Top 10 Pieces of Motorcycle Protective Gear

Editor's note: This post was written by Kristen Hall-Geisler. If you're new to the world of motorcycles, you'll find there's a lot more stuff out there than you ever imagined. The number of things a person can buy to enhance the motorcycling experience is nearly limitless. But which of those things are worth the investment? [...]

Editor's note: This post was written by Kristen Hall-Geisler.

If you're new to the world of motorcycles, you'll find there's a lot more stuff out there than you ever imagined. The number of things a person can buy to enhance the motorcycling experience is nearly limitless.

But which of those things are worth the investment? And more importantly, which will keep you as safe and protected as possible if things go awry? This list will give you an idea of what's important - even necessary - to have, and what would be nice to add, depending on the kind of riding you do.

Of course, nothing is going to keep you safer on two wheels than taking a motorcycle safety course, where you learn how to maneuver smoothly and react quickly to potential dangers.

Take a look through this list, and remember - keep the shiny side up.

10: Helmet

Not only is a helmet a good idea, it's often required by law. According to IIHS, twenty-one states require all riders to wear a helmet; the rest require a helmet for younger riders. Look for a helmet that meets Snell or Department of Transportation safety standards.

Many riders complain that a helmet is uncomfortable or cramps their free-wheeling style, but there are enough styles, colors and sizes available that anyone should be able to find a brain bucket to fit their needs.

Try a few helmets on for size, and check that the one you choose doesn't move too much in any direction, either side to side or up and down. Make sure the helmet sits squarely on your head - no rakish angles here, please - and check for any pressure points that will become uncomfortable in the third hour of a wild ride.

When you've got the right helmet, you can move on to the next bit of safety equipment: a jacket.

9: Jacket

Everybody knows the classic motorcycle jacket, as made insanely popular by a young Marlon Brando in " The Wild One. " This is the black leather jacket with the snap-down lapels and the off-center zipper. There are usually zippers at the cuffs, too, and an attached buckle belt.

Scooter-style leather jackets, like Peter Fonda's Captain America jacket in " Easy Rider," will serve the same purpose of reducing abrasions if you have to lay the bike down.

For even more protection, armored jackets are available in a huge selection of styles and colors. These have tough pads at the shoulders and along the spine, which are usually removable if you want to wear the jacket on the street and not look like a linebacker. Some are even made of Kevlar fabric for extra protection.

On to the next piece of protection: gloves.

8: Gloves

Not only will gloves protect your hands in the event of a crash, but they'll protect your hands from anything that comes flying at you while you ride, from insects to raindrops. Remember that everything in the air will hit your knuckles on the handlebars at whatever speed you're travelling - and on the highway, that is going to hurt. A lot.

Unless, that is, you're wearing gloves. Like jackets, gloves come in a bunch of styles, depending on what style of riding you do and what your preferences are. Black leather gloves are classic, as are fingerless gloves, but dirt bike gloves with higher gauntlets (that's the part that comes up your arm) offer even more protection from flying debris while riding off-road. All-weather riders can even find heated gloves for chilly days.

Head, body, hands - what about your eyes?

7: Goggles

Many people will opt for a full-face helmet with a Plexiglas face shield, which doesn't require goggles for eye protection. Unless you get a shield with UV protection and some tint, though, you'll want to find a slim pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes and reduce glare.

Many others, though, want the feel of the wind in their face (and the bugs in their teeth). These folks will want a secure pair of goggles to protect their eyes. Yet again, there's a wide range of styles to choose from, including old-school numbers with round lenses and leather straps, and high-tech wrap-around styles that are a step up, safety-wise, from sports-style sunglasses.

This covers all the really necessary protection, but there's still a lot more gear out there that can make a rider feel more secure, like riding pants.

6: Pants or Chaps

Lots of riders don't feel the need to invest in special riding pants or chaps; jeans or other heavy pants will protect your legs from most of the bugs and dirt.

However, if you plan on riding over a long distance, or you have a dirt bike, or you're going to race, you're going to want something tougher covering your legs. Old-school riders will probably go for leather pants or chaps (fringe is optional). In either case, a pair of riding pants will also keep riders dry in a rain shower.

Dirt bike and race riders will find that there are pants made specifically for their sport, with protective knee caps built in and pads at the hip and lower spine. If taking a spill in the dirt is a likely part of your weekend, a pair of protective pants could save you a lot of pain.

Speaking of the lower half, let's take a look at boots while we're at it.

5: Boots

Again, there are classic black leather boots and more modern boots made for specific riding purposes. The classic pull-on motorcycle boot generally reaches mid-calf and has a bit of a heel for hanging on the pegs. It does not have laces, but sometimes has a Y-shaped harness for style points.

For dirt track riders and racers, there are higher boots that protect more of your leg and often integrate with pants or a full riding suit to offer as much head-to-toe protection for taking corners - or spills - at speed as possible.

If the boots you choose to wear on your motorcycle have laces, make sure to tuck them inside the top of the boot. The last thing you need is for the wind to unlace your boot and the long laces to get caught while you're riding. Yikes.

Now for something you might not have considered protecting: your hearing.

4: Earplugs

Even with a padded, Snell-approved helmet that wraps your noggin from chin to crown and covers your face with a shield, you can still hear the engine of the motorcycle and the rush of the wind. Which is great - for a while. But if you've got a long distance to cover, that noise can be literally deafening.

Cut down on the wear and tear on your eardrums with a simple set of foam earplugs, the same kind you might wear to a rock concert. Earplugs might not seem cool, but the alternative is hopping off that cool bike, taking off your helmet, shaking out your hair, and screaming " What?" at the girl or guy who just asked you about your ride.

Commuters especially will want to take note of the next piece of equipment, a visibility vest.

3: Safety Vest

Motorcycles are already a challenge for car and truck drivers to see, it seems. Commuting in the morning, at dusk, and in the fog or drizzle can make it even harder - and that's assuming everyone's had their coffee.

Make it easier on motorists by wearing a reflective, brightly colored vest. These are available at many motorcycle shops these days. They are, admittedly, not the coolest piece of safety equipment, but the fluorescent orange and yellow colors will catch almost anyone's eye, which is exactly what motorcyclists need in less than ideal lighting conditions.

A vest with reflective strips on it will also catch the light from headlights for even more visibility. For that matter, reflective tape is available that can be added to anything, from helmets to boots. While it's a shame to mar a great paint job with sticky tape, placing a few strips on clothing for foggy mornings could prevent much worse things happening to the paint.

Off-road riders need a little extra protection, which we'll talk about next.

2: Chest Armor

We've already covered the fact that all riders could use a little armor, often in the pads of a jacket. Off-road riders, though, are pushing the boundaries further than many street bikes. You may not go as fast in the dirt, but it's more likely you're going to fly off the handlebars.

For this reason, experts recommend wearing chest armor, which can be bought either as pads or as a vest that covers front and back. Either way, the armor is usually made of dense but flexible foam to protect the body's most vital organs if you go head over heels.

One last piece aimed at off-roaders is extra padding for the joints.

10: Knee and Elbow Guards

Knee armor often covers more than the joint, though the knee is the focus of the protective pads. Some knee protection will cover the knee and shin; others hinge with the knee in the center, offering coverage for part of the thigh as well as part of the shin.

Elbow guards work in much the same way and serve the same purpose. Think about taking a spill on a dirt track: It isn't always a life-threatening situation, but it will almost always result in the rider taking the force of the fall on his knees or elbows. Protecting them from rocks and abrasions could save you a trip to the emergency room after a low-speed slide.