Top 10 Motorcycle Gear Must-Haves

John Burns
by John Burns

The kind of motorcycle gear you wear really can make the difference between a great ride and a miserable experience.

Updated November 2019

The kind of motorcycle gear you wear really can make the difference between a great ride and a miserable experience. Riding in the rain, for example, can be one of motorcycling’s great joys – or it can be life-threatening if your wet fingers get too cold to work the controls and your helmet is too fogged up to see out of.

No doubt there will be amazing gear breakthroughs in the future of which our feeble 21st-century minds can’t even conceive: I’m picturing a shoulder-mounted rocket-propelled drone that deploys in 0.001-second to lift you above and away from an imminent left-turning Buick hovercraft. For now, we celebrate the essential, best gear ideas the human race has come up with so far to stay comfortable and safe. Some of it is expensive, true, but you have to bear in mind that a really good leather jacket or Aerostich suit will last you multiple decades, greatly enhancing your comfort/safety the whole time. And lots of good gear can be surprisingly cheap if you keep your eyes on the Closeout deals and other sales. Here are a few of our favorite things.

Table of Contents

The Leather Jacket

Descended from the ancient Australopithecus’ wearing of animal skins, from which he often did not bother to remove the fur, there’s no better use for leather today than to serve as motorcycle raiment. Supple, strong, highly abrasion-resistant and most of all just plain haute couture, depending, it’s sort of amazing to think that in spite of how high-tech and how fast MotoGP racing has become, the main thing that protects the rider’s body is the well-padded and now airbag-equipped hide from a deceased cow or kangaroo. When it’s hot out, there are also plenty of perforated options that flow more air than you’d expect. This Dainese 8-Track Perforated jacket isn’t cheap, but it’s just one example of a jacket you’ll love wearing and your heirs will fight over.

Bottom Line

  • Eight bazillion rebellious tough guys can't be wrong

High-Tech Base Layers

You love your tighty whiteys and concert t-shirts, but it’s time to take advantage of textile technology. There are all kinds of base layers on the market now to keep you cool and dry when it’s hot, and warm and toasty when it’s cold. This Freeze-Out Warm’R Women’s Long Sleeve Shirt ($40) being just one example: “Flexible, lightweight materials with the Freeze-Out windproof membrane prevent wintry winds from whipping through to your body. The 3D fleece inner structure produces a larger surface area that maintains warmth with ease to creates a balance between the heat your body generates and the heat your body loses.”

Bottom Line

  • Regulate your temperature

Pinlock Lens Insert

Speaking of riding in the wet and cold, you could spend years trying all the internet solutions to keep your faceshield from fogging up (it shouldn’t take you long to figure out you need a full-face helmet to ride when the weather’s not nice), or, you could just get one of these Pinlock inserts to stick inside your visor and be done with it. The Pinlock forms a very thin layer of air between itself and your visor, and seems to be the most effective way we’ve seen to combat fogging up. The yellow one pictured is for an HJC helmet and sells for $29, but they’re available for just about any helmet.

Bottom Line

  • Seeing is surviving

Aerostich Roadcrafter Suit

You probably can’t call it revolutionary anymore, now that Aerostich has been making them for 30 years, but nobody’s yet come up with a better solution for combining safety, all-weather protection and convenience in one garment. The genius is in how easy it is to get into and out of in about 10 seconds, thanks to the full-zipper design that goes from left ankle to chin – a design that lets you wear whatever you want underneath, from swim trunks to business casual to tuxedo. Excellent armor and fabulous adjustable ventilation make the Roadcrafter suitable for everything from hot, dusty ADVing to cold-weather commuting.

Bottom Line

  • Versatile as it gets

Airhawk and bead seats, etc…

A seat’s not necessarily gear, per se, but it has everything to do with how comfortable you are. Stock seats on all your upscale touring, sport-touring and ADV bikes have come a long way. But it you’re still riding your old bike and finding yourself not as fresh, you know, down there, as you once were, bead seats or maybe an Airhawk can make a huge difference in your positive mental attitude after a long day or two. Not only do they eliminate pressure points, they also allow more air circulation around your underpinnings. And if they don’t prime your pump, complete custom saddles are a whole `nother motorcycle cottage industry.

Bottom Line

  • Give your bottom line a break

Ear Plugs

Shirley, you don’t need to be told to wear earplugs? Thirty years ago you had to shout at most older motorcyclists to get your point across. You still often do, but not because they’re deaf anymore; now it’s because they’re thick. Not only do earplugs protect your hearing, their reduction of wind and engine noise (if you’re the loud pipes type) transforms the ride into the serene restorative experience that God intended. Simple foam plugs from the drugstore are still far better than none, but now there are many higher-tech hearing protection versions to choose from, including the Etymotics pictured.

Best Motorcycle Earplugs

Bottom Line

  • WHAT??

Cordura and Gore-Tex Gear

We love our leather but it’s not usually the best choice for staying dry. Originally developed and registered as a trademark by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) in 1929, Wiki tells us, Cordura is now the property of Invista – a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. Cordura fabrics are usually made of nylon, but may be blended with cotton or other natural fibers. Mr. Gore’s miracle fabric, Gore-Tex, when used as a liner in a whole array of motorcycle gear, keeps the rain out while allowing your own sweat to escape to the atmosphere. 

Robert W. Gore pulling on a piece of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) on the way to inventing Gore-Tex.

When combined in a properly sewn-together garment, like the Spidi Dogma H2Out jacket pictured, the results are excellent. Riding in the rain’s a special kind of fun when your body stays dry and warm. Gore-Tex membrane imitators include Alpinestars’ Drystar, Dainese’s D-Dry, Spidi’s H2Out, etc.

Bottom Line

  • Dry almost always beats wet on a motorcycle

Nice Motorcycle Gloves

You really can’t out-cheap me; I still have work gloves from Home Depot in the gearpile. But spending a few extra dollars for actual motorcycle gloves is worth it. For one thing, you can get nice warm Gore-Tex-lined ones to keep your hands dry and warm, or nice perforated summertime ones like the Rev’It Canyons here to keep them cool. In a perfect world like mine, you own several pairs of gloves to throw on depending on the weather. Good motorcycle gloves have armor in the right places to protect your delicate digits, and they’re cut and sewn to grip grips instead of picks and shovels, which actually increases your ability to control your bike. Plus, they’re designed not to fly off your hands when you least need them to.

Bottom Line

  • You need your hands

Heated Gear, Grips and Seats

Danged if I can remember the name of the famed BMW racer who described to me how they routed engine oil through his handlebars to keep his hands warm at the Isle of Man many moons ago, but he seemed to grow all warm again just talking about it. Genius. I’m on record as saying heated grips should be mandatory equipment on all motorcycles, so you don’t crash from half-frozen fingers no longer able to operate the controls. Then came the electric vest – including the latest Gyde 7V Khione Heated Puffer Vest from Gerbing – then the electric everything… and there’s nothing nicer than remembering your bike has a heated seat when you’re freezing your assets off.

Full-Face/Modular helmets, Transitions face shield

I still sport the open-face for local rides that don’t take me on the freeway, but I’ve seen too many gory images of what can happen in an unintended trip to face-plant city. Not to mention bees and other foreign objects flying through the air. I don’t know who invented the modular helmet, but now that it’s here you can really have the best of both worlds: bugs in teeth when you want them, full-face protection when you don’t. The Shoei Neotec II seems to be the Cadillac, though Schuberth, HJC, Scorpion, Bell, Shark and all the others make perfectly nice modulars to fit every budget too.

Shoei Neotec II Modular Review

MO Tested: Bell SRT-M Helmet Review

If you prefer to go full-face, though, the best reason to buy a Shoei or Bell is that they’re the only ones to offer Transitions faceshields, which magically lighten and darken as needed. You’ll never have to squint home through the dark again behind a tinted shield.

MO Tested: Shoei CWR–1 Transitions Shield Review

Bottom Line

  • No more claustrophobia

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John Burns
John Burns

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 1 comment
  • Ramon_Nudal Ramon_Nudal on Nov 15, 2019

    Chin curtain $9. Without it 70+ mph sounded like rocket blast. I put them in my HJC & Scorpion helmets. My Schuberth came with a chin curtain.