Types of Motorcycle Footwear
Depending on the bike you ride, you should look for specific things from a motorcycle boot. And I don’t mean hunting down some lime-green kicks to match your Ninja (although that would be totally sweet).
Here are the key features for each riding type:
Sport and Racing
Sport and racing footwear has two obsessions – performance and protection.
On the performance front, sport boots are lighter, stiffer, and generally twitchier than other types. This helps riders to manage foot controls with precision and speed. They also have smooth soles, which increases touch sensitivity. You wouldn't want to go for a long hike in these boots, but they offer a solid, uniform platform for your riding stance.
Sport boots also have toe sliders on the outside of each foot, for those of you who like to get horizontal. The boot's calf should be form-fitting, but large enough to seamlessly cover the bottom of your pants. Ergonomically, the sport boots are designed to be used in a tuck position with foot pegs that bias towards the rear.
In terms of protection, sport and racing boots are on the cutting edge. They should have the utmost in abrasion resistance, impact dissipation and exoskeletal rigidity. Premium models will also have replaceable armour panels. This allows the rider to buy new plates after a crash, rather than replacing the whole boot. Look for screw heads on the boot’s exterior – they are indicative of replaceable components.
If you need a track-day boot, you can singlemindedly pursue performance features. But if you’re looking for a more casual option, be prepared to sacrifice some lightness and rigidity in the name of comfort.
When people traded horses for horsepower, the standard leather riding boot carried over. And today, the style is as wickedly awesome as ever. For this reason, rugged riding or working boots are popular among cruisers.
Cruiser boots sit somewhere between style and functionality. Some are essentially fashion pieces with better leather and soles. Others have all the protective and technical features you could ask for. It’s up to each rider to decide where his or her priorities lie.
Cruiser boots are generally flexible, and are suited to forward-bias foot pegs. This makes them functional both on and off the bike. With many of these boots, it’s easy to dismount the hog and walk around all day.
When shopping for leather, there are a few things to note. Boots should either be full- or top-grain leather types. Full-grain will develop a natural patina over time, while top-grain will maintain its original finish.
Also, leather boots are hot! And I mean that in both senses of the word. You’ll look smokin’ in them, but your feet will feel like they’re on fire. If you frequently ride in warm weather, it’s worth finding ventilated leather or a leather-textile combination.
Cruiser boots can be short, mid or full-length. Shorter options are cheaper and easier to walk in, while longer boots offer more protection. Most often, cruiser footwear is made to be worn under the pant cuff: jeans, chaps – whatever your style is.
Touring boots are normally full-height. They are very protective, and are designed for a neutral foot peg position. They need to be comfortable for long days of riding, and functional in all kinds of crazy weather. That means waterproofing, breathability and insulation. To top it all off, touring boots have to be flexible enough for some on-foot travel as well.
Basically, they need to do everything. So, what gives? Cost and weight. Touring boots are normally expensive and heavy for all of their features.
Take note: touring footwear is on a sliding scale between sport, cruiser and ADV footwear. For sport-tourers, there are touring boots that tend towards the performance side. Likewise for cruisers and ADV riders, there are touring boots that tend towards those genres.
Commuting is always a toughie. Presumably, you won’t be changing footwear between the ride and whatever you’re riding to. Some motorcyclists will use touring or cruiser boots for this. In other instances, riders will even take a sport or ADV boot. Most commonly, however, commuters tend towards short boots and riding shoes.
Shorties will normally rise above the ankle, but no further. In many ways, they’re exactly like any other riding boot. Short boots can have special soles, armour plating, abrasion resistant materials and shifter panels. They lack, of course, in the coverage department. By definition, a riding shoe offers no shin protection.
Shorties come in all shapes and sizes. They can be sporty, stylish, rugged, waterproof – you name it. Just imagine all the other types of boots with the tops cut off, and you have the shorty lineup.
The advantage of a driving shoe is versatility. There’s nothing better for a combination of riding and walking. Plus, many shorties are designed to look like regular sneakers. So, you won’t even look out of place.
Short boots are generally cheaper than their full-length equivalents. That’s because – quite simply – you’re buying less shoe.
Adventure Touring and Dual-Sport
Ah, yes. The talented love child of a motocross and a touring boot.
ADV and dual-sport footwear is multi-season, aggressive, technical and rugged. Like motocross boots, dual-purpose boots are designed to be stiff and impact resistant. This is important for dirt riding, where you might want to put a foot down without exploding your ankle.
Unlike motocross boots, ADV and dual-sport footwear has softer, more walk-able soles. They may also incorporate things like insulation and waterproofing – little luxuries that make a big difference on the highway.
When purchasing one of these boots, you need to think carefully about how you ride. Are we looking at a gravel road now and then, or a hundred kilometers of gnarly single-track? Are we talking about a dirt bike with a license plate, or a massive BMW with half-decent suspension?
The more you tend towards the dirt, the stiffer your boot should be. Look for plenty of buckles, plastic armour, and a rigid exoskeleton.
On the other hand, riders who prefer the pavement should find lighter, more flexible boots. Look for less plastic and more leather. This will indicate superior road comfort.
Off-road and Motocross
Motocross boots assume that you’ll be flying feet-first into something. And they’re probably right about that.
Off-road riders put their feet down a lot – it’s a technical skill for cornering at speed. Of course, you never know what you’ll be digging into. Soft dirt? Giant rocks? A tree stump?
For this reason, motocross boots are extremely rigid and protective, with a limited range of movement. Also, they have very hard soles. In part, this is for impacting things at high speed. But just as much, it’s for standing up to your serrated foot pegs.
Of course, all of these features make motocross boots heavy, and damned awkward to walk in. It’s a bit like strolling around in ski boots, if you've ever done that.
Motocross footwear isn't normally waterproof, although there are a few GORE-TEX options out there. However, off-road boots are almost always well-ventilated. Dirt riding can be a hot and sweaty business, so your calves will thank you for a slight breeze now and then.
Motocross footwear often uses buckles, which are good at pulling armour panels into place. Buckles aren't exceptional when it comes to abrasion resistance, but that’s less of an issue for off-road riders. In the bush, we tend to face more bumps than scrapes.
And finally, there are three things that separate the premium boots from the cheaper options: One – more adjustability features and, hence, a more precise fit. Two – replaceable armour plating. And three – advanced materials, which offer a lighter and more comfortable construction.
Occasionally, women’s boots employ different design and colour schemes. But just as often, they’re simply men’s boots with a smaller sizing system. Hooray for equality.
So, we recommend reading the relevant category above and then searching for some women’s sizes.
A common question is, "can I just buy men’s boots in a smaller size?" And the short answer is, "hell yes." In fact, there are some cases where it might be beneficial. Generally, men’s boots are built wider and women’s are made narrower. So if you’re a woman with wide feet, you may get a better fit from a men’s boot. Of course, the reverse is true for men with narrow feet.
In a similar vein, women’s boots normally have narrower calves than men’s. So depending on your leg shape, you might want to cross the gender divide. To convert between men’s and women’s sizes, consult the chart in our fitment section.
You might feel weird about this kind of thing – don’t.
In many cases, men’s and women’s boots will look exactly the same. So, you can subtly accommodate your foot shape without your mates getting wise.