Motorcycle boots are, perhaps ironically, similar to jodhpur boots. Look at how they stack up against each other:
They’re both made for riding (one a horse, the other a motorcycle), and they’ve both been adopted into the fashion world and aren’t exclusively worn by their respective riders.
Motorcycle boots (often shortened to “moto” boots) are popular with certain segments of the male population: guys who sometimes enjoy dressing with a bit of a rock star vibe, guys who like a sturdy but cool-looking casual boot, and guys who actually ride motorcycles.
What Makes Motorcycle Boots Unique?
Motorcycle boots are boots made to protect the legs and feet of motorcycle riders. Given that motorcyclists are more at risk for fatal or serious accidents than conventional drivers, they need to protect themselves however they can.
There are quite a few different motorcycle boots available, many of which are geared towards extreme sports participants, such as motocross riders and other racers in that vain. These aren’t worn by the average guy with style though, so we’ll focus on the two that are most common in the menswear world: engineer boots and harness boots.
Originally a boot for firemen working on steam railway engines (hence the term “engineer” in the boot’s name), this boot came into existence in the 1930’s. A typically black boot with a knee-high shaft, this boot has two adjustable buckles: one around the ankle and another just under the knee. The toe is rounded and the heel is low, similar to what you might see on a standard dress shoe.
Traditionally made from stiff, full-grain bull hide, these boots became popular in the 1950’s as motorcycle culture grew in popularity in the U.S. Nowadays “engineer boots” generally refers to any boots with buckles at the ankle and top of the shaft, regardless of shaft height.
The harness boot (pictured at the top left corner of this article) was originally created by Frye as far back as the 1860’s. This was obviously well before the invention of the motorcycle, but it was adopted by riders of a different sort: The United States Cavalry. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that harness boots became popular with motorcyclists.
Typically square-toed with a mid-shin-height shaft, these boots feature a strap-and-ring system around the ankles that isn’t adjustable, unlike its engineer boot cousin. These boots serve to protect riders from the heat of exhaust pipes and engine blocks and are typically made from tough, durable leather.
Some models have built-in steel toe caps and a metal shank in the heel for additional protection, and there is sometimes a zipper up the inside of the shaft.
Do You Need A Motorbike To Wear Motorcycle Boots?
Just as you don’t need a horse to wear jodhpurs, you can happily wear motorcycle boots without riding, owning, or even being anywhere near a motorcycle. These have turned into a fashion item while retaining their status as utilitarian footwear for riders.
As you may have gathered, motorcycle boots are quite casual. Versatility is not necessarily their strong suit, but they can be worn with:
- Jeans (for the casual wearer)
- Leather riding pants (for actual motorcyclists)
Given the chunky proportions of these boots, it’s unadvisable to wear these with chinos or casual trousers, and certainly not with jackets and ties.
No matter which style you choose for yourself, these are boots. Standard boot-wearing logic applies regarding the seasons if you’re a casual wearer. Riders, on the other hand, wear these with a utilitarian purpose in mind. Those gents can (and should) wear these all year round.
- Spring: N/A
- Summer: N/A
- Autumn: Brown, black, or tan suede
- Winter: Black or chocolate brown leather or suede
The “Beat-Up” Look
Moto boots are widely available in what are called “distressed” leathers, which are leathers that have had oils added to them during the tanning process to give them a worn, lived-in appearance. Given that these boots take a fair amount of abuse, this is an aesthetically appropriate look.
With that in mind, you don’t have to bother polishing your boots unless things get really worn to the point where it’s no longer part of the boot’s charm. Let them get scuffed and beat up if you like that look. There’s not really another boot that will look good under those conditions, so take advantage if that’s your thing.
Best Motorcycle Boot Makers
There are a few brands who do motorcycle boots, but only a couple of classic names that have been doing it for a long time.
- Harley Davidson: $170-$225 (again, these are geared at true riders. Many of their boots offer additional abrasion protection, reflectivity options, and other safety features)
- Frye: $300-$480 (more for the fashion guy who just wants a well-made, classic moto boot)
Our Buying Recommendation
Assuming you’re not about to hop on a motorcycle anytime soon, should you go out and buy a pair of motorcycle boots?
More often than not, we’d advise that you hold off on buying a pair of moto boots until you’ve built up a workable collection of classics. From a long-term wardrobe building perspective, this is the way to go and we say wait until you’re about fifteen or so pairs deep into your collection before worrying about moto boots.
On the other hand, these might just be your style. If you’re a jeans-and t-shirt kind of guy who wants to add a bit of edge to his look (think those involved in the underground rock music scene: musicians, photographers, etc.), a motorcycle boot could be a good investment for you.
Whichever category you fall into, make sure that you’re buying high-quality boots that can be resoled over the years.