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Guide to Motorcycle Boots

"How do you choose motorcycle boots?"

This is a question I am sometimes asked. I have chosen boots as my exclusive form of footwear for more than 40 years, and I have ridden motorcycles for more than 30 of those years. I have tried and have worn many pairs of motorcycle boots. Over time, I have learned a thing or two about boots. I thought I would share what I have learned, from the experience and knowledge of some fellow riders, as well as what I have gathered from reviews on the Internet.

Today's BikerToday's bikers are looking for classic styling, high performance and unmatched quality--from their boots and their bikes. So what should you look for when buying motorcycle boots? There are a lot of boots that look good, are great to ride in and are versatile enough for everyday use. So take your time selecting the right pair.

When you have the task of looking for the best motorcycle boot, it can be overwhelming at times. There is no such thing as the "best" motorcycle boot because the type of boot that is suited to a person depends on his needs and preferences. Below, I will list some basic boot features which will help you make the best choice for your needs.

When choosing motorcycle boots, you have to ask yourself, "what is the main purpose of the boot?" Will the boots be used strictly for riding or do you need boots that are multi-functional -- which can be used for riding, working, and walking? In order to get the best boot for your needs, first determine what purpose your boots will serve.

Choose gifI begin this discussion with the following facts in mind:

  • This information is only about men's motorcycle boots.
  • Being from the United States, I am writing from the point of view of American biker culture.
  • Motorcycle boots are made for a practical purpose, to wear as footwear and to offer protection to the wearer's legs and feet while operating a motor vehicle.
  • Every man who wears motorcycle boots has his own likes and dislikes.
  • Real bikers wear boots with long pants while riding. Guys who think injuries "only happen to the other guy" wear shorts, sneakers or flip-flops while operating a motorcycle. Organ donors do not wear a helmet. Motorcycling is a dangerous activity, but those dangers can be minimized by dressing appropriately, including wearing a DOT-approved helmet while riding, long pants, and sturdy boots made for motorcycling.
  • Expensive boots do not necessarily mean they are more practical, comfortable, or better constructed.
  • Some commercially-made boots are constructed better than others.
  • I operate a street-legal touring motorcycle, though I have owned and ridden cruisers for years. However, I do not ride motocross or go "dirt-biking," so this discussion is primarily about motorcycle boots worn on street-legal bikes.

My thoughts below reflect these facts.

Styles of Motorcycle Boots

All motorcycle boots are not the same. There are several styles of motorcycle boots you can choose from. The most common of these styles include engineer or harness boots, "shorty" or tactical boots, tall "biker" boots, police motorcycle patrol boots, and racing or motorcross boots. There are cowboy boots made for motorcycling, but they are not common.

Engineer Boots Harness BootsHarness or Engineer boots are the most common styles of motorcycle boots that American bikers wear. These boots come in various heights, but the most common height are from 10" to 12" (25cm to 30cm). The boots present a rugged appearance, and the style stands the test of time. Harness boots have a strap that wraps around the foot across the back of the heel and attached with a ring at each side, and usually have a square toe. Engineer boots have a single strap with a buckle across the instep, and usually have a round toe. Both styles of motorcycle boots are equally as common, and it is a matter of personal preference as to which style to choose. Some of the mid-grade and top-line harness and engineer boots come with a Vibram sole, which provides excellent traction. See samples of harness boots and engineer boots at these links. There are many brands of harness and engineer boots. The best value for the money and quality boots of these styles are made by Boulet, Chippewa, and Wesco. (Boots with the Frye or Harley-Davidson labels are sold at inflated prices for the name, and are not made with quality materials or craftsmanship. Boots made by Dingo, Double H, Durango, and X-element are not well-made, either. You get what you pay for.)

 
Tac Boots "Shorty boots" are called that simply because they are 10" (25cm) or shorter. Actually, most "shorty" boots are 6" (15cm) to 8" (20cm) tall. These boots are also called tactical boots, because some police officers or wildland firefighters wear them. These boots are perfect for motorcycling and everyday wear. In my opinion, boots of this design, such as my Chippewa Firefighter boots or All American Firefighter boots, are the most comfortable style of boots I have worn while motorcycling.

Tall biker boots Tall biker boots are usually 14" (35cm) to 20" (51cm) tall. They come in either Harness style (shown: my 18" (46cm) Wesco Harness Boots) or Engineer style. Some bikers like to wear taller boots because of the added protection the boots provide to the legs, especially if the configuration of the motorcycle being ridden puts hot exhaust pipes close to the legs. Personally, I prefer taller boots when riding in cold weather, because they are warmer. I also like how they look. Tall biker boots, especially if worn with jeans, pants, or breeches tucked inside them, make an impressive appearance. The most well-known brands of this style of boot include Chippewa and Wesco.

Motor patrol boots Motorcycle police patrol boots are a specialty style of motorcycle boots. The boots are usually 17" (43cm) to 18" (46cm) tall, but may vary if made custom. These boots are almost always black. I have many pairs of these boots, and often choose to ride wearing them. Motor officers consider them a part of the uniform, and the boots make a very impressive appearance. They may have laces at the instep (a "bal-laced" style) or no laces (dress instep). The boots usually have a Vibram® sole, with a rubber or lug tread design. Much more information about Motorcycle Police Patrol Boots is here. The most well-known brands of this style of boot include Dehner, Chippewa, and Wesco.

 
Motocross Boots Race or Motocross boots are primarily boots but have additional technical features. Usually, these boots are tall and secures the area around the foot and calf. These boots are perfect for off-road riding and racing. Lots of guys like to wear these boots, but since I do not participate in the motocross sport or go dirt riding, I do not have knowledge or experience with these boots. More information about these boots is on the tutorial that I wrote for hotboots.com, here. Note that some Motocross boots are not comfortable for general "walking around" use.

Boot Shaft

Upper (boot shaft) design: Select motorcycle boots that at least cover your ankles. This has two advantages (1) your ankle is protected (2) and your ankle joint becomes stronger and thus better able to handle anything the bike wants to do (eg. tip over, slide away from you and onto your foot, or burn your legs or feet.)

It helps if the shaft section has shell protection, such as a leather lining. Without a doubt, boots with such protection are the safest. It also adds much to the durability of the boot. A leather-lined boot will last longer, stand up on its own, and will be more comfortable for all-day wear. A leather lining "breathes" and if fitted correctly, will allow ventilation so the boots do not become uncomfortably hot.

Boot Shaft Boot Shaft Shaft height: Bikers must be able to operate all of the controls of the motorcycle safely. Safe operation requires the ability to bend the knees and move them quickly. Bikers who prefer tall boots should consider a shaft height that comes below the back of the knee. If the boot shaft is higher than that, then the ability to move the knee quickly is reduced significantly. Further, boots that come above the knee may cause sores to develop from the boot grazing or cutting the back of the knee. It is for these reasons why "crotch-high" boots are not a practical choice for wear by a serious motorcyclist.

 
Boot Shaft Calf circumference (sometimes called calf width) is an important consideration. The circumference is the distance around the outside of the leg. Boots should be wide enough to accommodate the leg, and also wide enough for jeans or leather to fit inside the boots if desired. Stock motorcycle boots that are 12" (31cm) or lower in height usually have a circumference that accommodates most legs. When boots are taller than that, then you may find standard boot shaft circumference may not fit your legs. Wrap a tape measure around your legs around the widest part of your calf muscle (and if you want to wear leather or breeches inside the boots, put them on before measuring). The best place to measure your calf is about 6" (15cm) lower than the back of the knee. Most tall stock motorcycle boots have a 16.5" (42cm) circumference. If your calf circumference requirement is wider than that, then order custom boots.

 
Boot Foot Boot Foot Lower (vamp) design

Three important considerations: (1) A good fit prevents heel from lifting and makes for a more comfortable ride. (2) Does the motorcycle boot have a shifter pad? The boot is going to be used a lot in this area, so such a pad helps with wear. A shifter pad protects the toe and arch from fatigue and damage due to gear shifting. Some motorcycles, particularly those in the touring class, have a heel-toe shift, so a shifter pad is not required. (3) Shape of the toe. It should function smoothly with the rider as well as the bike.

Boot Sole Sole design

The main purpose of a motorcycle boot sole is grip, on and off the bike. Motorcycle boots should include a heel under the sole so you can rest it easily on the foot peg. On the road, the motorcycle boot should give you great grip in mud, water, sand and oil.

A good motorcycle boot sole will be oil resistant and will provide good traction due to its high surface contact area. Roads, particularly asphalt, collect oil which becomes slick as ice when the least bit wet from rain. Do not buy motorcycle boots without oil-resistant soles. Oil will eat away at ordinary soles.

The uppers are going to last much longer than the soles, so make sure the soles are stitched on, not glued, so they will be able to be replaced when the time comes.

Boot Sole Boot Sole The best sole for a motorcycle boot is a Vibram® lug sole. There are several varieties of Vibram soles available. The "big lug" sole is a Vibram® 100 -- and the best of this variety of big lug soles is the Vibram® 100R. The "R" designation is for a sole that resists heat, such as from motorcycle pipes. This sole also does not mark or mar floors, such as vinyl, linoleum, tile, or hardwood.

Boot Sole

Alternative Vibram® soles for motorcycle boots include the 430, which has small lugs on the interior of the sole design and a smooth rubber perimeter. These soles are often provided on motorcycle police patrol boots. This sole provides good traction and are a good choice for every-day biker boots. Vibram 430 soles may be found on harness or engineer styles provided by mid-range bootmakers such as Chippewa, and are far superior to rubber (neoprene or nitrile) soles.

Boot Sole In the opinion of many experienced bikers, rubber soles that are not oil resistant (as shown here on Chippewa's "alpha" sole) are a poor choice for use for soles on motorcycle boots. These soles have a low melting temperature, and are known to leave black melt marks on hot motorcycle pipes, and may also mar flooring such as hardwood, tile, or linoleum. Boots using these soles include Chippewa Motor Patrol Boots (style #27950) and Intapol Patrol Boots, and almost all boots made in China, such as those with the Harley-Davidson label. The traction is minimal and the soft nature of soles made of this material causes them to become damaged and unusable much more quickly than a Vibram® sole.
 
Leather Biker Boots Construction

Most motorcycle boots are made of leather with reinforcements on all the essential places. The leather can be supplemented with newer kinds of materials like Gor-Tex (which increases the breathability).

Another thing to look for is Goodyear Welted Construction. This greatly adds to your motorcycle boot durability. Make sure the motorcycle boots are stitched, not glued, meaning that the soles are completely replaceable when you do finally wear them down, and let's face it: motorcycle riders are tough on their boots.

Make sure the motorcycle boots you buy have quality non-tarnishable hardware. You want your motorcycle boot hardware to look as polished and shiny as your bike. Look for brass or nickel hardware on buckles and harness rings.

 
Dehner Dehcord Some motorcycle boots are made of a combination of materials, with leather on the foot and synthetic materials on the shaft. Dehner police patrol boots are known for using a synthetic material called "Dehcord" on the shaft of the stock (non-custom) boots. While cops have said that they like a Dehcord boot shaft because it is easy to maintain to keep a great shine, the material can crack or break, rendering it unsightly. This is a controversial topic among men who like boots. However, using a combination of materials makes the boot much less costly than an all leather boot, which can effectively cost double the price.
 
Ventilation Comfy boots

Ventilation is another factor you should consider when buying motorcycle boots. Your boots should be waterproof yet should allow your feet to breathe. This can be achieved with special exterior surfaces as well as interior linings. Contrary to what you may think, leather-lined boots are not warmer than unlined boots. Leather is used for motorcycle boots because it breathes. Even leather-lined boots breathe well. Boots made with Gortex® or Cambrelle® linings are designed to keep feet warm and dry in cold, wet weather, but are not necessarily a good thing to have on your feet when riding in hot weather. That's why most bikers who ride in all seasons have several pairs of motorcycle boots, to fit the season and how he will use them (just to ride, or ride, wear to work, and walk in).

 
Water resistance Water Resistance

It is great to have water-resistant motorcycle boots! While it's no fun getting caught in the rain, it can happen. I highly recommend finding good water resistant motorcycle gear but especially boots. Leather motorcycle boots can be quite water resistant if treated appropriately with a good conditioner and water repellent made for that purpose. You can find these products in any well-stocked shoe store or luggage repair shop.

What boots NOT to wear when operating a motorcycle

While a lot of guys like cowboy boots, most boots of that style have smooth leather soles. These soles slip easily even on dry pavement, not to mention wet pavement. It's very easy for a rider to lose control of his bike when stopped at a light or when parking if wearing boots with leather soles.

Also, avoid boots that have long laces or other parts that dangle and can get caught in moving motorcycle parts, gear shifter, or brake pedal.

Don't be fooled by hi-top sneaker manufacturers promoting their shoes as alternatives to motorcycle boots. They're not! Sneakers are not constructed to the same standards as motorcycle boots and provide little protection to the feet and ankles from the usual stresses applied when operating a motorcycle.

 
Take care of your boots Care

Boots are an investment, and as such, they will last a lifetime if you take care of them. When you get home after a long ride, wipe the boots off with a damp cloth. Remove any dirt or mud. Mud can dry out leather and cause it to crack. If you ride in cold weather where road salts may splash onto your boots, take extra care to wipe the salts off the boots and then rinse them with clean water. Make sure to remove salts from between lugs on lug-soled boots. Salts will destroy the rubber from which the soles are made.

Usually, that's all you need to do on a daily basis. Every now and then, you should treat the boots with a product appropriate for the material from which they are made. Leather conditioner, such as Lexol, works great on leather boots. Pledge (or any non-wax spray furniture polish) works great on Dehcord or synthetic boot shafts. Bee oil (beeswax) is designed to treat oil-tanned boots like Wescos or Chippewa engineer boots.

If you have motorcycle boots that you want to shine to a mirror-finish, you can find instructions, here.


Recommended Brands of Motorcycle Boots

There are a lot of companies that make motorcycle boots and/or market to the biker community. I own boots of the following brands:

Chippewa:

  • The standard oil-tanned 17" unlined Engineer Boot (style number 27909) is a classic "biker boot." These boots are very sturdy and hold up very well. They have a steel toe for added safety. If you would like these boots without a steel toe, check with Stompers Boots which is the only retailer that carries a non-steel-toe version. I own and wear several pairs of these boots -- a pair that's been through the mud and back, a newer pair not so beat-up, and a pair of the non-steel toe variety which are lightweight and very comfortable.
  • The "Hi-Shine" 17" lined Engineer Boot (style number 71418) is worn by many motorcycle police officers. It is a very good-looking boot. I own and wear several pairs of these boots, also. Pair #1, standard, and an example of another pair of these boots with big lug soles added on to them.
  • The 9" Chippewa Firefighter Boot (style number 27422) is an excellent choice of boot to wear for motorcycling, hiking, and walking. It is leather-lined, and once the middle zipper is laced in, you do not need to fool with laces again. Just zip them up and be off! They are the most comfortable boot I have worn when motorcycling. See mine here.
Custom sizing is not available for Chippewa Boots. Note, however, "EE" width boots have a calf circumference that is about 3/4" (19mm) wider than "D" width boots. Since I require a 17" (44cm) calf circumference, I have bought "EE" width boots in one foot size smaller. They fit me very well. Chippewa Boots are the least expensive of the quality, U.S.-made boots that I own.

Boulet:

  • Boulet boots are made in Canada. They are constructed of quality materials and are made with good craftsmanship. Boulet makes traditional harness boots, along with some cowboy boot styles with soles suitable for motorcycling. The boots are great and come well recommended. Note: Canadian boot sizes are different from U.S. sizes in the width. An "E" width in a Boulet boot is the same as a "D" or Medium width in a U.S.-specified boot. Also, the height is measured differently. Canadian boots are measured from the bottom of the heel to the top of the shaft, while U.S.-specified boots are measured from where the foot attaches to the heel to the top of the shaft. That is, a Boulet boot of 14 inches height is the same height as a Chippewa of 12 inches in height.

All American:

All American Boot Manufacturing of Sun Valley, California, makes great boots for motorcycling. They make several styles of boots, including tall motorcycle patrol boots, as well as law enforcement and firefighting tactical boots.

  • My All American Firefighter boots are comfortable and a frequent choice to wear when I ride in hot weather. The boots are comfortable and don't get hot. They are easy to put on and take off because they have a zipper down the middle that is laced-in. The lacing allows adjustment to the wearer's foot.
  • My All American Patrol Boots are about the best all-around, comfortable, and good-looking tall patrol boots that I have every worn. See more information about choosing motorcycle patrol boots here.

Wesco:

  • By far, Wesco Boots are the most rugged and durable of all motorcycle boots available. The two classic styles -- Harness and Engineer (Boss) -- as well as the Motor Patrol Boot, are all made very well. Wesco Boots can be custom ordered, so you may select style, height, color, lining, hardware, shifter pad, soles, and other features. These boots aren't cheap, but will last a lifetime. I own many pairs of these boots See them here (link). The most economical place to buy Wesco Boots is not from the factory directly, but from a third-party boot retailer (see links).

Dehner Boots:

  • "Dehners" as they are called are well-known in both the equestrian world as well as the world of motorcycle patrol officers. The boots have a unique style and great design. The stock boots are pricey, and the shaft of stock Dehner patrol boots is made of a synthetic material called Dehcord, which is controversial as to its quality. All-leather Dehner patrol boots are available, but for a significantly higher price. These boots may also be made custom to fit. I also own many pairs of these boots, too See them here (link). As with Wescos, you will save significant money ordering Dehner Boots from a third-party retailer, not from the factory directly. (See links).

Intapol:

  • Intapol Industries of New Jersey offers a pair of Motor Patrol Boots with a unique feature: a zipper on the boot shaft which facilitates putting them on and taking them off. These boots compete with Dehner Boots in appearance and bal-laced instep design. However, the boots are not made in the United States and the soles are of a quality that some may question. These boots are available in stock sizes only, but can be ordered with a 1" (2.5cm) wider calf circumference. I own one pair of these boots. The boots can not be made custom to order. (See links).

Champion Attitude:

  • Champion Attitude Boots of El Paso, Texas, offers a wide variety of boots. Mostly known for cowboy boots with intricate inlays and designs, they also offer a variety of motorcycle boots, particularly of the harness style. These boots can be custom ordered, so you may select height, colors, inlay designs, heels, soles, shifter pad, and scallop (top of boot shaft). If you want a cowboy boot style but motorcycle boot utility, consider ordering boots from this company, because you can have a Vibram® sole applied when the boots are made. (See links).

Double H, Dingo, Durango:

  • These boots are on the low-end for motorcycle boots. Some shortcuts in construction are made to reduce the final consumer price. Boots made by these companies may be made in China these days, which is an indicator of poor quality, while the companies reap high profits off cheap foreign labor. Be careful and determine the origin of the boots before you buy them. (Usually the place of manufacture is indicated on a label stamped inside the boot shaft. Another indicator is on a website where it says, "imported.")

Ad-Tec, Bates, Cat (Caterpillar), Frye, Harley-Davidson, Wolverine, X-element:

  • These boots are made in China using cheap foreign labor and low quality materials. Many shortcuts in construction are made but seldom is there a reduction in final consumer price. The companies that license their well-respected name reap high profits -- for example, H-D boots that sell for US$200 only cost about US$30 to make. You be the judge if profit is more of a motive in selling these boots than offering a quality product. The opinion of the author of this web page: caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware!

Other brands:

  • There are a lot of other brands of boots out there. Some are good, some are not. Be mindful that some boots are licensed to a name, like Harley-Davidson or Frye, but are made by a third-party company with the boots usually being made in China, Indonesia, or other countries using cheap labor and inferior materials. The quality of these boots is suspect. Don't be fooled by a name -- read the label and determine the country of origin before buying. I am not saying that all boots made outside the U.S. are inferior. Boots made in Canada, Mexico, and in E.U. countries are quite good. Check the products, look for reviews, talk to fellow bikers, or ask me if you have questions.


Links Where to Buy Motorcycle Boots

Check my Links Page for the most updated list of my personal recommendations of sources of quality boots.


The majority of this page was written by Booted Harleydude and edited by BootGuyOH and WescoBear. The following references were helpful:

Best-Motorcycle-Gear.com Motorcyle Boot Review

WhyBike.com How To Choose A High Quality Motorcycle Boot

E-Zine articles Tips on How to Choose Motorcycle Boots With Ease


I'm sure that there's a lot more than can be written about choosing motorcycle boots. If you have something to suggest, if I got something wrong, if this was interesting or helpful, or if you have a comment (and have read this far down the page!), write to me!


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