look good on a motorcycle…haha
      fit, style and comfort are the top three criteria when I am picking up gear

  • Johnny Thunder

    With gear I feel there are so many variables that make the “cheaper” gear a problem. I will give you one as an example.

    Off the rack Bilt jacket (Cycle Gears Finest) feels loose in sizing, leather feels dehydrated and thin and stitching looks horribly thin. So suppose I buy this jacket or $75-$150 and wear it for 8 months in the sun and never condition the jacket and use it frequently, by then the leather would have became so brittle and worn down that if i was to crash it would probably disintegrate as a was sliding. So in my opinion it really isn’t worth it.

  • Theodore P Smart

    I’d add be weary of high end brand names like Alpinestars, BMW, Spidi and Dainese being sold online for ridiculously low prices. Showrooming your local dealer to save a few bucks might seem intelligent but counterfeit CE approved armor, as Sean has already stated, might not help when you truly need it.

  • Aaron Baumann

    One thing that stood out in Chris’s letter was him saying that “the more experienced set” would criticize ICON gear. Is that because they’ve used the gear and have seen it fail, or is it because they’ve bought in and become loyal followers of Alpinestars/Dainese?

    I guess that I’m of the mind that “If they’re in the market of selling protective motorcycle gear then it’s probably good enough for me.” With that qualifier, I tend to gravitate to more “local” providers. If I can find a jacket that I like that’s from ICON (Portland, OR) or maybe a helmet from Bell (California) then I’d prefer to spend my money there instead of giving it to an Italian company.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Icon gear is actually really good. It’s just a relatively new brand that targets specific gaps in the market — riders who don’t otherwise wear safety gear — so doesn’t always adhere to conventional wisdom. And, if there’s anything that attracts crotchety old men who love adhering to conventional wisdom, it’s motorcycling.

  • Derek Wong

    I ride mainly on the track now, but have gone down on the street in cheap/non-existent gear in the past. That isn’t something I’d like to do again.

    I have a mix of Alpinestars and Dainese gear that I use on the track, not because I am a ‘brand snob’ or anything, but because of the fit and feel of it. I like to go to a large dealer with a lot of selection, spend as many hours as it takes to try out the different options, getting geared up in the showroom then going to a display bike and moving around on it as I would on the track. This also allows you to check out the overall fit, quality, material feel, seam placement and strength etc. If it fits well off the hanger, it should feel even better after a little break in time.

    I try to avoid buying gear that I haven’t had a chance to personally try on.

  • el_jefe

    Re: Icon gear, I get the hate because of their image as a a “biker boyz” brand or whatever. But they make quality stuff, at any price. Because their graphic designers are creative doesn’t mean their technical people aren’t skilled. I crashed pretty hard in an Icon textile jacket (Merc) and it did its job. The stiffness of their nylon does a great job keeping armor in place and the abrasion resistance was enough to limit cuts and scrapes. Also, they sell $600 leather jackets. In what world is that cheap? My brother has been wearing full icon gear for years (the same gear mind you; it holds up) and swears by it.

    As for the conversation, yes, better gear matters. Think of your riding gear as a tool. Buy good stuff once, or cheap stuff again and again. Even if you don’t crash, the road takes its toll in other ways: blown or stuck zippers, fraying seams, holes, stains, the list goes on. Not to mention how much more comfortable well-made well-fit gear is.

    As another example, I tried to save money by buying some Speed and Strength gloves. I was leaving on a trip and they ended up in the tank bag at the first rest stop. they were horribly made. The seams were digging into my palms and after just 100 miles they were starting to fray. I had to convince the store manager to let me return them. They didn’t believe I had only worn them a few hours; they were that worn looking.

    Bottom line, buy the best you can afford. You’ll be more comfortable, and because of that, you’ll be safer. If you are buying your first bike, adjust your budget accordingly so you can afford the good stuff.

    • http://instagram.com/real_jason_ip Jason Ip

      Only issue I have with Icon gear is that it’s a bit bigger fitting for jackets, on the other hand (no pun intended) I have a pair Icon Overlord gloves; absolutely love them

    • Clint Keener

      I have an Icon Patrol winter jacket, and it is AWESOME! It is a bit baggy, but I have room to layer when the temps are really cold. Love the magnetic snaps too.

  • Cpt DB

    Check out Ricondi. Top quality kangaroo hide at modest prices. Kangaroo leather is lighter and stronger than the hide of a cow or goat. It has 10 times the tensile strength of cowhide and is 50% stronger than goatskin.

    When split to 20% of its original thickness, kangaroo retains between 30 to 60% of the tensile strength of the un-split hide. Calf on the other hand split to 20% of original thickness retains only 1-4% of its original strength.

    This means a thinner, lighter suit that is stronger than a leather one.

    They sponsor several racing teams in Oz and their suits have been battle tested. They also do a lot of custom jobs if you had something special in mind. Tell em Captain Douchebag sent ya.

    http://www.ricondiusa.com/

    http://www.facebook.com/ricondi

  • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

    For us bigger guys, price usually has to take a back seat to fit. Simply finding something that fits well enough to be protective while not looking ridiculous (I’m also tall at 6’4″, so this is a further challenge) is really tough. When I find something that fits and looks good, I’m pretty much at the mercy of the price point.

    I’ve been riding since 2007 and funny enough, this weekend was the first time I was properly geared up from head to toe. I had on Icon boots, Sliders kevlar-reinforced pants with knee armor, an armored Triumph mesh jacket, armored mesh gloves, and an Icon helmet. In the past, I never had proper riding pants. Gotta say, having that extra protection on my butt and knees definitely helped inform my confidence on my Tiger 1050.

    In the past, I’ve always worn an armored jacket, a helmet, gloves and boots of some sort. Icon has actually made better gear a lot more accessible. I wear real moto boots now (the Elsinore, of course), and their Variant helmet is easily the most comfortable helmet I’ve ever owned. Now finally I’ve closed the gap with leg and knee protection. The Sliders cargos I’ve got are fit for business meetings.

    As for how good is good enough? Obviously, you get what you pay for, but for somebody just getting started, any gear is better than no gear.

    • Khali

      Im a big guy too, and big fan of european brand Richa. Top of the notch materials, great protection (this year they are fitting CE2 armor as standard on all their gear), and half the price of the equivalent on other brand. Their sizes go up to 6XL or so. Highly recommended if you american guys have access to that brand there.

      • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

        From someone that knows what he’s talking about:

        “There is no such thing as “CE2″ protectors

        There is:

        CE
        EN 1621-1:1998 or 1621-2 2012 Level 1 or Level 2 for shoulder, elbow, hip knee, knee/leg
        EN 1621-2: 2003 Level 1 or Level 2 or (soon) EN 1621-2:2013 Level 1 or Level 2 for back, center back, and lumbar”

        • Khali

          Ok, so I guess Richa is fitting 1621-2 2012 Level 2 protections on shoulders and elbows, and EN 1621-2: 2003 Level 2 protections for the back. Went to their site to check it but they just say “level 2″ and “level 2″.

          I tend to abreviate it in “CE2″, which I think is enough info to most people :P

    • CP

      Same for skinnier guys, fit is more important than price point for sure. That’s why I pay for Dainese, the euro brands usually have better fit than the US brands. US brands like ICON have very loose fitting, and that won’t help in a crash…

      • Clint Keener

        Icon pants make you look like a raver from 1998. Love my Dainese Drake textile pants, fit like standard jeans.

  • Tony M

    I’m guessing a lot of people will chime in to defend their brand here, but I’d argue that none of us know anything really until an agency (private or state) starts rating these products by testing them with crash dummies.

    I’d say experiment with various brands to see what is comfortable, high quality and fits you well. In some cases this may be the more expensive brands, and in some cases it won’t be. But there’s no guarantee that more expensive equals better protection for everyone.

  • guy

    RS Taichi gloves are super well made, and super cheap for what they are. Just make sure you order at least a size larger than what you normally would. I bet their suits and other gear are just as well made. I found the brand when I was looking for gloves to replace some expensive ones where the stitching came apart and I had it re-sewn….again.

  • mikki sixx

    RE: Textile Jacket Protection
    I guess I’ve always assumed denier count would be a decent unit of measure in that; the higher a denier count, the safer (?) the material would be/ the longer I could slide on the asphalt before the material starts breaking up (exclusive of armor).
    But I guess it would just kind of depend on with which materials the jacket was made.

  • Khali

    For 650eur I bought a custom-designed, made-to-measure, racing leather suit. The tiny company that makes them, provides some CEV racers (Spanish Motorcycling Championship). After watching pictures of people crashing on their suits I figured out that if they were good enough for CEV racers, they would be good enough for me. Add a CE2 back protector and youre mostly geared.

    I know a leather suit is not for every occasion, but whenever I go out there and ride for fun I wear my leathers. You shouldnt be content with less than that.

    Go out and find your local manufacturers. They will not only be cheaper than alpinestars and dainese, but also provide you with any adjustment or repair necessary over the time.

    • Hooligan

      Agreed. Made to measure by a small manufacturer means you get better
      quality than the big brands for the same money. Also you get it made
      exactly how YOU want it. Not being a person who wants to look like
      everyone else or god forbid a Power Ranger. For my leathers I went to a one man
      operation in Lincolnshire in England. I was standing there at Crowtree leathers getting my inside leg measured and looking at a picture of Barry Sheen who was also a customer in the 70′s. I thought I bet Alec at Crowtree had to leave more space down there for him than me.

      And don’t forget you are not paying a 50% shop markup. So that money goes into better quality.

    • Gonfern

      Could not agree more. Here in NYC, a small company called Heroic made a track suit for me for 1000 bucks. Besides a custom made, perfect, comfortable fit, it also has the high dollar kepertech(sp?) stretch kevlar materials, titanium sliders on elbows, shoulders and knees and ofcourse you choose all the colors. Cant get a comperable A* suit for less than 1800. On the street, where I prefer the ability to take off the jacket, I wear a mix of Alpinestars, Revit and Dainese 2 piece Leathers depending on temperature. All of them are top quality. However, I have seen suits from Cortech and similar manufactures, that for half the price, seem to be of equal quality. Only giving up style, comfort features and maybe a tailor fit. My theory is, wearing cheap gear is way better than no gear. Will the seams on that Bilt jacket tear before a Dainese jacket? Maybe….But it will obsorb a lot of impact and abrasion before doing so…energy otherwise transferred to your body.

      • Khali

        I think the name is Keprotec. My suit has lots of it on the inside of the arms and legs, and the sides of the jacket. If i get fatter (or more muscled arms!) it can stretch a bit so it still fits.

      • Piglet2010

        Cortech suits fit fat USIans better than the Italian based brands.

  • Rufin Wybicki

    On boots, do you have to have specialized motorcycle boots? I have a pair of GSG9.2s from a previous job, and would like to use them for the MSF and riding. Are these good enough? I know Wes doesn’t ride in a pair of bike-specific boots.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      GSG9′s are going to be great for MSF and toodling about town, but you ultimately want something a little more protective. Check this out: http://rideapart.com/2013/07/a-beginners-guide-to-motorcycle-gear/

    • Kingsix87

      GSG are not exactly tourist boots, but they are not motorcycle boots as well. Once I thought tourist boots are good enough. It took only a light 2-stroke to fall on my foot and break it to change my mind. Now I ride with bike boots (rev’it) everywhere. They are not as comfortable as regular footwear, but Is a compromise I don’t want to make twice.

      As for cheap gear – my first jacket was cheap textile jacket that said Cordura for the outer shell. Well, after one crash the sleeve was torn even when the force of the impact was elsewhere. But for the knee it turned out a simple protector was enough to prevent serious damage, even if the pants over it were ruined. For knee guards it is important they wrap around the sides of your knee and not just protect your knee cap.

      I had some experience with cheap gloves (around 40 euros) – they were the short type with thick knuckle guards, covered with leather and nice padding for the palm. But they were summer gloves and the sides of the fingers were just regular textile. So what happened in the crash: the knuckle guard took the first impact and did its job very good, but the finger parts twisted around my fingers so I had the textile to cover my finger knuckles and had some scraped skin for a month or two on all my fingers as a result. The gloves were rev’it as well.

      As a conclusion, cheap gear with armor and padding on the right places is much better than no gear and it all comes to what you can afford. I can’t afford expensive Dainese/Alpinestars gear, but I try to be as protected as possible and in most of the accidents my cheap gear prevented much greater damage.

      Now I use Clover textile jacket with hard armor on the back, elbows and shoulders with denim pants with integrated knee guards and hip padding. It is not crash tested and with some luck it won’t be. I don’t ride fast usually and tend to take longer rides so leathers don’t seem comfortable enough. I looked for gear with mix of leather and textile but there is very little available where I live and I didn’t like most of it. It seems like a good compromise if done properly – leather on the impact zones and textile for comfort everywhere else. I don’t know why it is so uncommon,

  • Mark D

    To the list of “established brands you can’t really go wrong with”, I’d have to add Rev’It to Dainese/Alpinestars. The price point isn’t any lower, but the quality is great, and the styling tends to be a bit more subdued. I’ve had a pair of their full race gaunlets for 2+ years now, wearing them for commuting/touring and fun riding. Plenty comfortable and not too garish (though not exactly warm), and still feel like their barely broken in.

    Fit is really more important than anything. Armor is great, but its not going to do a damn thing keeping your elbow from shattering if its off to the side. And if gear is uncomfortable or a hassle to get in/out of, you’ll be less likely to wear it; even a pair of $500 pants is going to have trouble protecting you if its hanging in your closet. I know Icon makes a ~$100 overpant that its on/off in a few seconds. If you’re more likely to wear it than nothing, it is good gear!

  • Elvis

    Having worked selling moto gear for a few years, and then some time on the inside evaluating the first run of a national retailer’s house brand, I can say there’s a big difference in quality between the large brands (Alpinstars, Dainese, etc.) and the smaller/white label brands from other retailers. That difference in quality is pretty apparent from the fit/finish and general attention to detail. However, having crashed in some brands people may not necessarily be as familiar with, Fieldsheer and Joe Rocket, I can say that any motorcycle specific gear is going to save you some pain/suffering in a crash.

    As a general recommendation, if the more expensive jackets are out of your price range, get some under jacket armor from Alpinestars or Icon for added protection without too much cost.

  • Piglet2010

    People have been crashing in Aerostich Roadcrafter suits, sending them back to Duluth for repair, and getting them back as good or better than new for 20 years now. Good enough recommendation for me.

    And you can tell that Aerostich gear was designed by people who actually ride motorcycles wearing it, and not some industrial design school graduate. (And no, I do not work for Aerostich, just spend a lot of money there.)

    Most importantly, no other gear manufacturer has their own hand puppet. ;)

    • Khali

      If they made big sizes or to measure i would already own one of their suits :)

      • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

        Custom tailoring is totally an option. It might involve some ‘back and forth’ with Duluth, though.

        • Khali

          Living in Spain that might be a little problem :)

          I have tried to find an european manufacturer of this kind of suits, but it seems we europeans dont like that kind of gear, because there are none.

          • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

            That could be a hinderance. I’m a little surprised, really. I’d think with how generally more accepted motorcycles as transportation are in (everywhere that isn’t the US), that gear to support it would be more universal.

            • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

              Quality motorcycle gear is much more widely available in Europe. Including Spain.

              • Stuki

                Is it really? Or is that just memories from a bygone, pre internet, age? Most Euro brands (seemingly most models even) are available at your door in two days anywhere in the US these days, while in Europe, getting anything delivered anywhere, isn’t too far removed from auditioning for the lead role in some Kafka play.

                Bespoke, or made-to measure, racing suits, that aren’t really suitable for internet commerce, may be different. But for someone like Aerostich, that lives off of mail/inet orders, I would venture to guess the US is currently an easier market to thrive in than Europe.

                • Piglet2010

                  Aerostich may have a problem selling in Europe in that their current armor does not meet CE standards (but is arguably better). http://www.aerostich.com/protection

                • Afonso Mata

                  The problem Aerostich have on selling their product here in Europe isn’t that protection thingy. It’s the fact that it isn’t widely available in every shop in every country.
                  “Nobody” knows what an Aerostich is unless you’re talking to somebody that browses around forums and sites like HFL or has heard a friend’s friend talk about it.
                  I’ll take a wild guess and say that maybe only a couple really really specialized stores in the UK or Italy will have it on the shelf.
                  So if you want to buy it, you’ll probably have to have it shipped from the US. And shipping prices and customs taxes from the US really add quite a bit to the price.

                • Piglet2010

                  The only store that carries Aerostich is their shop/office/factory in Duluth – their sales have to be mostly mail order. But they will ship to Europe if you like.

                • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

                  There’s a reason Europe has brands like Dainese, Alpinestars, Spidi etc etc etc etc etc and we have…a little known maker of high quality gear for BWM riders in Minnesota and some kooks up in Portland trying to put squids in armor. Motorcycles are mainstream transportation in Europe, ridden by more people from a broader swath of society.

                • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

                  I love them kooks in Portland. I have had good experience with a helmet (Airframe Construct), a jacket (Overlord, in stealth) and boots (Reigns). Thankfully never battle tested, but they do feel reassuring, and are well built pieces.

                • Piglet2010

                  Wearing Aerostich says you put function over fashion. I like that, others may not.

                  But more importantly, how many European manufacturers have a webpage for a hand puppet?

                  http://www.aerostich.com/mrhappy/

                • CruisingTroll

                  Well, yes and no. There are a LOT of high quality, highly regarded, well known brands of M/C gear out of the US. The majority of them play pretty much exclusively in the dirt though.

                • Afonso Mata

                  Are you saying that Dainese, Alpinestars, Spidi etc etc etc etc etc are not European, or that Dainese, Alpinestars, Spidi etc etc etc etc etc play pretty much exclusively in the dirt?

                • CruisingTroll

                  No, I’m saying that Fox, O’Neal, and a lot of other American brands make very good gear, but they focus pretty much exclusively on dirt riding. Dainese, Alpinestars, etc, etc….. are European brands, and to my knowledge most of the European brands focus on street. Alpinestars, at least with boots, covers both environments pretty well. I don’t ride dirt, so I can’t say what sort of presence other Euro companies may have in the US dirt gear market.

              • Khali

                Its true we have plenty shops and brands to choose. I wont deny that. But what I really want is a 1-piece oversuit, and I am unable to find it in Spain (or a local manufacturer that could make it for me).

                And I dont want to take the risks and extra costs of buying one off an US manufacturer…

                • CruisingTroll

                  BMW and Triumph both have had oversuits in the past, may still have ‘em, so check with the appropriate local dealer.

            • Stuki

              Europeans (particularly those from the Med countries) have a reputation for wanting a bit of style in their clothing. Something Minnesotans don’t seem quite so hung up on…….

              • Piglet2010

                Just because a Roadcrafter makes you look like you are doing maintenance on Red Dwarf…

                • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

                  ALL STEALTH EVERYTHING.

        • Guest

          Its true we have plenty shops and brands to choose. I wont deny that. But what I really want is a 1-piece oversuit, and Im unable to find it in Spain (or a local manufacturer that could make it for me).

          And I dont want to take the risks and extra costs of buying one off an US manufacturer…

    • Steve

      There are a number of made to measure suit makers in the UK, Crowtree as mentioned previously, Hideout and BKS are the three biggest and there many smaller companies.

      A quick google found this one in Spain http://www.cobija.biz/

  • sdyank

    The biggest problem for me is the lack of Brick and Mortar stores within a reasonable distance to check gear out in person. On Long Island, the only B&Ms around selling gear are dealerships and each dealership tends to hold allegiance to only a couple brands and stock very little of those brands to begin with. Lacking a “superstore” I need to depend on the online stores to gear up. Looking back on my gear acquisitions as a new rider, I believe I would have been much better equipped and served by taking a 4 hour trip to Revzilla in Philly and trying everything on and shopping the different brands in person.

  • Tuscan Foodie

    Two things:

    1) Add “Spidi” to the list of good quality gear, on par with Dainese. Rideapart doesn’t seem to like it as much as Dainese or Revit, but its quality is better than Revit IMO, and as good as Dainese, just a different fit/style.

    2) It is not true that there is no standard to test the crash resistance of equipment. The CE/EN standards for elbow, shoulder, back and knee protections tell you quite a bit about how a jacket will perform, at least in terms of impact protection.

  • Afonso Mata

    For me I think it’s all about what money can you REALLY spend.

    Obviously everyone would love to buy an Aerostich, but some of us just CAN’T buy it. You can rationalize everything you want: “It’s $1000 but you wont ever need to buy anything again”, and “If you ruin it they’ll fix it for you free of charge” and “you can’t put a price on your safety” and so on and so on. But it’s $1000. One Thousand Dollars. That’s my wife’s monthly wage. There’s food to put on the table, bills to pay, stuff like that.

    So my point is:

    1) set a budget (and be as less flexible as you can);
    2) search as much shops/stores/riding clubs/websites/forums as you can.

    For example:
    “I can only spend $200 on a jacket”.
    Search all the shops/stores/riding clubs/websites/forums you can find for every jacket between $150 and $225. Try to find as much information on every jacket you find/like and try to buy the best spec’d jacket in that price range. If under $200, good. If the best was the one that costs $215, not that bad either.

    I ended up buying a $170 textile jacket from this french brand called Bering, on a little suzuki dealer 5miles from my place. Made in France, Gore-Tex insulation, removable winter lining, CE approved protection for elbows, shoulders and back.

    I go back to Chris’s original question: Do I really need the Alpinestars/Dainese/Spidi/Axo equivalent?

    • Piglet2010

      If I was in that situation, I would buy some budget MX armor and wear it under work coveralls, while putting money in a special savings account until I could afford an Aerostich or Motoport suit.

      • Khali

        Agree, also you can slowly replace your budget gear month by month, or find financed solutions…I use a credit card that just adds 12eur to the cost of what you buy, then you pay it in 6 months.

    • Bones Over Metal

      There are also a lot of used gear that people grow in or out of if you don’t mind used.
      Usually people gain or lose weight and over time just upgrade or change riding styles. Most used gear is in really good shape because who wants to try and get money for some dirty old smelly thing.
      Or people buy online and can’t return but get the wrong size.
      It’s a great way to get the high end gear you want, for the price you can afford.

      • Piglet2010

        I fixed the fit on my Aerostich Roadcrafter for $75 – work is done by the same people who make the new suits.

    • CruisingTroll

      Anybody who says they don’t have $1,000 – $2,000 to spend on good gear (jacket, pants, boots, gloves and helmet), but they do have the money to spend on a new sportbike, doesn’t understand the real distinctions between “have” and “don’t have”. It’s simply a matter of priorities.

      • Afonso Mata

        i was gonna ask you to find on my comment the part where I say I own a brand new sportbike. But then I saw the “Troll” part of your nickname. Let’s settle with that, shall we?

        • CruisingTroll

          My apologies if you took my comment to be directed at you specifically. It wasn’t, but rather is intended to address a potential problem in the general concept you were expressing. Surely you’ve run across other riders who make exactly your argument, while seated on a brand new bike? Many riders, especially those for whom the bike IS their transportation, are under significant fiscal limitations. I know, I’ve been there. Many other riders, it’s simply an excuse because they haven’t prioritized gear.

          • Afonso Mata

            Now we can take the “Troll” part out of your nickname and shake hands. Now, my friend, I agree with you 100%.

            However, as I’m posting this comment, there are already 74 other comments to this HFL post. But Chris’ original question is yet to be answered: Do we really need to buy the top brand equipment?

            Obviously, I’m not talking about specialized equipment like those “airbagged vest MotoGP riders wear”. Small companies can only dream about producing stuff like that.
            I’m talking about Average-Joe’s equipment.
            I actually can only speak about stuff sold here in Portugal (since I’m not familiar with stuff you can buy on US stores). But if I go to a store start “analyzing” let’s say, “cordura” jackets, there will be 50% of “close to chinese standard” material (scrap it) and 25% of top brands equipment (wanna buy it). But if I analyze the fabric, the double stitching, the CE approved protections, and the fit and finish of the other 25%, it will really look 100% legit. The only argument I can find to buy top brand stuff is the styling and design. Does it really matter when it comes to protect me?

            Maybe it is me that have already made up my mind, but everytime I think about it, I really can’t find any rational argument on why I should’ve bought the $400 top brand jacket over my $170 Bering one.

            • CruisingTroll

              Top Brand? No. Top quality? If at all possible, yes. Top Brand does not always mean top quality, and just as often, top quality doesn’t always mean Top Brand. The important thing is to know what quality is, and look for it. Starting the search with a Top Brand can save one time, since it’s more likely to be top quality as well, but if one has the time, top quality can often be found with other lesser known brands, frequently at lower prices. It just takes the time to find it.

              Once a piece of safety gear reaches a certain minimum safety standard, it can be extremely difficult to make it “safer.” An example is a helmet. Is an Arai safer than an HJC? From the perspective of the primary job of a helmet, impact protection, it probably isn’t, or at least the difference is very small. But, if the Arai is quieter, more comfortable, fits better, and has an optically perfect visor, then it IS a better helmet. Whether that’s worth spending twice as much is a personal consideration, while the fancy paint job is even more personal.

              They CAN make helmets even more protective in impacts. Doing so though makes them fundamentally unusable with current technology. Why? Find a clip of Darth Helmet on You Tube and it’s easy to understand.

              One last thing: quality is a funny thing. It’s usually the quality leaders who also advance the technology. That’s something to keep in mind when deciding whether to get an inexpensive quality product, or a more expensive one. The inexpensive manufacturer may not be doing anything to “make a better mousetrap”. Assuming for sake of argument that they’re “quality”, you don’t see Street & Steel putting airbag riding suits on the starting grid of MotoGP. That’s because S&S is simply focusing on building known quality using known methods. When money is tight, kicking a few euros more into the gear kitty in order to support the folks raising the bar may not be practical, but it is something to at least consider when the personal euro supply loosens up.

  • Alexander Zuber

    Did one of you guys try some stuff by Roland Sands Design? I know you made a video with him, but how are the leather jackets. I guess they are not actually for the track, but for the every day riding gear?! I really like the style.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      We’ve got a few RSD jackets knocking around. They’re decent for casual city riding and the (optional extra) Forcefield armor is nice, but the price points are high for what you get and the fit and quality has become a little patchy since they’ve moved to mass production.

      • 80-watt Hamster

        Sad. I’d been seriously considering picking up a Ronin someday.

    • Campisi

      I was wearing my RSD Ronin when a car pulled a leftie on me about three weeks ago. My left humerus broke into three pieces, but the armour did its job and the leather held up alright. That said, some of the stitching and hardware on the jacket exhibited poor workmanship up close. The paramedics had to cut the jacket off of me, but I probably would have recycled the armour into a different jacket anyway; RSD’s sizing sort of assumes a, erm, “stereotypically-American” body shape, so thin riders have to choose between a loose torso or tight sleeves.

    • Alexander Zuber

      Hmmm doesn’t sound that bad, but considering the price the quality should be beyond all questions. Any brands which offer similar style but better quality and protection?! What do you think about those maple jeans: http://www.maplemoto.com/ ? They look pretty cool.

      • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

        Nothing beats real motorcycle trousers. Not even baggy, ill fitting jeans.

  • appliance5000

    It seems motorcycle manufacturers are conservative with regards to change. I’ve picked up some d30 armor (shorts, kevlar lined knee/shin pads and elbow slip ons) from mountain bike stores – I don’t see this stuff offered by motorcycle gear manufacturers except as replacement armor.

    There’s also a controversy regarding kevlar vs leather. I tend to think kevlar – being man made – can be made more consistently to a specific standard and is more abrasion resistant than leather.

    The argument I hear is -” leather is required for track use so STFU” I know kevlar has only been proven on the battlefield, in policing action, and by a guy with a sander – but I was wondering if you can give some insight here.

    • CruisingTroll

      If we all knew WHEN we were going to crash, we’d wear leather on those days. The problem is, we don’t know. Leather’s problem isn’t crashing, it’s the 99.99% of the time you are not crashing that it has shortcomings compared to textiles. Textiles are more comfortable in a wider range of environmental conditions. That said, even Kevlar isn’t quite up to top quality leather in abrasion resistance, but it’s pretty close.

      What I would love to see is something similar to a Joe Rocket jacket I once had, only with Kevlar mesh. It had leather on the outside/tops (i.e. the areas most likely to be sliding across the ground) of the arms and shoulders, and mesh for the rest of the jacket. To my knowledge, nobody is making a jacket like it currently, including JR.

      (Note: The only leather I currently ride in is my gloves and boots. My jacket and pants are Motoport Kevlar mesh on dry days from the 50s up, and Aerostich Darien jacket and pants when known rain below 70 or any conditions below 50. I have crashed in the Darien, not in the Motoport).

      • Piglet2010

        Perfect is the enemy of the good. Better to have 80% of the protection of a leather track suit, and be comfortable so you can focus on riding and reduce the risk of crashing.

  • Zach

    There actually are standards for motorcycle clothing besides helmets and armor, though they are maddeningly hard to dig up any info on. WebBikeWorld seems to have done a good job summarizing some of them in this jacket review: http://www.webbikeworld.com/r4/clover-tekno-jacket/

    Whether these metrics are appropriate or useful is a discussion on its own, but I think that more awareness of these standards can only be helpful.

  • E Brown

    When it comes to gear, the first rule is “something is better than nothing.” Spending $200 on cheap gear is more protection than riding in jeans for 6 months while you save up for something from the big names. Get something to ride in, then start saving for your dream gear.
    If someone is short on cash, I think their best bet is to find the cheapest, best-fitting leather gear they can find, even one of those $200 2-pc suits on Amazon or eBay (ideally one that will let you mix and match your sizes). Leather is a known quantity, and even poor leather will do as well as most textiles and better than jeans. Dodgy armor isn’t a huge concern because it can be replaced, all together or bit by bit. As long as it offers some protection and holds the armor properly over the areas you need it, you’re ahead of the game.
    It’s not as comfortable as a custom-made or name brand suit? Good! You’ve got an incentive to keep saving up and get something quality. And you can tell your grandkids that back in your day….

  • ColoradoS14

    When gear shopping last year for 2 new jackets (rain and mesh) I went to Performance Cycle here in Denver to look at all of my options. I tried on literally everything in the store and found that there really was a large gap in some cases to the quality of the jackets. I would argue that there is perhaps less difference in a textile jacket than a leather jacket but the Alpinestars and Rev’It gear was obviously of higher quality than the ICON, S&S, etc. gear. The stiching was more robust and the seams felt as though they were thickers, the zippers were higher quality, the trimming for comfort and fit were superior.

    Looking at the leather jackets it was even more apparent, the fit was far superior and the leather it self was a much higher quality feeling stronger yet more supple at the same time. I certainly understand the price equation and my response would be to buy off-season and bargain shop. After determining that I liked the quality/price of the Alpinestars gear I started shopping around locally and online. I was able to get a last season Alpinestars rain jacket from a local Honda dealership for $150 and bought my T-GP-R Air jacket for $225 online with free shipping. That is barely more than you would spend on an ICON jacket and I love them both.

  • Bones Over Metal

    One important thing that is usually not covered when talking about protective riding gear is fit.
    I good fitting cheap jacket will protect better than a $1000 dollar top brand jacket that is too big.
    This is a very important part that is usually overlooked, especially with new riders.

    When trying on a leather riding jacket for the first time in a store it will feel tight and uncomfortable. Especially if it has bent arms and aggressive racing style. The best protective pads on the market will not work if they are not held in place in the right location during a crash!
    Jackets will ride up if not secured down, and most people now opt for under clothes armor that will not shift or move.
    The other issue with a larger or loose fitting jacket is that it flaps in the wind at any speed, this although annoying is fine for short rides but will fatigue your muscles much much faster on long rides. It’s unnecessary stress and wear on your body.

    My advise for beginner riders shopping for good gear, is take a very experienced buddy with you. One that will not care if that jacket makes you look fat, but will tell you how it is supposed to fit. What feels tight and restrictive in the store, will feel secure and solid on the bike.

    All the protective gear in the world will not save you if you don’t wear it.

    Cheers