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

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
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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?

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