I have been a motorcycle operator for more than 33 years. During that time, I have also acquired, tested, worn, and worn out many pairs of motorcycle boots.
The harness boot has a rugged, masculine design. It has harness straps wrapped around the instep and across the back of the heel, attached to brass or nickel rings on each side. The harness straps serve no other purpose but to add an interesting detail to what is otherwise a plain boot. The boots present a solid appearance. Many men like to wear harness boots — about equal to the bikers who choose to wear engineer boots. (And choosing to dismiss the kids on crotch-rockets who wear sneakers.)
I have many pairs of harness boots and choose to wear them frequently. This blog post presents my opinions about traditional 12″ (common height) harness boots made for bikers to wear while operating a motorcycle. (I should note that because I am talking about shorter harness boots, these boots are worn by bikers with jeans or pants over them, not tucked into them.)
1. Chippewa Harness Boots (Style number 27868)
By far, these boots present the best value-vs-quality of 12″ harness boots. They are fully leather-lined, yet the boots remain flexible and thus comfortable to wear all day long. The boots have Vibram 430 (“mini-lug”) soles, which provide good traction. They are made in the USA, and have many features that demonstrate quality construction. While not designed to be water-proof, they will resist water from rain or puddles quite well (I know from experience.)
I have worn Chippewa harness boots for a lot of years. They are durable, rugged, and look great, even after years of wear. The soles are stitched, so it is possible to have a cobbler replace them if you wear them out (unlike soles that are glued on which cannot be replaced.) I highly recommend these boots if you’re looking for a pair of good quality, durable, traditional motorcycle harness boots.
2. Boulet Harness Boots (Style number 6082)
Boulet boots are made in Canada. The quality of manufacture is superb. The boots are leather lined, though the lining is a bit less thick than found on Chippewa harness boots. Therefore, these boots flex a bit more, but do not flop over. The boots have a typical and traditional nitrile oil- and acid-resistant sole, which provides moderate traction (not as good as a Vibram sole, but decent.)
One thing to note: apparently they specify measurements of boots differently in Canada than in the U.S. Boulet lists these boots as being 14″, but the height of the leather from the top of the heel (where it meets the sole) to the top of the boot is 12″. I guess they include the heel in their measurements. Also, the boots come in only “E” and “EEE” width. However, the Boulet “E” is equivalent to a US “D” with, and a Boulet “EEE” width is equivalent to a US “EE” width.
These are good boots and also present good value-vs-quality.
3. Wesco Harness Boots (Model: standard short [11″] harness boot. Wesco does not use stock numbers.)
The West Coast Shoe Company (“Wesco”) of Scappoose, Oregon, USA, has been making exceptional-quality boots for a long time. These boots are the most rugged of all boots that bikers may wear. They’re built like a tank, and will last forever. But because each pair of these boots is made by hand to high standards, the cost to buy them is the highest of all similar-designed and similar-height harness boots. A new pair of these boots costs US$475 from the manufacturer.
The boots are 11″ high (but can be made higher by custom order). The soles can be selected, but most bikers get Vibram 100 (big lug.) The leather is the thickest of all leather for boots I have ever seen. Even unlined, as my pair of these boots is, the boots do not flex very much. Due to the thick leather from which these boots are made, they are the heaviest of all in this category — they weigh twice as much as Chippewa or Boulet harness boots. Therefore, in my opinion, these boots are not as comfortable — because they don’t flex much and are so heavy. They have made my feet feel uncomfortably warm when I have worn them while riding on a hot day, so I reserve the times when I wear them for cooler weather.
While they say that these boots are not water-proof, I can attest that they are definitely water-resistant. I have walked through mud and streams in my Wescos and my feet have not gotten wet.
By far, these are the best harness boots on the market, but they also have their drawbacks due to their weight and less flexibility. If you are a typical biker who has one or two pairs of motorcycle boots, then I would rank Wesco boots lower on my list of recommendations due to the cost and that they can be uncomfortably warm and heavy on the feet. Don’t get me wrong — the boots are great, but they’re not as comfortable as Chippewa or Boulet harness boots.
4. Harley-Davidson (branded) harness boots (Various stock and model numbers, which change with whatever Chinese manufacturer that H-D has licensed to make boots using their name and logo.)
Okay, so you picked up on that — H-D boots are not made by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Think about it: Harley makes motorcycles; darn good motorcycles. They don’t make footwear, jackets, shirts, or helmets. The line of H-D “motorclothes” is farmed out to various third-party manufacturers to make these products on behalf of the Motor Company.
Because of that, boots with the H-D name are made by the cheapest sources that H-D can find — which these days is in China. The quality of the leather hides used to make the boots is poor. It is often blemished, thin in some spots and thick in others. The soles are rubber of some sort — don’t let the Harley “plug” in the sole make you think the soles are Vibram. They’re not. The boots are all machine-made, and often have soles that are glued on, not stitched (so the soles cannot be replaced.)
Note: Ad-tec, Guide Gear, and X-Element harness boots are made by the same company in China that makes H-D harness boots. Not recommended!
As you can tell, I do not recommend these boots. They present poor value-vs-quality. You are paying for the name, not quality. Don’t fall for that. If you’re looking for decent, typical biker’s harness boots, get yourself a pair of Chippewa or Boulet boots and you’ll be happy. Best yet, your feet will be happy.
The majority of guys with whom I ride motorcycles often choose to wear harness boots, though some could benefit from the information in this blog post (that is, the guys who bought H-D boots). I hope this post has given you information to make an informed decision.
And if that’s not enough, I created a video where I visually describe and demonstrate this information. The video is embedded below. Learn and enjoy.
Life is short: choose motorcycle harness boots well — and always wear boots and long pants while riding. Remember: boots for the bike; sneakers for the gym. Period (don’t be a Darwin Award Winner.)
Note: there are other manufacturers who make short harness boots, such as Durango, Red Wing, Double-H, Frye, and others. Believe it or not, I do not have them all. (For example, new Frye harness boots are way overpriced for the quality, even though they are U.S.-made. My 14″ vintage Frye harness boots of the ’70s do not compare with the cheap-o quality 12″ Frye harness boots made today.)
The opinions above are about boots that I actually own and wear. If you have shorter harness boots made by other manufacturers, please feel free to leave a comment with your opinion about them. Thanks.