If this is the first time you've been in the market for a leather motorcycle riding suit, or jacket for that matter, you are likely going into the experience with little information and a lot of questions.
A one or two piece leather suit is usually a relatively significant investment for most riders. The cost alone is the reason so many riders don't own a suit, let alone a good quality jacket. It's safe to say that a majority of street motorcycle riders ride with less than ideal riding gear. Given that fact, riding with any real protective gear other than a helmet is a step above the rest. Nevertheless, our opinion is that you should own and use the best quality riding gear that you can afford. Beyond that, your gear should fit your needs, your riding style and most of all it should fit you.
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We are often asked what the difference is between the low end and high end suits. It comes down to the amount of features the suit has, the quality of the leather, the quality of the interior of the suit, the quality of the armor (if the suit features any), the type and quantity of stitching in the suit. The more expensive the materials and the more time needed to make the suit, will make up the cost of the suit. Like anything, you tend to get what you pay for and poorly made suits will not only protect you less, but won't last as long just during the regular use of the suit.
Features to look for in a suit include:
* Leather type, either cowhide, goat
* Leather thickness and suit weight
* Type of venting and perforation features
* Type of padding and protection
* Type of spine protection, aero hump, or inserts
* Slider type and hardness
* Type and quantity of stitching
* Internal lining, removability
* Insert pockets or snap-ins for back protectors
* Stretch material used
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The first thing you need to understand about motorcycle protective gear is that leather, whether cowhide or kangaroo skin, is always more protective than any type of textile (fabric) material currently available. Textile motorcycle gear is light weight and therefore comfortable, easy to get in and out of and breaths well, but there is a reason that no pro or amateur racer today is using textile gear on the track. Textile suits and jackets do not protect riders as well as leather in a crash. Today's suit manufacturers do use textile materials in parts of the suit that rarely experience impact or stress, such as under the arms, the groin and of course in the lining of a suit.
The qualities of leather make it a very difficult material to burn or tear in a crash slide situation. This isn't to say that textile jackets and pants shouldn't be owned and used for regular street riding, but of the two, leather offers more protection. Various types of leather and a wide range of leather thickness is used across all manufacturers.
You can really look at a leather suit as a 2nd, very thick skin, that is worn over your body. Sewn into this skin, in any serious leather suit, will be protective strategically placed armor for even more protection and then stretch panels and liners for comfort and cooling. In a crash situation, the leather protects from impact force that would otherwise tear your skin and sliding abrasion that would otherwise scrape your skin off. Impact armor is there to absorb as much of any impact energy as possible.
High end leather tends to be thinner and soft, therefore lighter and more comfortable for the rider, than heavy-weight leather. Thin, soft leather also takes less time for the suit to break-in than heavy weight leather. Thin leather, taken to the extreme may be comfortable, but can also no longer be fully protective, or if it is, is only a 'one-crash' garment.
Leather suits are typically offered in "one piece" and "two piece" varieties. One piece suits provide the best protection of the two types, due to the fact that there are less seams that can be subject to tearing during an impact situation. A two piece suit is slightly more versatile than an one piece suit, since it can be unzipped at the waist and be ridden as a jacket alone.
Topic of armor. Body armor is the part of the suit designed to protect the rider's body from hard impact with the ground or other objects. Many leather riding jackets on the market today have no body armor in them at all. The other important part of a suit or jacket is the impact absorbing armor. High end suits today use "CE Approved" hard plastic and/or multi-layered memory foam armor inserts at these impact areas. Utilizing hard armor and various types of foam and padding, creates an energy absorbing zone through out the suit, protecting the rider during heavy direct impact crashes.
Protection zones to look at include:
The bare bones distinction between a high quality suit and low quality suit can be said to be the quality of the leather and the quality of the stitching. A high quality well-made suit can withstand the most brutal of slides and still stay together, protecting the riders skin. Lessor quality leather matched with poor stitching is what causes a suit to 'blow up', or come apart on a rider during a crash. It takes a certain amount of skill, learned proprietary knowledge and craft to produce a suit will live up to the task.
Next to protection, what any suit or jacket spends most of its time doing is keeping you comfortable. Mainly, this means that the suit should fit you well, so that you will want to wear it. An overly heavy suit with no venting on a hot day, won't be your first choice when you go to suit up for a day's ride in the street. An overly uncomfortable suit will also have the affect of being a distraction to your riding when you are on the bike. You want your suit to fit as good as possible.
Sizing across all manufacturers varies. Some makers size their suits in US Sizes, others in European Sizes. The difference in numbers is that European sizes are 10 above US sizes. So, if you tend to wear a size 42 US jacket, you'd be a size 52 in European sizing.
When we speak to customers on the phone who don't know what size they are, the questions we ask are:
* What's your height
* What's your weight
* What size US suit jacket do you wear
* What's your waist size
Using these questions we can usually get the sizing right in a few seconds. This is, however, so long as the rider isn't exceptionally built in the shoulder, thigh or stomach areas. Some, though few, riders will simply not fit well in any off the shelf suit.
The other point that first-time suit owners often overlook is that your suit is designed to fit you best when riding the bike. You're not going to use your suit to go out on a date and although showing up at your favorite rider gathering area and posing in a full race suit looks cool, that's not what a well made suit is designed for and we hope that's not playing in your purchasing decision. A race suit is designed to be in the riding position, leaned over and positioned aggressively. It's designed to fit the rider comfortably while riding the bike. We speak with folks continuously who get the suit on and complain they can't raise their arms over their head. Ok- great! you're not going to want your arms flailing over you head if you get off the bike- you'll want some restriction there.
Another important point to consider is that there are a multitude of suit manufacturers on the market today. A good amount of them utilize the racing scene as a marketing and sales tool for his or her products. It makes good sense to look at which riders are riding with what suit brand, because these guys have careers and lives to protect and they crash continuously. They want to be around at the finish line, but realize too, that pro racers usually have custom suits built for them by their sponsors. What your favorite pro racer is wearing may or may not be available to the average rider. Suit makers also use their sponsored riders for product testing and product development. Many of the suits worn by pro racers are not yet available to the public, because the manufacturer puts time, money and energy into getting feedback from their sponsored riders for products that are not yet released yet. This information is then taken back to the lab and used to build next generation protection products.