Although a quality helmet is a definite requirement for riding a motorcycle safely, it’s just one piece of gear. Riders don all sorts of apparel to protect themselves, such as gloves and armored jackets. And that often includes putting on motorcycle boots or shoes. But what’s so special about this kind of footwear, and is it necessarily something you need to buy?
What makes motorcycle boots and shoes different from ordinary sneakers?
At first glance, some motorcycle shoes don’t necessarily look that different from conventional sneakers or boots. That’s actually a deliberate choice by some companies to achieve a more casual look, Motorcyclist explains. But under the surface, motorcycle boots have several features designed for riders’ needs.
Just like motorcycle gloves, dedicated riding boots and shoes have built-in protection, RideApart explains. At a bare minimum this takes the form of supporting pads or armor that prevents ankle twisting and damage, RevZilla reports. Many motorcycle shoes also come with reinforced toes, heels, and soles.
Besides the armor/support, non-slip soles are also a common feature, The Drive reports. So are shifter pads, which prevent shifting from damaging the rest of the shoe, Cycle World explains. And some motorcycle shoes are also waterproof or come with waterproof liners.
Motorcycle boots have these features, too. However, because they’re taller than shoes, their protection extends to the calf, shin, and lower leg. This also means motorcycle boots have more support and torsional resistance than shoes, RevZilla reports.
The extra protection does have some downsides, though. Compared to motorcycle shoes, boots are heavier and less comfortable to walk around in. They’re also more expensive.
Different kinds of riding require different footwear
Like other pieces of gear, picking the right motorcycle shoes or boots requires knowing where you’ll be riding. True, you could theoretically take off-road-dedicated boots to a racetrack, much like you could ride a dual-sport bike there. But there are track-oriented boots that do the job significantly better.
Speaking of track-oriented, that’s one of the broad categories of motorcycle boots, RevZilla reports. They offer some of the most protection against crashes, twists, and slides, with heavily reinforced ankles and shins. Track boots often have replaceable toe sliders, too. And while motocross boots don’t have replaceable sliders, they’re similarly well-armored, The Drive reports.
Besides motocross, there are also motorcycle boots specifically designed for off-roaders. Some are adventure boots, which trade some protection for better long-distance comfort and weatherproofing, RideApart reports. But if you’re sticking almost exclusively to sand and dirt, the better-armored dirt boots are the way to go, RevZilla reports.
Finally, there are motorcycle shoes and casual-riding boots. Riding shoes, as we previously noted, trade some protection for increased comfort. However, some casual motorcycle boots still feature good ankle, heel, and toe protection, together with abrasion-resistant leather, Motorcyclist reports. They’re not good enough for track days, but for on-street riding, they’re more than sufficient and more affordable.
Do you need dedicated motorcycle boots to ride?
If you’re just starting out as a rider, you likely don’t have all of the dedicated gear. And while it’s not ideal, you can get by for a time without dedicated motorcycle boots.
The most important thing is that whatever footwear you have is sturdy, in good condition, and is higher than your ankle. Ideally, that means a pair of leather work boots, RideApart reports, perhaps with a steel toe. And if they have laces, tuck them inside so they don’t get caught on pedals, levers, or other things. Indian, for example, has a line of shoes in this vein designed in collaboration with Red Wing Shoes, Cycle World reports.
That being said, dedicated motorcycle footwear is designed around the dangers and conditions riders experience. Even the best work boot doesn’t have the support and protection a specially-designed motorcycle shoe or boot has. And these boots aren’t necessarily expensive: there are plenty of available options for $150-$300. Some helmets cost more than that.
In short, motorcycle boots aren’t regular shoes. They’re a key part of your motorcycle safety gear, one that’s worth investing in.
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