When I started riding my dual sport bike I found a whole new type of gear was needed. I never had a dirt bike as a kid so I had no idea what offroad riding gear would be best for what I was doing. I also found that the available choices for gear that successfully crosses over between street and offroad is pretty limited. Things are getting better as the adventure motorcycling market is growing, but it can still be confusing if you are new to adventure or dual sport riding.
In the past year I have ridden my dual sport bike more than my street bikes and I have learned a lot. I still have a long way to go before I am the rider I would like to be, but while I am learning I have done a lot of experimenting with riding gear and luggage trying to find what works well for me.
I am going to start a new series about adventure and dual sport gear to try and point out some of the things that I have found to be beneficial or not beneficial in adventure and dual sport gear.
I will start off with jackets. As a new rider we almost always go for the jacket first.
With street jackets you want a tighter fit. This will vary based on jacket model, but some jackets are so tight they only leave room for a very thin thermal layer. The tighter fit helps keep armor in place and reduces fatigue and discomfort from your jacket flapping in the wind.
Built In Armor
- Street jackets typically have built in armor. Some jackets are easy to remove the armor and some you have to work at it.
High Abrasion Resistance
- Street jackets are typically built out of tough abrasion resistant synthetic fabrics or leather. In a fall, the last thing you want to happen is your jacket wear through and allow the pavement to get to your skin.
- Street riders often carry fewer items with them and have less of a need for pockets in their jackets. There are certainly exceptions, but most street riding jackets have very few pockets.
- A true dirt riding jacket has a very loose fit. It is cut this way because you need to move around on the bike a lot. The speeds are typically not as fast as street speeds so the extra material flapping in the wind is less of a concern.
- Many dirt bike jackets are made with fewer pockets because they are often intended to be worn at a track when the weather is cold or rainy. If you are on a track there isn't much need to carry along a bunch of gear.
Usually No Armor
- Dirt bike riders often wear their armor strapped to their body instead of in their jackets. They need loose clothing to move around in and loose clothing will not hold armor in place to maximize its protection.
Often Waterproof or Water Resistant
- When riding dirt bikes you can work up a lot of body heat so why would you need a jacket? In case its raining. Most of the jackets meant for dirt riding are waterproof and would actually act as decent rain gear for a street rider. The loose cut would help it slip over your primary street jacket.
Loose Fit With Adjustment
- Adventure jackets often have riders on the pavement and offroad. For this type of riding you need a loose cut so you can move around easy, but the best jackets offer adjusters on the sleeves and waist so you can prevent the flapping while on the street. The loose cut of these jackets also allows a lot of flexibility with thermal layers underneath.
Most Have Armor
- Adventure jackets have a mix of offerings when it comes to armor. Ideally, you want a jacket that has removable armor. Combined with the loose cut, removable armor will give you the flexibility of wearing armor strapped to your body if you have more of an offroad day planned and still allow you to do street rides while using the built in armor of your jacket.
High Abrasion Resistance
- Since adventure jackets are often used on pavement they typically have the same focus as street jackets when it comes to abrasion. You have a good chance of crashing on pavement so these jackets need to be tough. Leather is a common material in street jackets, but you will not find much leather in the shell of an adventure jacket. Leather would be heavy and hot and it would not handle repeated water crossings as well as synthetic fabrics.
Pockets are more important to some riders than others. A rider who wants to keep all the weight on his body will want a lot of pockets. A rider like me prefers to carry my items in bike luggage so pockets are less of an issue to me. Some people will use jacket pockets instead of a tank bag and I have even seen pockets intended to store rain gear.
Hydration Systems More Common
- Adventure and dual sport riding often crosses over into long distance touring as well. When you are working hard guiding a large bike through some tough trails you will need to have water on hand to stay hydrated. You will see many adventure style jackets offering built in hydration bladders with features to route the drinking tube over your shoulder.
- The downside to having all these features built in to your jacket is additional weight. You may find that you are willing to sacrifice some of the creature comforts to have a more minimalistic jacket.
- Adventure jackets are often lumped in with touring jackets so you will see features like waterproof shells or liners, venting schemes, and thermal liners often included.
There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to jackets, but there are certainly a lot of features to consider. As with any protective gear, buy the best you can afford, but don't wait until you can buy the best. A cheap jacket is much better than no jacket at all. I would encourage you to do your research if you are new to adventure and dual sport riding. Try to experiment with some moderately priced gear until you figure out what you really like and dislike. Then find the jacket that fits your needs the best.