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ADV PreppingFrom Budget to High-End Motorcycle Gear – Was It Worth It?

From Budget to High-End Motorcycle Gear – Was It Worth It?

 Lessons learned evolving from no gear to premium gear on the road.

Published on 10.29.2018

When I first started riding a motorcycle five years ago, I had no clue about gear. In Peru, where I was at the time, local people didn’t wear any protective motorcycle gear save for tatty Chinese and Taiwanese helmets. As for a few Westerners I’d seen riding South America, I figured perhaps they were professional motorcyclists – racers or rally riders – and it wasn’t until much later that I realized motorcycle gear was, well, for everyone.

Having no idea about protective gear, I started out with an ill-fitting Chinese helmet and the clothes I wore as a backpacker, hoping it would be enough. Currently, I’m wearing a Klim Artemis riding suit, Gaerne motocross boots and a Klim Krios helmet. What was my gear evolution like – and was it worth it?

Blue Jeans and Construction Boots

Having learned to ride and bought my first motorcycle in Nazca, Peru, I never even thought about getting appropriate gear. For one thing, it simply wasn’t available: in Peru, adventure motorcycling hasn’t arrived just yet and quality motorcycle gear and bikes are only available in the capital city of Lima. Everywhere else, people ride whatever they have (mostly Chinese motorcycles) and wear whatever they wear (mostly their everyday clothes).


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Adventure Motorcycle Gear

Finally, even if there had been high-end adventure riding gear shops around, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. At the time, my monthly travel budget was less than $800 a month and my expenses went primarily towards fuel, food and accommodation – not gear or equipment.

With all of this in mind, I first set off in a pair of blue jeans, a water-resistant parka jacket, a pair of llama wool gloves and a knockoff copy of Caterpillar construction boots I’d found in a local market, plus my Chinese helmet that came with the bike.

The Pros: extremely low cost and low maintenance. All I had to do was just put my regular clothes and a helmet on, and off I went.

The Cons: after experiencing my first crash and skinning the length of my left leg, I realized blue jeans wouldn’t quite do the job and invested $30 in a pair of pants I found in a small construction supplies shop in Chivay, Peru. These pants had a sturdier fabric and slightly padded hips. I rode all the way from Peru to Ushuaia, Argentina, in those. However, weather was still a very big issue – I struggled to keep warm and dry, especially at higher altitudes. The llama wool gloves were great when the weather was dry, but in the rain, they’d get soaked within seconds.

Insights: There is absolutely no way I’d go back to wearing regular apparel while riding. It might be OK if you’re just riding to get some bread to your local grocer, but for a 30,000-mile journey across South America, you’ll want at least some basic adventure riding gear to protect you from injury and weather.

No-Name Textiles

Adventure Motorcycle Gear

After experiencing a frightening episode of hypothermia on the Garibaldi Pass in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, I decided to get some proper gear. At this point, I’d learned gear wasn’t just for professional riders and, planning to ride all the way up to the Caribbean sea, I figured I needed something a little more reliable. In the port town of Punta Arenas, Chile, I found some generic brand textiles which were men’s, but fit me well enough. I also bought a pair of generic motorcycle gloves.

The Pros: This was a massive improvement to my situation. My newly purchased textiles weren’t waterproof, merely water resistant, but they provided a significantly bigger protection from the elements and crashes.

The Cons: I was still riding in construction boots, and my new gear, while a lot better at keeping me safe and warm, wasn’t a perfect fit and kept getting soaked in the rain. The gloves were an upgrade from my woolly mitts but didn’t provide much more warmth or comfort.

Insights: Basic gear isn’t perfect, but it does the job considerably well. For me, the biggest issue was bad weather – the generic textiles just weren’t up to the task when it rained.

Second-Hand Motorcycle Gear

Adventure Motorcycle Gear

After coming back to Europe and buying a different, bigger bike, I decided to upgrade my gear and get something a little better. Having researched options and concluded that I couldn’t afford brand new motorcycle gear, I decided to buy second-hand. My reasoning was that it was better to buy good-quality gear second-hand than low-quality gear brand new.

I purchased a second-hand Reusch riding suit for $250. This wasn’t waterproof, either, but I had stopped traveling at that point and only went for commutes and weekend rides, so weather wasn’t a big issue any longer. Getting used to my new 900cc bike, I had a few offs and my Reusch suit held together remarkably well. I also bought a pair of street riding gloves with leather-padded palms; they were men’s so a little too big for me, but they felt much nicer.

The Pros: This Reusch suit was also men’s, so the fit wasn’t ideal but at that point, looking good was not a priority. I liked the incorporated leather details, the suit was sturdy and durable, and although it wasn’t waterproof, I was very happy with it. The street bike gloves felt like a nice upgrade.

The Cons: Because the suit wasn’t a perfect fit, the protection pads weren’t sitting in the right places. This didn’t impact my safety on lower speed crashes, but I do wonder whether it would make a difference during a more serious accident. Much like my Chilean riding suit, the Reusch wasn’t waterproof; neither were the gloves.

Insights: Mid-range gear, or better-quality gear bought second hand, can be a great option if your budget is tight and if you’re more of a weekend or holiday adventurer. If it wasn’t for pure luck and support, I would probably still be riding in my Reusch suit now.

Off-Road Wear

Adventure Motorcycle Gear

After the short break in Europe, my partner and I decided to ride the Americas again, this time on as much dirt as possible. Paul had convinced me to try riding in off-road rather than adventure riding gear: we were planning to do some of the Back Country Discovery Routes, parts of the Trans America Trail, and parts of the Trans Canada Trail. We were hoping for some hot weather and desert riding along the way, so switching to off-road gear made sense.

Having spent ridiculous hours online looking for best deals, I assembled a “mix and match” version of off-road gear: a no-name body armor suit from Australia, my old TCX X-Desert boots, Klim motocross pants found on an online flea market, generic motocross gloves and a discounted Klim snowmobile jacket as an outer waterproof layer. For waterproof pants, I carried an old pair of men’s cycling overalls and the only reasonably priced helmet that fit my mane was an MSR.

This set up worked great for hot riding conditions – but whenever we’d hit colder regions or bad weather, I was miserable. While very lightweight and breathable, I didn’t feel the off-road gear would work for me long-term.

Adventure Motorcycle Gear

The Pros: Light weight and breathability were amazing in the heat. Off-road gear also offered a lot more flexibility which was great on gnarly off-road tracks that required a little more action and skill. Motocross gloves felt weightless and offered a excellent feel on the grips.

The Cons: Off-road gear simply didn’t offer enough protection from cold and bad weather. While it was great short-term, I would struggle in it on a long overland journey.

Insights: Off road gear works well if you’re planning to ride a lot of technical trails in warm or hot weather, but for longer trips, it may not offer enough protection.

High-End Adventure Riding Gear

Before leaving for Central and South America, I was lucky to receive some support from Klim. I currently ride in a Klim Artemis suit and Dakar Pro gloves, and have traveled through Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, Colombia, and Ecuador, hoping to do many more miles around the world in this set up.

Since the Artemis is a women’s adventure suit, the fit is perfect which means I’m well protected both from injury and the elements. The suit is Gore Tex, which keeps me bone-dry, even in torrential rain. The quality and durability of the fabric ensures that the suit will last which is incredibly important to me as I don’t have a return date from my RTW trip. I love my Dakar Pro gloves – although they aren’t waterproof, the fit is fantastic and the leather details offer a nice grip and soft feel.

Adventure Motorcycle Gear

The Pros: Durability, waterproofing and level of protection are head and shoulders above what I’ve used before. This is the gear I practically live in, so all of these factors matter a lot. I love how soft and comfortable the gloves are.

The Cons: The price tag. High-end adventure riding gear is very expensive, which might make it inaccessible for a lot of riders out there. The only leveraging point is durability: good quality gear will last 5 to 8 years, so you won’t have to make another big purchase for a long time.

Insights: On a round-the-world trip or a long overland journey, high-end gear can be a game changer. Constantly changing seasons and climates, altitude and weather fronts, treacherous roads and varying terrain can all take a toll while on a long haul. Good quality motorcycle gear can be a big help in keeping you safe, dry, warm, and protected if you ride long distances daily for months.

The Bottom Line

In light of all of this, do you need high-end adventure riding gear if you love adventure motorcycling? Not necessarily. Second-hand, or mid-range gear can do a great job if you are mostly riding your bike on weekends or holidays or do shorter trips. However, it’s worth thinking about investing in higher-end gear if you are planning to ride around the world or go on a long journey: your gear becomes your second skin, and with all the challenges a journey like this will throw at you, having high-end gear can prevent a lot of discomfort and minimize your risk of injury.

Photos by Egle Gerulaityte & Paul Stewart

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte
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15 thoughts on “From Budget to High-End Motorcycle Gear – Was It Worth It?

  1. I gotta be honest here… I think most motorcycle gear is insanely overpriced. Irefuse to spend the money on it. I pick up stuff when it goes on clearance at the end of the year, or if I can find it on sale. I’ve also noticed that motorcycle gear appears to be price-fixed in that it RARELY is offered at a discount.

    I’ve also read too many stories about people with big expensive jackets and pants still getting wet in the rain (despite them being Gore-Tex), and concluded that my money is better spent elsewhere. If I spent $800+ on a jacket, it better be PERFECT in every way. But to spend that money and then find out on a big trip that it’s not living up to its price, I’d be beyond pissed.

  2. Egle: You do not mention any boots upgrade? What boots are you wearing? Absolutely wear the best boots you can afford. Mine (A*’s Corozal ADV) have prevented broken ankle and leg injuries from getoffs. I absolutely know this to be true. I received bad sprains, but not breaks. The med bills and evac costs not paid, have paid for the boots many times over.

    In contrast with RobG on the topic of premium ADV gear. I feel the amount of design costs and testing / approval from CE, makes the price point understandable. The “copy cats” get the benefit of design work, but do not get the CE approvals (unless they pay for it). “CE Approved” (Not CE Tested) in this case gets you premium tested gear that will go the distance while keeping your hide mostly intact.

    My 40+ years backpacking / buying that gear tell me that DWR fabrics (Durable Water Resistant, which GoreTex is a type of), are good until the fabric loses its outer DWR coating. Then, it’s not nearly as good as new, and leaks water badly. Most fail because it rubs off the surface. Once gone, nothing can rebuild / replace it. Because of this, I do not recommend DWR fabrics for off road / motocross use, it will not hold up well, or for long.

    • Hi Bob! I couldn’t agree more, boots are very important. I wear Garne SG12 motocross boots which have already saved my feet and ankles a couple of times! I do sound like a ridiculous alien walking in them as they squeak like crazy, but it’s all worth it:)

    • Hi, Bob, I understand you have a lot of experience with gear, but I believe you’re a little off on your discussion of DWR (Durable Water Repellent) and Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex is not a “DWR fabric”, although DWR coatings are often applied to to the outside surface of Gore-Tex garments. The purpose of the DWR coating applied to Gore-Tex is not for waterproofness, it’s to bead and repel moisture in order to maintain the Gore-Tex material’s breathability. When the DWR coating gets compromised a Gore-Tex garment will generally experience a degradation in its ability to “breathe”, will not lose waterproofness. The waterproofness of Gore-Tex is a function of the spacing of its material membrane being too small to allow the passage of liquid water molecules, while still being large enough to allow the passage (under the presence of a pressure differential) of less-dense water vapor and air molecules.

      When the DWR coating on a Gore-Tex garment degrades this can cause the outer surface to get saturated with water. The water won’t get through to the inside of the garment, but it can block the transfer of bodily-formed perspiration (water vapor, effectively) from the inside of the garment, through the Gore-Tex material, to the outside atmosphere, and so cause the perspiration to condense and on the inside of the garment. Maybe this is what you’ve experienced when your DWR coatings have degraded.

      The nice thing about modern DWR coatings is that they can often be reactivated very easily in your dryer at home. Once the the outside of the garment starts looking dirty and/or greasy, and the DWR coating begins losing its ability to bead water, you just wash the garment and then do an extended drying process, which reactivates the DWR coating. In some cases, after prolonged hard use, the DWR coating will need to be re-applied, which can generally been done easily with a spray-on.

  3. Great article and I agree the better quality, most waterproof options make a world of difference to the overall trip. I’m still working my way up there and am in second hand but good quality (though mismatched) women’s gear. My helmet is new, my boots from the early 1980’s!! It’s a journey! Now just to find a way to keep warm when the weather and wind chill factor is nasty.

    • Hi Debbie! Mixing and matching can be a great solution to find good quality gear that fits well, especially for women. As for keeping warm, I swear by my First Gear heated jacket. Bourgeois, I know!:) But it makes a WORLD of difference, especially when there’s no time to acclimatize (eg riding from the jungle to high altitude in one day).It’s pricey but it works so well and will function for years – before using the heated jacket, I’d layer up like crazy and look like a tipsy penguin and would still feel cold. No more!:)

  4. I think Gore-Tex jackets and pants are great for ADV Backcountry riding, but they are stiff for riding technical terrains. I have Klim Altitude jacket and the pants, which I don’t enjoy wearing them unless I know that weather would be crappy prior to the ride. Although they said (and most of reviewers who got Klim support for free gears) that the fittment are great for women, I disagree. I’m 5.5” tall, 135lb, less curved body, wearing US size 6, which considered as an average off-road woman rider. I have 3 women rider friends don’t think that the fittment are good either, and the pants’ crotch area is too tight to hop on/off and stand up/down on bikes.

    You did good write up on budget gears comparison, and I appreciate that. My point here is if we were to be supported by brands without paying own money, high end gears are great. We can forget minor uncomfortableness of the gears becoz they aren’t now expensive. But, if we had to pay $1000 out of our pockets, and the gears wouldn’t work for us, it’d be such a pain. Hence, I would like to hear/read gear reviews from people who really pay their own money for high end gears, which would be the true reviews.

    • Hi Sarah! Many valid points in your comment. It would be awesome to switch back and forth from/to ADV and motocross gear depending on terrain and weather, unfortunately, on a RTW trip it simply isn’t possible:) I need gear that will work in any weather, any terrain, any climate and altitude 365 days a year, so for me, Klim Artemis is perfect as I practically live in it:) The only thing I would love they did differently is the pants waist, I feel a higher waist would be more comfortable and functional. However, I’m sure there is an equal percentage of women who love the lower waist:) It’s harder to design gear for women because we come in a lot more diverse spectrum of sizes and shapes, and I’m not even sure it’s possible to make good quality, durable ADV gear that would fit 100% of women 100% of the time. And hey, can I let you in on a little secret? Altitude has been designed by a guy. Artemis, on the other hand, is a female gear designer’s creation – and the difference is HUGE:)

  5. I guess you have to have the money all at once and that can be a problem, but almost every serious rider ends up buying very good gear after years of buying not-so-good budget stuff – and ultimately spending as much or more. “Buy once, cry once” is an old saying because it’s true. I’ve never done it, but the way to success would be to spend hours in a [possibly mythical] retail shop trying things on until you find the perfect stuff.

  6. These articles and online reviews have become another form of advertising. Negative reviews left on big distributers websites are deleted, because positive reviews generate sales. Youtube sensation Ryan F9 talks a little about this issue, which isn’t addressed enough.
    If you don’t have a ton of money, buy a quality product. This way you only have to buy it once. If someone spends more money on advertising than research and development, there might be an issue with that.