Considering the heavy use (and abuse!) dirt gear receives, many riders change their kit from one season to another, or even mid-season. And the hunt for what’s best is never over.
The world of dirt gear is highly competitive, and every manufacturer touts their gear as the best. So what’s the right choice for you? Our test riders and gear experts have the answers you need. We’ll start with a beginner or entry-level dirt rider, then move up to an experienced rider who demands the best dirt gear available.
Beginner dirt rider
Beginner dirt riders tend to need gear that spans all genres. They usually haven’t decided on a specific dirt discipline. All they know is that they love riding dirt! That’s why the beginner gear we’ve chosen is suitable for a wide range of riding. This combination could handle MX, trail and woods riding, enduros, dual-sport riding and maybe some local races. Most importantly, this gear represents the best of what’s available at an entry-level price point.
|Helmet||Bell MX-9 MIPS helmet||$170||
|Jersey||O'Neal Mayhem Lite jersey||$40||
|Pants||O'neal Mayhem Lite pants||$120||
|Gloves||O'neal Mayhem gloves||$30||
|Boots||Alpinestars Tech 3 boots||$200||
|Armor jacket||Fox Racing Titan Sport jacket||$160||
|Knee guards||Leatt Dual Axis guards||$95||
Bell’s MX-9 MIPS helmet gets a leg up on the competition with its innovative MIPS liner, designed specifically to reduce the rotational impacts that dirt riders can sustain from a crash. For under $175, the MX-9 MIPS delivers mid-level performance based on the Moto 9 shell. Its polycarbonate shell looks aggressive and flows plenty of air. We were glad to see that the impact-absorbing EPS liner is also found at the chin bar, where strikes can definitely happen. The intermediate oval head shape will fit most riders, and the viewport accepts most goggles. If we were just starting in the dirt, the MX-9 MIPS would be our first choice of helmet.
Nitpicks: On some of the more hardcore helmets out there, the chin screen can pop out for cleaning. The MX-9 doesn’t offer this, and you might be wishing you had it after a really muddy ride. It can still be cleaned; it’s just not as convenient.
Dirt pants and jerseys must do three things. First, they have to protect the rider. Riding in the dirt can result in brushes with terrain, plants, and all kinds of other stuff. Best to ride without any exposed skin. A secondary function is cooling. An overheated rider definitely runs some risks. So, the jersey and pants must be tough enough to shrug off branches and tumbles, yet ventilated enough to get air to the rider’s body. Finally, your dirt kit should look good. It’s not a fashion show out there, that’s for sure, but at the rate most riders burn through gear, you might as well get something that looks cool!
The O’Neal Mayhem Lite jersey and pants, available in a range of colorways, excelled at all three. The jersey stayed breathable for all-day riding, and O’Neal cuts them long enough that they don’t ride up on the pants, exposing your lower back. The Mayhem Lite jersey also proved to be fairly durable. Cheap jerseys will turn to ribbons after a day in our northeastern singletrack.
The pants cost several times as much as the jersey, and they last several times as long. They aren’t baggy around the thighs while still providing ample room for knee guards or braces. The Mayhem pants stay put, even when moving around on the bike constantly, and the vented mesh liner helps keep air moving. Eventually, you’ll wear through them, as with any dirt pants, but they’ll outlast and outperform the competition in this class.
Nitpicks: A little more reinforcement around the knees would be welcome. Knee braces and guards can really chew through pants when you’re riding hard. This is less of an issue with knee guards.
Fox Racing’s Titan Sport jacket has been a favorite for many years. The Titan Sport just received an overhaul, making it our clear choice for entry-level dirt riders this year. The price is unchanged at $150, but the upgrades to protection and comfort are substantial. Keep in mind that this is a full off-road armor setup for your arms and torso.
The Titan Sport jacket uses a stretch poly and mesh main constriction, with foam-backed, hardshell, CE 1 armor over all the key impact zones. Even so, the Titan Sport manages to flow air well. Fox changed the armor design for better flexibility on the bike, which we were glad to see. Overall, it’s a more comfortable jacket that keeps bulk to a minimum. Congratulations to Fox for a strong refresh.
Nitpicks: One thing we missed from the old model was the bicep strap. It helped to keep the sleeve and armor close to the upper arm. Hopefully it returns on a next-gen model.
Dirt gloves are the simplest gloves in the motorcycle world. That doesn’t make them any less important. Dirt gloves don’t need to protect your hands from sliding down the road or fistbumping blacktop, though they do protect the rider from other hazards while grippin’ and rippin’. First, they keep your palms dry, which means less slipping on the grips. They also reduce blisters which can develop in hotspots. Finally, some gloves feature rubberized sections on the index and middle finger tips for lever control.
Simply put, the O’Neal Mayhem Lite gloves check all those boxes, and they’re priced right for the entry dirt rider. You could spend more, but why bother? These gloves got the job done in testing, and they outlast cheaper options in the long run.
Nitpicks: There’s not much more you could ask of such a simple product!
If one model of boots owns the beginner dirt market, it’s the Alpinestars Tech 3. These boots offer a great introduction to Alpinestars’ line of Tech dirt boots. They also look like all the other Alpinestars boots, so you won’t be showing up to dirt events with telltale beginner gear. The performance is also inspired by the Tech 3’s big brothers, so there’s more here than appearances. Our very own Joe Zito wore his Tech 3s all the way through a season of AHRMA racing, earning the No. 1 plate in his class. If that’s not an endorsement, we don’t know what is! The boots are still going, by the way.
The Tech 3 boots are truly modern protection at an entry-friendly price point. They utilize a microfiber (synthetic leather) main construction with TPU reinforcements at the toe, shin, inner and outer leg, calf, and achilles. Dirt injuries are no joke, and we’d trust the Tech 3s to deliver the necessary protection without cutting corners. All the protective features might make for a stiffer pair of boots than you might find upmarket, and that’s OK. For the money, these boots are hard to beat. Or, in Zito’s case, they’re the winners!
Nitpicks: Due to their hingeless design, these boots will be very stiff at first, and it takes a while to break them in properly. Once broken in, they aren’t the most flexible boots out there by a long shot, but we’d rather deal with that than an injury.
Leatt’s Dual Axis knee guards are RevZilla’s go-to recommendation for budget knee protection. So what’s this “dual axis” thing about? Leatt studied the way our knees move, and it turns out that a single pivot isn’t the best fit. Instead, two pivots allow the knee to hinge more naturally, and their design keeps your knees covered across the full range of motion. Keep in mind that a knee guard can’t defend against rotational twisting like a knee brace can. Knee braces cost several times as much as the dual axis guards, though, so these are a sound investment for the beginner.
The Leatt Dual Axis knee guards use a TPU and foam main construction, and they’re rated as CE Level 1 impact protectors. Mesh behind the TPU moves as much air as possible through the guard. These guards cover from the upper knee to the middle of the shin, where the guard would tuck into your boots. They’re tapered at the bottom to fit as well as possible.
Nitpicks: The elastic straps might be a little short for riders with larger legs, which could mean going up a size to get some additional length.
Gear for the dirt rider who wants the best of the best
At one time, these riders were just wee beginners, but now, they’re pushing the limits and riding with experience. They might focus on racing enduros, hare scrambles, or MX at the track. No matter what, they want the best gear they can afford, because nothing matters more than their passion for dirt.
|Helmet||Fly Racing Dirt Formula helmet||$650||
|Jersey||Fox Racing Flexair jersey||$70||
|Pants||Fox Racing Flexair Howk pants||$200||
|Gloves||Fox Racing Flexair gloves||$40||
|Boots||Alpinestars Tech 7 boots||$370||
|Armor jacket||Alpinestars Bionic Tech v2||$270||
|Knee Guards||Leatt Dual Axis Guards||$712||
Also featured in our Best Helmets gear guide, the Formula helmet is a masterpiece from Fly. We put this helmet through a torture test of rigorous riding and racing, and it never faltered. The 12k carbon shell is all-day comfortable. (It weighs just two pounds, 13 ounces in a medium!)
The Formula helmet’s protection is so innovative, it landed Fly a spot in last year’s “Best Advancements in Motorcycle Gear” article. Fly uses an array of RHEON Impact Energy Cells, which soak up low-speed impacts and reduce linear and rotational forces that could injure your head. The RHEON system is unobtrusive, as well, resulting in a helmet that’s not overly wide.
Add the outstanding ventilation, innovative peak design, and other thoughtful touches, and the Formula comes out on top as the best dirt helmet of 2020.
Nitpicks: There’s no getting around it: The Formula is very expensive compared to Fly Racing’s usual helmets. The experienced rider is probably familiar with the major dirt brands and their positions in the market, and the Formula is definitely an outlier. All we can say is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Fox has been at the forefront of dirt gear for ages, and that’s not changing for 2020. In fact, their Flexair kit was our favorite in testing.
The Flexair is the best example of how far jersey technology has progressed. Fox’s refined construction is lightweight, durable, and athletically cut for riders at the upper levels of dirt riding. Stretch materials keep everything flexible. We found the jersey’s wicking to be very effective in hard riding, and Fox’s laser-cut perforation resists tears and keeps plenty of air moving. There’s a reason pros ride with these jerseys.
The pants are just as excellent. Fox uses a Rider Attack Position (RAP) cut for an optimized fit while riding, and the pants incorporate much of the same technology as the jersey. In addition, the pants have real full-grain leather panels at the knees that reduce wear in the most common blow-out zone. Grip the bike all you like. Those panels will hold for a long time.
We also appreciated that the pants will fit a pair of knee braces with a minimum of extra material. Some dirt pants have overly loose knees to accommodate braces, and while that’s not the worst thing, the Flexair’s precise fit was our favorite.
Overall, this kit is ready for anything you can throw at it. One of RevZilla’s MX experts won’t wear anything else in the dirt. Fox’s design team cooked up a nice range of colors, too, so there should be something for everyone in the Flexair lineup.
Nitpicks: The pants definitely have an athletic, trim cut to them, so if you have larger legs, the pants could feel tight.
Keep in mind that the Flexair jersey and pants are designed more for MX use. The jersey won’t last very long getting whipped by the woods. If you want something more durable, check out the Fox 360 gear.
Alpinestars has upgraded their Bionic Tech jacket, and the newest iteration is our first choice for the hardcore dirt rider.
Priced at $270, the Bionic jacket can hang with the best of them. It uses a breathable stretch chassis to maintain mobility and comfort. The chest protection is CE 2, as well as the back armor, while the elbows and shoulder are CE 1. The main differences between the Bionic Tech v2 and the Bionic Pro are the Tech v2’s uprated chest and back armor, slimmer shoulder straps, and aramid hybrid protection at the elbow. The overall package is light, aggressive, and effective.
Nitpicks: Even with all that ventilation, the Bionic Tech v2 still gets pretty warm if riding in heat.
If you’re a full-on woods rider, you’ll want to look at the Alpinestars A-4 Max Chest Protector instead. Its design and protection are better suited to the trail world.
Dirt gloves are so simple that it doesn’t take long to separate the winners from the losers. We extend our endorsement of Fox’s Flexair line to the gloves, and for good reason. In use, they returned great durability and a precise feel. The cuffless design felt especially premium. And they match the Flexair jerseys and pants we already love, so we just had to have them.
Nitpicks: These gloves are so light, it feels like there’s nothing there at times. For some, that’s perfect. Others, not so much. It’s all personal preference.
At RevZilla, we reserve the word “juggernaut” for products that truly own their segment. So when we say the Alpinestars Tech 7s are juggernauts, we mean it. These are The Boots for most intermediate and advanced dirt riders.
In Alpinestars’ lineup, the Tech 10s are above even the mighty Tech 7s, and they’re priced accordingly. So why aren’t we calling them the best of the best? In our experience, the Tech 7s deliver nearly the same performance, but for a lot less coin, so that makes them even more appealing to us. (If you truly need pro-level boots, the Tech 10s would absolutely be our recommendation.)
The Tech 7’s TPU protection setup is robust and well designed. It covers all the critical areas without introducing any unnecessary bulk or restriction of movement. Breathability was impressive. A 3D mesh interior helps to circulate air through the boot. The tread locks onto pegs with authority, and the entire sole can be replaced, or just the peg insert in the middle, if you wear them out. These boots will just keep coming back for more. There’s a reason we call them juggernauts.
Nitpicks: The Tech 7s aren’t very good at keeping water out when riding in rain or very muddy conditions. That’s where you’d want to look at something like the waterproof Tech 7 Drystar boots.
Upgrading from knee guards to knee braces is essential for the aggressive rider. Knee injuries are nothing to take lightly, and a pair of knee braces will be your best chance of preserving your knees.
The Asterisk Ultra Cell 2.0s are the same great braces that the original Ultra Cells were, just with a revised rear liner system for better comfort. With that change, the Ultra Cell 2.0 knee braces are the RevZilla favorite for 2020. The Ultra Cell 2.0s offer state-of-the-art protection with a host of innovations: full-time knee coverage, boot-brace tethers, ultralight frames, and mesh to keep air moving throughout.
One of the Ultra Cell 2.0 braces’ best qualities was customizability. With a few simple adjustments, the braces can be finely tuned to match your legs perfectly. Asterisk managed to add all that adjustability without compromising the integrity of the braces, which is no small thing. Big props to Asterisk for delivering serious protection with a wide range of fit options.
Nitpicks: If you’re riding very frequently, you’ll find that they need to be cleaned and washed, and they aren’t the easiest to take apart. It’s still worth the protection.
Buying the best dirt motorcycle gear... for you
There you have it, RevZilla’s top picks for 2020 dirt riders. If you have any questions about any of this gear, or you aren’t sure which choice is right for you, reach out to our Gear Geeks, or drop a comment below. See you on the trail!