By Basem Wasef
One of the most important (and easily overlooked) aspects of motorcycling is safety gear. Though gear can be cumbersome, awkward, and intrusive, it's also the only thing that will protect you from the road in an accident. Imagine sliding across pavement at 30 mph wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and you'll begin to understand why some people say you shouldn't expose any part of your body on a bike that you wouldn't want exposed to a belt sander.
Going from head to toe, here's a breakdown of key safety equipment; click on each heading for more detailed information.
An old saying goes something like this: If you've got a $20 head, buy yourself a $20 helmet.
That said, a proper, DOT-approved helmet can go a long way towards saving your skull in case of an accident. Even if you've decided you don't want to protect your brain, helmets also offer shelter from wind noise and turbulence.
Eye protection not only keeps wind from making tears streak down your face, they also keep all manner of debris and bugs from flying into your eyes. Visors in helmets offer built-in eye protection, but some riders prefer to wear separate eye protection so they can enjoy a tinted field of vision that's removable when the sun drops.
Earplugs are safety equipment? Absolutely! Wind noise on a motorcycle can become extreme at highway speeds, and your hearing can suffer damage after enough repeated exposure to loud sounds.
Check local laws about ear protection before you plug up; some states require custom-molded earplugs, while others have more specific rules governing how you can cover up your ears on a motorcycle.
A wide variety of jackets are available, offering many options when it comes to upper body protection; from armored race gear to ventilated summer wear, jackets can not only reduce or prevent abrasion injuries, they can also look cool in the process.
It's a basic human reflex to break your fall by with a cat-like extension of the arms, and hands can suffer considerable damage when a rider is thrown off his or her bike. Protect your palms, knuckles, and fingers with sturdily constructed, well-padded gloves, preferable gauntlet-style ones that extend past the wrist.
Here's one of the easiest places to get lazy when it comes to motorcycle gear. But just because you've donned a helmet, gloves, and jacket doesn't mean you should skimp on lower body protection. Pant styles range from touring and dual purpose to sport and casual, and if you've decided to skip the Ninja Turtle look, there are plenty of other more casual options, as well.
From motocross and road racing to traditional cruiser styles, there are loads of ways to keep your feet protected on a motorcycle. Also, don't underestimate the importance of keeping your feet firmly planted on the pegs and shin protection from pebbles!
Though they're still in their infancy, neck support devices offer the possibility of preventing or reducing severe spinal column injuries from spills involving head compression. Testing in on-road situations have been less successful than offroad applications (due to the fact that the devices limit head rotation, and subsequently, visibility), but there may be a day when these devices become widespread among offroad riders.
Typically worn beneath jerseys while riding offroad, guards protect key body parts like elbows, shins, and knees from impact; they can also be effecting for street riding when worn in combination with less protective outer layers (like Kevlar-reinforced jeans), though they won't offer the complete coverage of full gear.