What kind of footwear do you use when riding a motorcycle? I get many different questions regarding what the proper footwear for a motorcycle should be.
Incidentally, one of these questions is regarding not wearing anything at all but instead going barefoot.
Can you ride a motorcycle barefoot? You can ride a motorcycle barefoot. However, riding a motorcycle barefoot is very uncomfortable, especially when you need to operate the shifter peg and the rear brake pedal. Riding a motorcycle barefoot is also extremely dangerous because your feet will have no protection in an accident, which can lead to severe injuries.
In this article, I will go over the reasons why it is not recommended to ride a motorcycle barefoot. I will explain why proper motorcycle footwear is used and how it differs from not wearing anything on your feet.
So let’s take a look.
Why should you not ride a motorcycle barefoot?
Some people may consider riding their motorcycle with more lightweight footwear during the summer when the weather can get really warm.
This is when you can see people riding their motorcycle while wearing flip-flops, trainers, or hiking boots, for example. I have discussed this before here, and I will say it again, there is a good reason why these types of footwear are not supposed to be worn on a motorcycle.
Riding barefoot can be compared to riding with flip-flops in that in both cases, your feet have literally no protection.
Here’s why that is so important.
No impact protection
If you happen to fall off your motorcycle or with your motorcycle, one of the first things you will experience is the impact with the ground or your motorcycle.
This is why one of the things you want is to have some kind of impact protection. This is precisely what proper motorcycle footwear is designed to offer.
The problem is that you don’t have to be moving fast either, as even crashes at low speeds can be particularly bad.
On top of that, you don’t need to really tip over your motorcycle; some crashes can involve an impact from the side. In this case, the other vehicle’s bumper, for example, is highly likely to come in direct contact with your feet and legs. Serious injuries due to the leg getting crushed or even severed are possible.
And even proper motorcycle footwear may not offer enough protection in some instances.
And riding barefoot leaves your feet and legs completely unprotected.
Next, let’s not forget that rocks and other types of debris can come flying off the vehicles in front of you—especially if you are riding very close to the other vehicles on the road. If these rocks and debris hit your leg or feet, this will not only hurt, but you are risking some serious injuries as well.
No ankle stabilization
If you are riding barefoot, your ankles will have absolutely no protection if an accident were to happen. After crashing, riders can often be thrown off their motorcycle, which can result in their legs twisting as they slide and tumble on the ground.
Proper motorcycle footwear will normally cover the ankles and offer plenty of support in order to prevent the ankles from twisting. In comparison, riding barefoot will leave your ankles completely exposed and at the mercy of the asphalt and the momentum.
No abrasion protection
So far, you have learned that motorcycle footwear offers impact protection while at the same time aiming to keep your legs and feet as stabilized as possible. However, there is another thing the footwear should do, and that is abrasion protection.
Often motorcycle accidents and crashes involve sliding of the rider. Asphalt is very unrelenting and can eat through even the best motorcycle boots in a matter of seconds. On top of that, the rider’s feet can get caught under the motorcycle as they slide, making things even worse.
If you are riding barefoot, your feet and skin will be immediately exposed to the asphalt.
The resulting injuries are not pretty. Shredded skin, mangled bones, muscles, ligaments, and other kinds of terrible injuries can happen as a result of riding barefoot.
People may even lose their feet, and for the ones that don’t, complete recovery can be extremely slow, often taking months or even years, and not guaranteed.
Nobody enjoys wearing heavy boots during the summer.
But here’s the thing.
Even with some shoes, it can be very uncomfortable to operate the motorcycle’s controls. (Of course, I am referring to the shifter lever and the rear brake pedal while keeping your feet on the pegs.)
While being barefoot, you will be feeling the pegs a lot more while shifting and braking. This can result in your feet tiring out faster and overall feeling sorer. Shifting with your feet bare is simply going to hurt every time. Keeping your feet on the pegs and operating the shifter lever and brake pedal can lead to blisters.
Proper motorcycle footwear usually stabilizes your feet. They have reinforcement at the front, heel, and ankle. This provides for smoother and seamless shifting, braking, and a better grip on the pegs.
On top of that, during the summer, asphalt can get really hot, to the point that even kickstands can sink into the hot asphalt. Without any protection, your feet soles c come in direct contact with the hot asphalt. And during the summer, asphalt can get as hot as 140°F. This is not just uncomfortable, but there is a good chance of getting your legs burned.
No exhaust protection
Another thing that motorcycle boots and shoes will offer is protection in case of touching the exhaust.
The motorcycle’s exhaust tends to get really hot while the motorcycle is operational.
While being barefoot, it can be very easy to touch the motorcycle with your feet and burn yourself.
May not be legal
Another thing worth considering is that in some areas, it is simply not allowed to use footwear that does not reach and go over your ankles.
Often laws will specify that motorcyclists should wear proper motorcycle helmets, but nothing will be mentioned about footwear. The laws in some countries may be more lenient in defining what you should wear but riding barefoot is not something that can easily be overlooked.
Naturally, these laws apply not just to the motorcycle rider but the passenger as well.
Riding barefoot vs. motorcycle boots vs. motorcycle shoes
Riding motorcycle barefoot
Riding barefoot does not offer any protection to the motorcyclist’s feet. Riding a motorcycle barefoot is very uncomfortable and extremely dangerous. Lower extremity injuries are the prevalent type of injuries associated with riding a motorcycle, and riding a motorcycle barefoot can result in more severe injuries in an accident.
Motorcycle shoes try to take the best of both worlds and combine comfort with safety.
Motorcycle shoes will normally have reinforced toe boxes, added ankle protection, with stronger heel counters. They are made from various heavy-duty materials that can protect against impact, abrasions, and splitting, like thermoplastic polyurethane, durable microfiber, vulcanized rubber heavy-duty textiles, heavy-duty plastic, and more.
To a certain degree, motorcycle shoes can be similar to steel toe boots that have been designed for motorcycle use.
However, while motorcycle shoes remain fairly comfortable, they cannot offer as much protection as proper motorcycle boots.
Motorcycle boots are built to provide the best protection to the motorcyclist’s ankles, feet, shins, insteps, heel, toes, and legs in the case of an accident.
They are usually a bit more limiting depending on how form-fitting they are and, consequently, more difficult to walk in.
There are also different types of motorcycle boots that will vary in the levels of their armored protection and comfort.
- Racing boots are usually the toughest of the bunch. There is an increased chance for injuries as the riders of sports motorcycles are riding at higher speeds on hard pavement race tracks.
- Touring boots are not as tough as racing boots. They are also a lot more convenient and comfortable. Although they are intended for riding on hard pavement, they are usually used by rides that are riding on city streets and highways.
- Motocross boots are stiffer and, in general, knee-high. They are designed to be very form-fitting and provide excellent levels of stability and protection.
Motorcycle boots are usually made from heavyweight leather, which is very durable. Some motorcycle boots will also have energy-absorbing and dissipating padding. Other highly durable composite materials can be used in the making of motorcycle boots like metal and hard plastic. They also go significantly higher than motorcycle shoes. Motorcycle boots are typically between 10 inches to 38 inches in height.
Solutions for people who like to walk and run barefoot (unshod)
When it comes down to motorcycle safety, your best bet is to use proper motorcycle gear, and that involves proper motorcycle footwear, as well.
People that run barefoot and overall enjoy walking and being barefoot (unshod) in general may find that a little disheartening.
However, walking and running barefoot cannot really be compared to riding a motorcycle at 20, 30, or 50 miles per hour (if not more). There are places where one can be barefoot and others where this is not recommended.
Skimping on your motorcycle gear is not recommended because lower extremity injuries—read leg injuries—are the most common type of injuries associated with motorcycle crashes.
You do not have the same protection you would normally have in a car, and even a 0 mph fall with your motorcycle can easily lead to ankle sprains and other types of leg related injuries that could be avoided.
People that are into the barefoot lifestyle will not really enjoy wearing heavy motorcycle boots and shoes.
However, the best advice here is to look for alternatives. While riding a motorcycle, you should use proper motorcycle gear, and once you reach your destination, you can take them off if you want, granted you will not be riding your motorcycle anymore.
You can lock or store your motorcycle gear (boots including) somewhere or locking them up to the motorcycle or in a locking trunk. That way, you can always walk or run barefoot, but once you get on your motorcycle, you can put on your motorcycle boots.