The first time I showed up to ride on the back of my boyfriend's motorcycle in denim cut-offs and Birkenstocks, I was sent back upstairs to change. Embarrassed by my rookie mistake, I put on long pants and closed-toe shoe, and I've quickly learned what to wear on a motorcycle. Really, it's more complicated that you might think.
If you've never ridden on a motorcycle before, it can be both intimidating and a little embarrassing to ask someone what to wear. I mean, it just seems kind of vain. However, there is a very good reason that bikers wear the clothes that they do, and it's not just to look tough. Motorcycles are dangerous and as a rider you want to do everything in your power to minimize the risk you're taking. That includes wearing clothes that will protect you in the worst case scenario. When you're getting dressed to get on a motorcycle, you should always keep your safety in mind.
That being said, you don't have to sacrifice all sense of personal style in order to stay safe. It's absolutely possible to find a balance between safety, style, and comfort, but you have to know what to look for. Whether you're riding on the back of someone else's motorcycle or driving your own, here are seven tips about what to wear.
1. Get A Good Helmet
The main thing you need when you're on a motorcycle is a good helmet. Fortunately, there are lots of stylish and safe options available. A well-fitting helmet will be snug and won't twist around your skull. It's also important to make sure your helmet is legal. If you're riding in the United States, make sure the one you're buying has been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
2. Protect Your Eyes
When you're riding a motorcycle, you need to protect your eyes from wind, light, and debris because there are few things more uncomfortable than getting a piece of dust lodged into your eyeball at 50 miles per hour. Many full-face helmets will come with plastic visors, but if yours doesn't, you can use motorcycle googles or sunglasses. However, this isn't a time to be wearing chunky cat eyes. You want to make sure the arms of your sunglasses fit inside your helmet without putting too much pressure on your temples.
3. Add Some Leather
I didn't understand this until recently, but there's a practical reason bikers wear leather: Leather acts as a second skin in the case of an accident. It also doesn't let in any wind and keeps you warm as you're whipping down streets. Just make sure it's not a cropped leather jacket and if you can, get a jacket that zips or fastens up to the neck. If you're in a hurry, a midweight or heavyweight denim jacket will work, too.
4. Never Wear Shorts
If you wear shorts, you run the risk of burning your leg against a hot exhaust pipe and if you do get into an accident, you run the risk of ruining your legs with road burn. You want pants that go down to your ankles. Jeans made of mid-weight or heavyweight denim are best. Dorky as it sounds, I've found that overalls are super convenient because you have a little kangaroo pouch in which to put things that would otherwise pop out of your back pocket.
5. Find Closed-Toe Shoes
Sandals are another no-no for many of the same reasons you don't wear shorts. You definitely want to wear closed-toe shoes, and the best footwear option will be one that also protects your ankles. That can be sneakers designed for riding motorcycles, like these gray ones from RevZilla, or just plain old combat boots, like a good pair of Dr. Marten's.
6. Bring Socks
If you're going on a longer ride in your ankle boots, hiking socks will keep your feet dry. If you only have regular sneakers or closed-toe shoes when you're getting on a motorcycle, crew socks will at least protect your ankles from burns. Get some comfy crew socks made of wool, like these from REI or Patagonia. Your sweaty feet will thank you in the long run.
7. Gloves Aren't A Bad Idea
If you're riding on the back of someone else's motorcycle, you don't necessarily need gloves. If you're driving the motorcycle, however, you want something to protect your hands. There are plenty of options out there and, as always, leather is your safest and most stylish bet.
Don't forget: Being on a motorcycle is the perfect excuse to wear all black, all the time. Does it really get more stylish than that?
Images: lukeboelitz/Instagram; Courtesy Brands