Motorcycle Beginner: Buying Riding Gear

Shopping for gear on a budget

story by Dennis Chung, Photograph by Dennis Chung and product manufacturers, Created May. 20, 2011
With my new temporary license burning a hole in my wallet, I was eager to get out there and start riding right away. Of course, I realized I still have much to learn, starting by enrolling in a certified riding school. In my case, I decided on the Motorcycle Training Centre at my alma mater, Humber College in Toronto. I booked a date at the riding school and spent a couple of weeks re-reading my motorcycle operator’s manual and practicing leaning into turns in my ’98 Nissan Altima.

But before I start at the riding school, there was still the important task of getting riding gear.

Joe Rocket was kind enough to supply us with a full set of street riding gear for this beginner series, but there was a slight snag. A shipping error meant the big box of Joe Rocket goodies would not arrive in time for my scheduled riding school class.

While this was a bit of a setback, it did present me with an opportunity to do something every new rider should enjoy but what I would have otherwise missed: going shopping!

Mission Parameters

I decided to approach the situation from how an average new rider might. I would go to a local dealership and shop like a regular customer. I gave myself a budget of $500 (thanks mostly to a $458.82 tax refund check that arrived earlier in the week) with the goal of acquiring the gear I needed for the riding school. I wanted to get equipment that I would feel safe and confident wearing, without having to break the bank to afford it. A $700 Valentino Rossi replica AGV helmet and a $1500 Dainese leather suit might look cool, but I just want to commute to work, not ride the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca.

The Humber College Motorcycle Training Centre has a list of minimum riding gear for its students. The course’s requirements are a DOT-approved helmet, a riding jacket, gloves that covered the wrists and boots that covered the ankle. Motorcycle-specific riding pants are recommended, but a sturdy pair of jeans is acceptable. Eye protection is recommended, but not required, as is wet-riding gear in the event of rain (a likely possibility in late April).

Kevin Duke’s Gear Advice

Motorcycling is inherently riskier to life and limb than traveling on four wheels, so it’s always discomforting to see newbies on the road without the proper riding gear. But any rider who has hit the deck either praises the protective quality of their gear or wishes they could go back in time to be properly protected.

Even a simple low-speed spill can result in severe abrasion and orthopedic consequences, and accidents have a way of happening when you least expect them. Getting a good set of gear might be one of the best investments you’ll ever make, so be sure to budget for a snug-fitting helmet and an armored jacket.

Don’t forget about protection for your outer appendages. I cringe when I see people riding without gloves. Imagine the pain if you tripped and fell while running at your top speed of about 15 mph. Now imagine the gory result if you were falling at 40 or 50 mph. Riding without gloves is stupid or ignorant, and you don’t want to be in either category.

Protective footwear is another area in which some riders don’t give enough thought to. Your feet can be damaged even during a simple tip-over, and the harmful consequences increase with speed. I still have a scar on my foot from low-siding my first bike while wearing running shoes. If I was wearing proper boots, I would’ve emerged completely unscathed. I would’ve gladly paid the cost for boots to avoid that pain and suffering, and I now never ride without decent foot protection.

- Kevin Duke


Knowing that the Joe Rocket gear was going to arrive shortly after the scheduled training course, I made a list of what I needed to purchase for the riding course and what I could make do with what I already own.

Joe Rocket RKT 201

A DOT-approved motorcycle helmet was number one on the must-get list. This was, of course, a no-brainer, both literally and figuratively. I may only need it for the training course before switching over to the Joe Rocket RKT 201 helmet when it arrived, but it’s never a bad idea to have an extra helmet handy.

A riding jacket was number two on my list. The riding school required at the very minimum a regular denim jacket (and as a card-carrying Canuck, I’ve already got a Canadian Tuxedo hanging in my closet) but I wanted something that offered more protection for my back, shoulder and elbows. At the same time, I wanted something well ventilated and suitable for a variety of weather conditions.

On the other hand, I decided to make do with jeans instead of armored riding pants. A helmet and jacket would take up a bulk of my budget, but riding pants are a bit of a luxury, especially with a pair of Joe Rocket armored denim jeans on their way.

I applied the same logic for footwear. The Humber Riding School required at a minimum boots that covered the ankle. I have a good pair of hiking boots I bought the previous winter that would be enough until the Joe Rocket Big Bang Boots arrived.

Gloves were another matter however. The only thing I had on hand was a pair of leather work gloves but they were slightly loose-fitting and did not cover my wrists. Gloves were likely to be the least expensive equipment I would pick up, so I figured it’d be worth the investment for gloves with added palm and knuckle protection.

Next Page...Let's Go Shopping!

Let's Go Shopping!

Let’s go shopping!

With a plan and budget in place, I enlisted the help of my friend, an experienced rider and an avid reader, Brandon ‘Trip’ McNally, and headed to GPBikes, a local multi-line dealership. GPBikes opened its new 24,000 sq.ft. showroom just west of Toronto this past Valentine’s Day. The dealership specializes in European bikes, offering the latest Ducati, Triumph, KTM and Vespa models, as well as a large catalog of gear and accessories.

Ducati 848 EVO

We visited GPBikes during the first warm and dry weekend of the season, and as expected, the dealership was bustling with customers, many taking their bikes out for the first time since last autumn.

As we entered the showroom, Trip’s eyes immediately lit up at the sight of dozens of 2011 Ducatis including the new 848 EVO parked enticingly by the entrance. His gaze lingered especially on the twin undertail exhausts of a Monster 696, but I had a mission to accomplish.

“Come on Brandon,” I said to him. “You know Lyndsey would kill you if you came home with that.”

“Yeah, she would too,” he agreed, picturing his fiancée. “But it would almost be worth it.”

Icon Overlord Jacket

We made our way past the Italian stallions to a rack of Icon leather jackets. A quick peek at the price tags confirmed these jackets would eat up a majority, if not all, of my budget, but I wanted to get a sense of fit and sizing so I tried some on.

I’m a fairly large fellow, standing an even six feet tall and weighing about 240 pounds (and slowly dropping!), so I immediately reached for an extra large Icon Overlord jacket. The fit was good, snug but not restricting, with the injected plastic protection neatly covering my shoulders and elbows. The jacket was heavy, but not as heavy as I expected it to feel.

“You look good man,” Trip said to me. “It might feel a bit tight, but it will feel better when it’s broken in and we keep hitting the gym a bit more.”

The jacket may fit me, but the $400 price tag sure didn’t.

Scorpion Hat Trick Jacket

A young salesperson, he had to be no older than 19, approached us at that point and offered his assistance. I explained my budget and that I was a new rider looking for gear for riding school. For the sake of authenticity, I did not mention I work for or that my shopping experience would be documented. I wanted him to treat me no differently than any other new customer just getting into riding.

The salesperson led us to another section lined wall-to-wall with various jackets. With his help, I tried on several different jackets, and eventually settled on a Scorpion Hat Trick jacket. The textile jacket was a good fit and offered two removable layers, a waterproof liner for riding in the rain and an insulated thermal vest liner for cooler temperatures. At $245, it also fit within my budget.

Next up was the helmet. I told the helpful young man I wanted a full-faced helmet with decent ventilation. He directed me to another section of the showroom with dozens of helmets neatly lined along several rows of shelves representing all the colors of the rainbow (and more variations of the tribal tattoo motif than a UFC weigh-in).

I’ve got a large egg-shaped head with a broad forehead I inherited from my father. The young salesman took a moment to examine my head before directing me to a selection of Scorpion lids and handing me an extra large to try on. The helmet fit snugly and securely on my head. Having little experience with helmets and no basis for comparison, I asked to try on helmets from a couple of other manufacturers to get a sense of how they feel. I felt that Scorpion and HJC helmets fit my head comfortably while a Bell helmet I tried took considerable effort to squeeze past my ears despite also being an XL. In the end, I decided to go with an HJC since it also manufactures helmets for Joe Rocket so the fit would likely be similar to the one already on its way. I narrowed it down between the HJC CL-16 and the HJC IS-16. The CL-16 was cheaper at $130 but I opted for the $183 IS-16 because it offered an anti-fog shield, HJC’s SilverCool anti-bacterial interior and an integrated tinted sunshield.

HJC IS-16 Helmet Joe Rocket Sonic Glove

A quick calculation in my head determined I had about $85 left in my budget for a pair of gloves. The salesperson offered to set my new helmet and jacket aside by the register while I went to try on various gloves. I didn’t want to spend too much on gloves and decided on a pair of Joe Rocket Sonic gloves on sale for $49. The gloves had an extended cuff and molded knuckle protectors and extra wrapping around the palm.

Hitting the Register

I brought the Joe Rocket gloves to the register aisle where my other items were waiting for me. Whipping out my trusty smartphone’s calculator app, I added up my total bill:

  • Scorpion Hat Trick Jacket - $245
  • HJC IS-16 Helmet - $183
  • Joe Rocket Sonic Gloves - $49
  • Total (Before Tax) - $464

When it was my turn at the register, I received a pleasant surprise: because I was buying a full set of gear, I received a 10% discount on the jacket and the helmet (the gloves were already on sale so they weren’t eligible for the discount). Factoring this discount, my bill came to:

  • Scorpion Hat Trick Jacket - $220
  • HJC IS-16 Helmet - $164
  • Joe Rocket Sonic Gloves - $49
  • Total (Before Tax) - $433

Even after the notoriously high sales tax here in Ontario, the total bill came in well under my $500 budget. Mission accomplished.

Now onto the next task: convincing Lyndsey to let Brandon spend some of their wedding fund on a new Ducati.

Joe Rocket Gear

The package from Joe Rocket arrived a few days after the riding school session, but I don't expect it to be long before I put them to good use. Here is what we received:

Joe Rocket RKT 201 Helmet
MSRP: $244.99

Joe Rocket RKT 201 Helmet

Joe Rocket name drops seven-time AMA Superbike Champion Mat Mladin and eight-time AMA Drag Racing Champion Rickey Gadson among other star racers who have worn the RKT 201 helmet. Who am I to argue with them? The RKT201 uses a similar SilverCool anti-bacterial and odor-resistant interior as the HJC I picked up as well as the same Rapid Fire shield release replacement system.

Joe Rocket Atomic 4.0 Jacket
MSRP: $159.99

Joe Rocket Atomic 4.0 Jacket

The Atomic 4.0 jacket is waterproof and uses a Rock Tex 600 outer shell. The jacket offers vents in the chest and arms, each sealed by waterproof zippers. The shoulders and elbows are protected by grade A C.E. rated protectors and the spine pad can be replaced with an optional C.E. spine protector.

Joe Rocket Jeans
MSRP: $119.99

Joe Rocket Jeans

Constructed of heavy duty 14 oz denim and stretch resistant Dupont Kevlar/Teramid reinforcements, the Joe Rocket Jeans feel sturdy and protective, even without the armor in the knees. Built-in pockets allow for additional C.E. rated armor while the cut and stretchy sections just above the knee and on the back below the belt help the jeans feel comfortable in a riding position.

Joe Rocket Phoenix 4.0 Gloves
MSRP: $49.99

Joe Rocket Phoenix 4.0 Gloves

The Phoenix 4.0 gloves are made of mesh with leather reinforcements including palm padding. The knuckles are protected by injection-molded shielding. They don’t cover as much as the wrist and forearm as the Joe Rocket Sonic gloves I picked up but they do feel lighter and more breathable.

Joe Rocket Big Bang Boots
MSRP: $119.99

Joe Rocket Big Bang Boots

The Big Bang Boot is a bit of an awkward name but the boots themselves are not. The military-style design would look like regular street footwear, but for the plastic strap and aluminum buckle. Molded plastic side impact protection, ankle padding and reinforced gearshift area make the boots a lot more functional than my hiking boots for riding.

Let us know about what you think. Whether you're a new rider looking for gear, an experienced motorcyclist with advice to share, or if you have a good story about starting out as a new rider, drop us a message on our forum or send an email to

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