Basic Motorcycle Kit

I recently got asked by a friend what he’d need kit-wise to start motorcycling. I emailed my thoughts and then realised this might be useful another time. So here it is, slightly tidied up and hopefully not too patronising (if it is, pat-on-the-head). If you’re already a motorcyclist, yes, I know: comfort and safety levels are subjective and differ for every person.

Helmet
First thing you need is a hat. This is key, it’s the one thing you wear whatever the weather and it needs to fit right and not frustrate you. I also suggest you want your first one to be cheap enough so that you can ditch it with minimal agonising over how much it cost if it turns out you made a terrible mistake.
 
So two recommendations:
 
1. don’t spend over 150 quid on it (that’s not a target to aim for!);
2. go and try lots on. 
 
My opinions, which come down to personal preference: 
  • AGV and Shark are very good brands that have some good budget offerings; 
  • a seat belt style chin strap is minimal fuss on and off;
  • an integrated sun visor is a life saver, esp on autumn evenings when sun is low in the sky;
  • I like flip face helmets as it reduces on and offs and they are the ones that usually have integrated sun visors. On the flip side (ahem), they tend to be noisier;
  • If you go top job (300 quid plus) on an Arai or a Shoei, they tend to be Marmite. You’ll either love the Arais and hate the Shoeis, or vice versa. Tends to be on shape of forehead. I always get on with Arai and AGVs, hate Shoeis and Sharks.
  • A good place to research them is http://www.sportsbikeshop.co.uk/motorcycle_parts/content_cat/1 . They are a pretty good shop too. I’ve bought some kit from them in the past.

Boots

Good boots will keep you dry and warm and will stop your feet and ankles getting crushed in an accident or when you drop the bike. You can spend an outrageous amount on boots. My most expensive boots (so far) were £180 and were not waterproof or warm, they were racing boots. The ones I wear now were fitted dual purpose bike and walking boots (Hoggs I think) at 150 quid from Altberg. Worth every penny! However, I recommend you start with off-the-peg and work out what you like. Try lots on. Don’t spend over 100 quid on your first pair. Make sure they’re waterproof but breathable if possible.
 
Jackets and Trousers
  • traditional: leathers. You can get one piece or two piece. One piece are good in summer and if you’re doing a lot of track days. Chances are, you’re thinking about touring and commuting. I’d steer clear of leathers until you know what you want. However, leather is pretty much ultimate sliding and abrasion resistance, although textiles are pretty excellent these days.
  • touring solutions: armoured textile. You can get a jacket and trousers as a set or get separate. Trousers should always be able to zip to jackets – so make sure you test any that don’t come as a set. I went set and got waterproof, detachable thermal lining. Make sure they have CE approved armour with them, including, preferably, a back protector. Textiles are so good these days that they perform almost as well as leathers in abrasion tests, with the added bonus that you’re more likely to have them done up and on in most weathers, unlike leathers :-). My 5 year old Hein Gericke Sheltex suit is great. I’ve talked to a couple of guys at work who have more recent versions of HG jacket and they rate them too. Depending on how much you’re spending, suggest you look at ones that hi-viz built in. Adding a hi-viz vest later is just a faff, so you stop doing it. To get an idea have a look at http://www.sportsbikeshop.co.uk/motorcycle_parts/content_cat/975 
  • sports jacket – good for summer. You’ll freeze and get soaked if it rains. But they are nice to just chuck on and go. I got one with an R1 in 1998 and still wear it occasionally. 
  • armoured jeans – I think they’re expensive for what they are, but they do look good. I have no experience with them. 
Gloves
Armoured leather ones for summer (and learning to ride), and (prob) textile thermal armoured ones for rain and winter. Learning to ride you need to be able feel really well through the glove, so a waterproof thermal glove that feels as though you have five copies of the Telegraph wrapped around each finger are not what you want. A decent-ish, 50 quid plus race glove is my recommendation. Don’t go mental on Handroids and what not. And don’t get white ones if you can’t stand the sight of road muck on your previously pristine purchase. 
 
You will get cold hands in winter. I wear a thin set of normal thinsulate stretchy gloves underneath my winter gloves to keep warm. Other solutions include: heated handlebar grips; electrically heated glove liners; and bar mitts (which are permanently attached to bars and you slide your hands in).
 
Ears
Get some earplugs. It’s about 10 quid for hundreds of them. Boring, but will save your hearing. Future you will thank you.
 
Switch off your Phone
Seriously, every time you get on the bike, turn it off. You’re learning. You don’t need some dodgey pyramid selling SMS to vibrate your moobs as you negotiate weaving to the front of the traffic light queue for the first time or Billie Jean starting playing as you lay the bike into that 50 mph bend just right. What are you going to do anyway? You’ll have to stop, get your gloves off (at least), and dig inside your jacket or rucksack to deal with it. 
 
Summary
That should get you started. there’s loads of other stuff you can get (back protectors, airbags, armoured airtex vests, sat-navs, comms gear, etc), but getting this basic set will protect you and keep you comfortable so that you concentrate on the bike and riding, rather than how cold/hot/tight/loose/wet you are or how to turn on or off the gadgets.
 
At today’s prices, 2013, I reckon that’ll cost you between £650 and <insert huge figure here/>. 
 
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