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Much like anything that revs your engine, the wide world of motorcycling is a means of individuality and self-expression. And if there’s anything a biker takes pride in, it’s relishing being the black sheep of the crowd. Part of that revolves around the gear you ride with. There are so many brands out there moving biker merch that part of your purchase decisions revolves around practicality, while the other part revolves around your own personal style. However, because safety is always a top priority, one should always look into function before flashiness. Some of the best riding gear in the world isn’t going to land you on the cover of any magazines anytime soon. But would you rather be someone in an ugly riding jacket, or a well-dressed dummy with a bad case of road rash?

Thankfully these days there are so many options to pick from that they are able to satisfy both of those needs at the same time. Whether your style is based on the Sons of Anarchy, a modern-day café racer, or an assassin from John Wick, you can both dress the part and be well-protected at the same time. While everyone is entitled to dress how they want when they ride, there are of course some gear choices that carry a bit more risk than others. Riding a motorcycle is already a risk in itself, so extending that gamble to your riding gear can either make you extremely confident or extremely reckless with your personal safety. So let’s take a look at some riding gear that is always essential for every ride, and some other gear that you are better off not using.

Related: Essential Beginner Riding Gear (And Some Essential Gear If You Want To Travel)

1 Essential: Helmet

This is the most basic of the basics when it comes to riding gear. Every time you decide to saddle up on your ride and head out, you should always be wearing a helmet. Ranging in multiple styles from half, three-quarter, full, to modular, your helmet is probably the most important thing you could ever put on. For the same reason construction workers wear hard hats, your helmet is there to protect the most important organ in your body… your brain. So it only makes sense that you use it correctly if you want to protect it. Your helmet should also be D.O.T. approved, and these days most riders will recommend full-face helmets over any other because they provide 360-degrees of complete protection for your noggin, as well as protect your face and eyes from bugs, solar glares, dirt, debris, smog, etc.

2 Not Essential: Skull Caps or No Helmet

Sure, some helmets appear to bulky and some people are worried that they’ll look like one of the henchmen from Spaceballs. But there’s a reason for that, and that’s your safety. But there are some that go more for the smaller, minimalist helmets known as “brain buckets” or “skull caps,” which only partially protect your head. It should be noted that they are also not DOT-approved. So those that go with these kinds of helmets are not exactly providing a lot in the safety department. It should also be noted that only 18 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have mandatory helmet laws. For the other 32 states, helmets are optional. This in itself is another big risk because when given the choice of helmet or no helmet, going without a helmet is a gamble that you better hope pays off. Because like many cocky people, sooner or later, their luck runs out.

Related: How Much Do You Love Crash Compilations?

3 Essential: Riding Jacket Or Vest

Everyone loves a biker jacket. They’re stylish, usually made of black leather, and they provide ample amounts of protection for whenever you head out on the road. Available in multiple styles, these riding jackets have evolved into a fashion statement where people that don’t even ride motorcycles are wearing them. From Marlon Brando in The Wild One, to Jason Momoa with his collaborations with Harley-Davidson, a good motorcycle jacket is an article of clothing that protects you from the elements, and gives off a sense of toughness, ruggedness, rebellion, and sex appeal. But during the hot summer months, a jacket can be a little too burdensome. Thankfully there are leather and denim riding vests available to keep your body protected while still looking cool. Because suns out, guns out!

4 Not Essential: Tank Tops Or Bare Skin

We’ve all seen those videos on social media of guys riding Kawasaki Ninjas at 90+ mph on the highway wearing a tank top or bare skin to show how tough they are. They’re not scared about falling or losing control of their bike! Well, we usually know how those videos end… with a very severe case of road rash. This is the same kind of behavior seen at illegal street races in which one cocky guy is showboating for the crowd doing donuts in his Mustang, but then loses control and collides with another car or innocent bystanders. Because for most of us that ride, whenever we see somebody rocketing down the highway without any sort of upper-body protection, we’re not thinking “Man, that guy is cool. I wish I could be as cool as him.” Instead, we’re thinking, “What does this idiot think he’s doing?”

5 Essential: Boots

You need your feet to operate both the rear brake and your gearbox. You also need them to walk, kick a soccer ball, and stub them on the corner of a table. Motorcycles generate lots of heat, and a lot of that can emit onto your legs and feet. So it is highly-recommended that everyone should own at least one good pair of motorcycle boots. Boots, just like jackets and helmets come in a wide range of styles, each offering comfort and protection to their wearer. Most motorcycle training classes recommend students wear over-the-ankle boots when riding, but some boots come with taller shafts that offer more protection to your legs when out on the road. Some are calf-high, and some are almost knee-high. Regardless of your boot style, you should never skimp on protection. Because one well-placed flying pebble on your lower leg can really sting!

6 Not Essential: Basketball Shoes Or Sneakers

Sometimes some people will choose to veto motorcycle boots from their wardrobe and go with a pair of regular sneakers. While most motorcyclists would try to get those individuals to reconsider their footwear, they are also choosing their own consequences. Again, you are not Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. Sneakers are not made of the same protective material as motorcycle boots, which means they are not built to withstand intense amounts of heat directly next to them. Pretty soon, these shoes will wear out and there goes at least $60 down the train. Meanwhile, with motorcycle boots, they are built to last a long time. Some people are still riding with the same boots they did when they got started. But should you decide to ride exclusively with sneakers, you’ll be going through them like tissue paper.

7 Essential: Riding Pants Or Chaps

While most of us will settle for a good pair of denim jeans, a good pair of durable riding pants is something you should consider adding to your wardrobe. Especially if you are planning on doing some off-roading with an adventure bike. Because chances are you’re not going to want your regular, everyday jeans to be covered in dirt and mud. Save that for the pants that are meant to get dirty on purpose. The same can be said if you plan on taking a touring bike out on a cross-country road trip. Riding pants offer both comfort and protection, which are two things you are definitely going to need if you are out on the highway for hours. Alternatively, for the fall and winter months, a pair of leather chaps are another article of clothing worth investing in. By wearing them over your regular jeans, they keep your legs warm and protected from the cool air. Then, when you’re done, you can just take them right off and stow them away when you’re ready to head out again.

8 Not Essential: Shorts

Going back to what was previously said about the guys that wear sneakers and tank tops while riding, if you choose to wear a pair of workout/basketball shorts while on a motorcycle, you are also choosing the consequences that follow. First, and this is obvious, these shorts offer zero protection to the rider. They may allow your legs more freedom to move while in the gym. But remember, you’ve got a hot engine in between your legs while you’re peeling down the highway at 100 mph. So in the event that someone with these shorts take a tumble, they are not going to be happy with what happens next. Plus, unless they’ve got some sort of elastic band or a drawstring to tie them down, it’s going to be real embarrassing to see these things swoop down your legs when you least expect them.

Related: 2022 Best Motorcycle Gloves 2021

9 Essential: Gloves

Motorcycle gloves are a necessity when going out riding. First, they protect your hands from the elements and your environment. Second, they give your hands more grip when holding the handlebars and rolling the throttle. They also come in “handy” when lifting their bike off from the ground. Third, they provide additional comfort for your hands during every ride. With the amount of styles out there, some people prefer fingerless gloves. Others will go with a basic pair. And others will go with a pair of gauntlets to bring additional protection to their forearms, as well as prevent wind from soaring through the sleeves of their jacket. Gloves are normally worn when operating all kinds of heavy machinery, and a motorcycle is no different. It is usually good to have at least one pair of gloves in your inventory, because they are one of those things where you’d rather have them and not need them, then need them and not have them.

10 Not Essential: All Black

It’s understandable for black is such a popular color in the motorcycling world. It’s the inverse to all the bright and shiny people we see every day, and it’s the color of rebellion. Not to mention that almost every single motorcycle comes in black. So what is wrong with going the Goth route and wearing black head-to-toe? The obvious reason is again, safety. In the daytime, sure, you might be able to get away with it. Especially if you’ve got a very shiny/reflective leather jacket. However, at night, an all-black wardrobe is like biker camouflage. Which is why so many brands and manufacturers offer bright clothing options to help you stand out at night. Some clothing options include reflective vests, as well as tees and jackets in neon orange and green. Why? For the same reason why you are able to see traffic cones at night, other drivers on the road should be able to see you. The more you invest in your safety, the more time you’ll have to enjoy the road in one piece.

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