CMG University: Budget Bike Gear

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So, for whatever reason, you need some bike gear. Maybe you just bought your first motorcycle,  or you had a bit of a tumble and you need to replace some bits. It’s easy to get good gear with a fat wallet, but good gear needn’t cost an arm and a leg. Read on:

1) Put a lid on it

Riders are required to wear a helmet in Canada, so this is one piece of gear you need for sure. And since it protects your head, it’s the most important equipment you’ll buy. However, many riders get caught up in the idea that paying less for a helmet means the buyer is stupid – “$50 helmet, $50 head,” and it’s often used to support the idea you need to spend $500 or more on a top of the line skid lid. But carrying that idea through, does that mean a rider who’s spending $500 on a helmet only values their head at $500? Because, that’s still a fool’s bargain.

Fact is, if you’re spending $50 on a half-helmet with a suspicious-looking DOT sticker, you really are making a dumb choice. That helmet won’t even protect you from road debris kicked up from a passing semi, let alone an actual crash.

There are plenty of reasonably safe helmets available for $200 or less.
There are plenty of reasonably safe helmets available for $200 or less.

But there are many affordable helmets which carry high safety ratings at a cost much lower than the premium brands. Brands like Icon and HJC offer great value for your money, and still have pretty flashy graphics, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not sure how safe the helmet is if compared to a higher-priced model, check it out on the UK government’s helmet safety guide here.

Realistically, you ought to be able to find something for a couple hundred bucks at your local dealer. Speaking of your local dealer – you should buy a helmet you’ve tried on in person, as an ill-fitting lid could be dangerous in a crash. There’s no harm in a little Internet shopping now and then, but you don’t necessarily know the helmet will fit you when it arrives, and you don’t know if the postal workers threw the helmet around in the mailroom.

Don't buy a used helmet. You don't know if it's still safe.
Don’t buy a used helmet. You don’t know if it’s still safe.

Realistically the cost of a cheaper lid will be  less comfort, more weight and they can be noisier but don’t assume that $$$$ equals better safety. We’re not taking a side in that dogfight, but you can read some back-and-forth here.

Whatever you do, don’t buy a used helmet – you don’t know how it’s been bounced around. Drop a helmet once, the manufacturers say, and it may not be as good at protecting you in a crash.

Shop around online for decent deals on marked-down motorcycle boots.
Shop around online for decent deals on marked-down motorcycle boots.

2) Give ‘em the boot

Don’t take a chance that regular footwear will protect your feet in a crash – they won’t. Riding boots need to offer support, abrasion resistance and ankle protection (a foot trapped between a sliding back and the asphalt will get ground away if not protected).

Even work boots offer only minimal protection, and steel-toed boots that protect your digits so well from impacts from the front or top  can cut off your toes if the boot gets twisted around the wrong way in a crash.

There are usually used boots available on Kijiji, but we'd recommend against them. They likely stink pretty badly.
There are usually used boots available on Kijiji, but we’d recommend against them. They likely stink pretty badly.

Buying used is not ideal, since almost everyone’s bike boots stink pretty bad after a bit of use and there are some unpleasant medical complaints than can be passed along in them too (and they’re not something you can just throw in the washing machine either), but if you search the clearance sections of most online retailers, you’ll find the seasonal turnover of styles means you can find a reasonably priced pair without too much trouble.

Good luck trying to find a cheap pair of waterproof boots though; although many claim waterproofness, in our experience, even the big-name manufacturers have a hard time keeping boots watertight for very long.

Used jackets are one place you can save a lot of money.
Used jackets are one place you can save a lot of money.

3) The pants & jacket racket

Now here’s an area you can really save some dough. It’s pretty easy to tell if a jacket has been crashed in, and most jackets can be thrown in the washing machine, so you should be able to buy a used jacket without any worries.

You can search Kijiji, regional riding forums, or eBay. Global riding forums like ADVRider are worth checking out, if you want higher-end stuff, although you pay more for shipping. I purchased a used Olympia AST jacket on ADVRider in 2008 that I ran for two or three seasons, crashed in, then passed on to my father-in-law, who still uses it, despite a chewed-up sleeve.

I purchased this used Olympia AST off ADVRider years ago, got a couple years of good use out of it, and then passed it on to my father-in-law, who still uses it. Not bad for less than $200.
I purchased this used Olympia AST off ADVRider years ago, got a couple years of good use out of it, and then passed it on to my father-in-law, who still uses it. Not bad for less than $200.

Most online retailers have a selection of marked-down jackets as well, and if you pop into your local dealer regularly, you’ll find they usually try to clear them out at the end of the season as well. Your discounts might not be as sweet, but you’ll be sure it fits.

The rules of jacket-buying also apply for riding pants, although there’s not as much turnover with riding pants because many riders don’t bother buying them. Don’t assume your jeans will offer you much protection – they won’t! Consider a pair of riding pants or jeans designed for riding,  made with abrasive resistant material and even some armour. You can check out some reviews from a couple years ago here.

Yes, once upon a time you could buy official Hondaline leather pants ... although if you're buying used pants, we'd recommend looking for something newer.
Yes, once upon a time you could buy official Hondaline leather pants … although if you’re buying used pants, we’d recommend looking for something newer.

From our experience, cheaper pants and jackets can still offer good design and protection but they tend to suffer from lack of longevity. Editor ‘Arris still uses a pair of Aerostich pants that are getting on to 15 years old, but his Icon suit from two years ago has already been retired.

4) Hand in glove

We;’re always amazed at CMG by how many people we see riding sans gloves. Your hands are the first things that you hold out in a crash so don’t expect to have much skin left if you’re not wearing gloves. And besides that, gloves offer warmth and protection against insects too.

Used motorcycle gloves can be a good deal, but they generally see decent markdowns online, same as boots and helmets.
Used motorcycle gloves can be a good deal, but they generally see decent markdowns online, same as boots and helmets.

You don’t see a lot of adverts for used gloves in forums or Kijiji, but there is some turnover. This is another area where you can find discounts on discontinued styles, though. If you aren’t concerned about whether your gloves have knuckle armour, you can also go with some heavy leather work gloves from a place like Marks Work Wearhouse. Stay away from wimpy deerskin driving gloves, or those floppy canvas gloves –  you want something that will actually stay together in a crash.

5) The other bits

Good gear combines both waterproofing and protective qualities (see: Aerostich, Rev’It!, Dainese, etc. ), but cheap gear likely won’t – at least, it won’t for long. Plan on spending money on a rain suit. You don’t need to spend a fortune here –  Frogg Toggs and the like offer affordable waterproofing and have some other advantages over zip-in liners, too. There are other bits of kit you’ll likely accumulate over time, such as a balaclava or neck warmer, or visor squeegee – just keep an eye out on online retailers’ sales, and you should be able to pick this stuff up on the cheap.

If you can't even afford eBay prices, ask around - chances are, somebody's got some used gear they'll give you for free.
If you can’t even afford eBay prices, ask around – chances are, somebody’s got some used gear they’ll give you for free.

ASK AROUND

Of course, the cheapest way to get stuff is for free. Chances are, if you ask, you’ll find your riding buddies or friends have an old jacket, or gloves, or something, they can lend you if you’re starting out. I’ve given away plenty of gear to friends starting out, and my longtime riding buddies have done the same. You could save a lot of money if you just find out if anyone has spare gear kicking around – money that could be better spent on gas.

Got any money-saving tips for riders buying gear? Comment below.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Great topic! I’ve been looking for a good set of gloves for quite some time. Recently visited Toronto where the shops have a lot more inventory to try on than in Halifax. Found a pair I liked tried them on- great fit…. looked at the price tag. $350….. $350!!!!

    Quietly pit them back on the shelf. The search continues.

  2. I agree with the asking around, I’ve gotten jackets and helmets from buddies of mine that were new or next to new for little cost. Most of them purchased by friends at a deep discount at a show, or clearance rack, brought home and never or rarely worn. Pass along a little cash, I get a deal, they get to re-coup some cost. I know the downside of getting a used helmet, but if I know you, and you say it hasn’t been dropped or crashed, I’ll take your word on it.

    Comfortable boots, unfortunately, have eluded me. That has everything to do with me as I have a hard time with any boot. I have a pair of MX boots which I can tolerate for a day, but if i’m going for a couple day ride I have a pair of light weight “hunting” hikers that are over the ankle and pretty water tight. In the heat of southern Ontario summer if I’m just out for a bit, as sad as it sounds, I often use sneakers or a simple pair of over the ankle square toed cowboy boots.

  3. Second hand boots – I’ve bought a couple of pair off of kijiji, and no smell. So it doesn’t hurt to take a look. Just got the second pair last week, and so far, no new fungal growth.

  4. Here’s a few solid examples that I can recommend from experience, and in keeping with the subject matter – budget bike gear.

    GMAX G68S helmet – been around for many years and is probably the best bargain out there.
    Good fit, good quality and good longevity. Most importantly perhaps, easy to find and purchase in Canada.
    Royal Distributing has them on sale right now – you won’t believe the price.

    Boots – SWAT or combat style boots from surplus stores across Canada. I own an expensive pair of riding boots, but my surplus tactical boots ($100) from 4 years ago are still completely waterproof and comfortable.
    I rarely wear my expensive boots because they are none of the above.

    Pants – tried several styles, hated them all. Picked up a pair of Bilt Iron Workers this spring while in Vegas and am very pleased with the fit, style and comfort. Can’t speak to how well they will stand the test of time, but at $70 I’m willing to give them a try. They are only available from Cycle Gear in the US – fit appears to be true to size.

    Jacket – I’m trying out another purchase from Cycle Gear, a Bilt Climate Textile jacket. So far, so good. Materials are good quality, but I can see the stitching is going to be the Achilles heel. If it lasts for a couple or three seasons, I’ll call it a damn good bargain at $100 (on sale – reg. $160).
    I actually picked this jacket out because of the very good hot weather features. With the liner removed and all the vents opened, this jacket should be the coolest option available in my wardrobe.
    The style is definitely of the adventure/enduro/off-road persuasion, with an extended tail and fits long in the torso – very comfortable. One good “get-off” while exploring back roads last weekend on my XR650L and the jacket came away with nothing but dirt, so maybe the stitching is adequate after all.

    Gloves – too many to choose from. Try them on, find a pair that fits perfect, and buy them. Be sure to curl your fingers to make sure they’re long enough – nothing worse than too-short fingers to make your hands hurt while riding. Anyone who knows about golf gloves will understand – cadet sizes are difficult to find (wider across the knuckles, while not increasing the overall length).

    Earplugs – wear them. Hearing loss is permanent.

    • Thanks, Viking. I had a GMAX for a while and found it to be a very solid helmet, if not fancy or feature-filled. The Cycle Gear stuff certainly comes at a fantastic price point, and as long as you don’t expect waterproofness or long-term durability, they can certainly fill a void. Cheaper brands like Bilt fill that “hot weather” niche very well, in particular.

      It’s been my experience, though, that the pricier brands like Aerostich often prove more affordable in the long run, since they last forever.

      That’s also a valid point re: the tactical boots. If you’re willing to risk having your toes cut off, waterproof work boots often keep the rain out much better than their motorcycling counterparts. A pair of non-steel-toed standard boots with stiff ankle support can certainly fill the bill in a pinch. I really do like to have ankle protection in a crash, but the last time I went down, I was wearing a pair of slip-on loafers (was on my way to my work), and didn’t end up crippled. I do remember that my ankle took a stiff crack, though.

        • I remember hearing about the Mythbusters episode. If I recall correctly, and I may not, they did NOT impact the boots from underneath. The danger comes if a truck, car, whatever, drives over your toes with the boots upside down, as they aren’t designed to take weight and impact from the bottom, only the top.

          I could be mis-remembering, though. I do know that I rode in steel-toed boots for years with no trouble shifting and without having my digits unexpectedly amputated. I didn’t like them for off road riding, as I found my feet would slide forward and hammer into the steel-toed part of the boot, causing a lot of pain.

        • I think any force large enough to squash a steel toe is probably more than large enough to squash your toes into red goo. Main problem with steel toed boots, like any non-motorcycle boot, is the lack of ankle protection. Also the laces, which one needs to be careful with.

          • It’s not the squashing, per se – the claim is that the boots’ steel toes buckle and neatly sever your toes, instead of letting them be run over. I’ve seen people whose feet were run over, and they were OK.

      • Tactical boots are non-steel-toe, so they make an acceptable alternative.
        As I mentioned earlier, they’re actually my preferred boot for several reasons including excellent waterproof performance. Rocky Alpha Force are the brand and model if anyone is interested.
        No argument regarding Aerostich or other premium brands for longevity, however the subject title was budget bike gear – I was trying to stay on topic.
        Perhaps you are referring to overall cost savings when you consider the lifespan of a product compared to less expensive and shorter lived brands; again, no argument here.
        The only counterpoint I would offer is that it’s difficult for someone on a tighter budget to justify $1000+ for a decent jacket and pants. You already mentioned another negative consideration – replacement cost if damaged in an accident.
        Looks like this was a good topic – it’s generating some discussion.

        • Yeah, you understood my comment correctly – I think the ‘Stich gear, and similar, is cheaper in the long run, but the initial buy-in cost does scare many off. And that’s understandable.

          I don’t think it’s ideal for a beginning rider because they are more likely to damage it doing something stupid,they also don’t necessarily plan on making use of all the gear’s features – they may not want to tour in the rain or whatever, and they also don’t appreciate all the benefits quality gear has to offer. Sometimes you need to have a few years of using bad equipment before you can appreciate good equipment.

          Beginner riders are best suited buying cheaper stuff (that offers all-around safety) that will last them a couple seasons, then upgrading. Everyone has an opinion, and that’s mine. After they wear out their first set of equipment, they should have a better idea of what they need.

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