Let’s go over some additional safety equipment that you should consider using on the track. While not required by most track organizers, these things will help keep you protected. Anecdotally, when I’m wearing all my safety gear I find I’m more likely to “send it” when I might not have otherwise.
1-Piece Leather Suit
I got my first track oriented 1-piece leather suit in 2019, and sweet jesus was it a major upgrade over my 2-piece streetwear. When trying on a 1-piece for the first time, you will think to yourself just how invincible you feel. As you awkwardly zip the unstretched leather up for the first time, you will feel like Master Chief from Halo readying to battle with the Covenant. One piece suits are designed with track riding and racing in mind, so they generally offer much more protection than a street oriented suit. 2-piece suits use a zipper to hold them together which can become a failure point in a crash. When you’re sliding on the pavement, a 2-piece might come undone and slide up your back, exposing your skin to the ground. There’s no way for this to happen with a 1-piece suit.
The best time to buy a suit is usually in the off-season, or right when a new version of the suit comes out and stores are looking to offload the old ones at cost. If you need help getting a suit fitting in the Seattle area make sure to check out Triumph of Seattle. James and the other folks over there were very helpful in making sure I had the proper size, and were very patient when I was having trouble deciding between two different suits. Another option is to look for a used suit on the race forums mentioned in the race bike build article. Just make sure you wash out all the sweat before trying it on.
I would recommend going with either Alpinestars or Dainese because of the airbag compatibility. My advice is to go try on a few and see what you like. Personally, I ended up going with the Alpinestars GP Tech v2.
Air Bag System
There’s a reason MotoGP made airbags required back in 2018 — they work. It is an undeniable fact that airbags have helped reduce injuries on track. 5-time WSBK champion Jonathan Rea even talks about how airbags have prevented injury in his autobiography.
There are two options for suit-integrated airbags on the market. Both use digital sensors to measure the G-Forces on your body and detect a crash. The first is the Alpinestars Tech-air, which is what I personally use (though I haven’t had it go off yet so I can’t speak to it’s effectiveness). The second option is the Dainese D-Air. If you’re in the Seattle area and interested in the Dainese system, go see Janelle and her team at Dainese Seattle. Janelle knows pretty much everything there is to know about motorcycle apparel.
There are also a few other brands that use mechanical rip-chords, which fit over the top of your suit. This could be a good option for those of you who already own a suit that is not airbag compatible. I’ve heard good things about the Helite vest, and I’ve seen quite a few out on the track. The Helite also can be recharged via replacing a small canister without having to send it off to the manufacturer like the internal systems. If you do buy one of these, all I ask is that you get it in a different color than the instructor shirts that your local track organizer uses. It is hella confusing when you see a blue vest on track thinking it’s an instructor or marshal when it is actually just an airbag.
I had a crash without an airbag last season and fractured three ribs. I immediately went out and bought one, knowing I didn’t want to suffer an injury like that again. While they are a little expensive, the cost of an airbag is much cheaper than a trip to the hospital, and is good assurance that you will still be able to keep riding without any downtime.
One last piece of advice for airbags — I recommend buying one from a local vendor because they are much easier to work with as your liaison when dealing with sending in your system for service. Local shops will usually handle the RMA and shipping process for you which is one less thing to worry about.
Still don’t believe an airbag is worth it? Here is a crash that Mark Marquez walked away from during pre-race testing. Alpinestars has released the data from the crash, showing he endured 26G’s of force. He went on to win the race two days later.
Base Layer Body Armor
Does your suit feel baggy or loose? If it does, chances are the padding and protection isn’t going to stay where you want it during a crash. The nice thing about an armored base layer is that it does a much better job of staying right where you want it. The multitude of base layer options also lets you fill in protection gaps where your suit is lacking. For example, if your suit doesn’t have hip pads, you could use something like these Klim Tactical Pants or these Dainese E1 Shorts. Just make sure your base layer fits underneath your suit and that you have enough mobility to still be comfortable on the bike. Revzilla has a pretty exhaustive motorcycle specific catalog which you can find here. You can also consider something like snowboard shorts, which will sacrifice some protection for more comfort. There are a LOT of options, so be careful not to get too overwhelmed. I would say about ⅓ of racers I see on track use a protective base layer. I just use a thin sweat-wicking base layer because I feel my suit provides ample protection.
Apparently if you have the unfortunate experience of hitting your chin on pavement your jaw tends to hit the roof of your mouth with enough force to give you a concussion and break your teeth. This does not sound like a fun experience, so I opted to get a mouth guard. I went with a Venum Challenger after some quick research on Amazon. They are very cheap for the peace of mind that they provide. I haven’t tested it yet, but it feels pretty solid and was easy to mold for my mouth.
Ear plugs will save your hearing over the long run, and is something you should be wearing anytime you’re on a bike. This is especially true at the track due to the loudness of other bikes and wind noise. Wearing these bad boys also makes it easier to tune into the sounds you WANT to hear like the bike coming up from behind you. For daily commuting I have been using Surefire EP-3’s for the last 7 years and they have been great. I replace them every ~6 months as soon as the rubber starts getting hard and they no longer seal around my ear canal. I tried them on the track however, and honestly it isn’t worth the trouble. Just get a big ole box of disposable earplugs and call it a day. They are much less likely to lose their seal while riding. Just make sure you put them in properly. Here’s a video showing how to do that.
Air Ambulance Insurance
You should already have good insurance if you are track riding, but you can take it a step further with emergency helicopter flight insurance. A lot of tracks are out in the boonies, and so if you have a serious injury you might need to get to the not-so-nearest hospital as quickly as possible. Helicopter insurance is usually somewhere between $100-300 a year, which is a small price to pay for the peace of mind knowing you won’t suddenly wind up with a $15,000+ bill.
For all my local PNW homies – you do not need airlift insurance for Portland International Raceway since the hospital is only 10 minutes away. If you race Pacific Raceways & The Ridge I think Life Flight looks like a good option. Most areas have a few different providers, so do some research based on the tracks you attend.
I saw Josh Herrin wearing one of these while suiting up for a MotoAmerica race. They make versions that stick to the outside of your nose, and ones that go inside. Supposedly they allow your nasal passage to open more, which helps you get more oxygen. Whether or not this is actually true or relevant to motorcycle riding’s physical demands, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Interestingly, sportsci.org thinks they have nothing to do with athletic performance, but might actually reduce heating of the brain via nasal dilation. I actually haven’t ridden with one on the track before, but I will be giving them a go as soon as it stops raining here in the wonderful PNW. I included this as “safety equipment” because it might actually help keep you focused (and therefore safer) if it yields a physical performance improvement. Even if that extra edge is just in your head, it still could make a difference.
I haven’t used one of these, but I do occasionally see one out on track. I don’t know if it impedes your range of motion, but I would be curious to try one. I see these mainly used by off road motorcyclists. According to the president of Ultimate Motorcycle Magazine Arthur Coldwells, racers at the highest level don’t wear neck protection because they want to avoid any hard edges or protrusions that might catch and cause a tumble or twisting injury. To me this sounds a lot like the debate around whether frame sliders can do more harm than good, so I figured I would include it for you to consider.
There’s a lot you can do beyond the minimum requirements to keep yourself safe while riding. Some safety equipment like ear plugs and mouth guards are cheap and should be a no-brainer. The initial investment for something like a 1-piece suit or airbag might be painful, but the benefit of preventing an injury far outweighs the cost. Not only do these things keep you safe, but the feeling of protection they give you could provide a mental edge on track.
Thanks for reading! If I forgot anything, or you have any feedback for me I’m always available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Mallory Dobbs & Jason Pierce for editing this article! Thank you to @whoisdane for capturing Mallory’s crash!