Motorcycle leathers; the stuff you need to know...

How do you tell good motorcycle leathers from bad?

This is a question that has been bothering me a lot of late, and I've been taking a look into the whole thing. I've taken a bit of time and trouble to dig up the information, and I thought someone out there might benefit from it; especially since one thing has become clear to me - you do not always get what you pay for.
Even the most basic online search will turn up store after store, all claiming to have the best motorcycle leathers with the best deals. But what makes a set of good motorcycle leathers?

…leave the fashion statements at home…

…but you knew that already right? You are not one of those motorcyclists who drive around in a set of "motorcycle leathers" that would look better on Beyonce in a video. Funny thing is; they never seem to look that good on a 300pound fortysomething Harley rider do they?
I am a "fit for purpose" kind of guy, and those motorcycle leathers are not worth consideration if your main concern is protection. If you are looking for a meaningful review of "fashionable" motorcycle leathers, then this is the wrong page for you.
Ok we are over the fashionistas, what about the real thing?  How do we tell a good set of motorcycle leathers from bad ?

…take the racing line…

Have you ever really looked at a suit of motorcycle racing leathers ? Well, I have, and there is not much to look at - they're actually pretty basic (apart from the colour schemes).Well made, designed for a specific task, but basic for all that. No bells, no whistles, - just plain old high quality leather, and lots of it. They have almost no external straps anywhere you can see, no pockets, and the minimum of fastenings. They also have as few seams as possible; this is achieved through being constructed of only a few, large, pieces of leather. This in turn reduces the number of seams - seams being the weak points of a suit. Racing leathers are also skin tight, because the best are made to measure.

Are you getting it?. My point is that if the leathers you're looking at look nothing like motorcycle racing leathers, then this probably tells you something about their quality. Not definitely, but probably. Any bells and whistles are probably going to detract from the overall performance of the motorcycle leathers. Extra straps, zippers, studs will weaken the leather and in a crash will either dig into your flesh, or separate, leaving your flesh rubbing along the road so you can develop a severe case of road rash. The basic rule is, if you look at a jacket, and it has lots of zippers and straps on which have no apparent use whatsoever, consider it a red flag.  If it looks uneccessary, it probably is.

…time to play detective…

Okay, so you have  settled on a set of motorcycle leathers that looks the part. Are they really  as good as they look ? Time to play detective. The easiest thing to check is just the shape of the jacket. They are supposed to be difficult to get off, once you are in them! If someone tried to physically pull it off you, would it come off easily ? If that is the case, it is a fair bet that it will come off in a crash. The arms should get really tight  towards the wrist, to stop them sliding up your arms. The body of the jacket should be shaped to stop it riding up your torso.

…check your flys…

Next, the zips. Zippers on motorcycle leathers can be metal or nylon, but in either case, they should be good quality solid looking zips all the same. How can  you tell what they're made of? Er… well, the metal ones look like… well, metal ! If they don't look like metal, they most probably aren't, because most motorcycle leathers manufacturers would leave the metal bare because paint would just chip off. Any coloured zips will probably be nylon (even if the colour is black).
Check the position of the wrist zips . On good quality motorcycle leathers, the wrist zips are almost without exception on the inside of the arm, not the outside. If the manufacturer  hasn't got that right, they've probably made some other mistakes as well.

Next, take a good look at the stitching. You should expect to see double stitching (that's two rows of stitching side by side) on all the major seams - front, shoulders, etc. Is the stitching regular (ie. the gaps between the stitches are the same size) ? Are there any dropped stitches (on a dropped stitch,  the thread just goes straight for a bit where'd you'd expect a stitch to be). Count the number of stitches in an inch - there should be more than 7 and less than 12 .the actual figure  is usually 8 or 10 stitches per inch. (By the way, an inch is derived from the distance from the tip of a mans thumb to the first knuckle) Too few and the stitching is too weak - too many and the leather will be weakened by the stitching.

…check the sharp bits…

Now the actual construction of the leather. Easiest to check are the areas where there should be double thickness leather. These are your "impact points" - all your sharp bits; the knees, hips, backside, elbows and shoulders (actually my backside isn't that sharp but the vunerable bit is your tailbone).

 So how do you tell if the motorcycle leathers have  double thickness ? In some cases, it looks really obvious, because an extra piece of leather is stitched onto the outside - however some manufacturers try to simulate a double thickness by sewing in a patch to make it look like its been  doubled up, so you still have to check that it has been layed on top of the original leather, and not just sewn in (which would be very bad news). Get one hand inside and one outside. If it's double-layered, you should be able to separate the layers a little by working at it with both hands.

Also of real  importance is a close look at how the garment has been designed. Ideally, you are looking for a set of motorcycle leathers that have been put together with the minimum number of "panels"  - remember : the more panels, the more seams; the more seams, the weaker the leathers. Most "off the peg" motorcycle leathers have some means of adjustment. This is a necessity in order to accommodate a range of body shapes. How do you tighten or loosen them? Are there buckles or stretch panels ? Buckles must be placed be far enough away from the impact points to avoid them digging into you when you meet the tarmac. Stretch panels are generally made of  thinner leather,(so they can stretch silly!) so they also should not be too near to the impact points.

The most important thing is actually the most difficult to work out - the thickness of the leather. For this you'll just have to check the labels, or ask the staff. The leather should be at LEAST 1mm thick - anything thinner fall into the fashion category : most decent suits will have at least 1.3mm and maybe up to 1.5mm if you are lucky.

So there you have it. my take on motorcycle leathers. I hope you get something useful out of the article

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Copyright Motorcycle parts accessories and more, Michael Holmes 2004