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Dialing In the Best Gear for Supermoto Riding

On a balmy day in Riverside, Road and MX gear was put to the test on the supermoto track.

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The very nature of supermoto is a melting pot of two-wheeled motorsport. Riders come from backgrounds of road racing, motocross and categories in between; tracks are sectioned by asphalt, flat track sweepers and motocross-style whoops and jumps; bikes are lightly modified dirt bikes with street tires. But the bridging of categories doesn’t stop at there. When it comes to gearing up for supermoto, road racing and motocross styles have a strong pull. Some supermoto riders swear by the protection that full track leathers offer, others praise the freedom of movement MX gear lends. But like the sport of supermoto, you might find yourself mixing it up at bit, as I did here.

There are plenty of brands out there that offer quality MX gear, like Fox Racing, or legendary road racing essentials, like Dainese. Alpinestars happens to make both road racing and MX gear, and during a track day at SoCal Supermoto School I had the chance to test their new dirt and street lines, back to back. These selections reflect my testing done on track.

Base Layers

Motocross and road racing base layers couldn’t be more different. Since road racing leathers have 99 percent of the protection on the outside, all you need on the inside is an undersuit to keep cool (and a back protector). If you’re heading down the motocross path, the armor’s already on the inside.

Rider’s Choice: By the end of the day, I sported an even mix of both types of base layers. Since I ended up going for motocross outer gear, I threw on Alpinestars’ Vapor Knee Protectors and Bionic Tech Jacket. But with temperatures peaking at a balmy 107 degrees, the Tech Race Undersuit was critical in keeping me cool. Not to mention it put a comfortable layer between the abrasive velcro straps and my sweat-soaked skin.

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Road: Summer Tech Race Undersuit ($140), Nucleon KR-R Back Protector ($150)

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MX: Vapor Knee Protectors ($45), Bionic Tech Jacket ($300)

Outer Layers

The differences in outer layers are what sets a lot of supermoto riders’ styles apart. Ironically enough, it’s not the gear that dictates the style, but the other way around (riding style rules). Riders who prefer road racing leathers tend to get a knee down more often than MX riders, who get their foot out in turns instead.

Rider’s Choice: Having never straddled a supermoto bike or turned a wheel on a supermoto track before, I went full leathers in the morning with the Atem one-piece. It was nice to know I had maximum protection, if I did go down, but with the amount of movement required to turn just one lap, I felt like I was fighting a losing battle against the stiff leather. After my confidence (and the temperature) rose I peeled the leathers off and went for the Racer Supermatic MX Jersey and Pants. Track suits are cut to fit riders hunched over a tank all day, not sitting up and tossing the bike side to side, so my chest and shoulders felt tied down. The freedom of movement and breathability of the jersey gave me a second wind. Plus, Brian Murray, the day’s instructor at SoCal Supermoto School, was teaching the foot-out method rather than knee-down turning, so I didn’t miss the urethane knee pucks much. One or two other students went one further and kept the track suit pants with knee pucks from a two-piece and wore the MX armor and jersey up top to get the best of both worlds.

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Road: Atem Leather Suit ($1,500)

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MX: Racer Supermatic Jersey ($40), Racer Supermatic Pants ($120)

Helmet

When it comes to helmets it’s more personal preference than anything — though with motocross-style helmets, the visor helps keep sun out of your eyes and flying dirt off your face.

Rider’s Choice: In the hot southern California sun, I opted for the MX-styled Arai VX Pro 4. On the short, twisty Adams Motorsports track, I never saw speeds high enough to generate visor lift, so having anything to keep the sun glare out of my eyes was welcomed. But with the MX-style helmet, the opening left by the goggles and the chin bar invites in waves of dust and dirt — a problem the full visor of a street helmet would mitigate. (Pro tip: keep your mouth shut in the dirt sections.)

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Road: Arai Corsair V ($720)

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MX: Arai VX-4 Pro ($666)

Gloves

Gloves, like outer layers, are decided in part by making a decision between protection and freedom of movement. Full-grain-leather road racing gloves offer maximum protection, but put up a fight after an entire day of grabbing fistfuls of front brake and clutch. MX gloves, being more textile based, have better ease of movement. The downside is that they can’t compete with the abrasion resistance built into full-leather gloves.

Rider’s Choice: As with the rest of the gear, I started off the morning using the road racing gloves. The Alpinestars SP-1 had great ventilation and enough padding to soften the vibrations coming through the bars, but the extra thickness of the gloves numbed lever feel. The Suzuki DRZ 400SM provided by SoCal Supermoto School had seen more than a few hours of not-so-gentle track days, and the thicker gloves didn’t help with pulling the already wonky levers. In the afternoon I switched to the Megawatt Hard Knuckle Glove and never looked back. The carbon fiber knuckle guard came in handy when the brake lever traveled a bit too far back on two-finger pulls and the extra perforated leather on the back of the glove was there in case I went down (although I didn’t put that to the test).

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Road: SP-1 ($150)

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MX: Megawatt Hard Knuckle Glove ($60)

Boots

Once you get comfortable riding supermoto, and you can drag a knee more than you put a foot out (or vice versa), one type of boot might fit your riding style better than the other. MX boots are bulkier and have more reinforcement and a thicker, stiffer sole, which is better for planting a foot in the dirt or dragging a heel across asphalt in turns. Road racing boots, in contrast, are lighter and have more flex — better for planting a foot on a peg — making it easier to get over and drag a knee.

Rider’s Choice: I started out the day with the Supertech R boot and loved it. I had all the flex I needed and the heel was sturdy enough to repeatedly scrape the tarmac and push through the dirt. After lunch I strapped into the Tech-1 MX boots, but the bulky toe box led to short shifts and missed shifts, and the thick, dense sole made braking the rear wheel complete guesswork. I’m sure with a proper breaking in the Tech-1s would be a solid off-road boot, but after a few laps I had to switch back. The Supertech R made learning an all-new riding style and techniques on an unfamiliar bike that much easier.

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Road: Supertech R ($500)

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MX: Tech 1 Boot ($200)

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