Textile or Leather?
by Andrew Goodman
You have two principal choices in the protective suit you wear; those made of leather or those made of textiles such as cordura. Both can be purchased as one piece or two piece suits, and good ones are comparable in cost. The one piece leather suit is typically high ventilated with stretch panels in the right places for optimum manoeuvrability, and is typically used for track riding and racing.
The one piece textile suit is designed as a waterproof over-suit which can be worn over your normal day clothes, and you can typically step out of it without taking off your boots; ideal if you are commuting to a work meeting, though you will still have helmet hair and a crumpled suit to contend with.
If you want to look the part, you will want to wear clothing which is appropriate for your motorcycle, so you probably wouldn’t choose one-piece race leathers if you were going touring to the south of France for a week long trip on your Harley-Davidson, although don’t let me stop you.
You might prefer the plethora of pockets, the looser fit, better insulation properties, and waterproof lining that a textile suit offers, especially if you’re taking your Goldwing on a tour.
If you’re only planning on buying one outfit, I would recommend a textile suit, if you ride all year round, you will eventually end up buying one anyway. If you are planning to do a track days, you will need to buy or borrow some leathers; either a one piece suit or two piece suit with adjoining zip, before they allow you out onto track.
If you are planning to ride through the winter as well as the summer, then the best option is textile gear which is generally waterproof and more comfortable to wear. Due to the inclement nature of the weather in the UK, a textile suit will get you off to a good start as it’s just so much more flexible than leathers.
- Excellent abrasion resistance
- Distinctive ‘biker look’
- Armour in key areas (knees, elbows, shoulders)
- Waterproof- up to about half an hour
- Track use necessity
- One piece leathers for the “Road Racer” look
- Some have removable linings for winter and summer use and some have a back hump (not good if you want to drive in a car)
- Minimum of pockets
- Tight fitting
- Leathers are available with waterproof linings (Rukka)
- Incorporate Gore-Tex or other waterproof membrane to keep you dry for more hours
- More relaxed fit
- Can incorporate full CE approved armour (knee, hip, back, shoulders, elbows)
- Lots of pockets (and some waterproof ones)
- Can zip top and bottom of same make together
- Removable thermal liner
It used to be the case that no waterproof clothing, no matter whether it was Gore-tex or anything lee, was completely waterproof. Given long enough outside in the torrential rain, the wetness would eventually start to soak through by osmosis. I’m pleased to report that this is no longer the case. I have personally tested a suit riding through one of the wettest and windiest UK winters on record, and it really has kept me dry.
Modern laminate membranes such as Gore-tex Pro Shell are available in motorcycle gear and they really do work. In older design of jackets, the waterproof membrane sits underneath the external layer of protective Cordura material. After the outer material has had a soaking, it cannot easily dry out, and the membrane, by osmosis, has to pass the water through to your skin. If you ride all day, you will eventually get wet.
Gore-tex Pro Shell is different because the waterproof membrane is incorporated into the external material, so water runs off the surface of the suit rather than soaking in. It keeps weight down, reduces drying time, and reduces wet induced windchill to a minimum. I wish I could say the same about gloves. These will eventually get wet, and when they do they will get cold and will cool your core body temperature down.
Your hands have a huge amount of nerves, and a huge amount of blood going to them. This coupled with their high surface area means they can act as a heat exchanger. Dunk your hands into cool water on a hot day to cool yourself down, and out your gloves on in chilly winter wind to keep yourself warm. Cold wet gloves are a heat sink that you could do without. Carry a spare pair or two if you plan to do a long wet weather trip, or get some handlebar muffs to keep the wind off your hands. I am looking forward to seeing gore-tex pro shell gloves on the marketplace.
Textile gear is perfect all year round gear, and when buying, you get what you pay for. Some equipment is made to a budget, others involves an enormous R&D budget and is backed by a 5 year warranty (Rukka).
Get out to the shops, some on some suits on and see which fit you the best, and which feels comfortable and good quality. You’re wanting to trust this kit in the event of an accident.
You also need to consider what you’ll be wearing underneath (a shirt for work or perhaps a fleece in the winter), and whether the legs and arms are long enough when you’re in your riding position, for sports bikes you will be in a more pronounced crouch, so you don’t want too much material at the front, or it will bunch up. The good textile gear is also zip together, with removable armour, and is machine washable to get the squashed flies and road grime off.
If you’re in the market for good quality textile gear. Have a look at fc-moto and Louis.de. I bought my suit there, and saved a few hundred. Their Rukka suits are still covered by a 5 year warranty, but you will have to send your kit back to Germany or Finland for warranty issues.
If you prefer to keep things local, then Rukka gear is available from Infinity motorcycles who have a number of stores so you can try on equipment, and Sportsbikeshop.co.uk. who offer a free returns service if your gear doesn’t fit properly.
If you’re a serious biker who rides all year round, and you’re looking for some serious kit, this Rukka Pro Shell kit is the best stuff out there.