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Motorcycle Riding Pants and Armor

Updated on July 19, 2017


There’s an age-old saying in motorcycle riding: There are two types of riders--the ones who have laid a motorcycle down, and ones who will eventually lay a motorcycle down. And in that moment, you want more than a thin layer of cotton standing between you and the road. Google motorcycle road rash if you need further convincing and take a peak at some of those images and you quickly get a sense of why motorcycle pants, and particularly, riding pants with armor are absolutely essential. We’ll cover the full range of pants from jeans and motorcycle cargo pants, to leather and full armor pants, as well as how to pick gear that best meets your needs.

Types of Fabrics

What makes motorcycle pants different from the slacks you where everyday that is that (hopefully) they been designed to hold up in a crash and have a high abrasion resistant material, particularly around the areas of impact where you hit the ground. In terms of materials and fabric, in order of abrasion resistance (more or less) we have:

  1. Denim--a cotton fabric that while it seems may be sturdy, is not very resistant to aggressive abrasion.

  2. Nylons, kevlar, Keprotec, and other synthetics or synthentic blends--have degrees of abrasion resistance, but motorcycle pants of these materials are often much closer to leather.

  3. Leather--still the reigning king of abrasion resistance, leather, specifically, heavy, competition weight leather, is far and away the best at resistance to abrasion. It outperforms every other material. By a lot. If you want the numbers, check out this forum discussion on how each was tested and how well each material stood up.


To Armor or Not to Armor

Armored Motorcycle Pants may seem like overkill, but that’s easy to say until your knees meet pavement at 60+ mph. Getting pants that at a minimum protect your knees, and ideally your ankles, will help ensure that if you do go down, you get to walk, rather than be rolled away. It can also help protect you if, heaven forbid, you get hit by another vehicle.

There are a variety of armor options out there, and depending on the pants that you buy you may be stuck with whatever is sewn into the pants. Some pants allow you to remove and even replace impact armor, and you can always you strap on motorcycle armor for some of those sensitive areas, if you decide to go with less-protective gear. Beware though, it will be about as expensive as just buying impact resistance pants in the first place.

In terms of what kind of armor there is out there, the gold standard right now is CE-certified armor. The CE (Certified European) standard was set by a group of industry and medical consultants in Europe and each piece of gear has to be independently tested and certified. Always check labels to make sure that whatever you’re buying has the CE label on it and the relevant code attached:

Boots--CE EN 13634

Motorcycle jackets, pants, and suits--CE EN 13595

Impact Protectors and Body Armor--CE EN 1621

If say, a pair of pants has armor in it, and the pants have the CE rating but the armor in the pants does not, steer clear. Otherwise you may be buying pants that are rated for impact, but armor that is not, which will do you very little good in a crash.

The other material that is getting some interest is the D3O armor which is a proprietary technology by the company of the same name out of England. It’s an incredibly fluid, flexible material that suddenly hardens on impact. You can watch videos of guys testing this stuff out with a frying pan here. There are D3O inserts to replace some of your current armor. The issue seems to be that right now, D3O still transfers quite a bit of the impact to the rider, which is not something you want, even if the material is super cool.

Riding pants preference

What's your preferred type of riding pants?

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No one pair of pants is going to work for everybody. Some people are willing to sacrifice comfort for much better protection, while others wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of textile pants on their chopper. Weigh the pros and cons between appearance vs. function, just know that looking cool and come at a high price.


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