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Risk Hierarchy: Information - Rider Ed - Driver Ed - Conspicuity - Bike Defect - Ultra-Defensive Riding - Crash Avoidance - Injury Mitigation - Crash Scene

helmet  Protective jacket and pants combination, or Riding Suit, coverall style

Wikipedia on Motorcycle Safety Clothing. We rate various types of gear on comfort, conspicuity and protection. Comfort is important in both cold and hot conditions, as exposure and heat stroke are safety issues. As conspicuity is a factor for avoiding crashes in the first place, we are willing to trade conspicuity for protection. The Maids study found benefits in the reduction of injury from protective gear, although many riders with protection were hurt or killed. You can at least expect a reduction in road rash from protective gear in a crash.

Maids found that coverage prevented or reduced upper torso injury in 65% or crashes, and lower torse injury in 61% of crashes.dork alert

We point out that good gear is about the only available defense against crashes with deer or other large animals. We've investigated and can't come up with any defensive riding strategy that works with deer, which seem to be responsible for a couple of hundred fatal crashes per year.

Effectiveness matrix.

Type Comfort/Heat Comfort/Cold Comfort/Rain Comfort/General Conspicuity Protection
Kangaroo or other race-quality leathers Way too hot Not bad with right layers Not good, need rain gear OK Not so good.  Many leathers come in black only Best available

Street leathers
(cow or horse hide)

Way too hot Not bad with right layers Not good, need rain gear OK Not so good.  Many leathers come in black only Very good
Cordura coveralls or separates Good, the best ones are vented Not bad with right layers Good, you won't need to pack rain gear Good Available in high vis, most have autoreflective panels. Very good 1050 denier cordura has similar abrasion resistance to leather
Denim and air-mesh kevlar with safe-seam Good, though hot compared to regular denim  Not as good as leather or cordura Not good, need rain gear Good Not so good.    Very good Kevlar can have similar abrasion resistance to leather
Perforated polyester summer riding jackets and trousers Good Bad Not good, need rain gear Good Available in bright colors and with autoreflective pathes and piping. Ok with good armor, least resistant to abrasion of all.

Armor

Whatever type of ridewear you choose, we like armor in as many places as we can get it. These would include shoulder, elbow, back, hip, knee and shin protection. There is a lot of good armor out there, the best is CE rated and we also like the dual-density foam pads sold by reputable manufacturers. The Maids study claims major reductions in injuries from protective gear.

Our Choice

We note that a cordura riding suit with 1000+ denier patches in critical areas, with safe-seams stitching and gore-tex liner. a full set of dual-density armor in a high-vis color with autoreflective patches scores well on every measure. They're custom made and pretty expensive, but you get a lot with it. I've worn one down to 35 degrees F, and up to 118 degrees in Memphis. Fairly comfortable both times. It is zipped on over street clothes, whereas most of the other options, at least those involving trousers or joined combinations need to be changed into. The manufacturers point out that these suits don't offer as much protection as race leathers, but these suits are a fair compromise in the comfort and conspicuity areas.

Thermal Underwear

The secret to cold-weather riding is to layer. You can use regular cotton long-johns, but I find it hard to do a head check with michelin-man layers inflating my leathers or coverall.

Our favorite technique, learned from glacier climbers, is to use multiple, very light layers. We like an inner layer of silk interlock combinations, followed by medium-grade winter sports polyester thermals, a regular street layer of jeans and shirt, and a winter polar fleece. You'll be warm almost down to freezing with a wind-proof outer layer.

Other Kit

There's electrical thermal wear, neck sealing devices, hoods and masks for under a helmet, body armor suits and various separate armor pads available.