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Your guide to essential dirt bike gear

Apr 28, 2021

I didn’t grow up riding dirt bikes and I’m guessing many of you who stumbled upon this article probably didn’t, either. Luckily, it’s never too late to start. 

But, starting is often the hardest part of the whole process. When I started riding dirt bikes several years ago, I found out there are so many different pieces of gear and I didn’t exactly have a full understanding of what I should be looking for and the “why” associated with the various options.

So let's cover the basics and then dive a bit deeper into the essential dirt gear. Right out of the gate, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, protecting your noggin should be your top priority so that’s where we're going to start.

Head protection

A dirt helmet is a bit different than your everyday street helmet. You’ll find a peak visor on top for blocking roost, ducking under branches on the trail, and it occasionally comes in handy for blocking the sun. Quick note for you on the peak visor. I typically look for helmets that utilize plastic screws on the side or simply have an easy breakaway system built into the visor. If you do a lot of trail riding, the peak visor can get caught under low-hanging branches and pull on your neck pretty aggressively and cause an injury. If the visor has a breakaway system, it should do just that, break away instead of pulling on your neck and head.

You’ll also find that dirt lids provide excellent ventilation. In the dirt world, you’re moving your body on the bike a lot — standing up on the pegs, sitting down for the corners, throwing out a leg for counterbalance. You’re going to build body heat so airflow should be your best friend.

But protection is the top priority. Riders encounter a variety of surfaces and terrain on the trails or even at their local MX track and that means different kinds of impacts in a crash. Sand is a bit softer and just happens to be my personal favorite to crash in (I crash a lot). Clay can be really hard. The helmet's job is to absorb and disperse the energy of the impact.

Some dirt helmets have technology incorporated to help prevent injury from rotational impacts. This technology allows some movement between the outer shell of the helmet and the inner lining, as seen in the Bell video below. That helps prevent brain injuries when the rider's head is twisted by the impact.

At a recent Monster Energy Supercross round, Cameron McAdoo had a vicious crash (seen in the video below) while wearing the new Bell Moto 10 Spherical Helmet shown in the video above.

McAdoo was not only able to walk away from this crash, but he also ended up getting back on the grid and finished third. Could he still do that with a non-MIPS helmet? Maybe… maybe not. All I know is that the helmet did its job and potentially saved his life.

Brandon's picks: Helmets

Fly Racing Dirt Formula Helmet

Incredibly light • Great airflow • Excellent fit

Bell Moto 10 Spherical Helmet

Maximum airflow • Latest and greatest impact protection technology

Bell MX 9 MIPS Helmet

Bang For The Buck

When it comes to sizing your dirt lid, it’s no different than sizing a street helmet and we’ve got an article and a video on that.

Once you’ve got your helmet sorted, the next piece of gear is arguably just as important, and that’s your goggles.

Goggles

Your eyes are incredibly vulnerable, which makes your goggles another valuable piece of gear that should pair well with your helmet. If you can’t see, you can’t really ride.

Goggles protect your eyes from roost, tree branches, rain, really anything that could harm them while riding. Plus, you’ll find a variety of tinted lenses out there for protection from the sun and to help provide a clearer view of the trail ahead.

The 100% Armega Goggles feature a wide field of vision, outriggers, and a wide goggle strap.
The outriggers located on the side of the goggle frame allow the goggles to sit further into the helmet which feels more comfortable and secure. Photo by Brandon Wise.

While goggles are pretty straightforward, there is a bit more going on than you might think, so there’s a few things I typically look for. First off, outriggers are great to have. They’re these plastic pieces on the side of the frame here which position the goggles further in the helmet and make them fit more comfortably. I also like having a wide goggle strap because it helps the goggles stay secure. Lastly, a wide field of vision is always a plus. Seeing what’s beside you on the trail or the track is just as important as what’s directly in front of you.

You’ll find goggles with roll-offs for muddy conditions, goggles that have a different style of foam for dusty or sandy conditions, or goggles that come with a dual-pane lens to help decrease fogging. There’s a lot to choose from but the most important part is that they protect your eyes and pretty much all modern goggles are the market today are going to do that… some just do it a little better than others.

Brandon's picks: Goggles

100% Armega

Wide field of vision • Outriggers • Easily removable lens • Very comfortable nose bridge • Large goggle strap

100% Racecraft 2

Good field of vision • Outriggers • More economically priced than the Armega with a lot of similar benefits

FMF PowerBomb Film System

Roll-off system for under $60 with the film included • Great for muddy/wet races

One more important note about goggles: I recommend choosing your helmet before selecting your goggles. Why? Because this will allow you to throw on your helmet and then test your goggles to make sure they fit the eyeport and that they are comfortable to wear together. The straps are adjustable, so there’s not really a whole lot you need to know about “sizing,” but if the goggles and helmet don’t fit well together, that's ultimately going to be a distraction, which nobody needs. 

Working our way down from head to toe, the next piece of gear on the list is one of those items that is very a subjective piece of gear, a neck brace.

Neck braces

Dirt riders, for the most part, always wear boots, gloves, helmets, chest protectors, etc. But, neck braces are one of those items that riders either swear by and absolutely love wearing or they find them uncomfortable and cumbersome.

Neck braces, at least in the moto world, are designed to prevent injury to the neck and spine by reducing the amount of compression the rider experiences in the event of a crash. While they do help with hyperextension, (forward, backward, and those side to side movements) the main protection you’re getting with a neck brace is associated with spinal compression.

Neck braces are designed to absorb energy in the event of a crash and help stabilize the neck.
"Neck braces allow forces during an accident to be reduced and transferred through the brace and onto the muscles of the body rather than the fragile bones in the neck," Leatt explains. RevZilla photo.

Neck braces are an additional level of protection that is beneficial for dirt riders of all disciplines. From talking with fellow riders who don’t use them, it’s often because they don’t work well with their existing gear or they’re simply not fitted appropriately. A neck brace should rest comfortably on your shoulders and should not hinder your movement.

Brandon's picks: Neck braces

Leatt GPX 5.5 Neck Brace

Excellent amount of adjustability • Lightweight • Fits well with Leatt body armor

Leatt GPX 3.5 Neck Brace

More economically priced without sacrificing the protection.

When it comes to sizing, every manufacturer does things a bit differently. And because of that, if you’re interested in picking up a neck brace, make sure you check the product details and the manufacturer's specifications for fitting your neck brace appropriately. Many manufacturers design their neck braces to work in conjunction with their chest guards.

That leads us right into the next piece of protection I want to talk about: roost guards and chest protectors.

Roost guards, chest protectors, body armor

Roost guards and chest protection share a lot of similarities but they also have some differences.

Roost guards are most commonly used by motocross riders and this type of protection provides light coverage for the chest and the back. And while there’s always exceptions to the rule, generally speaking, roost guards are a bit more low-profile when compared to chest protectors. As the name implies, a roost guards main objective is to protect you from roost and various debris being shot at you from the rider(s) ahead. 

Body armor has saved me from serious injury more times than I can count.
Do you wear your chest protection/roost guard on the outside of your jersey or on the inside? This is always a hot topic of debate. Personally, I wear a base layer, body armor/roost guard, and then my jersey on top. I've seen many arguments from riders why wearing it one way is better than the other. I think you just gotta follow your heart. Photo by Brandon Wise.

Chest protectors, often referred to as body armor or “armored rigs,” typically offer more coverage and are generally used by trail riders who encounter more obstacles: trees, rocks, roots, logs in the middle of the trail. The terrain simply isn’t as clear and smooth as what you typically find at your local MX track.

Chest protectors generally offer adjustable bicep and forearm armor paired with chest protection and coverage around the ribs. That’s another nice benefit for any dirt rider. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a handlebar, a tree, or a rock right to the ribs. If you’re crash-prone like me, that additional coverage might come in handy.

Brandon's picks: Body armor

Troy Lee BG 5955 Chest Protector

Lightweight • Low profile • Comfortable 

Leatt 5.5 Body Protector

Excellent protection • Versatility • Works well with Leatt neck braces.

Alpinestars Bionic Chest Protector

Excellent protection • Very breathable • Low profile 

One last note: If you plan to add a neck brace, you’ll find a few brands (Leatt is a good example) that have chest armor designed to accommodate their neck braces, too. Personally, I really like the Leatt 5.5 chest and neck brace combo and a few riders I frequent the trails with agree. Neck braces and chest protectors are pretty universal, but if you can easily combine them, it’s generally more comfortable and secure. When it comes to sizing for chest protecors or roost guards, I’ve found that simply going with your typical T-shirt size should do the trick.

While we’re on the subject of braces (and I’m not talking about those things that go over your teeth), let’s keep building our kit and talk about knee braces and knee guards.

Knee braces versus knee guards

This gear has saved my shins and knees countless times. Now you might think knee braces and knee guards are the same, but while they are similar, they have very different price points and offer very different levels of protection.

Much like knee guards, knee braces also provide impact protection but they also provide an excellent level of torsional and lateral protection.
Pictured on the left, you've got a knee guard. This is a bit of a hybrid from Leatt as most knee guards don't have this type of articulating knee but nonetheless, it's still a knee guard and provides some good impact protection. On the right, you'll find a set of Leatt C-Frame Pro knee braces. They provide an extra level of torsional and lateral protection not found with a knee guard. I've personally used the C-Frames for the past three years and I've been happy with their performance thus far. RevZilla photos.

Let’s start with knee guards. The main objective of a knee guard is to stay in place in the event of a crash and provide impact protection. You’ve got this hard TPU plate and straps that go around the back of your leg to ensure the knee guard doesn’t shift around while riding or when you take an impact. If you're riding off-road, you're going to want knee guards, at minimum. Just imagine falling shin-first onto some rocks and it's easy to imagine why you want to save yourself some pain. Even the cheapest option available will be better than nothing.

Knee braces also provide impact protection to the knee and shin but they also take it a few steps further. Knee braces help prevent torsional and lateral injuries to the knee and leg and they help prevent hyperextension. Knee braces have a pivoting point accompanied by a strong backbone running along either side of the knee. This design allows knee braces to provide greater stability for the leg and knee that you simply cannot get with a set of guards. 

Brandon's picks: Knee braces

Leatt C-Frame Pro Carbon Knee Braces

Lightweight • Comfortable • Allows the rider to hug the frame of the bike closer than a lot of alternative options

Pod K8 V2 Knee Braces

Simple design • Very comfortable • Easy on and off • Stays in place, very secure while riding

Leatt Dual Axis Knee Shin Guards

Excellent coverage for a knee guard • Articulating knee • Comfortable • Lightweight

Dainese Knee V E1 N Guards

Excellent coverage for a knee guard • Comfortable • Lightweight

When it comes to sizing, much like previous gear discussed, every manufacturer does things a bit differently. You’ll find that some brands will want you to measure five inches above and below the knee while others will want you to measure the full circumference of your knee. For that reason, make sure you’re checking the sizing chart for that particular knee guard or brace to ensure you’re getting the right measurement for a proper fit. If you don’t see a size option detailed, it’s safe to assume the knee guard is universal with a fair amount of adjustability to accommodate a wide range of builds.

One last note: You’ll often find numbers on the straps utilized to secure knee braces and knee guards to your leg. It’s important to strap on your knee guard or brace in the specified order as it will ultimately lead to a more comfortable and secure fit.

The last piece of lower body protection are MX boots, which provide maximum protection to the shin, leg, and foot. 

Boots

MX boots are one of the most protective if not the most protective footwear utilized by motorcyclists, and that’s for good reason. As a dirt rider, you’re constantly using your legs and feet and they're subjected to a lot of potential risks, so I’d say the value and importance of a proper pair of dirt boots is right on par with the value of a motorcyclist helmet.

Dirt boots are very stiff and might take a little bit of time to get used to but they’re designed this way on purpose. The stiffness of the boots will help prevent torsional and lateral injuries, which we briefly discussed with knee braces. And, speaking of knee braces, dirt boots are designed to accommodate knee guards and knee braces so you shouldn’t have any concerns pairing this gear with your boots.

The Leatt GPX 5.5 Flexlock Boots are very similiar to the Alpinestars Tech 7 Boots but the ankle feels more secure and protected.
The rock floating mid-air in this picture was fired my way at a very high rate of speed. Thanks, Zito! It smacked me right in the shin and even with the hard TPU coverage, I very much felt it. Without proper MX boots, that would have hurt a lot! Photo by Brandon Wise.

You’ll find hard TPU protection around the shin and the rest of the boot for extra levels of abrasion resistance and impact protection.

Much like most moto gear, you’ll find varying price points within a given brand. For example, the Tech 3 Boots are considered an entry-level dirt boot within Alpinestars line. As you move up, the Tech 7 boots from Alpinestars have an additional strap and they feature a dual-hinge system on either side of the ankle. This makes the boot a bit more flexible and a bit more comfortable than some of the entry-level options such as the Tech 3. Nothing wrong with the Tech 3 boots. Zito has been rocking them for the past three years, but as you move up within a brand's line, you’ll often find a greater level of comfort and protection.

Brandon's picks: Boots

Alpinestars Tech 7 

Excellent torsional lateral protection • Flexibility • Comfort • Tactile feel

Alpinestars Tech 10 

MX oriented • Heel reinforcement • Flexibility • Top tier protection

Leatt GPX 5.5 Flexlock Boots

Excellent combination of flexibility and protection • Ankle feels very secure/locked in

Sizing your boots is really no different than sizing for your everyday pair of shoes. I don’t want to sound like a broken record here but make sure you reference the sizing chart because every manufacturer is going to measure their boots a bit differently. If there are any outliers or a particular model is running generously, you’ll generally find that notated on the product page.

The last piece of the dirt riding gear puzzle and I’d easily say the most fun part, is picking out your jersey, pants, and gloves.

Jerseys, pants, gloves

There’s a lot to choose from within this category and while most of this gear simply comes down to style and personal preference, there’s a few things worth discussing. 

If you’ve looked at dirt gear before, you’ll often find substantial price differences between jerseys and pants within a given brand and you might be wondering why. Most manufacturers nowadays are creating gear that is focused for a specific type of rider or a specific discipline of riding. Let’s use Fly Racing as an example.

Fly has their F-16 gear, which is designed for entry-level riders. It’s comfortable, durable for the price point, and provides a good amount of breathability — great bang for the buck option. 

Fly Racing’s Dirt Evolution DST gear puts a bit more focus on durability and incorporates more flexibility, which ultimately leads to a greater level of comfort on the bike. The Evolution gear is also a bit more breathable when compared to the F-16 gear. This is a great option for trail riders that want something lightweight but they also want a kit that will withstand the abuse of the trails.

And finally, Fly has their Lite jersey and pants, which has more focus on performance than anything else. This gear is what pro-level motocross and Supercross riders will wear on race night because, as the name implies, it’s so lightweight, incredibly flexible, and very comfortable. A lot of this type of gear feels like you’re wearing yoga pants on a dirt bike and it’s not a bad thing.

The Lite jersey and pants are perfect for the MX track because you’re doing your 15-to-20-minute motos, coming back to the pits, and waiting for your next session. You don’t have branches, rocks, and a variety of terrain to overcome. That’s where the Fly Racing EVO gear comes into play, as it focuses on more of the durability aspect. Keep in mind, with lighter weight and more flexible materials, you’ll often sacrifice a bit of integrity. That’s why it’s important to match the kind of riding you plan to do to the gear you choose.

Fasthouse gear is probably my favorite because of the
I love my Fasthouse kits and often receive them as gifts around the holiday season. They work great for the colder riding season as, from my experience, they don't flow as much air as a lot of alternative brands. While I like the style of Fasthouse, I typically wear Troy Lee Designs, Fly Racing, or Fox when I'm looking for a bit more flexibility and airflow. Photo by Brandon Wise.

While I used Fly Racing as an example, all the major brands within the industry are now focused on designing gear with specific riding applications in mind. This is often the main reason behind the varying price points found within a given brand. The materials change, the design gets a bit more complex, and therefore the price goes up.

When it comes to sizing your jersey and pants, it’s pretty straightforward. Unless stated otherwise, stick with your typical T-shirt size for the jersey and if you wear a size 32 jeans, stick with a 32 for your dirt pants. Keep in mind, the jersey and pants are already designed to accommodate armor, so there's generally no need to size up.

Brandon's picks: Pants and jerseys

Troy Lee SE Ultra Podium Jersey & Pants

Insanely comfortable • Maximum flexibility • Maximum airflow • Designed for MX

Fly Racing Dirt Evolution DST Jersey & Pants

Excellent combination of airflow and flexibility • Durable • Comfortable • Designed for MX and trail

Fox Racing 180 Jersey & Pants

Bang for the buck • Durable

Leatt Moto 4.5 Lite Gloves

Comfortable • Excellent tactile feel • MX and trails

Fox Racing Bomber Gloves

Bang for the buck • Comfortable • Great knuckle protection

Alpinestars Megawatt Gloves

Bang for the buck • Comfortable • Great knuckle protection

Now let’s talk about gloves. You’ll find varying levels of protection with dirt gloves. For the trails, I’d recommend something that has some good knuckle protection and some additional reinforcement at the palm, which you'll appreciate if you crash in a rock garden, as I sometimes do. For motocross, a lot of riders tend to use gloves that are lightweight and provide maximum tactile feel. You don’t generally get a lot of protection with MX gloves. They help reduce blisters and provide extra grip without sacrificing the feedback from the dirt bike's controls.

Dirt gloves provide and extra level of grip and protection for a riders hands.
Zito Burrito back at it! He's really taking that "keep it pinned" stuff a little too far. I often find myself in the wake of Zito's roosting and on this day, I should have chosen a pair of gloves with some coverage around the knuckles and fingers. I took a few shots to the hand that had me cursing like a sailor. Sure, I've got handguards but they can only do so much, especially when Zito's leading the ride. Damn you and your fresh tires! Photo by Brandon Wise.

This isn’t to say you can’t wear something that has knuckle protection to the MX track. I'd even recommend it. Roost directly to the hands does not feel great, especially without any knuckle protection.

When it comes to sizing your gloves, the sizing chart will usually ask you to measure the full circumference around your hand just below the knuckles. If the sizing chart is not utilizing the full circumference measurement of your hand, place your measuring tape down flat on a table, lay your hand flat on top of said measuring tape, and simply measure the width of your hand just below the knuckles.

Once you’ve got your measurement, simply reference the sizing chart for that particular manufacturer. If you’re in between two sizes, nine times out of ten, for dirt gloves, I would recommend going with the smaller option. Gloves always break in and having a bunch of excess material will not provide the best tactile feel. Whether you're on the dirt or not, you want to be able to comfortably and confidently manipulate your controls. 

And that is going to cover your essential pieces of gear. Whether you’re just getting started in the dirt segment or just looking for some additional insight, having a better understanding of the basics will set you up for success on the trails ahead. If you have specific questions about individual pieces of gear, reach out to one of our Gear Geeks at RevZilla for personalized advice.