We know the following statement will polarize most motorcycle riders: Nobody but you is critiquing your riding costume. Well, we’ll hedge a bit there. If you’re riding in a leather vest with no shirt underneath and no helmet, everyone is critiquing your fashion and common sense. Mostly, though, what you wear to ride should be about three-fourths focused on safety. The other quarter? Comfort. Because the safest clothing in the world is worthless if it’s so uncomfortable that you choose not to wear it.
Now, we know how all that sounds — hence the polarization. Saying you shouldn’t care about style screams right in the face of all that marketing jargon and your fellow riders at coffee stops constantly kibitzing about what they wear or you wear, how well it performs or doesn’t and of course, if it looks cool. See? Polarization. Of course, you and your posse care about looks. Duh! It’s just that while you’re on the bike, you should quit that thinking entirely and focus on riding.
Here’s what matters, however, when it comes to the particular topic of riding pants, the focus of this roundup, but also, this info applies to jackets, too.
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What to Look for When Buying Motorcycle Pants
How much body armor and protection do the pants have?
CE Level Armor. The US doesn’t have a common standard for moto body armor, but the European Union does. Because most brands sold here also sell their goods across the pond, we in the US and howdy, Canadian friends (!), benefit from those standards. As for the ratings, there are two sets to be aware of.
AAA, AA, and A ratings rate the overall garment, and when it comes to pants, slide protection. As you might guess, the more “A’s” the higher the standard and the more Michelin Man you’re getting. What’s the difference? All products that meet CE standards are tested for wear and abrasion as well as keeping body armor in place in the event of a crash. (Manufacturers and the EU use special machines that simulate slides and impacts.) you mostly will find AAA only in racing apparel, which is the least comfortable stuff to wear for your coffee ride, but the most protective. AA and A-rated clothing are more for street or adventure riding and, as a general rule, will feel less restrictive.
You’ll also see Level 1 and Level 2 ratings for body armor, which refers to how many kilonewtons of force the armor transmits to your body. Level 1 can allow up to 18 kN, and no single value can exceed 24 kN; Level 2 protectors reduce that to below 9 kN, and no single value can exceed 12 kN.
If all this math is numbing, we’ll translate: a single kN equals 225 pounds. That means even Level 2 armor should average “only” transmitting 2,023 pounds of force to your body in the event of a crash. OUCH! The Level 1 stuff would send through 4,046 pounds. That should be sobering when you think about rolling with no armor at all.
How comfortable are the pants?
Remember that 3/4 vs. 1/4 idea above, where we said you should focus on protection but also comfort?
Well, comfort truly does matter, particularly thinking about the trade-offs of breathability, pliability (how much a pant or jacket allows or restricts movement), waterproofing, active vents you can open and shut and for all of the above, also, versatility. Some moto clothing is so benign you could remove the armor and happily wear it as “normal” garb, which makes that spend a little less painful for a riding jeans that can save your ass and also make your ass look like it’s encased in denim, not some super high-tech material nobody sane would wear on the street.
What type of riding do you plan to do?
One additional thought here, however: Just like there’s no such thing as the “one-bike-quiver,” there’s no single pant or jacket that’s going to be ideal for every riding condition and every style of riding. Sorry folks: Motorcycling isn’t different than bicycling or skiing, etc. The weather and terrain dictate your comfort and safety, which always means the deeper you get, the more options you will need in your arsenal.
Can you wear street pants under motorcycle pants?
We add this question because it’s a common concern. The answer is that it depends. If the moto pants are already armored and rated for slide protection, sure. But if you’re wearing two pairs of pants, you’re likely to be hot unless it’s freezing cold outside. But if the moto pants are, say, just a rain pant, without armor or slide protection, you already know the answer. Free choice exists, but like the dude riding in the leather vest and nothing else, your Levi’s 501s aren’t doing a whole lot to protect you from serious harm, which is why even when we list jeans in this guide, they’re rated for riding, not for struttin’.
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