Why Wear Leather


There is an excellent supplement with the current edition of What Bike? about leather jackets and jeans. I would recommend buying the magazine.

This is an unauthorised copy of part (or all) of the original artical. I appologise for any copyright infringement .

The body was never designed to get hurled from a bike and land on a hard, abrasive surface then bounce, roll, slide and hit even harder objects along the way.

Skin, muscle tissue, nerves and bone abrade, burn, tear and generally get ripped to shreds as they're catapulted down the road.

Would you let a friend pull you down the road on your back or stomach at walking pace (three mph) for 20 feet? No. It would be extremely painful, so why mn the risk at thirty times that speed wearing...


Bikers wear a leather jacket, jeans and boots (stereotypically). It looks good, it's convenient and it's cool.

While the jacket and boots will help in an accident, the jeans will not. Denim bursts open in a fraction of a second in the first two or so feet of sliding, exposing all your delicate parts to damage. Padded jeans are slightly better (very slightly) - don't rely on them.


Kevlar-reinforced helmets, Kevlar-strengthened gloves, Kevlar suits.. new materials sound great for advertisers and few manufacturers can resist putting just a little, low-quality Kevlar in their products to give them that scientific-sounding edge.

It's a load of cobblers, because in protective clothing too little is used too sparsely. Kevlar can work, but normally at least two layers of good-quality Kevlar are needed to give adequate abrasion resistance. An average-standard Kevlar will tear open far too quickly to make it worthwhile (see tear-time table).

When World Superbike runner James Whitham tested the abrasion resistance of Kevlar on his knee sliders last year, the material burst open almost immediately. The leather he tested stayed intact.


Dead cows and goats have their uses. We can eat them and then wear the skins to give us very good protection indeed.

However, a leather suit will not prevent all injuries, especially fractures, but in many cases it will reduce their number, nature and severity. It will also stop you being shredded by the sharp-edged road surface. Dead cow and goat is good stuff.

But there are many unscrupulous manufacturers making sub-standard suits. Some of them claim that because a grand prix racer wears their name, the product is good.

That's rubbish. For a start, while you will probably buy your leathers off the peg, the GP boys have them tailor-made from the very best hides (if they've got any sense). And the kings of the track are also paid Ioadsamoney to advertise brand names. Just because Johnny Speed wears a suit with Protectorama written up the side doesn't mean that the mass-market stuff is any good. You can pay anything from #250 to more than #1000 for a suit, here's what to look out for:

  • One and two-piece suits should be manufactured with the minimum number of load-bearing components (panels, seams, fasteners, decoration).
  • Decorative panels should not form part of the suit, but should be stitched over the basic structure. The maximum number of panels for a one-piece suit are: arms, 4-6; front, 4- 10; back, 5-10; total panels 13-26 (stretched panels not included). The reason you want few panels of leather stitched together is simple: seams are always the weakest areas.
  • Leather should have good impact, abrasion and tear strength. It should be a minimurnl of .2 tol .3mm thick. Any leather less than 1 mm thick is generally rubbish. Take a set of Vernier calipers into the shop, pinch the leather tight between your fingers, measure the thickness, halve it, and you've got an accurate enough guide to how thick the hide is. It should have a tear strength of 8 to12 kg and should be smooth on the outside so it slides easier.
  • Leather should be full grain split and full chromed tanned (or the equivalent). Ask the sales people what it is, if they can't tell you, it tells you enough about the shop and the gear they're selling to go elsewhere.
  • Dyes should never run - they can cause cancer. If you end up with red knees and a green crotch after a damp ride - take them back to the shop.
  • Secondary protection. A second layer of leather should cover the shoulders, upper arms, forearms and elbows, bum and hips, knees and crotch seam should be reinforced.
  • Stretch panels may be used above the knee, back of the waist and back of the shoulders. A cut-out may be used behind the knee.
  • Ventilation panels can be used on the chest, lower abdomen, inner thigh and inner arm, and -should not decrease the perfor mance of the suit. Holes must be not less than 9ne inch apart. A few big holes ventilate better than lots of tiny ones.
  • Lining should be good airtex nylon, cotton or-a polyester/cotton mix. The lining should allow the body to breathe so that sweat can evaporate.
  • Seams should be well protected and~doubIe or triple stitched. Single stitching is a total no.
  • Thread should be low-twist, bonded monofilament polyamide (size Ticket 20) at seven or eight stitches per inch. Very strong leather can-accept a Ticket 40 thread at 1-0 stitches per inch. Anything over 12 per inch will weaken the leather.
  • Zips should be low profile, nylon, with no rough edges or raised parts. They should be well seamed, away from impact points and have a leather protective flap behind. Metal zips are out.
  • Two-piece suits should be joined by a heavy-duty zip. Body armour. If the stuff is made of the right material, it will reduce the risk of injury, but many firms use rubbish foams and claim it will help in a crash It won't. The ONLY protective foam that should be used is called POLYNORBONENE, (brand name Norsorex) and should be 8mm thick. You can identify Polynorbonene, beca-use it is black, heavy and very dense. Tests prove that Memory foam will not help protect you.
  • Jackets sold with back protectors are a gimmick. Spinal protectors, like all other body armour, will only provide soft tissue protection. They won't stop a broken back.

The Time Table

This is how quickly some materials take to hole:
Material Seconds
Denim 0.2 to 0.5
Some race gloves 0.6
Most leather gloves 1.0 to 1.8
Keprotec stretch material 0.9
Poor Kevlar 1.0
Two layers of waxed cotton 1.3
1.3mm thick cow hide 3.8
Two layers of 1.3mm thick cowhide 18
Three layers of 1.3mm thick cowhide 55
Two layers of Kevlar plain weave 5.6
Suede 18
Boot leather (generally 2.2mm thick) 20
Leather stretch panels 20.4

This page is based upon a post from Roger Ford (there, that should drop you in it ).