I come at this from the perspective of one who has had a close up intimate encounter of the pavement kind, and I am here to tell you it is not a pleasant experience rolling and sliding across the pavement. In fact it down right hurts and the results of a crash even a minor one can be life altering. You do not have to be going fast to do major damage to your skin, bones, and joints. That being said you can give yourself an edge for the better by buying and wearing protective gear and making the choice each and everytime you go out on your two wheeled love.
Everytime I see a motorcyclist or a scooterist wearing jeans, t-shirts, shorts and flipflops or street clothes my heart honestly skips a beat, because I see potentially devastating injuries coming their way if they crash. I have to wonder if it is just because no one has told them how bad a slide across the pavement is, or even told them about gear at all or if it just amounts to it being a choice. Personally I think it is a bad choice and I wonder why they don't value their bodies more? Here is some sobering food for thought when you venture out on your bike, you are not alone, you are figuratively taking your family members with you and they are the ones who will look after you if you have compromised yourself in an accident. I have seen the after effects of devastating crashes and the impact on families. I work in a neurology office and I can tell you it is very sad seeing someone in a wheelchair who is intellectually functioning at the level of a toddler, this is quite a burden to place on your family members.
A word about road rash. It is not exactly a rash, but a burn that you get from sliding across the pavement. These burns can be minor 1st degree right up to full thickness 3rd degree burns, and at this point the supporting structures of the skin i.e. muscles, bones, joints, ligaments can be severely damaged to the point that your skin is like hamburger. This all takes place within a very short amount of time i.e. seconds. The problem with road rash is that because you are sliding across the dirty pavement your open skin wound is picking up all the road grime, oil, dirt, rocks, and anything else that happens to be on the roadway. The only way to clean this type of wound is to debride it and that usually entails scrubbing the wound clean with a brush. Did you just shiver? These wounds are very hard to heal and sometimes require multiple skin grafts and there are complications with infection and scarring and you will never be the same.
Everyone's idea of gear or practicing ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) is different and it is personal choice and preference. For some gearing up means a leather jacket, sturdy shoes, gloves and jeans and chaps, half face helmet or full face helmet. For others it is full leathers or textile ballistic grade jackets and pants, motorcycle boots, gloves and fullface helmets.
The only problem with wearing non-motorcycle gear like jeans and chaps is that when you are sliding across the pavement the friction that is created from the slide is going to abrade through your jeans in seconds (unfortunately this is usually in the buttock area). Jeans are not durable enough to keep your bones or skin in tact. The anatomy of a fall is such that when you strike pavement it is usually the bony areas i.e. knees, elbows, and hips hit first. These points of contact are usually where the skin is the thinnest and maximum damage is done to those joint areas. Factor in the the vulnerability of the jeans to friction and this affects your skin which is the biggest organ in your body it is now vulnerable to infection. If you aren't wearing gloves you are in danger of losing all the skin on the palm of your hand, your natural reflex when you are falling is to stick your hand out to brace your fall. Street shoes i.e. sneakers or hiking boots are going to do nothing to protect the fragile bone structure in feet and again friction will melt them away like butter in a hot frying pan. Work boots are not a good idea either because they have steel toeboxes and you can amputate a toe(s) if the toebox is compressed. Motorcycle boots are made to protect your feet with thick leather and padding in the shins and ankle bone protectors. Riding half boots are available, but you are compromising shin protection. Have you ever wondered where the lone shoe in the road comes from? I can personally tell you that during a crash your shoes get knocked off leaving your feet vulnerable to the road surface.
Buy a good lid and wearing it is the single best thing you can do. Think long and hard about what type of helmet you are going to buy, full face or half. Some will say they should have the freedom to not wear a lid and to this I say I would rather have the lid and the freedom to ride again another day. Personally I recommend full face because when you come off the bike you may land on your face and a half face helmet is not going to save your face as it is dragging across the pavement. The damage that can be done to your jaw and face and skin can be devastating. Brain injuries are one of the biggest factors of loss of cognitive function in a motorcyclist and some never come back to their pre-accident health status. Most brain injuries can be prevented with proper helmet use.
When you are looking for your lid go to the store try on multiple types of them and walk around the store for a good 10 minutes in each, there should be no pressure points and the helmet should not wiggle. If your cheeks feel 'squished' that is okay because the padding is going to compress with wear making it more comfortable over time. The maximum life span of a helmet is approximately 5 years due to UV exposure and exposure to the elements. Look for DOT, Snell, & ECE ratings on a sticker usually on the back as these helmets have been rigorously tested to meet high safety standards. Never ever hang your helmet from the handle bar or balanced on the seat or mirrors because if it falls you might as well throw it away because it is now damaged and the shock absorption layer is now compromised. Even a little fall can compress this layer in a helmet. NEVER ever buy a used helmet, you have no idea if the helmet has ever been dropped, even if it seems like a good deal it isn't, you are trusting your brain health to strangers.
What type of gear to buy? That will depend upon the type of riding you do, there are manufacturers who offer gear that is meant for different types of riding i.e. adventure riding, motoX, or street. Leather or Textile - that is personal preference, both are good when it comes to protection from pavement and elements. If you do a lot of warm weather riding consider ballistic mesh jackets and pants, these give you the added bonus of protection from the sun and keep you cool. You also want to look at jackets and pants that have zip-in thermal layers, this gives you the added bonus of $$ value and flexibility of your gear. Make sure the gear you select has armour in the shoulders, elbows, and back in your jacket, in your pants you want to make sure you have knee armour and hip padding.
Reflectivity is important as well, you want to be as conspicuous as possible when you are out on the road, particularly if you are night riding. All black gear without reflective piping makes you seem to disappear and if you are riding behind a car you blend into the car in front of you and are invisible to a driver behind you. Consider lighter colour gear like hi viz yellow, green, or lighter coloured gear like silver. If you are doing wet weather riding make sure your gear is waterproof and not water resistant. (I always put my cellphone & camera in a ziplock bag) Goretex boots are awesome because they keep your feet warm and dry particularly if you live in a rainy climate and they are breathable in the heat. As your riding progresses you may consider adding to your gear line-up through purchasing season specific gear like mesh for summer.
For a new rider this seems like a daunting process, it isn't, just make sure that the choices you make are good ones. Do not compromise on your helmet, buy a new one, NEVER USED. You should build into your bike purchasing budget money to buy gear. Mid-range priced gear from head to toe is going to roughly cost you around $800 and this by no means the fancy stuff either. The only thing not to skimp on is your helmet the average good helmet will start around $275-$300, so that is a big chunk of your gear budget. Average mid-range coat is about $200-$250, riding pants $200, boots $200-$300 and gloves can be anywhere from $100+ depending on what you are comfortable in. You can save money on textile and leather jackets and pants if it is used, so it does pay to look around at used gear. Check the closeout sections on motorcycle gear websites, there are often good deals to be found.
You are probably thinking WOW that is a lot of money, but honestly if you wipe out, what you spent on gear is PRICELESS. Some insurance companies will give you a 'rider' on your policy for gear replacement. Check with your insurance company about that.
I have probably scared the heck out of some of you and hopefully have made others reconsider their gear choices. I just want you to be absolutely clear on what is at stake when you make choices about to wear gear or not to wear gear or what type of gear you wear. By mitigating risks motorcycling is FUN it gives you blissful moments when you are riding. Ride Safe.