Motorcycle Boot Soles

Sole01I received an email the other day from a motorcycle rider who asked me about the soles on Boulet harness boots (shown here). He said:

I am concerned that the soles on these boots may cause a slip at stops or when trying to duck walk your bike in tight places, or to maneuver backing into a parking spot.

He has a legitimate concern about whether these boots would work well for motorcycle riding.

But like many questions about boots, the answer varies. Why?

It depends on where you will be riding, and what you will be doing.

Most motorcycle riders use their bike to ride to a destination, such as I do to work, to run errands, to visit family and friends, or ride with other like-minded bikers to somewhere interesting (or to eat — remember the Harley submotto, Ride to Live / Live to Eat.)

In that case, you will be doing a fair amount of walking in your boots after you dismount your ride.

In order for boots to be comfortable for walking, the sole needs to flex with your feet.

Sole03The most flexible sole is a nitrile, or thin rubber sole, as shown here. This type of sole is common on many motorcycle boots, including Chippewa engineer boots (both oil-tanned [shown here] and hi-shine), and some harness boots (such as Boulet boots.)

However, even if the sole is a good one, such as made by Vibram® and marked “oil-resistant,” that sole still can slip when moving a heavyweight bike into a tight place or parking it in a parking lot where cars have previously parked and probably dropped drips of oil over time that accumulate to make the parking area slick.

OR — if you are riding and get caught in the rain, boots with soles like that can easily lose traction; your leg shoots out sideways and before you know it, you’re down.

Sole02A sole that offers better traction, especially the latter situation, is a Vibram® 430 “mini-lug” sole, as shown here on my Chippewa harness boots. This sole is thicker than a standard thin rubber nitrile sole and offers good traction on wet surfaces.

While nothing can help much with oil which is as slick as ice on pavement, especially smooth concrete, boots with soles like this can grab traction better if there is anything to grab — more so than nitrile soles can do.

If your destination includes walking, yet the ride may be on wet surfaces, OR you are choosing only one pair of boots, then choose boots with a Vibram® 430 “mini-lug” sole.

Let me share my thoughts about Vibram® 100 “big lug” soles on motorcycle boots.

Sole04I tell ya, I like big lug soles on boots for how rugged those boots are. You’ll find Vibram® 100 “big lug” soles on some Wesco boots (you can specify that sole when ordering), on White’s Nomad boots (as shown here), and even on some Dehner boots (again, if specified when ordered.)

A few knock-off boots made in China, such as Harley-Davidson or Vulcan-labeled boots, may have lug soles, but they are not Vibram and are not oil-resistant, so those soles are crap. Don’t get them.

Chipblacklogger04Anyway, When might you choose boots with a Vibram® 100 “big lug” sole? Well, those boots do well when encountering mud and very wet, sloppy conditions. Logger boots have Vibram® 100 soles on them, for example. Some of my boots with those soles have found themselves immersed in mud, and come out no worse for the wear. Boots with soles like that can take the gaff extremely well.

I may choose to wear motorcycle boots with Vibram® 100 “big lug” soles when I will be riding predominantly and not walking much. For example, riding with my biker buddies and stopping for gas and at a restaurant for lunch, but not hiking around.

While the advantage of Vibram® 100 “big lug” soles are that they are extremely rugged and provide ultimate traction on wet surfaces, or even in streams and mud, these soles do NOT flex when walking. Boots that do not flex become exhausting to the feet because it is more work to walk in boots when your feet cannot flex like they are designed to do when walking.

In summary, I have all three types of soles on motorcycle boots in my collection. Before I pull any boots on before riding, I think of where I am going and my comfort and protection needs during the ride.

Life is short: make wise decision on motorcycle boots, but always wear them when you ride.