Motorcycle race suits are the very best form of riding protection. They’re constructed with abrasion resistant materials, have generous impact protection and are designed to keep you as safe as possible in the event of a crash.
For maximum safety, a one-piece race suit is what you want. One of the drawbacks of a two-piece suit is the vulnerability of the connection between the pants and jacket, an issue that isn’t present with a single-piece set. They’re comprised primarily of high-quality leather (both cow and kangaroo hides), with stretch panels strategically placed in areas to improve fit, flexibility and comfort. Internal armor is often complimented by external protection.
WHAT IS BEST – COW HIDE OR KANGAROO?
When it comes to materials – there are two main choices; cow hide and kangaroo. Kangaroo is lighter, stronger and more supple, but it’s also thinner, which means it’s unlikely to survive more than one spill.
There’s a reason why most suits are made of cow hide – leather is more durable and wears better. Leather slides incredibly well, and in most cases it won’t hole – you’re more likely to suffer heat burns from your skin rubbing against the leather than damage from cuts and the likes. Speed causes a lot of injuries but the injuries caused by friction are far greater.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR WHEN IT COMES TO ARMOUR?
When it comes to leathers fit is incredibly important. Armour that doesn’t stay in place and moves is dangerous. Most suits have a mixture of soft internal armour and heavy-duty exterior armour. The armour is designed to disperse force at a certain point, whether it’s the shoulder, elbow, knees or wherever. If it moves, then it can’t dissipate the force away from the area it’s supposed to be protecting.
Look for suits which have CE-approved armour. These suits will have protective external features which have been designed to slide rather than grip, and will thus offer more protection.
WHAT ABOUT STITCHING?
Look for double and triple stitching. This is proven to offer the best protection in the case of a spill – double and triple stitching means the seams are less prone to bursting in an impact.
WHAT OTHER FEATURES SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR?
This mainly comes down to ease of use. An inner suit will make the leathers easier to get on and off, as well as more comfortable on the bike. The same is true with neoprene cuffs and collars – no more chafing.
Zips are another often overlooked feature. They need to be sturdy and easy to operate with a gloved hand. And they need to stay closed – there’s nothing worse than a zip working its way loose.
HOW IMPORTANT IS FIT?
As with all areas of motorcycle clothing, fit is crucial. Leathers are always a compromise between fit and protection. Too snug and they’ll restrict movement, too loose and all the armour won’t be in the right place.
For a one-piece, fit will be snug, bordering on tight if you’re aiming to get a race-appropriate fit. You don’t want material or protective elements shifting in the event of a crash.
One-piece suits are also designed to be comfortable in the tucked riding position, so may not be all that comfortable when standing or sitting. Stretch panels on the arms, legs and lower back aid movement and flexibility, and thus comfort.
There’s also the option of choosing a size above the race-fit if your plans are to wear the suit while carving canyons or looking for a more spacious fit. Follow the standard fitment instructions for jackets and pants when choosing a two-piece suit.
It’s best to visit your local bike shop, get measured and try on a variety of suits from a range of manufacturers. Try them on with your normal kit – back protector, chest protector, helmet – and make sure everything works together. Bin any that restrict movement.
DO I NEED A SUIT WITH AN AERO HUMP?
Speed humps have been getter smaller over recent years, and apart from the aerodynamic benefits, some manufacturers are using the humps to house airbag systems or hydration packs.
However, there is also a school of thought which says to avoid them where possible. the late Doc John Hinds advised against leathers with a speed hump as he’d noticed that if a rider was unconscious and on their back, the head tended to roll back against the speed hump, which made it difficult to treat them – you can’t keep airways clear when the head’s tilted back as it narrows the airways.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR BEDDING A NEW SUIT IN?
Leathers bed in a lot, sometimes by as much as 10%. I know that double TT winner Ivan Lintin has a little trick he uses to expand a specific part of the suit. He had an issue around his knees at the TT one year and put a motorcycle inner tube into the problem area, blew it up and left overnight.
That may well work for him, but the only real way to bed a new suit in is to wear it, whether that be wearing it round the house, or out on the bike.
CAN I GET AWAY WITH BUYING SECONDHAND LEATHERS?
I’d advise against buying secondhand gear. With leathers they may well be the right size for you on paper, but the leather itself will have stretched to whoever had them before, and they’ll have a different body shape and size to you. So that means they won’t fit you as well as they should, and if they don’t fit then they aren’t going to be of much use in a spill.