It wasn’t too long ago that I purchased a used Kawasaki KLR 650 and I was faced with an entirely new style of riding. Now that I could venture offroad I knew my street riding gear was not going to be well suited for that type of riding. I also knew that I would be falling and I didn’t want to trash my street gear by knocking it about in the gravel and dirt.
Adventure motorcycling as a genre’ has a lot of nuances and includes a broad range or riding types.
I ride about 50% street to reach good offroad riding. Forest roads make up about 30% of my riding and that leaves 20% for the real gnarly single and double track riding that I like the best. You need to be very honest about where you ride. We all get caught up in the dream of ripping the trails and exploring the wilderness on one wheel, but reality is often quite different.
I am an ATGATT rider so riding without protective gear was not an option for me. The best armor will depend on your riding style. This is intended to cover the basics of protective gear and help the new ADV rider make a good decision on the gear they choose to buy.
When it comes to dual sport helmets most options are very affordable like my first Fox V1 helmet or on the high end side like my Arai XD4 helmet.
My Fox V1 helmet was cheap and effective. I wore it with some Scott OTG goggles and I rode my very first spring to early winter with it. When winter came I upgraded to my Arai XD4 because it was one of the few helmets with a visor that was also compatible with goggles.
Things to Consider for Helmets:
- Air Flow – Full dirt style helmets like my Fox V1 will really move a lot of air. That makes a loud helmet that is great when it’s hot, but when winter comes you will want to upgrade to a helmet with a visor. The downside of a helmet with a visor is less airflow when it gets hot. The Arai XD4 that I chose has a nice venting scheme for hot weather and you can still use your goggles when it gets hot.
- Peak – A peak is a useful feature on an offroad helmet. It will help deflect branches and debris from hitting your face and if you get a good one it serves to shade your eyes from the glaring sun. The downside of a peak is some helmets vibrate in the wind at higher speeds. I suggest using a peak and make sure that you get one that moves a little so it has less of a chance of breaking in a fall.
- Goggle Compatibility - You need some kind of eye wear. I have seen some people that just use sunglasses, but the best decision is goggles. The foam seal will keep dirt out of your eyes and you won’t be dangerously rubbing your eyes on the trail with a dirty hand and finger jabbing you every time you hit a bump. The exception to this rule is using your visor, but in the slow speed offroad riding you will be hot with your visor down.
- Headset Compatibility – I love to rock out on my rides. I use my SENA 20S on all my helmets and small ear pockets are a deal breaker for me, but it may not matter at all to you. If you want to use speakers make sure you do your research. Most helmets will work, but not all of them.
Upper Body Protection
You can choose to wear a jacket with built in armor and that will typically cover your elbows and shoulders. You can pick a roost guard like the Fox Pro Frame and that will provide chest and back protection. Your arms will still be exposed so you may want to consider some elbow and forearm guards like the Fox Titan Pro guards. I chose to wear a pressure suit from SixSixOne.
The pressure suit provides very good coverage. You put it on like a shirt and you will have your arms, shoulders, chest, and back protected in one simple piece of armor. Using armor strapped to your body will keep it in place when you need it.
Hips and Thighs
Many people consider this optional protection, but I wear the Alpinestars Bionic Freeride Shorts. This provides tail bone and thigh protection. My shorts have hard armor, but if I were buying new ones today I would get the soft padding instead. The tailbone protector can be painful if the shorts aren't positioned just right or if you sit on a hard surface. Most riding pants will also offer knee and hip protection, but pants meant for off road riding are typically just abrasion resistant shells and offer no armor.
Knees and Shins
I wear Fox Titan Pro knee guards. You need knee guards that are hinged to maximize comfort and movement. If you find knee guards that are labeled “left” and “right” they are typically more comfortable than universal ones. Make sure you try your guards out with your boots. Some guard and boot combos may or may not work well. If you want to go high end you can get knee braces designed for riding. The knee braces add additional protection from torsion injuries. However, this should be carefully considered. If you are in a crash and torsion is applied to your leg, a knee brace will help move the twisting up into your hip. A hurt knee is better than a broken femur or pelvis in my opinion.
If you have a different experience please share it in the comments.
- Pro Tip: Use knee brace socks with your knee guards. They don’t look very manly going on, in fact they seem a lot like a thigh high, but they will save the skin on your knees after a long day of riding. I use Fox Proforma Socks. Put your knee brace socks on, then strap on your knee guards and turn the extra bit of the sock down over the top of your guards so the socks will stay up.
Motorcycle boots will run the gamut on price and protection. My first pair of boots were O’Neill Elements and they were fine for getting me into dual sport. The protection was good enough but they weren’t very flexible so it was hard to shift gears and use the rear brake. Watch for a sale and you can get an awesome pair of boots for a mid-range price. I upgraded to some Sidi Crossfire SRS boots and they are night and day different compared to the Elements. I feel confident that those boots have saved me from at least 3 severe foot injuries and I will never wear a cheap pair of boots again.
Things to Consider:
- Hinged Ankle – Nicer MX boots will have an articulated ankle. This makes operating controls and walking much easier.
- Replaceable Parts and Soles – Some boots like the SRS boots allow a field replaceable sole and every wear part can be replaced. Metal spiked pegs are hard on a boot sole and off road riding can really beat up buckles. A boot that offers replaceable parts will help you extend your investment.
- Ankle Protection – Be careful what you pick for offroad boots. Many boots marketed in the “Adventure” category offer very little ankle protection. Ankles are one of the most common areas to be injured in a motorcycle crash and they take a long time to heal. Search the couch and find the extra change needed to have excellent ankle protection.
- Crush Protection – Many boots are nothing more than a leather boot. The small bones in your foot are delicate and when your luggage laden heavy adventure bike lands on your foot you will be glad you opted for a boot with good crush protection.
Its tricky to pick a good pair of dual sport gloves and I have written a separate article on what to look for here. While riding on street you need something that can take a street fall and when you get offroad you need a light weight vented glove to keep your hands comfortable. I currently use the Fox Bomber gloves in the summer and Fox Polarpaw gloves in the winter for offroad riding. For cold and wet weather street riding I am currently using Sliders Cold Pro gloves.
If you have anything you want to add to the conversation or a story about your gear saving your hide please post it in the comments and share with us.