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Is motorcycle clothing getting safer?

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Thirty years in motorcycling is a long time. Carburettors are considered old school, laptops have replaced screwdrivers, and in 2019 there are even more acronyms, abbreviations and standards for everything. Walk into a motorcycle clothing store 30 years ago, and ask if the clothing was CE marked or AAA-rated and I’m sure you would get a look of bemusement. Everybody knows technology moves on exceptionally quickly, not just on the bikes we ride, but the clothing we are wearing too. Nowadays motorcyclists have access to safe, affordable gear with features most factory-backed racers dreamt of 30 years ago, the only barrier is getting motorcyclists to actually wear it. So we have put together a little bit about the significant differences in motorcycle leathers in the 30 years, after buying an old suit off eBay.


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To find out, we bought an £80 pair of 1990 Dianese leathers, complete with a retro colour scheme fit for a Slabby GSXR. We believe it is an Evolution TS suit, but there isn’t a label in there which says what model, or year of construction.

Classic Dainese leathers
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What are motorcycle leathers made from?

While the construction material is still leather and the thickness of the leather hasn’t changed between the two suits. A pinch test on the leather at the same points on the suit shows the leather as the same thickness. We were cautious about getting leather only and no padding or liners. Both suits had a leather thickness of 1.25mm on the leg and stomach areas. Despite being the same thickness, the modern 4SR suit feels much stiffer and more robust. Advances in the tanning and treatment of the leather can help here to make the suit stronger from the same amount of material.

Kangaroo leather can replace traditional cow due to its higher strength. This reduces the weight of the suit overall and can be used in areas of contact with the bike to improve rider feel by using thinner material (insert dad joke about bouncing better too).

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How heavy are motorcycle leathers?

In a fair test using a fat guy that is usually scared of bathroom scales and some bathroom scales, we wore both suits and weighted them. There was a 2.6kg difference between the two suits with the old suit, fat rider and boots weighing 85.1kg. The modern suit, fat rider and boots weighed 87.7 kgs. Science much.

The Daytona Security 3 GP boots weight 2.3kg’s and the fat guy’s weight was 77.4kg. Subtracting these figures give a weight of 8kg for the new suit and 5.4 kgs for the old Dainese suit. Again, a difference of 2.6 kgs.

This 2.6kg’s is made up of the additional liner material, padding, armour, race hump and hydration pocket on the modern suit.

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The modern suit does, however, have lightweight stretch panels on the inside of the legs from groin to calf, and also the inner arms. This reduces some weight over a solid leather panel. The modern suit is also perforated on the torso for ventilation. The retro suit is full leather construction everywhere except for a small stretch panel on the calf.

Do motorcycle leathers have armour?

The reason we all wear leathers is for safety. Leather has some of the best abrasion resistance for the cost, and you still can’t do a track day without leathers.

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Believe it or not, the 90’s leathers do have some armour, although it’s limited to shoulder cups, and knee cups. By armour, we mean a thermoplastic shell with some foam sewn in. This is miles apart from the shaped D30 CE approved armour found in the modern suits. The modern suit has Shin, knee, hip, back rib, chest and shoulder protection, a significant improvement over the old suit.

How expensive are motorcycle leathers?

We genuinely have no idea what suits cost in the 90s’, some of us weren’t even born then, but we know now that there are suits these days to suit any budget. Of course it depends on budget, top-end Dainese airbag suits (review here) can cost upwards of £4000 for a custom-tailored and airbag equipped suit. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, RST does custom suit, but also has a fantastic range of off the peg sized suits at really affordable prices. An off the peg airbag suit can be around the £800 to £1000 mark (plus the subscription for the airbag sensors) or if you don’t need an airbag, prices start from £400 upwards. Personally, I have always found that leathers give a superior sense of safety and comfort, and I’ve worn them all year round without issue.

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Looking at this suit makes me glad that technology is advancing, and with the current airbag technology making it into more and more suits, with a competitive price tag it keeps getting better. Who knows what technology we will have for safety in another 30 years time.

new vs old leathers
modern vs old school

Despite the price tag difference, I’m going to continue with the modern 4SR leathers.