Clothing and Protective Gear

Editors Note: on Ron’s behalf and due to his busy schedule, we have chosen an article about clothing and protective gear from

Clothing and Protective Gear

It’s all about layering and you friendly hiking specialty store has all the information and products to help you.

You have to be prepared for extremes i.e. hot and cold, wet and dry, calm and windy conditions. Over and above this, the motorcycle limits you to fabrics that can fit into a very confined packing space. Your only trump card is your riding jacket which if it is water proof and has a zip-out lining, automatically makes it multi-purpose (thus leather jackets are not the best choice for touring) It is a good idea to shop at your local hiking store for warm, windproof,  lightweight garments. If you are near Johannesburg try “Snow Scapes” in Fourways. This alpine snow skiing shop has state of the art protective clothing that is both warm, light and dries quickly.

Characteristics that you should be looking for when it comes to fabrics and garment construction are as follows



  • Efficient wicking away of moisture from the skin.
  • Insulation. Achieved by many thin under-layers
  • Windproof
  • Light and small for packing.
  • Easy to wash and quick drying
  • Hard, rough fabric against your skin will drive you nuts
  • Draught-free, leak-proof construction incl. pockets


Draughts and leaks are big problems and can cause you to become cold and wet very quickly. Outer garments must be double layered around the main zip – thus cruiser-type leather jackets with exposed, decorative outer zips will leak.  Other critical areas are the cuffs, collar and ankles which should be well elasticized to form a tight seal.

Bikers Cordura jackets are also an option being almost totally waterproof.  As much as I love my leather jackets I have to concede that Cordura biking jackets are better for touring than leather as they are lighter and usually have a thermal-type, zip-out inner lining.



Top Marks for Thermals

 Ounce for ounce, thermal under shirts (vests) with strong wicking properties are tops! They are small and light. Worn next to the skin they keep you comfortable and dry during extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures. They are easy to wash and dry quickly (being cotton free). If you know you are going to have to travel in extreme temperatures, thermal under garments are an excellent decision. Brands like Lowe Alpine Dry-Flo and Capilene come in a light and heavyweight fabrics for summer and winter respectively and  with separate cuts for men and woman. I suggest both a short sleeve one and a long sleeve one regardless of the time of year.

An alternative to synthetic thermal underwear is silk which offers all the same properties in a natural fiber.


The Story about Cotton

Cotton warrants a special mention – the main fabric used for denim and most T shirts. Cotton has zero wicking properties. This means that when it gets wet – it stays wet. Thus a cotton T shirt next to your skin retains the sweat, making you uncomfortable in the heat. It also cools you down in the cold, making you colder.

Denim jeans (which are made of cotton) are heavy, bulky, hot in summer and cold in winter. Washing them during your tour is not practical because they will not dry over- night unaided. Studies have also shown that they do not give your legs protection in a crash and slide situation. All of this means looking for alternative fabrics that have more advantages to offer e.g. garments made of polypropylene

Thus a complete cold weather solution involves a layered approach e.g. your windproof, waterproof biking gear, a warm sweatshirt (Polatec perhaps), a vest and finally thermal under garment (one piece or two piece)


Foot wear

A sensible choice in biker boots i.e. not too extreme, means that you can still walk around town in comfort and when polished, can even be used to a reasonable restaurant. You still however need something more casual. We have found that heavy-duty hikers sandals with buckles and straps on the heel to be the best choice, especially in summer. The better quality ones can be used for day hikes, wading through rivers, on the beach and when using public shower facilities in camping grounds. They are however a bit heavy and bulky and therefore we just use the sandal’s own  straps to attach them to a convenient attachment point on the outside of our panniers.


More about clothing . .

An unlined rain suit is an essential item. This suit should allow body moisture to escape. This can be achieved by large, built-in,  mesh-covered, flap protected vents under the arms and across the back. Alternatively, and a lot more expensive, are the breathable waterproof fabrics e.g. Gortex. They should be suitably elasticized to prevent it inflating with air at speed and letting water in.

Huge fluctuations in temperature and limited packing space is the challenge when motorcycle touring. For this reason long pants where the bottom half zips off to form shorts can save valuable space.

Bikers should take care when travelling in extremely hot, dry windy conditions. All skin should be covered by  light windproof clothing as the hot air rushing over the skin can cause dehydration in less than an hour. It is a good idea to tie a bandana around your neck as it prevents sun burn in this exposed and dangerous area and it is easy to wash at the end of a tiring day.

Longer tours mean washing your clothes and thus a strong plastic container with cold water washing powder is needed. Personally I prefer a bar of pure soap as it cannot soil the rest of your kit (green Sunlight soap bar in SA). It is also suitable for washing dishes.

A small sewing kit has many uses and should be part of your touring equipment.

Take one smarter outfit that you do not tour in. Store it in a strong zip lock plastic bag. That way it stays clean and can facilitate you being able to do or go somewhere special on your trip without feeling like a slob.

Do not forget your hat for when you arrived at your destination!

A final word on clothing. Equipment to keep you and your bike healthy and moving is far more important than extra shirts, shorts, pants etc. On a long tour you can always buy and dispose of general clothing . . . this is not true of a clutch cable for example.

A neck tube is a marvelous item. Small and warm they go a long way to keeping the cold out in the important neck area.

Heated Accessories

If you motorcycle in cold weather there are a range of heated accessories to take the bite out of the air i.e. handgrips (often standard), gloves, seats and vests. Your bike will need to be fitted with an 12v power point although some vests are powered by batteries that are sewn into the lining.



On behalf of

Ron Walldren & (Missy)

GWRRA, CHAPTER IL-Z-2 Education Director


%d bloggers like this: