I know that several people have ridden huge distances on their motorcycles with only the most basic gear (if any at all) and lived to tell their tales. Personally though, I see no harm in adopting a more cautious approach. Having the right gear for your motorcycle tour is likely to keep you safer and also a lot more comfortable. Here’s a round-up of what I consider “must-haves” if you’re planning to ride into the Himalayas. Ideally, all of the protective gear mentioned below should be used if you’re touring anywhere on two wheels.
This should be a priority investment because the law (in most places) requires it and so does your life. A full-face helmet is the best option since it offers the maximum amount of protection to your head and face. If you’re doing it, you might as well do it right!
I’d recommend putting in the extra money and buying a good quality helmet. I used a Studds Shifter before I upgraded to a MT Blade Raceline. The difference has been massive. It’s more comfortable, built much better, a lot more usable and my helmet no longer gives me a headache if I wear it for more than an hour.
I’ve provided a link to find the helmet that I use over here.
All-Weather Riding Jacket
Riding jackets do a lot more than just look cool. The first piece in the riding body armour, most jackets provide protection for your back, shoulders and elbows. It also serves as an added layer of protection for the rest of your torso.
To me, an all-weather jacket makes a lot of sense because of the versatility that it offers. You can remove or add layers depending on the weather that you are riding in. Do make sure that the riding jacket you choose has at least a few mesh panels (when all the layers are removed). You need all the ventilation you can get when riding in the heat.
I use a Cramster Eclipse jacket, which can be bought off the Cramster website linked here. It has served me well so far.
Riding gloves aren’t just for protection. They also make a huge difference to comfort when riding long distances. They significantly reduce the abrasion on your palms, which means that it is easier to ride longer more frequently.
I used to use the Cramster Twisters (available here). They were comfortable and worked well, except in rain and cold weather (since they weren’t waterproof). After they were stolen from me by some sadistic person, I bought a pair of Rynox Shield Pro gloves (you can buy it here). I’ve used these golves for about 3000-odd kilometres now and I’ve found them to be more comfortable than my late Cramsters.
Added protection for your hips and knees. Added riding comfort. A lot more utility.
Until my trip to Ladakh, I used to ride in jeans. I also tried using the external (and internal) knee guards with jeans, but found these to be incredibly uncomfortable (personal preference). I invested in riding pants, and I think it was a great decision. Not only were they far more comfortable than jeans, but they are a lot more practical for long trips. They don’t need to be washed as often, and when you do wash them, they dry up a lot faster.
I use the Aspida Odysseus riding pants. They fit very comfortably, and also come with additional suspenders that are detachable (you can use them whichever way you prefer). The armour can be removed and put back quite easily and the pants are easy to clean. I’ve ridden over 16,000 kilometres in my pair and I’ve been very happy with them. They are not waterproof though, and you need to wear rain cover pants to keep the water out when the rain comes down. They are available in Spartan stores or on the website linked here.
Here’s another piece of information that might prove useful. There is usually a wide and short horizontal zip on the back of a riding jacket and a pair of riding pants. This is meant to be used to connect the two so that the jacket doesn’t lift up in case you fall. Both Cramster and Aspida use YKK zippers of the same size, so even though I have a jacket from one brand and pants from another, this zipper system works. If you’re buying different brands, do check whether these zips are compatible with each other.
Armoured riding boots are definitely safer than leather riding boots or regular shoes, but they aren’t particularly affordable. If you’re looking to only ride on highways and good roads, leather riding boots (and even trekking boots) may pass muster (but they will not keep your feet protected if you fall). If you are looking to hit some trails, it might be sensible to invest in some proper riding boots that are comfortable and that protect your feet (from injury and water). I learnt this the hard way, but I still haven’t had the money to buy a pair.
I don’t yet own a pair of riding boots. I used trekking boots with boot covers on my trip. This combination worked fine on tarmac, but once I went off-road it was a whole different story. The boot covers tore very easily, and it was all downhill thereafter. Wet shoes means wet socks which means wet feet – a recipe for disaster in cold weather.
People usually have their own preferences on what they wear under their helmet. Some prefer a buff, some use a shower cap-type thing (i don’t know what it’s called) and some even just use a handkerchief. I personally prefer a balaclava (even though it looks like a ski mask). In hot weather it keeps the sweat from getting onto your helmet lining or dripping down your face, and in cold weather, it keeps your face and ears a bit warmer.
I use the Aspida balaclava. I find this more comfortable than the other ones I’ve used, because of the mesh-type panel around the part that covers your mouth and nose. It fits better, and feels less stuffy than the full-cloth versions. You can buy it here.
(jacket, pants and gloves)
Must-must-must-have if you are likely to encounter wet weather on your trip. No matter what you’re wearing, if it isn’t covered by rain gear, you’re going to end up being very wet and uncomfortable. Nothing dries quickly in rainy (or cold) weather, definitely not riding gear. So it’s best to keep yourself, and all that you’re wearing, dry at all times. You might need to use a different pair of gloves in wet weather because most normal riding gloves are not waterproof.
The most affordable solution that I have discovered for this (so far) is to use trekking gear. I bought my rain jacket and pants from Decathlon (Quechua). The waterproof jacket cost me about INR 500(link here) and the pants about INR 600 (link here). I also bought a pair of waterproof trekking gloves (something like the ones linked here) which did the job for me. I bought the jacket and pants in a size larger than my actual size. While this may make you look a bit odd, it makes it very easy to put on and remove over your bulky riding gear.
If you’re riding in (or into) cold weather, you should have the additional gear that you need to keep you warm. Your riding gear (all-weather or not) can only do so much. Thermals, a sweatshirt, a wool scarf and socks (lots of them). Depending on the weather, you can add or remove layers. I’ve included links to the gear that I use in my packing checklist (do read that post too).
The only time I needed to wear all my cold-weather gear was when I was riding in snow. But since tolerance for cold varies from person to person, it is best to be adequately prepared.
I’ve not listed underwear because I assume that it’s something that goes unsaid. But for those who need to be told, please do carry enough and more. Because, comfort (and beauty?) begins on the inside.
This is another post based on things I have learnt during the time I’ve spent on the road. Your personal preferences may vary. I will put up detailed reviews of the gear I’ve used soon. In the meanwhile, if you have any thoughts you can always comment below, or write to me.
Bonus Tip: When choosing your riding gear (jacket, pants, gloves, boots), i’d recommend that you try stuff on first, because the sizes don’t operate like they do for normal clothing. So, even though I’ve given you website links to a lot of stuff, you can look them up and then go try them on at your nearest store that stocks it and make your final decision. It is really important for you to get the right fit otherwise, you will end up being terribly uncomfortable which would be significantly counter-productive.