How to Shop for Motorcycle Riding Boots

Our guide to the different styles and what to look for including cruiser, adventure touring, dirtbike riding, sportbike riding, and urban sneaker shoe styles

By Tricia Szulewski, Editor, and Genevieve Schmitt, Founder/Contributor

By Tricia Szulewski

It’s no secret most women love shoes and boots. So, when we surveyed our fans on social media asking what gear they wanted to know more about, it was no surprise that the biggest request was for more motorcycle boot reviews. Whether you ride your own bike or prefer being a passenger, protective motorcycle footwear is an important part of gearing up.

In more than two decades of writing product reviews, I’ve had the pleasure of testing dozens of motorcycle boots and shoes. This is a small sample from my moto closet. There are boots for nearly every type of riding: cruising, touring, sport-touring, adventure riding, track days, and shoes for when I need to be protected and on my feet all day, like when I teach the MSF Basic RiderCourse.

When I asked WRN leadership board members to select their favorite riding boots, several styles of men’s boots were included. I wasn’t surprised. With a lot more offerings for men than women, and with limited sizing for ladies with larger feet, I know a lot of female riders are wearing boots from the men’s section of the store. Alternately, women with extra small feet might have to shop for protective motorcycle footwear in youth sizes. We’re only aware of real motorcycle boots for kids being presently offered in motocross and dirt bike styles.

This brings up a great topic, and one we continue to debate about internally—should WRN feature men’s boots that women commonly wear in addition to our regular fare of boots specifically designed for women? As the leading resource for women in motorcycling, WRN strives to showcase gear made specifically for the female body (see sidebar below). That said, not all women’s body parts are represented fairly when shopping for the best quality protective gear. So, as we begin our series of articles showcasing our favorite boots in each riding category, keep in mind, you’ll see selections here that, from our experience, work well even though they are found in the men’s section of the store. As our leadership board co-chairwoman Erin Sills says, “Why should we let manufacturers and retailers determine what is a woman’s boot, anyway? If I’m wearing it, it’s a woman’s boot.”

Why not just wear a scaled down men’s boot?

A woman’s foot and legs are anatomically shaped differently than a man’s. Studies show that the great majority of women’s feet have higher arches, a more curved inside line and longer outside line, a shallower big toe, larger toe region, and are smaller for their given body height versus the average man’s foot.

In addition, a woman’s calves and ankles often differ significantly from a man’s. With this in mind, companies making true women’s footwear are using a last specially molded to accommodate these differences. A “last,” if you don’t know, is the mold that a shoe is made from. Even women with wide feet should look for women’s footwear in wide sizes whenever possible. Going with a boot made from a male last or form usually means you are sacrificing a proper fit in at least one area on the foot, be it where the ankle protection is, having enough toe room, or getting the right support in the heel or calf.

Our first article here will focus on what to look for when choosing a particular style of boot. Over the next few months, we’ll feature our staff’s favorite choices in each category, so be sure to sign up for our free newsletter to be the first to know when those stories go live.

Let’s start with the most important part of the story, which is why we should be wearing motorcycle specific footwear to begin with. I cringe when I see riders or passengers wearing fashion boots, sneakers, or even flip-flips on a motorcycle. I guess they haven’t “gotten the memo yet” or haven’t read this article. If you ride for any period of time, hopefully eventually you’ll come to appreciate the value of investing in a good pair of riding boots so that you’re safe and comfortable from the elements, and protected in a crash. Boots designed specifically for the type of motorcycling they are built for offer features unique to that style of riding.

Here are the styles of motorcycle boots and their specific characteristics to look for:

how to shop for motorcycle boots cruiser

TCX Lady Blend cruiser boot


Since the majority of female motorcyclists ride a cruiser style motorcycle, we’ll start with this style of boot. Cruiser boots are a very general category as they are offered in a large variety of styles. You’ll find most boots designated for the cruiser ride in these styles: engineer boots (leather with a mid-calf shaft, and round or flat toe), work boots (usually just above the ankle with a more utilitarian style), mil-spec tactical boots (they look, well, like army or military boots often with a steel toe), and high (up to the knee) stylish boots with protective features built in. The shaft of the boot is the main body, measured from the top of the heel to its highest point up the calf.

Harley-Davidson was the first cruiser motorcycle manufacturer to launch an entire footwear brand around the cruiser lifestyle. There are hundreds of styles with most of them designed to be worn on a cruiser motorcycle. But the designers at Harley-Davidson Footwear know that sometimes people want to wear a motorcycle style boot as an off-the-bike shoe because they look cool, so Harley-Davidson Footwear offers a whole line of “lifestyle” footwear, boots and shoes that should not be worn on a motorcycle as they have no protective features.

Cruiser boots also have no set style for heel options. Some have no heel. They’re just flat. Some have a low (1-inch), or a high heel (2 inches or higher). In terms of how you fasten them, again no set style here: some have laces, zippers, buckles or a combination of them all. Others are made to be simply pulled on.

Some boots labeled for cruiser riding will have almost no motorcycle specific safety features built in as mentioned earlier with Harley-Davidson Footwear’s lifestyle line; they’re just designed to look cool and evoke the motorcycle boot as fashion. This type of boot won’t save your feet in a crash and likely won’t be comfortable for a long day in the saddle or in inclement weather so be sure to do your research if you truly intend to use the boots for riding.

how to shop for motorcycle boots touring sidi gavia

Sidi Gavia touring boot


Although you can take a cross country trip while wearing any kind of boot, typically most that are designated as a “touring boot” are sportier in style (meaning more straight forward looking and less of that “cool factor” that cruiser boots are known for); they have a low heel, offer flexibility (not stiff) so you can pivot your foot to fit a variety of foot positions on the bike easily and comfortably (like to stretch forward, or place your feet underneath you, or kicking them back behind you with your toes on the pegs or to rest on the passenger pegs). The shaft is typically thick and high up the calf to protect the shin. Good touring boots are also waterproof to tackle all the elements you might encounter on a longer ride, and they’re usually quite comfortable to walk around in assuming you’ll do some sightseeing away from the bike. In my opinion, this is the best all-around style boot for riding if you had to get just one boot as it works well with most street motorcycles. Check out our top picks for touring motorcycle boots here.

how to shop for motorcycle boots adventure adv dirtbike

Oxtar TCX Pro off-road boot


Adventure touring (ADV) boots and dirt bike boots are designed for riders who travel off road all or some of the time on their motorcycles. Off-road means gravel roadways, backcountry trail riding, including rocks, dirt, and sandy trails. These boots are made primarily with safety in mind knowing that riders will need protection from all the things Mother Nature will throw their way. Style is not the most important feature of this kind of boot.

ADV boots typically have a low or no heel with a very tall shaft coming right up to just below the knee. These boots are much more rigid in structure to accommodate riders who stand on the pegs for an extended period of time. Standing up while riding provides an increased level of stability when going over rough terrain. The thick rigid shaft is also designed to protect legs, feet, and ankles from rocks, boulders, and branches the rider may encounter on her or his journey. It also protects the rider’s calves and shins should they end up under the bike in an off-road mishap, which can happen in this type of riding.

Some ADV touring boots will sacrifice some of that rigidity to offer a bit more comfort for all day touring, so be on the lookout for that tradeoff if you’re shopping for this type of boots and decide what works best for you. Typically, dirt bike boots and most ADV boots use a buckle closure system, much like rigid ski boots, for durability and function. Buckles are the easiest to use when boots become caked with mud after some serious off-road riding. Zippers and Velcro don’t mix with mud well.

how to shop for motorcycle boots sport sportbike racing

BMW Double R high performance boots


Boots designed to wear while riding a sportbike on the track or on the street are also high shaft low heel boots with feet, ankle, and shin protection built in. They are less bulky than ADV and dirt bike boots with few, if any, buckles and are mostly slip-on type with a Velcro and/or zipper closure. Most are shaped to be worn in a sporty riding position, which is feet under or behind the rider, so you’ll often see a flexible panel across the front of the ankle that looks like an accordian. True track riding boots include a slider panel on the toe and on the heel designed to be scraped on the pavement when the rider is leaning over with the motorcycle in a turn when their toe and heel touch down. These sliders are screwed on so that they can be removed and replaced when they are worn down from continuous scraping the asphalt surface.

how to shop for motorcycle boots sneaker shoe urban

Dainese Street Biker Lady riding sneaker


The hot trend in motorcycle footwear are shoes that look like a sneaker or a stylish low shoe. These are designed for casual around town riding although we’re seeing these styles all over the place now. There are more options than ever in this category that feature a flat sole or no heel whatsoever, and a low shaft height—just above the ankle. The protection here is built into the shoe often with a piece of round armor placed right where the ankle bone is so the ankle is protected in a crash. A good quality urban riding shoe also features some stiffness in the ankle material to protect the foot should a rider go down. But know that this style offers the least protection of all styles because the calves are not covered at all.

Some motorcycle sneakers have laces while others close using Velcro. Some have a mix of both closure systems. Urban footwear is often found in black, brown, and grey options—and some pink since they are made to look cool while riding around on the street, whether on a roadster, cruiser, sportbike, or vintage bike. What people love about this type of footwear is that they look and feel as good off the bike as they do on the bike. Made for all day comfort while riding or walking, my closet is quickly growing with this style of riding footwear.

Now that you’re knowledgeable on the different styles of motorcycle riding footwear, we’ll be featuring our favorites in each category in the coming months. Be sure to sign up for our free newsletter to be alerted when those stories go live.

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