THE EVO­LU­TION OF LEATHERS

How has the one-piece leather suit evolved in 13 years? Fast Bikes put Karl Har­ris’ 2003 HM Plant Honda suit next to Alex Lowes’ 2016 Pata Yamaha suit to spot the dif­fer­ences.

Fast Bikes - - FEATURE -

SHAPE: The cut of the suit has changed dra­mat­i­cally over the years due to the shape and physical needs of the new breed of rid­ers. Due to the in­creases in power, tyre grip and there­fore lean an­gle, rid­ers have to be a lot more ac­tive on a mod­ern superbike or Mo­toGP bike, which has seen them be­come more ath­letic, not only in their physical struc­ture but also the way they move about the bike.

Rid­ers hang off a lot more and that means they need greater free­dom in their suit and this has led to a more er­gonomic suit that fits them snug­ger and has more flex­i­bil­ity built in. The suit can’t re­strict the rider’s move­ment on the bike and that means more stretch pan­els and a dif­fer­ent cur­va­ture of the arms and legs.

CUR­VA­TURE: The an­gle of the el­bow and knee is more ag­gres­sive on the 2016 suit than the 2003 one, ef­fec­tively putting it al­ready in a rac­ing tuck po­si­tion so it doesn’t bunch up and pos­si­bly cre­ate arm-pump.

STRETCH PAN­ELS: The 2016 suit has far more stretch pan­els than the 2003 one and they ex­tend fur­ther down the arms and legs, which aids move­ment and flex­i­bil­ity. The whole of the in­ner arm on Alex’s suit is a stretch panel and so is the back of the leg. Any ar­eas that aren’t high im­pact ar­eas or stretch pan­els on the 2016 suit are changed from leather to a high-abra­sion-re­sis­tant Kevlar lined Ke­pro­tec stretch panel.

ROUCHED LEATHER: Rouched leather is leather than has been bunched up on elas­tic to cre­ate a stretch panel. On the 2003 suit it only ap­pears on small ar­eas such as the lower back where the 2016 suit fea­tures it ex­ten­sively for greater move­ment but still pro­vid­ing leather’s pro­tec­tive qual­i­ties.

EX­TER­NAL AR­MOUR: The 2016 suit fea­tures RST’s car­bon fi­bre ex­ter­nal ar­mour (or TPU plas­tic on road suits) where the 2003 suit has none. Ex­ter­nal ar­mour is a re­cent de­vel­op­ment and is de­signed to slide rather than grip. It is lo­cated in high fre­quency im­pact ar­eas such as the shoul­ders and knees and rather than briefly grip like a leather panel would, the ar­mour in­stantly slips, pre­vent­ing the rider tum­bling or the im­pact be­ing trans­ferred di­rectly through to the rider’s bones.

STITCH­ING: Im­pres­sively, de­spite slightly dif­fer­ent seam construction the same dou­ble and triple stitch­ing tech­niques are used in both suits. The thread is a bonded ny­lon high-ten­sile thread sourced from the UK.

SLID­ERS: Ob­vi­ously the 2016 suit has el­bow as well as knee slid­ers, some­thing that wasn’t used in 2003. The slid­ers them­selves have also changed in com­pound from ny­lon to hard plas­tic and also de­vel­op­ments such as dou­ble-thick­ness slid­ers for wet weather have ap­peared in re­cent years.

Race suits have the Vel­cro in­verted with the hook on the suit and the hook on the slid­ers to make them faster to swap and pre­vent the Vel­cro wear­ing out. This isn’t used on road suits as the suit would stick to every­thing!

CUFFS: Mod­ern cuffs have neo­prene for com­fort while the older suit has straight leather cuffs. The neo­prene also makes the cuff nar­rower, which means race gloves fit over them bet­ter with less re­stric­tion in move­ment.

MA­TE­RIAL: Leather worked fine for cave­men and it works just as well to­day for mo­tor­cy­clists as it did back in 2003. The leather is the same, how­ever some race suits and high-end road ones use kan­ga­roo in­stead of cowhide.

AR­MOUR: The construction of CEap­proved ar­mour has changed con­sid­er­ably over the years the last few years. Early ar­mour had plas­tic in­serts cov­ered in me­mory-foam while the mod­ern ar­mour such as the bio-elastin used by RST is a molded one-piece unit that is very flex­i­ble and com­fort­able to wear but ex­tremely pro­tec­tive against im­pact.

HUMP: The size and shape of the hump has changed and a mod­ern hump is smaller. As well as an aero­dy­namic aid it is also a good im­pact ab­sorp­tion zone and stores hy­dra­tion packs, which is used a lot in en­durance rac­ing.

ZIPS: Mod­ern zips have a lock­ing func­tion, which means there is no need for the slip of Vel­cro-ed leather to stop them com­ing un­done.

STYLE: At the mo­ment flu­oro is in fash­ion but RST reckon that around 70% of their sales are plain black suits…

IN­NER SUITS: In­ner suits used to be fairly ba­sic in their cut, but now they are far more tai­lored with Ly­cra stretch pan­els to al­low them to match the suit’s flex­i­bil­ity.

Leathers have got a whole lot safer, lighter and smarter over the past 13 years.

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