Fred Rau

Fred RauThese Dainese touring boots have a lot of good features, like the articulated ankle, the toe shifter pad and the armor pucks on the sides to protect your ankles from abrasion. They also have a full zipper up the back and some good reflective material, but yet I probably wouldn't buy them. Though some people prefer really tall riding boots, I don't, but that's just a personal preference. But what makes me shy away from these mainly are the soles. These are the cemented-type, which don't last nearly as long or hold up to impact as well as the welted type, and the soles themselves seem far too thin, and would wear out too fast. These boots are probably very comfortable both for riding and for walking, but I doubt they would last more than a season or two of touring.

I think it is probably safe to say that the most often-overlooked item of riding gear is proper footwear. I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen riders go by me wearing a decent jacket, helmet and gloves, but with tennis shoes on their feet. And while it might be true that in higher-speed or more critical accidents, the primary impact points are your head, hands and arms, it is just as true that in lower-speed, less-critical accidents (which are considerably more common), it is your feet and ankles that will often bear the brunt of impact. That's probably why, if you go to any large gathering of motorcyclists, you are apt to see a fair percentage of the participants either limping, or hobbling around on crutches.

It is also true that much like with riding jackets, all too often riders can be found in "fashion" boots that really aren't designed for motorcycling. Riding boots are designed for very specific purposes, and thinking that any everyday footwear, or even work boots or hiking boots will suffice is a big mistake.

Like almost any other kind of riding gear, boots come in many styles, but as the main focus of this series is on touring, we will stick pretty much with footwear designed for that purpose, and not really get into motocross, off-road or racing boots, which are considerably different. And to this end, we will consider five separate factors: Height, soles, materials, construction and closures.

Fred RauLook for an "oil resistant" sole – always.

Fred RauEngineer boots were the standard in motorcycling for many years, and they still do a pretty good job of meeting the requirements. However, modern technology has given us much better, so why not take advantage?

Height

Motorcycle boots come in various heights, usually from 6" to 17" tall. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation minimum standard is called "over the ankle," meaning at least 6" tall. As the ankle will virtually always become the fulcrum point of stress in a low-speed incident, you really shouldn't consider wearing any kind of foot wear that doesn't both cover and support your ankles. Of course, the taller the boot the heavier it is going to be and the less comfortable for walking around in when off the bike. Generally, the best compromise is to get a boot that is around 10" to 12" tall. This design will give you a fair amount of ankle support and protection, guard your lower calves from flying debris kicked up by your front tire, insulate you from engine and exhaust heat, and yet still be moderately comfortable for walking.

Soles

The soles of your riding boots should be resistant to oil, chemicals, slipping and abrasions, and a minimum of one-half-inch thick. They should also have a tread pattern on them, much like a tire. The most common and best-regarded of these carry the registered trademark "Vibram®", from a company in Italy known for their durable safety soles, but there are others which are nearly as good. Whatever you do, avoid hard, slick soles such as those found on fashion boots. When you are stopping or starting on an uneven, wet or oil-slicked surface, the last thing you want is for your foot to slip out from under you. Once 500-800 pounds of motorcycle starts to fall over, odds are you aren't going to be able to stop it.

Materials

In addition to the Vibram sole material we just talked about, it is important to consider the quality of material used in the construction of the boot itself. First of all, leather is the most frequent and obvious choice, but you need to make sure that full-grain leather is used, and not some inferior grade like top-grain (in a later section we will discuss the various grades of leather), and that it is heavyweight, or at least 1.5mm thick. In addition, it should at minimum be treated to be water-resistant, but the best situation is that the boot should be lined with a breathable, waterproof membrane like Gore-Tex® or Sympatex®.

Fred RauThese Tourmasters meet about 90% of my requirements for a good touring boot, but like the Dainese models, use the cemented, thinner soles for comfort. Note the double-stitching at all the critical seams – a sign of quality construction. Good boots, but not great boots.

Fred RauThough I don't normally recommend lace-up boots, when they come with a lock-down cover like this, I would consider them.

Construction

Motorcycle boots should have a minimum number of seams, but even those should be either on the sides, or even better, on the back of the boot, so as not to be exposed to the elements and flying debris. The most important seam though, is the one that attaches the boot upper to the sole. Basically, soles are attached in one of two ways—welted or cemented. Welting simply means that the sole is stitched to the upper, but with a reinforcing strip of leather or other material sewn in-between. Welting makes a boot stiffer, more stable and more durable, but also means that the boot won't feel very comfortable when you first try walking around in it. Welted boots require a period of break-in before they begin to flex properly with your foot and ankle. Cemented construction is considerably more flexible and will feel comfortable right out of the box, but is not nearly as durable as welting. You need to make a personal choice between comfort and long-term durability.

It is probably important to emphasize here once again that you should only consider boots specifically designed for motorcycling. Fashion boots are obviously out of the question, but even heavy-duty work boots are simply not a good idea, as they are designed for an entirely different purpose. Tests by several European safety agencies have shown that work boots designed for construction workers and such, while designed to protect the foot from impacts, practically disintegrated when subjected to the kind of high-speed G-forces and abrasion that would be encountered in a motorcycle get-off at speed. This is at least partly due to the type of thread used in the welting process, which in the case of a good motorcycle boot will be much heavier, and made from nylon or Kevlar®, as opposed to cotton.

In addition to the items just mentioned, which I would consider "mandatory" in the choice of a riding boot, there are some additional, or "optional" features of construction you might want to consider. Among these would be steel-reinforced toes and/or arches, armored ankle protectors, heel reflectors and a reinforced shifter pad on top of the left toe. None of these are essential, but they are usually the mark of a well-made motorcycle boot.

Fred RauStandard-issue police motorcycle boots. I wouldn't want to wear them, and doubt you would either, but there's a lot of protection here. Particularly note the thick, welted soles.

Closures

Generally speaking, a standard "lace-up-the-front" closure such as is found on most work boots, is not at all a good idea on a motorcycle boot, for a number of reasons. First of all, you don't want anything, anywhere on your boots that can come loose, fly free, or get snagged on something at a critical time. Laces expose you to all of these risks, unless they have some kind of secondary closure, like a secured flap covering them. And while it is true that laces offer you the versatility of being able to adjust the fit and tightness of your boot, such as when wearing heavier, insulated socks, it is also true that laces are more prone to loosening up while riding. So, in general, I would advise avoiding lace-up closures for your riding boots. As with jacket closures, good, strong YKK-style zippers are usually your best bet. These should be on the outer sides of the boots, with a gusset of waterproof material separating them from the interior, and with a secondary, secured cover to go over them after they are closed. Remember, the flap of the cover should always close to the rear, whether it secures with snaps, Velcro or straps.

Of course, you can avoid the problem of closures entirely with pull-on boots, but personally I've never found any that fit as snugly as I would like, even when equipped with built-in elastic expanders. And quite frankly, the elastic stretches out over time, making the boots fit a little bit worse every time I put them on.

These are just the basics, but I hope they help some of you make an informed buying decision the next time you need riding boots. If you missed my last column about everything you need to know about packing for a ride,

Fred

Do you have a favorite pair of riding boots? Let us know.

Allstate Insurance Company is not affiliated with Fred Rau. Allstate makes no warranties or representations and is not liable for any goods or services provided by this individual. The views presented here do not necessarily represent the views of Allstate.