To continue with this short series of posts about what to wear when riding a Harley (or any other brand of motorcycle), let me continue a little bit more about the boots part of the rider’s attire.
What I did not communicate much about is why boots are so much better than sneakers (trainers).
After all, most guys think, “sneakers have rubber soles, and give me traction when I walk, run, or play sports while wearing them, so why wouldn’t they be okay to wear while riding my motorcycle?”
Perhaps this message from someone who wrote to me recently will give a hint:
After consulting with other bikers I know regarding boots, [they] know bikes but not boots. Case in point, my coworker confessed his bike tipped over at a light during a stop because he was standing in a patch of oil. He tried to hold up his bike and gave himself a hernia. He was wearing Sketcher’s boots.
I have been riding with a pair of CAT steel toe boots and on a 200 mile trip to the desert from the central coast, I nearly slipped at a stop and while you can’t prevent every slip, the lug sole of Wesco looks second to none. People drop 5K on new pipes and carb rejet and will wear boots from Walmart I have learned.
There are a number of things that this guy’s message brings out:
1. The necessity for oil-resistant soles. Think about it — when you stop a motorcycle on pavement, you are usually placing your foot to balance the bike on a place where oil droplets have been deposited from vehicles that have passed that way before. If it hasn’t rained hard in a while, then it is very likely that there is a thin film of oil on the road. The lightweight synthetic material from which the soles of modern-day sneakers are made cannot get a grip on that thin film of oil, so when a sneaker-clad foot hits just the wrong patch of oil-coated pavement, the sole slips. Down you go.
Quality boots designed for motorcycling have oil-resistant soles, and it will say so on the product (such as an imprint on the sole or a label inside the boot shaft.) Vibram soles are known to be oil-resistant.
Bottom-line: the soles of sneakers do not resist oil and easily slip, while oil-resistant motorcycle boot soles are less likely to slip.
2. Some makers of sneakers call their shoe a boot. Even if a sneaker comes up six inches, it is still not a boot. A boot is a boot, not a sneaker. Do not confuse the two.
3. Even if some boots are made to offer protection to the foot — such as a steel toe — it does not mean that the sole of that boot offers the gripping power required by motorcyclists — particularly for those who operate heavyweight bikes like a Harley. Steel toe CAT work boots are designed for activities like construction work. While on any given day the soles of those boots offer moderate traction for a biker, it only takes one interaction with a little bit of oil or uneven section of road where a biker could briefly lose his footing, and thus drop the bike. That’s why you have read on this blog over the years why I am such a big fan of Vibram 100 (“big lug”) soles. Like snow tires for the feet.
4. A guy will spend all sorts of money on bells & whistles for his Harley — new chrome, pipes, engine modifications, and toys & gadgets like GPS, bluetooth, CB radio, and so forth … but then invest less than US$100 on the very thing that could save his life and protect his ride from damage — motorcycle boots with an oil-resistant sole. Doesn’t make sense, but as the above story points out, it happens all too often. I’d rather spend US$450 on a pair of Wesco boots or $200 on a pair of Chippewa Firefighter boots than spend the same amount of money on something that may make my bike appear a little different from another guy’s Harley. You answer this question: what’s more important?
In summary, good boots are important. Not only for protection of the foot, but for grip on the road.
Life is short: wear lug-soled boots when riding. (and always wear a helmet!)