A quick(ish) guide to racing suits
Race wear is at the core of our business. A modern, effective, one piece racing suit should allow the rider to operate the motorcycle unhindered, and provide a reasonable amount of protection in the event of an accident.
If you're walking into a reputable shop and looking at known brands of leathers, pretty much everything on display should meet these two requirements and include the following features to one degree or another.
Like most industries these days, there's a lot of bullshit flying around, but a bit of preparation and investigation should prevent you from buying a dud product.
We originally wrote an article for the BIKE ME website but felt we could have shortened some aspects and expanded on others, which we hope to continue with in our blog.
The hangtags attached to a set of leathers in a shop are a good place to start. They should tell you about certification that the suit itself or the protectors inside have been given and maybe some information about the materials used.
In order to ride the bike unhindered, the rider should have the full range of movement required, including being able to tuck down behind the screen and to shift bodyweight left and right when cornering. To give this flexibility, the suit should have stretchable (shirred) leather panels at certain points - typically the rear of the shoulders, lower back and above the knees.
There should be stretchable fabric under the arms and inside the legs woven with abrasion resistant materials such as kevlar or aramid. Most modern suits contain these featured, from the cheapos to the most expensive. Some manufacturers use fairly cheap elastic materials here so it's worth having a look and a feel. If in doubt, ask the salesperson, if they don't know, ask them why not.
Flexibility is a crucial element Shirred leather panel behind the shoulder
The leather itself should be made of either cow or kangaroo which offer the best flexibility, strength and wear resistance required to withstand a high speed slide or tumble. This is where a lot of the cheaper products fail. It's reasonable to expect the more, you pay, the better the leather will be. Good leather should feel supple, thickness is no guarantee of strength.
Every single structural seam should contain a row of hidden stitching that is not exposed to the outside and possible damage during a slide. This is not always done in our experience, particularly with cheaper products. Most suits have double layers of leather on the hips and seat area although some will also include additional leather at impact points.
Impact protection should come in the form of CE EN 1621 protectors, located at the shoulders, elbows and knees. Look for a small booklet or certificate on the hangtags which give the manufacturer's details as well as the specifications of the CE test. All genuine CE protectors are supplied with these tags. If in doubt, you should be able to reach inside or by either unzipping the lining or looking for an access flap, reach in and remove the protector for examination. Decide yourself if it is well made and substantial enough to absorb a good impact. Some are held in place by velcro tabs, others are slotted into a pocket. Note: Dainese have recently been using composite protectors on some suits which are glued in and cannot be removed. There are definitely fake CE protectors on the market although I wouldn't expect these from trusted manufacturers especially if the product is marketed in Europe.
One of the requirements of the CE EN 13595 directive is for additional CE protectors at the hips, although most companies will tend to instead use some foam which is arguably more comfortable and gives a slimmer look. Elsewhere, look for additional padding at points like the coccyx (base of the spine) or tibia (shins).
Fit is equally important of course, the best description of a great fit should be "snug" when in the riding position. A looser fit may be more comfortable, but if the leather bunches up it may catch on the ground in a slide. Personal preference really comes in here. Be satisfied if the suit allows you to go through the full range of movement required on a bike and the protectors sit against the joint they're designed to protect without discomfort. Both cow and kangaroo leather will stretch and form around the body over time so a little initial tightness is acceptable and for some riders, desirable. Personal preference comes into play here, if you ride an upright bike or rarely ride on the track, a slightly looser fit may be a good idea.
Other steps to increase rider comfort include a mesh lining (which also contributes to the effectiveness of the suit in a crash), and soft neoprene and polyester at the collar and cuffs. Most one piece suits are designed to accommodate a separate back protector so be sure to wear one if you're trying on a suit in a shop.
Perforation will allow the body to breathe a little and is considered a must for most Australian racers. It can however reduce the tear strength of the leather and consequently most manufacturers will minimise it at exposed areas. Lastly, we'll mention race humps which you can see on almost every suit at the track these days. These were conceived in the early 2000's to reduce buffeting of the rider's head at high speed which was causing problems for GP and Superbike racers. Mick Doohan never used them but then, most of us aren't as tough as Mick, and there does seem to be growing evidence that humps also contribute to rider safety in accidents. So it looks like they're here to stay. Many riders will try a variety of brands over their riding career and will undoubtedly form personal opinions on certain brands based on factors such as price, style, comfort, performance and durability. Since many brands use a variety of construction techniques and factories around the world, we recommend looking at each garment individually whenever you buy rather than brand loyalty. Be happy the garment you're going to spend your hard earned money on is well made, and of good quality materials.
We'll cover all of these features, and more later on.