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Beyond the mall: How to find female-specific motorcycle gear

By Brittany Morrow

Brittany Morrow, motorcycle safety guru, gives us some tips on getting the right gear.

As females, we’re taught from birth that many things are valued based on the way they look.  We learn to search for colors, fabrics, textures and shapes that look good on our bodies and appeal to our personal sense of style. Sometimes, we might even come across a trend we love so much that it influences our apparel decisions for the rest of our lives. This doesn’t just apply to females, but it is a dominant factor in the choices most women make regardless of their lifestyle.

Fashion isn't the problem

Unfortunately, how we traditionally shop for clothing is actually counter-productive to finding the right motorcycle gear. Fashion in itself isn’t the problem; rather, it’s how we are wired. We’re taught to react to trends emotionally rather than reasonably, because fashion isn’t logical. When we pick out items based on whether or not they match our bike, what’s currently popular, or our personal taste, we might never find something that fits, functions and feels great to ride in. Riding gear is so much more personal, and it’s not just our style reputation on the line… it’s our lives.

When it comes to motorcycling, there’s only one trend that truly matters, and it never goes out of season: not skinned alive.

Wear the right gear

Newsflash! Long sleeve shirts, hoodies, fake leather, leggings, skirts, high heels, jeans and sneakers are not protective equipment and will do nothing to help prevent injuries in even the smallest crash. What you chose to wear will be based on many different factors, and it’s important to remember that no two riders are exactly the same. As technologies advance, the possibilities become quite endless. The good news is that there are items out there that fit every rider’s shape, size, preferred protection level, wallet depth and yes, personal style. What it really comes down to is what you’re willing to risk and what consequences you’re willing to live with. You might have to do a little digging, but it’s better than the alternative of riding completely unprotected.

Close up of someone wearing bike leathers

Bike leathers and knee pads—the 'no risk' approach

The first step in finding the right gear is to define the type of riding you’ll be doing. Commuting to work in traffic will require different features than a day at the race track. Ask yourself a few questions to determine a starting point:

  1. What types of roads, speeds and other traffic will I encounter most?
  2. What weather am I riding in?
  3. What are my biggest risks? 

Choosing the right gear

Once you know the kind of riding you'll do, start narrowing your search by the features you absolutely require. Here’s an example to get you on the right track:

Rider type: Urban commuter (scooter and motorcycle)

The most at risk group for impact injuries and oftentimes the biggest offenders when it comes to riding gearless. It’s never too late to reverse the trend!

Gear requirements

This type of riding will require gear that is designed to fit over a normal layer of clothing (for school/workplace convenience). The most important protection you can have is armour in major impact zones: back, shoulders, elbows, chest, knuckles, hips, knees and ankles. These can be added separately as individual pieces that simply strap to your body over (or under) your clothing. Alternatively, this armour can also come as part of abrasion-resistant jackets, pants, gloves and boots. Also extremely important for a commuter with no other means of transport is a simple rain suit with reflectivity.

What about hi-viz vests?

As for hi-viz vests or other items, they can help you be seen better on the road, but your riding skills will do much more for you than flouro-yellow ever will. The best piece of gear you can have is a fat stack of training completion cards in your pocket.

Female-specific tips

Heels and a skirt might look great in the office but they have no business on a scooter or moped. Long skirts can get caught in moving parts and cause a crash. Short/tight skirts can hinder the lower body movement needed to ride properly.  Heels can slip off the pegs or footrests, or even the ground in a slippery spot. Just say no!  Bring a backpack and change on your way out the door.

  • Armored Kevlar leggings are available from multiple brands and are an easy solution to the commuter woes.
  • Motorcycle specific boots and shoes come in nearly every size, shape, width, heel height and color, so there’s no excuse to ride in anything less.
  • At a bare minimum. external armor with Velcro straps are made in female sizes and can go right on top of your normal work clothes, assuming you’re wearing pants and a long sleeve.

Just remember, abrasion injuries can be extremely painful, take a long time to heal and are prone to infection.  Not so sexy now, right?  Don’t let convenience be the deciding factor – road burns and broken bones are not what any of us signed up for. Only you can decide what you’re willing to risk, knowing your options and the real consequences helps make that decision a bit easier.

Misunderstanding the female shape

The female shape is complicated, and oftentimes misunderstood. The real problem is that we expect our gear to fit like clothing, when it isn’t supposed to fit like clothing at all. Motorcycle specific apparel is pre-curved to match the seated riding position. Don’t expect to be able to downward dog well in your cordura jacket and leather pants, even if you have stretch ballistic panels for better movement.  Gear off-the-rack also isn’t going to fit perfectly every time, so just accept that a trip to the tailor is normal and a really great investment.

Choose clothing that matches your shape and riding position

What to look for: If you need space in the chest, look for 'princess seams' which start at the armpit and travel inward towards your chest before dropping down to the waist. If you have an hourglass figure, look for adjustable waist straps and tapered jackets that curve outward in the hip area. Motorcycle specific jeans, leggings and pants should all have slightly wider hips and taper inward as they reach the thigh. If you have larger legs, avoid the 'skinny leg' styles and perhaps even go for an overpant fit to give yourself more room. If you find the arms or legs are too long, head to the tailor!  If they are too short, try going a size up and get the item taken in where there is any extra bulk.

Finding the right gear isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t first year math, either.  Just like our body shapes, personal style, and the type of riding we prefer… it’s somewhere in between those extremes.  If you’re willing to do the work, it will pay off exponentially, and that’s something everyone can understand and appreciate.