Motorcycle Pants Guide
So often, you will see riders going down the road with a helmet, motorcycle jacket, gloves and a regular old pair of jeans. All of the riding gear to keep you safe except for the pants. Your favorite pair of jeans may be comfortable, but they certainly will not protect you in a motorcycle crash. The bottom half of your body is important too, so you should protect it just like you would with the top.
With so many different styles of riding, there are just about as many styles of motorcycles pants to match. Each style of pant is tailored to fit the needs of that particular riding style. When you match the style of pant to your style of riding, you can expect a more comfortable and protected ride.
The most common style of motorcycle pants are cruiser/touring pants. Many casual riders enjoy them because they tend to be very comfortable. They are often a more "boxy" or American cut pant to provide a relaxed and comfortable fit. Fitment adjusters are often included on the waists to allow the rider to get a more precise fit.
Cruiser pants can be constructed with either leather or textiles or even a combination of both. Leather cruiser pants offer better abrasion resistance, while textiles can be more versatile by being waterproof. Thermal liners can be included with both. Since cruiser pants are a relaxed fit, many pairs do not incorporate many stretch panels, if any at all.
Extras tend to be at a bare minimum on most pairs of cruiser motorcycle pants. Options with armor included are fairly slim, though there are more and more every year as the technology advances. The normal four pockets can be found on most pairs with extra pockets only found on a few different pairs.
To cope with all of the various conditions that an ADV rider will encounter, Adventure touring pants need to be extremely versatile. ADV pants are designed to be very durable and comfortable to be able to withstand multiple terrains and weather conditions. Textiles are able to provide the versatility that is needed and are almost always the material of choice for the main construction on ADV pants.
ADV pants need to have great mobility and flexibility to be able to move with the ADV rider, who tends to be very active on the bike. To accomplish this, good ADV motorcycle pants will have stretch panels incorporated in key areas like the knee and seat areas. They are offered in both the overpants style and as regular pants. Vents and mesh panels are important to allow air to move through the pants to keep the rider cool. ADV pants also tend to have the most pockets, which are placed strategically so they do not impair movement.
Impact protection like foam padding and armor is often included with ADV pants due to the high possibility of an off. Soft, pliable armor like D30® is a preferred choice because it is very pliable and does not impair the rider's mobility in a big way. Armor can be found in the knees and hips. Waterproof and thermal liners are often included to make the pants more versatile in a variety of weather conditions. To reduce some of the bulk caused by a waterproof liner, manufacturers can use waterproof breathable textiles in the construction of the outer shell of the pants.
Commuters and riders who just want to look causal are the perfect candidates for motorcycle jeans. Riding jeans provide a decent amount of abrasion resistance that can withstand a lower speed slide, like one you would experience in urban riding. To accomplish this, the jeans are either reinforced with an abrasion resistant material like Kevlar woven into the denim or have a liner of that material sewn to the inside. The seams should be either double or triple stitched with a high-tensile strength thread to be able to hold together in a slide.
For added impact protection, many gear brands include removable armor. For quick removal of the armor, look for jeans with armor pockets on the outside. Motorcycle jeans definitely offer better protection than normal jeans, but they are not on the same level as dedicated motorcycle pants.
Fit and style are very important for motorcycle jeans. Since the jeans are meant to worn on and off of the bike, they need to look and feel great for all day wear. Pairs with a liner sewn in tend to be a bit more bulky than the ones with the abrasion resistant material woven in with the main fabric. Strategically located stretch panels will prevent the jeans from bunching up on you when you are on the bike.
Motorcycle racing pants need to be able to withstand high speed slides and impacts. A thick, high quality leather is often the best, if not the only, choice of material used to construct the main chassis of the pants. Leather has a high abrasion resistance and can tolerate a high speed slide much longer than any textile. Stretch panels are incorporated in the knees, thighs and seat area to provide enough flexibility for the rider.
Race pants need to have a fairly snug fit for a few reasons. The first is that the snug fit will prevent any extra, baggy material from catching the wind and disrupting the rider's aerodynamics. The second reason is that the snug, pre-curved fit also helps to keep the rider's legs stay in a tuck position on the bike as well as off of the bike in case of a crash. Finally, the snug fit will help prevent the legs of the pants from riding up during a slide.
Most pairs of racing pants come with armor in the knees and hips. Knee sliders or knee pucks are very common on race pants as well. These external sliders allow the rider to put their knee down while cornering without damaging the pants. There is often a zipper at the top of the pants to attach them to a motorcycle jacket. This helps the jacket from sliding up and the pants from sliding down.
Since these motorcycle pants are meant to be used on the track, extra features like waterproofing and thermal liners are usually not included. Pockets are at a minimum if there are any.
Motorcycle chaps have become a classic piece of gear in the sport. They are often chosen by riders due to their long-standing tradition in motorcycle fashion. Another reason why they are popular with some riders is that they are relatively comfortable to wear and can be worn over the top of your favorite pair of pants. A good pair of chaps should be made from a thick, high quality leather with long side zippers to make it easy to take on and off over boots. Chaps with removable thermal liners have more seasonal versatility than ones without.
Chaps do a great job of protecting the rider while on the bike, but are far from the best choice in the case of an off. The heavy leather that is often used works very well to protect the rider from engine and exhaust heat. Chaps also work very well to protect the rider's legs from road debris, wind and light road spray. The open seat and crotch make them very comfortable on the bike in terms of mobility and air movement.
While motorcycle chaps can provide decent abrasion resistance for much of your legs, they do fail to protect the seat, which is where the majority of the abrasion can take place in a slide. They also lack armor for impact protection.
Heat Resistant Panels
On some motorcycle's, like Adventure touring bikes, cruisers and other bikes without fairings, your legs are more exposed to the extreme heat coming off of the motor and exhaust. Much of the textiles used to construct motorcycle pants are susceptible to melting and burning when exposed to high heat. It's because of this that many pairs of pants that are geared towards those riding styles have heat resistant panels incorporated into the lower inseams.
The best heat resistant panels on motorcycle pants are made from a thick, high quality leather. Others are constructed with reinforced heat resistant textiles. Both will keep your legs protected against the high heat that can be thrown off of a motorcycle engine and exhaust. ADV/Dual Sport riders greatly benefit from having high quality heat panels because they can also use the panels to grip the bike with their knees when they go off road riding.
Motorcycle overpants are worn over your normal pants as the name implies. They are beneficial for some riders, but are not the best option for everyone. Commuters are definitely beneficiaries of wearing overpants as they can wear their normal pants to be worn at their destination underneath. Overpants tend to fit on the loose side, so it is important that they also have adequate fitment adjusters to customize the fit as much as possible. The loose fit makes them more comfortable for commuters and low speed touring riders, but it can be a negative trait for anyone who rides at higher speeds. These riders need their pants to be fairly snug so that they do not impair their aerodynamics. The tighter fitting motorcycle pants are also more likely to stay in place during a high speed slide.
If the overpant style fits your needs and wants, there are a few things that you should look for. Long side zippers make it much easier to get the overpants on and off over your footwear and normal pants. Extra stretch panels will help provide mobility, which can be reduced due to the fact that you will be wearing two pairs of pants. Fitment adjusters around the waist and ankles are very important to get the pants as snug and comfortable as possible. Being waterproof is a huge advantage as that will eliminate the need for you to put on rain pants, which would be yet another layer, which could increase the heat build-up and reduce your mobility.
Armor & Padding
The amount of motorcycle pant offerings with armor and padding is steadily growing as the technology improves. It used to be that only the race pants would feature armor, but it has now expanded into touring and commuting pants as well. Manufacturers like D3O® have developed internal armor that is slim, pliable and unobtrusive. This type of armor can be found on the knees and hips, which are high impact areas on the body. For the best protection, look for armor that is C.E. rated.
Foam padding is also used for impact protection, but it does not offer the same impact protection as C.E. rated armor. Many motorcycle pant manufacturers use the foam padding on the hips because it is less bulky and more pliable. Foam is suitable for low speed riding, but is unacceptable while racing and other very aggressive riding.
Motorcycle racing pants often have hard plastic TPU armor on the outside of the knee area. These are commonly referred to as knee sliders or knee pucks. They are added to race pants to allow the rider to safely put their knee down in an extreme lean angle while cornering. A good slider will be extremely durable, but still allows the rider to have good "feel" while in contact with the pavement.
Insulated and waterproof liners can make your motorcycle pants or chaps far more versatile. A removable insulated liner will allow you to wear your motorcycle pants/chaps in a greater range of temperatures and seasons. For colder weather, the liner can be left in the pants for added warmth and then removed once the weather warms up. A waterproof liner will keep the water that does pass through your water resistant pants from reaching your skin. The waterproof liner is not the best option compared to a waterproof chassis like one made from Gore-Tex®, but it is generally less expensive.
The disadvantage of liners is that they can add bulk to your motorcycle pants. If you don't want this added bulk, there are ways to get the benefits without the bulk. To take the place of a waterproof liner, you should look for pants that are made with a waterproof breathable textile layer like Gore-Tex® that is laminated to the outside layer. Waterproof breathable materials ensure that you will stay dry not only against rain and outside moisture, but from your own sweat as well. A thermal liner can then be replaced with layering clothing that is tight to the skin and is moisture wicking. These layering pieces are growing in popularity as the technology advances and they are becoming thinner and more effective.