As a safe an conscientious motorcycle rider, let’s assume you have purchased good quality riding gear to wear on your long distance rides. Whether it be a textile riding suit, or racing leathers, you’re going to want to be as comfortable as possible on your ride.
So, what should you wear under your motorcycle riding gear? The most important thing to strive for is comfort. You want to wear a base layer that helps regulate your body temperature under different weather conditions. Choose clothing that does not impair your movement or ability to maneuver the motorcycle; or that doesn’t bunch up, ride up, or gather over time.
What you choose to wear under your riding pants can depend on a lot of factors.
- Is the weather hot and humid?
- Is it cold?
- Do you have sensitive skin?
- How active will you be on the bike? (off road, paved road?)
The market has improved greatly when it comes to base layers for all kinds of sports including motorcycle riding. And when it comes to motorcycle touring or long motorcycle trips, you should have no problem packing up the appropriate clothes to keep you safe and comfortable under your riding gear.
Hot Weather Base Layers
While riding during the summer and in hot weather, you’re going to be sweating. You want to choose a base layer made of material that will wick away sweat from your skin. You’ll want something that is light weight that will dry quickly, so, if you’re sweating while riding, opening your jacket vents will send a nice breeze through your shirt, cooling your skin.
In the heat, most people will naturally want to wear short sleeves thinking it will keep them cooler. Keep in mind, however, that you will be wearing a jacket over the shirt. Longs sleeves are actually more effective in hot weather. Long sleeves will protect your skin from the more harsh material in your jacket and will prevent irritation at some key points like inside the elbows.
Some of the best moister wicking materials are high-tech polyester, polypropylene, Gore-Tex (but this is generally used for outerwear), and wool. Most people wouldn’t think to wear wool in hot weather, but, as a natural fiber, it is effective in drawing moister away from the skin.
Avoid cotton. Cotton is a great natural fiber and is very comfortable, and most people wear cotton t-shirts a lot. But, as a hot weather base layer, it’s not the best choice. It will hold in moisture and will become heavy and bulky when wet.
Cold Weather Base Layers
When riding in cold weather you not only have to worry about the ambient temperature, but wind chill as well. A good quality outer layer will help keep windchill from becoming an issue, but you still need to keep in mind that even your jacket will not be enough to protect you from the chill. So, a nice thermal base layer is necessary.
When you start layering your clothing for winter riding, it’s easy for those layers to bulk up and reduce your mobility. So, it’s important to choose clothing that is effective in retaining your body heat, but that is also thin enough to keep you comfortable.
If you want to go with a natural fiber, merino wool is an excellent material for a cold weather base layer. A good quality layer of wool is comfortable, wicks away moisture if you sweat under your jacket, but still will hold in your body’s natural heat. Shirts made of polyester that are designed specifically for cold weather sports like skiing make excellent base layers for motorcycle riding. Cold weather layers will be slightly thicker than warm weather layers, yet will still be pretty thin and comfortable. It’s woven in a way that creates tiny pockets of air between the fibers that trap your body’s heat, keeping you warmer.
Select a long sleeve shirt and pants that are form fitting and somewhat tight, rather than being loose fitting. This will help keep your body’s heat from escaping. Also, consider selecting a mock turtle neck shirt that will help prevent wind from blowing around your neck.
Long pants vs. shorts
In cold weather, long pants are a natural choice for keeping your legs warm. Depending on the temperature, you’ll want to wear the same type of material you select for you upper body. But, while thermal shirts or warm weather shirts will still look good when you take your jacket off, not everyone will be comfortable walking into a restaurant wearing skin tight thermal pants. So, what are some other option for base layer pants?
A lot of riders like to wear convertible pants that are made of a good technical fiber. Convertible pants are hiking pants that convert in the shorts by unzipping the legs at the thigh. These are perfect if your day starts out a little bit chilly, the warms up in the afternoon. Plus, they look good if you choose to remove your riding pants on a break for lunch or dinner.
Some motorcycle riders like to ride while wearing cycling shorts. This is a great option for comfort. The padded chamois in the shorts provides and extra layer of comfort in the saddle. They are generally free from seams that can dig into the skin when your sitting for long periods of time. Here’s an important tip if you wear cycling shorts: DO NOT wear underwear under the cycling shorts. This completely defeats the purpose. Cycling shorts are designed to be worn against the skin and when you sweat, the moisture will keep the chamois tight against your skin preventing if from shifting, thereby preventing chaffing.
Jeans, although very popular among motorcycle riders, are probably the least comfortable pants to wear as a bas layer under your riding pants. They are bulky in all the wrong places. They have seams and rivets the dig into the skin on long rides. While jeans, especially kevlar jeans, may be an option for daily riding or commuting, they don’t make a good base layer.
Bra or No Bra?
Ok, this one is for the ladies. If you are a woman whose figure doesn’t require a lot of support, consider ditching the bra for your long motorcycle trips. Wearing a snug fitting base layer shirt without the bra will be that much more comfortable. If you want to go without your jacket during breaks, you can always throw on a second shirt that you keep handy when packing, if you feel uncomfortable going with out a bra in public. Some women aren’t, some women are; it’s completely a personal choice.
If you have to wear a bra for support, get yourself a few good quality sport bras. The larger, non-binding straps and bands of a sport bra are specifically designed to be comfortable and keep the girls in place without sacrificing mobility.
The Buff or Handkerchief
This is not really a base layer, but it is something you will find a lot of adventure riders wearing with their gear. A buff, is a soft, stretchy tube of material that is pulled over the head and worn around the neck. It can be pulled up over the nose and mouth to prevent dust out of your face, or to keep your chin and face warm in the cold. It can be soaked in water to help keep you cool on a hot ride. It can be used as a headband or as a bandana to keep long hair under control (again, a tip for the ladies).
A lot of people will use a handkerchief to tie around their neck, or to use as a bandana, and this works just as well. A cotton bandana soaked in water does a great job a keeping you cool when it’s hot. Also, it works just as well in keeping your neck and face warm in the cold.
Whether you choose a buff or a handkerchief is your choice, but either one is a great addition to your base layer.
I hope this article gives you some good ideas about what to wear and how to stay comfortable under your riding gear.