It’s a question that often gets asked on the internet. And it’s a very reasonable question to ask, especially if you are quite new to motorcycling. Frankly, there aren’t many places to go to get a sensible answer. Everybody these days has an opinion, and there are lots of people out there on the internet who are prepared to give you the benefit of their lack of knowledge. But few people really know what they’re on about. The problem is that those who do know what they are on about will normally have an agenda. That is; they will want to sell you stuff, so you can’t always take what they say at face value.
Well, we are also a retailer, and we sell gear, but Sara and I, who own the business, look at these things a little differently to most. Nobody gave us proper advice when we started biking, and so we have made it our mission to make sure that we educate people about gear.
As a company, we sell high-end clothing that is normally more expensive, but we still like the idea of helping people who are perhaps starting out on their motorcycling journey. These people may not buy their gear from us initially but, who knows, one day they might.
Anyway, that’s the preamble. Let’s get into the main topic.
The question, however, can be likened to one that asks: ‘how much should I spend on a car’? Let’s say that the main purpose of this car is for commuting into work; in this case a 50-mile, daily, round trip. Well, some people will be willing to spend just a grand or two on a car. Such a vehicle could well satisfactorily get them from A to B and back on their daily journey. The owner may feel that this car is perfect. What’s the point in spending more? It does a job and offers great value for money. Another person may feel more comfortable and reassured by spending, say, £30k on a car. Somebody else might be comfortable spending £100k on a car, for the benefits they feel it confers upon them.
Yet, all three vehicles do the same job; more or less. And so the conclusion has to be that there is no definitive answer to the original question about how much should you spend on a car. And the same applies to motorcycle clothing.
But what we can do is tell you how little you can spend and probably how much. And we can attempt to explain what the benefits are of spending a little bit more.
Well, this is a simple one. Because you really don’t need to spend very much.
Legally, the only item that you have to wear is an ECE accredited helmet. And you can get one from Lidl for as little as £25. Indeed, I do sometimes see helmets being sold at prices as low as this by proper motorcycle clothing sellers. So £25 and you’re good to go.
A pair of jeans, some sturdy boots, some gloves and a coat to keep you warm. Technically that’s all you need. We might feel that this set up is not going to give you a great deal of protection, or indeed comfort, but for those riding a mile or so every day on a 50cc scooter, some might consider this to be adequate. After all, there are still lots of people out there wearing not much more on large capacity sportsbikes. It is not for us to sit in judgement.
But let’s raise the bar a little. Let’s say you’re getting yourself a new bike; something fairly modest. You want to go out for short rides on nice weekends, or you think you might contemplate occasionally undertaking your 10-15 minute commute into work on your new bike. You want to wear proper motorcycle wear, but you don’t want to break the bank. How much do you need to be spending?
Well, we’ve already discussed the helmet. You can pay as little as £25. But we wouldn’t. And that’s because the helmet is what is going to come between you and the road if you have an accident. One of the main roles of a helmet is to absorb and dissipate the energy of an impact if your head hits something hard. By absorbing this energy, it will reduce the speed with which the brain is hurled from one side of the skull to the other. It is when the brain hits the other side of the skull and rebounds that bruising can result. And this bruising can cause brain damage. Simply put, brain damage cannot be repaired. It is permanent. We relate this awful reality because some people don’t realise what a helmet is for, other than for some nebulous concept of not hurting your head.
Now, the problem is that, technically, all helmets are meant to offer the same level of protection. But the reality is that they don’t. Once a maker’s prototype has been tested, many of those helmets produced cheaply in the Far East are never re-tested, and a consumer test by an Italian magazine a few years ago showed how a frightening number of helmets that were meant to meet the 22-05 standard actually didn’t do so. By contrast, the top manufacturers test to a standard that is way above 22-05.
For us at Motolegends, it it is hard to recommend the buying of a helmet that we wouldn’t ride in ourselves. But we get nervous about full-face helmets that cost £200 or less. There are lots of helmets in the £200 to £300 price band, and some will be up to the job. Our own view is that you probably need to be spending around £300 to get a properly protective helmet, and if £300 is too much to spend on trying to prevent the possibility of brain damage, then you should perhaps question whether riding a motorbike is the right thing for you. Because motorbikes are dangerous. And accidents do happen.
The rest of your outfit is less contentious.
These days, proper, protective, motorcycle gear has to be CE approved. If something purports to offer protection, it has to have been tested to a standard, and that garment will have a label inside attesting to this.
You are going to need to work out what type of biker you want to be, and therefore what kind of gear you need. If you get into it, you will perhaps need more than one outfit, but initially you might need to decide whether you are going to be a fair-weather only, cool-looking, jeans and leather jacket kind of motorcyclist, or whether you will want gear that is going to enable you to ride in colder and wetter conditions.
Let’s look at the cool route first. A pair of jeans, cargo pants or chinos. They will all come with knee armour. It might make sense to get something that takes hip armour too. Personally, I think hip armour is sometimes more necessary than knee armour. At the entry level, you can expect these trousers to be lined with something like Kevlar for protection. Budget £100.
In terms of a jacket, you’re going to want something like a leather jacket or even a cool-looking textile jacket. Any certified motorcycle jacket is going to come with elbow and shoulder protectors, because it has too. At this level, a back protector will usually be optional. Budget £200-ish. I am sure you could get a jacket for £100. You won’t get huge levels of protection for this money, but at least you will have something that carries armour for impact. You can get a pair of bike gloves for £50. As far as boots are concerned, you could budget as little as £50 to £100.
So, you can get yourself a ‘cool’ biking outfit from about £400 plus the helmet. One can always find cheaper, and by buying discontinued lines you might be able to beat these prices, but remember that we’re talking here about gear that can literally save your skin (and more) if you come off. Spending too little could end up being a false economy, the foolishness of which you can always explain to the nurses in A&E!
If you’re wanting to go a more technical route, you might want to budget a little more because this gear will probably incorporate a waterproof membrane. But £150 to £200 will buy you an acceptable waterproof jacket, although you might need to supply your own thermal. Put aside around £150 for pants. Let’s say £60 for a pair of gloves with a membrane, and £100 for a pair of taller boots that will keep your feet dry even in heavy rain. So we are talking a little over £500 plus a helmet. Again, you can pay less, but even more so here than with the ‘cool’ outfit, it might not be wise not to go too cheap, because you want this clothing to work, and to keep you warm and dry, when it’s cold and wet.
These are what we would term entry-level outfits. They will get you started. Here at Motolegends, we might be able to hit these price points only on some items, so on this kind of budget we may not be your first choice of retailer.
We are still very much in ‘piece of string’ territory here. Nobody can tell you how much you need to spend, but in this section we are going to talk about gear that is not right at the top end, but that is going to be up to the job for almost any motorcyclist, however many miles they do, whether they commute daily, do European tours or just want good, dependable gear for going out at weekends.
Let’s talk about ‘cool’ gear first.
We are going to be talking about better quality, more protective jeans, a jacket made from a nicer leather, or maybe a wax cotton jacket, some higher quality gloves, more robust boots and perhaps a more stylish helmet.
You will get a really nice pair of jeans or chinos for £200/£250; hopefully a single-layer jean. For a leather or wax cotton jacket that you’d be happy to be seen in, budget £350. For a pair of good quality gloves, you could be in for £100. For some proper, short biking boots, £150 to £200 will give you plenty to choose from.
If we’re talking a better quality, cool helmet, again we don’t like the idea of cutting corners. We really don’t rate any of the ‘hipster’ helmets out there. Too often they are all about form and not a lot about function. The only two ‘cool’ retro helmets that we are prepared to put our name to come from Shoei and Arai, and for the basic, plain Shoei Glamster you should be prepared to pay £400. Remember, again, this is your head we’re talking about.
Overall, therefore, we’re talking about something in the region of, say, £1250. Frankly, even though you could spend more on such an outfit, you won’t necessarily get anything better or more protective. In other words, between £1000 and £1500 buys you as cool and as good an outfit as you will need. Spending more is fine, but you’re then in the realms of indulging yourself.
Let’s look at a technical outfit at this level.
At this level, you could be talking about different types of technical outfit. Three-layer with a removable membrane. Drop liner or even laminate. You will get a darned good, zip-together suit for £800 to £900. For a tall, touring and commuting boot, you’ll spend between £150 and £250. You might want to step up to a Gore-Tex glove at this level. £150 will buy you a good pair of waterproof gloves.
Same old, same old as far as a helmet is concerned. We won’t brook compromise. But if you want a helmet that will do everything you might want a helmet to do; if you want a helmet that can be custom fitted, we're thinking about £500 for something like a Shoei GT Air-3 or Shoei Neotec 3.
Bottom line is that you’ll get a technical outfit that will be up to the job, any job, for something in the region of £1,500. We have customers who commute from Guildford to the City 12 months a year in an outfit that will come inside this budget. You don’t ‘need’ to spend more. Whether you want to spend more is another matter.
When we get to the top level, concepts such as value for money fall by the wayside. When compared with the outfits we have just looked at, you can spend, say, 50% more, but if you do you won’t get 50% more in terms of functionality. You might get 20% more.
No surprise here. A £10k watch doesn’t keep time better than a £500 watch. A £3,000 bicycle doesn’t go any faster than a £500 bicycle. As I have often discovered, much to my embarrassment!
When you spend more money at this level, what might surprise you is that you don’t necessarily get gear that is more protective. Making gear that is more protective is easy, and not necessarily more costly. You just make clothing from fabrics that are thicker, stronger and heavier. But often this kind of gear is not nice to wear. In my view, when you spend more, what you should expect is to get gear that is nicer to wear. And that is important, because a comfortable rider is a rider who can concentrate better on the road, and potentially stay out of harm’s way. It’s a concept known as ‘passive safety’, and it’s one we hold dear.
Let’s look at cool gear first.
The best, nicest, single-layer jeans can cost you anything between £300 and £400. You could spend over a grand on a jacket, and if you want to, knock yourself out, but for £600 you buy yourself a leather, wax cotton or textile jacket that is as good as any. Boots, between £250 and £350. Gloves, £150 for a waterproof pair; £100 for a summer weight pair.
Now whilst we don’t advocate spending too little on a helmet, neither do we suggest spending too much. Even though we recommended the Shoei Glamster as part of our mid-level budget, we’d recommend the same helmet, or something like the Arai Rapide, here too. The most you could spend on one of these is a bit over £500. Now there are more expensive, cool helmets on the market, but frankly we think they’re a waste of money. They will be inferior helmets to the Shoei and Arai in every respect. But if hipster coolness is your guiding principle, go for it. It’s your money.
Bottom line? £2000 buys you a set of super-cool togs that want for nothing in terms of quality, comfort and functionality. Okay, if you pushed it you could spend a bit more, but you would risk becoming the guy with all the gear and no idea. And nobody wants to be that guy.
But if you want to undertake a long-distance commute or go on extensive, international tours, you are going to need a high-end outfit, and whereas we think you can over-spend on cool gear, that’s less the case with technical clothing. With technical gear, there’s a greater propensity to get what you pay for.
You’re going to want a Gore-Tex laminated suit with a long warranty. We’re probably talking Rukka, Klim or Stadler. Other brands do laminated outfits, but at this end of the market you’re not going to want to take the risk. And so to get the very best suit that money can buy, you could well be in for anything up to £2500. The best boots could set you back £400. You’re eventually going to need several pairs of gloves, but £200 to £250 for the best summer-waterproof gloves is not out of court.
For £600 you will get the best road helmet money can buy, with all the features you need. Yes, you could spend up to a grand for something racy in carbon. But why? It won’t be as quiet. It won’t be as comfortable. And it won’t be any safer. It will almost certainly be less feature laden.
So, in summary, you could be in for anything up to £4000 to get yourself the last word in technical wear.
So this is our response to all those who ask the question how much do I need to spend, or how much should I spend, on motorcycle clothing?
As we stated at the beginning of this piece, there is no right answer. We are talking about the length of a piece of string, and it’s a fairly long piece of string. As we have seen, you can spend as little as £25 and be legally able to ride a motorcycle on the road. But equally you could spend a considerable amount more.
What you spend may be dictated by the amount you can afford. For some kind of riding, there will, realistically, be an amount that you need to spend. Or your expenditure might simply be dictated by the amount you feel you want to spend.
Our fathers and grand fathers often rode motorcycles because it was their only form of transport. They rode into work 52 weeks of the year in every imaginable condition; from blizzards to howling gales. Motorcycle gear as we know it, didn’t exist. A raincoat, a strong pair of wellies, some woollen mitts and a peaked cap. That’s all they had, and they got by alright.
People like Ted Simons and Elspeth Beard rode around the world in nothing more than an old leather jacket and a second-hand helmet. If Prime Minister MacMillan had ever ridden a motorbike he would have told us that we’ve ‘never had it so good’. And he would be right. These days we have access to amazing gear that makes riding a motorcycle so much easier and more comfortable than it’s ever been. Not to say, a lot safer.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on gear to enjoy riding a motorcycle. But riding a bike can be miserable. You can get wetter than you ever thought possible. And colder too. It can also be horribly dangerous. You don’t need to spend a fortune. But equally, it can be a mistake to spend too little. I have had some of the happiest, most memorable times of my life on a motorbike. I’ve also had some of the most unpleasant and forgettable. And any motorcyclist who ignores the perils of motorcycling is simply foolhardy.
You need to spend enough. But there’s no point in spending too much.
Unless, of course, it’s with Motolegends!
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