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.
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.