Need a new pair of motorcycle boots? Want a pair for Christmas? Here are some tips to help you choose.
The biggest reason to buy motorcycle boots is to protect your feet and lower legs. This is especially true in a crash, but for off-road riding, everyday banging about on the trails will put your lower extremities in danger even if you don’t lay the bike down (and of course, even more-so if you do!).
In Europe, there is a safety rating for motorcycle gear, if it’s intended to be sold as professional protective equipment. The CE rating means it’s been approved by authorities, and you should be able to rely on that for some indication of the gear’s crashability. Specifically for boots, you’re looking for gear that carries the EN 13634:2011 rating (find an in-depth explanation of testing methods here). This will be gear that’s designed to protect you in a high-speed crack-up, the very best of the best.
You may find a lot of high-end European gear will carry this rating, but lower-end stuff will not, and stuff made in or for other markets (like Canada) may not carry the certificate. So what do you look for?
If you’re not looking for track protection, then the bare minimum is protection from road rash from your toes to above your ankles. Leave your Blundstones or Converse Chuck Taylors at home, or donate them to that unemployed “custom builder” you know who’s never going to finish that bob job anyway. Get a pair of boots with thick leather. If you’re really low on funds, your local army surplus store will sell you a pair of broken-in lace-ups for $25-ish; a good set of workboots can be had for a bit more than that, and you’ll have a set of all-round useful footwear. Be aware, though, that many rider safety experts advise against wearing steel-toed boots while you ride, as they can do nasty things to your feet in a crash.
Those lace-ups aren’t going to do you much good if you drop a motorcycle on your foot. If you crash, that’s a real possibility, so if you’ve got the money to buy proper motorcycle boots, then look for something with a bit of hard armour that will stop a fallen bike from crushing your foot. There’s a variety of options here; you can go with the hip retro-style boots that almost every manufacturer now offers, which have minimal ankle protection, or you can go for something more beefy, with toe cap, heel guard, and generally rugged construction. This is definitely a safer option, although many riders may prefer something a little less clunky if they’re doing a lot of walking off the bike.
If you’re going to be off-roading on an adventure bike or dual-sport, it’s wise to add even more coverage by buying a pair of boots that extends most of the way up your shins. Most manufacturers make boots that offer similar coverage to MX boots, but with more capability for articulation, making them more comfortable, if less supportive. With boots like these, low-hanging branches and other underbrush are less likely to bang your legs up, although there is some conjecture that higher boots cause knee injuries instead of ankle injuries. This, however, has no real scientific proof — it’s based on the belief that all the energy that didn’t destroy the ankle just gets transferred farther up the leg. You can take that, or leave it.
Finally, if you’re going to be on a roadracing track or drag strip, or if you ride crazy-fast “elsewhere,” then you need to make sure you’ve got boots that offer not only ankle/toe/heel protection and heavy duty construction for fending off road rash, but you should also want to look into boots with replaceable sliders. These will make your boots (and possibly your feet) last a lot longer.
Simple enough, right? Get the same size as you usually wear?
Uh, maybe. Lots of Euro boot manufacturers (and that’s where the best motorcycle boots come from) can get a bit weird when they translate from Euro sizing to American sizing. This is why it’s best to try it on in person, which means it’s often best to buy from your local dealership instead of ordering online, unless you don’t mind shipping back a too-small or too-big pair of boots. Do not, DO NOT, order a pair of boots online after trying them on at your local dealership. Whether you like their prices or not, your local dealership does have to keep the lights on, so don’t take advantage of them.
Also, keep in mind that tight boots are actually colder than a looser fit, as they impede circulation. If you ride in early spring or in the fall, you’re going to want the extra room, especially if you want to wear extra socks.
This can be a bit tricky, because no boot is good at everything. Some are really good at protecting you in a crash, but you wouldn’t want to wear them all day at the office. Some are really good at fending off branches on the trails for hour after hour, but are priced far beyond the reach of a minimum-wagin’ teenager. And some are waterproof, but too hot, and some are claimed to be waterproof, but aren’t.
Here’s where you have to ask yourself some questions. What are the most important things you’re looking for? Protection? All-weather touring capability? Cost? Off-the-bike comfort? You’re always going to have to compromise, but remember, it’s easier to pack a spare pair of shoes on your bike than it is to recover from broken bones in a crash.
Every boot is going to fall apart after some time, but some will fall apart much more quickly than others. Or even if they don’t fall apart, they may lose their waterproofing, which is just as frustrating, as cheapskates (aka. CMG staff) may not feel like throwing away otherwise serviceable gear, but the discomfort every time you’re riding in the rain is just downright miserable.
From our observation, you’re going to get way more life out of a company that first and foremost is a motorcycle boot maker, not a bootmaker with a sideline of motorcycle boots or a general gearmaker that decided to get into motorcycle boots as an afterthought.
If you’re looking for waterproofing, then Gore-Tex is the way to go, because of the company’s lifetime guarantee. We haven’t yet tested it here at CMG, but the Gore-Tex website says: “If you are not completely satisfied with the waterproofness, windproofness or breathability of your product, then we will repair it, replace it, or refund your purchase price.”
That statement is surrounded by a whole host of wiggle words, but it’s a much better guarantee than what you’ll get with generic or third-party knock-offs of Gore-Tex, as long as the company honours it.
Otherwise, along with the advice to buy products from reputable motorcycle boot companies, another piece of wisdom is to buy rebuildable boots, with stitched-on soles and replaceable buckles (even better, laces, which aren’t proprietary). If you’re going to spend $500 on a pair of boots, doesn’t it make sense to have a pair that you can keep going even if the soles get a bit worn down?
Footwear is an afterthought to many riders, but choosing the proper boot can protect you from injury and make your hours in the saddle more comfortable. Don’t just drop coin on the first cool-looking pair of boots you see online, and don’t ignore the dangers of riding without proper equipment. Take your time, do your research, save your money, and buy good quality kit. Your feet will thank you.