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Upgrade Your Motorcycle Safety Gear

We talked to helmet, glove, boot and clothing gear manufacturers to get the scoop on new gear as well as buying and usage advice.

FH16MAR_SAFETY_01-2Family Handyman

If you're like most other motorcycle riders, you look forward to getting out on the road at the first sign of spring. So you dust off your bike, fill it with fresh gas and fire it up. But you should also take a hard look at your safety gear. The truth is, your gear not only wears out but also gets outdated in terms of safety. We won't kid you-the new gear is expensive. But if you're serious about being seen by other drivers and surviving a crash, the higher cost is worth it.

Photo by Getty Images/Steve Craft

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Helmet Smarts

DOT, ECE, SNELL and SHARP certifications

The more you learn about the tests done by the different certification organizations, the more confused you’ll be. But it comes down to this: DOT and ECE certifications mean the helmet has met the minimum standards set by U.S. and European regulators. SNELL and SHARP are independent testing organizations that have developed tests they consider more rigorous. If you’ll feel better knowing that your helmet meets either of those certifications, great. Otherwise, buy a helmet that fits your head and your budget and has the DOT or ECE certification.

BELL Qualifier DLX

The BELL Qualifier DLX street helmet is a few steps up from an entry-level helmet but provides a lot of bang for the extra bucks. At $250, this full-face helmet includes a photochromic face shield with anti-scratch, antifog and UV coatings, adjustable ventilation, a padded wind collar to reduce wind and road noise, and speaker pockets so you can add a Bluetooth headset and intercom. DOT certified.

Replace aged helmets

Helmets have a life expectancy of just five years or a single crash. We’re not talking about incidents where your helmet gets dropped. But if your head was inside the helmet when it hit the ground, don’t even think about using it again. The energy-absorbing foam materials simply aren’t designed to withstand multiple impacts.

The foam materials deteriorate over time and begin to lose some of their impact resistance. Plus, the outer shell begins to weather from UV exposure. So check the date on the label and replace yours if it’s at or near the five-year mark. Next, flex the shell slightly and check for cracks or deep gouges and examine the foam for cracks or degradation. Also check the visor for scratches. If you find any signs of damage, chuck it and buy a new helmet.

Helmet shopping tips

Helmet prices run the gamut from under $100 to $1,500. At the low end, you’re getting a helmet that meets the minimum safety standards from the Department of Transportation (DOT), as well as a few creature comfort features. At the high end, you get a much lighter helmet built from carbon fiber with extra impact protection and the ultimate in comfort.

When it comes to helmet safety certifications, some experts believe the DOT standards aren’t strong enough and instead recommend buying a helmet that meets the more stringent ECE, SNELL or SHARP standards (see ‘DOT, ECE, SNELL and SHARP Certifications’ at left). However, since a cheap, properly fitting helmet protects better than an ill-fitting helmet with ‘better’ safety certifications, it’s best to shop locally (rather than online or through catalogs) to get fit and product advice from knowledgeable sales clerks.

In addition to buying a helmet best suited to your type of riding (touring, racing, off-road), here are some other buying tips from the experts:

  • Full-face helmets with a face shield and fixed chin guard provide the best protection in a crash.
  • Open-face helmets offer better visibility and more ventilation but less impact protection.
  • Half helmets provide maximum ventilation and visibility but offer only marginal protection. They’re better than riding with no helmet, but not by much.
  • Modular helmets allow you to flip up the chin bar to refuel or eat Twinkies without removing your helmet. They’re safer than an open-face helmet but not as safe as a full-face design.
  • Novelty helmets that aren’t DOT certified might allow you to meet the letter of the helmet laws in your state. But they provide little protection-you might as well strap a salad bowl to your head.

Get Seen With Brighter Gear

GlowRider Electro-Luminescent Motorcycle Jacket

The GlowRider Electro-Luminescent Motorcycle Jacket from Adaptiv Technologies has flexible, flashing blue panels sewn into the back and shoulder areas to get you noticed. The flashing panels are powered by a rechargeable lithium battery (included). In addition to the lights, the jacket features back protection and armor at the elbows and shoulders. The outer shell is waterproof and abrasion resistant and includes air vents at the chest, sleeves, upper and lower back, as well as a zip-out quilt liner.

REV’IT! Stellar leather/polyamide motorcycle gloves

These REV’IT! Stellar leather/polyamide motorcycle gloves provide visibility and exceptional hand protection. Dual-composition honeycomb thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and a high-impact aluminum shield protect your knuckles. The gloves also include a hard-shell little-finger protector, a palm slider and impact-resistant foam for index fingers. They’re available in black with white, red or green accents, or in white leather with a red accent.

Protekt Khaki Pants

Protekt Khaki Pants offer protection and comfort. Just unzip the knee zippers, slide in some Transit Impact Armor knee guards, and ride off to work or play. Then remove the guards and enjoy the rest of the day without changing clothes. The 100 percent cotton twill khaki pants have a triple-layer knee and seat area that includes a hidden 500D Cordura middle layer for abrasion resistance and an inner cotton liner for comfort.

R-3 riding suit

The R-3 riding suit lets you ride in comfort, be seen by other drivers and be protected. Just slip it over your street clothes. The R-3 is waterproof and unlined. For protection, it’s built with a double layer of 500D Cordura GORE-TEX fabric across the seat and added 1000D abrasion-resistant layers covering the elbow/shoulder/knee areas. Underneath the layers is energy-absorbing removable oversized TF Impact Armor. Optional hip, spine and chest armor increase the R-3’s capabilities. The R-3 is available in six colors.

Motorcycles are notoriously overlooked by inattentive drivers, but you can dramatically increase your survival prospects by wearing higher-visibility clothing.