Beginners Guide: What to Wear on the Track

Advice on motorcycle racing gear

By Debra Kuick

The motorcycle gear you use is just as important as the motorcycle you race—it could be the difference between a bruise and a break. For racing, youll need all the usual suspects, like a helmet and a pair of good boots, but there may be a few items you havent thought of. Heres our breakdown of the most important gear youll need to get out on the track.

Most racing organizations require a helmet thats been SNELL-rated within the past five years. Officials will check your helmet on race weekend. You can try on a variety of motorcycle helmets at dealerships, but keep in mind that a dealership may not carry all brands and that each brand fits differently. Be sure to find one thats comfortable, fits you the way its supposed to and provides a high level of protection—a salesperson well versed on helmet fitment can advise you. Helmets can be pricey, but avoid the temptation to skimp. A good helmet could save you a big headache, in more ways than one.I suggest having a separate helmet that you use just for racing.

Debra is wearing a KBC helmet, a sponsor of hers. She stumbled upon this umbrella boy at a race in Ontario, Canada.

Racing Suit
Leathers are a bit tricky for women, mostly due to sizing. Fortunately, many manufacturers are beginning to make riding suits designed specifically for the female body. Depending on your size and proportions, your best bet for wearability and fit may be with a one-piece suit. Off-the-rack leathers that fit well can be hard to find, but Dainese and Spidi both make a one-piece womens suit available off-the-rack that looks and feels great to many women racers.

Safety is just as important as comfort in a riding suit. Youll want something with armor built into the shoulders, elbows and knees, plus padding in the thighs and forearms. Sometimes leathers will have a back protector built in, so check for that. If your suit doesnt, youll need a separate back protector.If you live where its really hot, consider perforated leathers. And if you purchase a two-piece suit, keep in mind that nearly all tracks will require that they zip together.

Race leathers are a big investment, typically costing between $600 and $2,000, so if you see someone wearing something you like, ask her where she got it. You may also consider borrowing a set of leathers from a friend or racing colleague until you find what youre looking for. My first racing suit was bought off the rack at Vanson Leathers in Massachusetts—a separate jacket and pant that zipped together. The suit performed well. Eventually I got a one-piece custom set of leathers from Z Custom Leathers in Southern California. It not only fits great, but I was able to have sponsor patches sewn on and my name added to it.

Top names in motorcycle racing leathers for women:

Debra showing off her Z Custom Leathers one-piece racing suit.

Boots amp; Gloves
Quality craftsmanship is important for both boots and gloves (and leathers, too), so check the stitching around the zippers and fingers. You dont want something coming apart at the seams as youre sliding 80 mph across the racetrack into the gravel trap. Race-specific boots are preferable to street riding boots, as youll want to have good ankle and shin protection. Gloves that go over the leathers at your wrist with relative ease are best. You also might consider the extra protection of composite material on the knuckles to protect the top of your hands. Always think protection.

WRN Editor Genevieve Schmitt wears a Teknic two-piece racing suit, carbon fiber racing gloves by IXS and a helmet by Arai.

Back Protector
There are many back protectors to choose from—Ive been happiest with my Vanson, for example. Try to find something made specifically for women. Ive found that many back protectors will ride up inside leathers and hit the bottom of your helmet, which pushes it down over your eyes or restricts the movement of your head. Just be aware of that possibility, as you may need to modify the back protector you purchase to fit your body.

Inner Suit
I highly recommend an inner suit—a piece of clothing you wear as a buffer between your skin and your leathers, making it easier to get in and out of your racing suit. When its hot outside and youre sweaty and you have to use the bathroom,an inner suit will become your best friend. Inner suits can be found as a one piece or as a two-piece set, and some have a built-in water cooling system for the days when its very hot. I have a one-piece Kushitani inner suit and love it!

I wouldnt go racing without earplugs. They help to block out excess wind noise and other motorcycle noise. Those sounds can be distracting, particularly when youre trying to focus on your own race. Earplugs are inexpensive and usually available at most motorcycle dealerships. You can also have custom earplugs made for about $50 to $100. I recently bought some custom earplugs, and they work amazingly well.

Debra wearing her two-piece racing suit in 2003.

Finding good gear will take time, effort and patience. Dealerships and independent shops are the obvious places to start. Check online if you dont mind buying things you cant try on first. Sometimes vendors will sell racing leathers at the race track. For example, Z Custom Leathers is usually at Willow Springs International Raceway in Southern California during race weekends, and Street amp; Competition often displays at races on the East Coast. An AMA race weekend will almost always have vendors that sell leathers.

One last word of advice for women: buying racing leathers, boots and gloves is just like buying a blouse, skirt and heels. Sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. What works for another rider may not work for you. Try out different manufacturers and sizes until you find the perfect fit.

Looking for more information about sportbikes? Return to the Sportbikes amp; Dirt Bikes section of the WRN Beginners Guide, or visit the WRN Sportbike Corner.

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