Motorcycle leather gear - What you need to know
The absolute best protection from a motorcycle accident is to avoid it all together! Sometimes no matter how well you prepare, accidents happen. Full leather gear offers some of the best fall protection on the market. This super strong material is made from animal hides, mainly cow and kangaroo for motorcycle leather. These hides are treated and tanned to make them super durable and long lasting. When it comes to motorcycle gear, kangaroo hides are generally a little thinner and stronger than cow hides (which are thicker). Not only will leather protect your from the road, it also offers great wind protection and is water resistant (not waterproof). The main types of leather gear to purchase is Jacket, pants, gloves and a full leather racing suit. When deciding on what brand or style of leather gear to purchase there are a few main points to consider. These are:
⁃ The type of riding you will be doing
⁃ The brand of gear to purchase based on price, quality and looks
⁃ Added armour for extra protection
⁃ Fit, warranty and comfort
While it may be cheaper and easier to purchase motorcycle leather online, it is important to try on both the pants, jacket or suit in person as all brands and models differ slightly in sizing. It is very important that your new leather gear has the best possible fit to your body to provide the most protection possible in the event of a road impact and slide. This is the same for second hand leather gear.
Riding – 4 different scenarios to consider
When making a decision on what protective gear to purchase, take into account the type of riding you will be doing the most. Personally I have 3 different sets of motorcycle gear I wear depending on the riding I’m doing. Having a choice of gear to mix and match depending on the conditions is a great luxury to have.
- Warm weather gear – consists of lighter breathable textile gear
- Wet weather gear – consists of heavier, waterproof textile gear and wet weather coverings
- Full leathers – consists of a leather jacket/pants combo that zips together for added protection (I plan on purchasing a leather race suit to add to the collection for track days)
Because leather gear offers the most protection in an impact and slide accident, it makes sense that it should be your go to when it comes to motorcycle safety gear…but there are different reasons and scenarios that should be taken into account.
- Commuting to and from work
Textile gear will be much more comfortable to commute to and from work, especially if its more city riding than freeway riding. Textile gear is not as heavy as leather and is much more flexible on your limbs. There is a lot more movement involved in commuting, such as stopping at traffic lights which will require more flexibility in you elbow and knee joints, constantly putting you feet down and moving you arms around. Constantly being on the road each day means your much more likely to encounter changing weather conditions including rain, which is not friendly to leather gear. A light rain won’t hurt your leather as it is water resistant (not waterproof), as long as you dry it out properly once home, but heavy rain consistently will damage your expensive leather gear. Textile gear these days is much better for cold/wet weather riding although leather does provide excellent wind resistance. Long highway commutes to work each day will make your decision to wear leather gear much harder as it offers the best protection from high speed falls. Personally i mix and match all my motorcycle gear when commuting to work depending on my changing destination and the predicted weather conditions.
- Track day
Most, if not all track days will not let you ride unless you have full sport leathers. This means either a full leather suit, or leather jacket/pants that zip together. Usually ankle covering boots are a must also, just so you know. The mandatory and obvious rules for full leather gear on track is proof in itself that leather provides excellent protection against road impact and road slide in an accident. Many track day organisers require your leather jacket and pants to zip together to avoid the jacket sliding up or pants sliding down which in turn will destroy your skin in a high speed slide. The best protection for track riding is a full leather suit. Personally for myself I have a leather jacket/pants combo that zip together so I can comfortably use my leathers when street riding as well as track use, although I am planning to purchase a full leather race suit. Its good to note that many track related motorcycle accidents involve a single rider sliding off the track usually on a corner and many of these riders can get up and walk away with a few bumps and bruises because of the leather protection.
- Adventure riding or cruising
Riding long distances require extra thought into the gear to wear and weather encountered. Many adventure riders prefer textile gear or if its leather they usually avoid a sport jacket and pants that provide the most protection but are usually the most restricting. There is leather gear out there for adventure riders and cruisers, or more casual riders that don’t want all the armour padding and prefer lighter and more comfortable leather on longer rides. Although these types of leather gear is cheaper than the more popular sports leather, any buyers need to pay close attention to the build and quality of the gear as it tends to slide under the radar a bit more in the safety department. Safety is much more important than looks eg: leather vests.
- Riding the twisties
For aggressive corner riding full sport leathers are recommended. With the increased risk and speed the extra protection from leather with back, shoulder, arm and knee armour is basically a must have. Although I have been known to ride the twisties with breathable textile gear during summer (contains armour), extra protection is more important that comfort most of the tie (if its super hot overheating could be quite dangerous). If out riding super aggressively in the mountains, its a good idea to treat your adventures like a track day, with full protective leather gear and loads of caution.
There are 2 well known safety standards in the world when it comes to motorcycle leather gear. This is CE (European tested clothing) and AS (Australian tested clothing). America doesn’t have its own safety rating standard across the board, but the main legitimate manufactures of leather motorcycle gear do adhere to their own in-house testing and quality standards. This just means that Americans need to do a little bit of their own research into the company they plan on buying leather motorcycle gear from to ensure the safety and quality of the gear is high. These safety standards are a good place to start, but these safety standards only apply to specific parts of the gear and not the full jacket, pants or suit as a whole. You will still need to do your own quality control checks before purchasing any leather gear, or use the 7 step checklist listed at the bottom of the article
Quality of leather
When leather is collected from an animal, it comes in layers. The top layer of the animal is the strongest and this is referred to as the top grain. This top grain leather is easy to spot due to its supple nature and natural grain look and feel. Cheap leather is usually easy to spot as it can be thin, hard, shiny and reflected in the price. Quality leather and quality made suits are expensive! Although price isn’t always a true reflection of quality, you will not find cheaper quality made motorcycle leather gear unless shopping second hand. If money is tight, consider buying some used leather in good condition or look for cheaper, textile gear with added armour.
When deciding on your leather gear, some products have a removable inside layer of the jacket. This can be taken out and put in the wash…an added hint to help you out when it comes to usability and convenience (you will sweat in your leathers at some point).
Armour protection for motorcycle gear has improved drastically over the years, armour today is made softer to absorb hard impacts and disperse the energy more effectively. Armour with hardened plastic or metal will help with slide protection, but it can affect the impact protection because of its hardness. The location of the armour is important, it needs to cover the most likely areas of impact and slide in an accident. These include your back, shoulders, elbows, hands, chest, hips, butt, knees and feet. Now that you have the important areas protected, the fit of your gear is extremely important. Lost fitting gear with added armour will shift in an impact or slide, potentially moving the protection away from where it needs to be. Armour on the outside with a metal slider is ideal for maximum protection. Always check how the armour is stitched to the jacket as this could be a weak point in the leather itself.
Seams and perforations
The weakest points in any leather gear are the seams and stitching holding the leather together. High quality leather gear will try to hide the seam of the leather with hidden stitching, especially on impact prone areas of the material. This is done so the leather slides instead of catching on the ground and tearing. Lower quality leather gear will have visible seams everywhere as its easier and cheaper to just stitch one piece of leather onto another. It’s also cheaper to stitch smaller pieces of leather together. These hidden seams on higher quality gear usually has some kind of reinforcing material stitched on the underside of the leather to further strengthen these vulnerable areas. It’s important to note that the most common failure of motorcycle leather gear is burst seams.
Since leather isn’t breathable lots of leather gear will have perforations in the leather itself (tiny holes, not large holes) to increase airflow and breathability. Any perforations on high impact areas will weaken the area, so high quality leather will usually only have perforations on untouched places like the chest and inner legs. Make sure to test the quality of the zip as this is a large weak point of any leather jacket.
Second hand leather
Brand new motorcycle leather gear is expensive. Purchasing second hand leather can be a great way to save money and still get some great quality leather gear. Leather motorcycle gear can be very expensive when purchased new, personally I’ve seen people that have purchased brand new leathers, gone for 1 or 2 rides and decided its not for them, then put their gear up for sale for basically half the price. This is the type of second hand leather gear you should be hunting for if you decide to go this option. You may be able to find a good deal on older model leather gear with little to no wear because someone wants to upgrade. When purchasing second hand gear the 2 main areas to note are the age of the jacket and how used it actually is. A jacket that’s been sitting is a shed for 10 years may be fine, but may have hard to see damage from dirt or moisture and because of its age you would want to be getting a hell of a bargain. Has the leather gear been in an accident? Any impact regardless of how small or large will see parts of the gear damaged or at least weakened in some degree. The obvious signs of an accident are any small rips or tears, or any slide marks (road rash) on any part of the leather or armour. Pay close attention to the stitching as this is the first part to wear. A damaged or worn zip can be replaced so that’s not a deal breaker, although it is a good bargaining point. Any leather that’s well worn doesn’t necessarily mean its damaged, worn leather is better than no leather at all. Just be cautious when trying to save money on leather gear, when sliding down the road in an accident a few saved bucks is the least of your worries.
Fit and warranty
As mentioned in the armour section, the fit of your leather gear is extremely important. A good snug fit will keep the armour where it is supposed to be for protection in an impact and slide. A tighter fit also aids in keeping lose leather from flapping about in the wind at higher speeds. You don’t want the jacket or pants to ride up in a slide or be so tight that pinch points are created that can burst and tear and also make your ride very uncomfortable. As you wear in your new leather gear, it will conform to your body a bit more and give a little, so make sure to take this into consideration when fitting. Any stretchy material sewn into the leather needs to be in non-impact areas of the suit such as under the arms or shoulders or the inner leg.
When it comes to warranty, the longer the better. Most high quality brands will have a 3-5ish year warranty on their products. Any brand without a warranty or a low time warranty is not worthy of your money. The warranty is more about the product manufactures low risk of failure than the promise of replacing a faulty product.
Its extremely hard when trying to figure out what kind of motorcycle gear to purchase, especially if your new to riding. The choices of leather gear is very large these days, with plenty of different brands competing for your business. The best way to go about deciding and then purchasing some leather gear for yourself is summarised into a quick checklist you can use to help in your decision making process.
7 Step checklist for deciding/purchasing leather motorcycle gear
- Decide on the main type of riding or future riding your doing – examples include commuting, aggressive street riding, adventure riding, cruising, track days or a combination of these.
- Make a decision on purchasing either textile, leather riding gear or some form of second hand motorcycle gear (don’t ride without some form of protective gear) – Take into account your budget, level of protection required, comfort and potential weather and riding conditions
- Know that if you decide to partake in future track days, you will need to purchase a full sport leather kit – This usually requires a jacket/pants combo that zip together or a full leather racing suit
- If purchasing leather gear, decide on the type of leather you want for example a leather sport jacket with armour or a casual leather jacket for cruising- Take into account your budget, your safety requirements, the look you like, comfort, visibility and the areas and conditions your leather will be used
- Check the quality of the leather you have decided to purchase, seams and perforations as listed above – potentially using the CE or AS safety standards as a guide, or doing your own research into specific brands and the safety standards they hold themselves to. Mistakes in the manufacturing and quality control process do happen
- Check the level of armour vs the level you require/want as well as the quality and location of that armour – Some products have extra armour that can be purchased and fitted
- Fit and warranty – Get fitted properly in person and make sure your purchase has a nice long warranty to help guarantee the quality