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FEATURE: What to look for in motorcycle leathers

Motorcycle Jackets are just one of the many items available to bike owners
Motorcycle Jackets are just one of the many items available to bike owners
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Wednesday, 13, Feb 2013 03:51

by Ben Wilby

An iconic part of riding a bike, leathers protect your skin against the road if you fall off, offering around seven seconds extra protection over regular clothes - something that might well be the difference between a bruised body and a serious injury.

Despite being one of the more expensive parts of owning a bike, good quality leathers are well worth investing in, particularly for users who spend a lot of time on motorways or travelling long distances.

With a wide variety of styles and brands out there it is worth having a good look around to find what suits you most.

In Britain full leathers are fairly common, however leathers are poor for riding during rain, getting heavy and cold. As a result other materials can be superior for keeping you warm and comfortable.

Other materials

Leathers are not the only sort of material available to riders and it is important to consider what you are looking for when buying clothes to ensure you get a material that is going to suit your riding pattern.

Kevlar is one of the better materials and has similar (though slightly less) slide protection. However it is better at dealing with frictional heat that develops from sliding along the floor at speed and can protect key areas of the body well.

This frictional heat can be dangerous and there have been reports of leather actually sticking to skin due to the heat generated from sliding along the floor at high speeds.

Kevlar is also lightweight and offers a breathable but fairly safe fabric that has seen it become one of the more popular types of bike protection available, particularly in the form of jeans (pictured right).

Other benefits include the ease with which they can be washed - generally textiles can simply be thrown in the wash, while leathers will need to be dry cleaned or cleaned with specialist products.

The last point to consider is that textile materials are generally cheaper, as with leather it is worth checking to ensure that the material meets the required standards of protection and slide for the sort of speeds you drive at.

Picking protection other than leather is all about personal preference and need. A textile suit is likely to be better for changeable weather and comfort but crucially is unlikely to offer the same level of protection as leather.


There are many important things to consider before parting with your cash and many of these relate to all materials not just leather:

  • The type of leather available - it could be cowhide, kangaroo or goat. Kangaroo is said to be the best, being strong but relatively lightweight
  • Leather thickness and suit weight - bear in mind that thinner leather could mean less protection, or that it will be ruined after one crash, although this also depends on the type and quality of leather you purchase
  • The amount of stitching is very important - the more there is, the more likely it can be ripped. Also, the quality of the stitching will determine how long you can slide before the suit tears

  • Check to see if the manufacturer has released details of the slide protection the product offers
  • What sort of venting the suit offers - this will be vital to keeping cool in hot weather

  • The amount and type of padding and the level of protection it offers

  • What spine protection the suit offers, and if it has room for extra back protection

  • Don't simply go by how protection looks, there are a variety of suits and armour that look like they should protect well but with no actual approval - steer clear of anything without CE approval

  • Comfort is always an important consideration - it should fit well , too baggy and it will not protect correctly, too tight and you will chafe badly

  • Ensure all the elbow and knee protectors are in the right place and have a comfortable but fairly tight fit
  • Finally, make sure there are enough internal pockets for your phone, wallet, etc.


Something that won't matter to everyone but will matter to some is the name of the clothing or the style.

Although biker gear and fashion doesn't necessarily sound like it goes together, many bikers take great pride in their leathers and brands such as Alpine Stars and Held offer a wide range of fashionable styles

Jackets can be retro styled to give you the appearance of a 1960s Steve McQueen, or you can go for a more modern, sport-styled look.

It is amazing how much they can vary - though finding jackets in colours other than black or perhaps brown is a much harder feat altogether.

This often relates to the bike you ride. A supersport Honda rider will benefit from a one-piece suit, designed for sport riding but a Harley-Davidson owner in race gear would just look wrong.

Many companies also offer tie-in clothing that allows you to suit up in style, with Harley-Davidson being perhaps the most obvious example of this (pictured right).

Harley-Davidson also offers many good example of clothing that is designed for a particular brand, it is fairly costly but does not offer a great level of rider protection - proving that cost isn't everything.

It is a similar case with jeans and trousers, which can be purchased in various styles, some with the leather look associated with riding, while others have a more traditional denim look.


Some modern suits now feature some fairly impressive technology, such as body armour or hard-plastic protection and with the various qualities of leather and technology available, prices vary widely.

With body armour the main areas you want to protect are shoulder, elbow, hips knees, ankles and your back.

An important consideration here is making sure the Body Armour you purchase is CE-approved, meaning it has been extensively tested to ensure that it can stand up to impact on crashes.

Without CE approval the armour you buy could have no particular protective properties and you should always ensure you check the label for a CE approval (pictured right) - checking to see which parts of the armour are actually approved is also important.

Being an expensive piece of kit it is well worth making sure what you buy offers everything you need and is of the required standard.

It is worth buying the best gear you can afford but keep in mind that high prices do not necessarily mean higher quality, and checking user reviews on websites and trying on and testing to ensure the gear has the necessary stretchiness and comfort you require is recommended.

Because of this, ordering from a website should only be done if they have a good returns policy.

Suits can be incredibly expensive such as the super high-tech D-Air 1 piece suit costing £2,410.00, while budget-friendly suits can be found for under £500.

For jackets, good branded ones are available for around £200 and it is similar for trousers, although they tend to be a little cheaper.

As with most things it is worth deciding on a budget that you can afford and going from there.

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