Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hide or Synth?

Picked-up the latest copy of Motorcycle Escape last weekend, a touring-oriented magazine that was published about once a year by the folks over at Primedia (also responsible for Motorcycle Cruiser, Motorcyclist, Dirt Rider, etc.). I was glad to read in Jamie's editorial that they've decided to start publishing Motorcycle Escape seasonally (4x per year), as I find it's a rather good read. Although similar in content to Road Runner, I find the overall layout a tad better in Escape.

The Riding Boots Buyer's Guide was a good read, although certain models seem to have been left out... But what really caught my attention while flipping through the pages was the Leather vs. Textile comparison that Marc Cook penned. It seems that this is a constant debate amongst motorcyclists. Although Cook's article wasn't anywhere as deep and researched as the now legendary helmet article that appeared in Motorcyclist last year, it's still a good overview of the pros and cons of both leather and textiles. Although the conclusions weren't surprising to anyone, it's still nice to have it put in print. Leather does offer better protection, but it should be noted that not all hides are created equal. Many of the more "fashion" leathers that I see some bikers riding around in won't offer much protection in a fall. What looks good at the bar might not do so well going over the bars! In a long slide, race-quality leather will offer the best protection without overheating or tearing apart.

So if leather is the safest option, why shell-out big bucks for an Aerostich suit? Simple, it's a matter of comfort. Textile is simply a more versatile material. This is most likely why many long-distance tourers have gone to synthetics rather than their former cowhide. A Cordura jacket is lighter and cooler than a leather equivalent, plus it offers other advantages like being easy to wash. Textiles are usually better in rain and humidity; where leather will take hours and hours to dry, I usually just empty the pockets on my suit, take out the armor and throw it in the dryer. This is a big plus for me, as when I'm touring I don't always have the time to wait for a leather suit to dry up before heading out again. [TOURING TIP: If you're riding long hours in the rain - even with a rainsuit over your gear - stop for a break at a truckstop. Most of them offer laundry facilities. Take off your jacket and riding pants and throw them in the dryer while you go for a slice of pie and a cup of coffee. It's alot easier heading back out in the rain when you've got a nice warm and dry suit on. You just can't do this with leather.]

My overall opinion is that leather is best for specific applications; like racing, canyon carving, or lazy afternoon cruising when the weather's right. Textiles, although offering less protection than high quality cowhide, are resilient and versatile. When you're leaving for two weeks of touring and luggage space is limited, it's a fair bet that a textile suit will be your final choice simply because it can adapt more easily to varying weather.

One rule does apply to both leather and synthetics: cheap price equals low quality. If you're serious about your own hide, don't skimp when getting gear to protect it!


Giest said...

oi! just stumbled on your blog from biker betty's. you are in moncton? cool! i'm in saint john! ;)

if you don't mind, i'm going to add you to my blog list.

Lucky said...

Hey Giest,

Small world, eh? Funny thing is that I've actually checked-out your blog a few times before, but I hadn't figured that you were from Saint John! Guess the link to Eldridge's should've been a dead ringer, huh....

Anyhow, thanks for adding me to the list; hope it's OK with you, but I've gone and returned the favour.


Biker Betty said...

Hi Lucky,

Great write up. I wear a combination of leather and synthetic. I either wear leather chaps (short trips or long trips in hot weather) or full leather pants (med-long trips in not too hot weather). I wear a synthetic jacket, mainly because it's bright red and I want to be seen. Plus it has LOTS of armor and that's very important to me. Most leather jackets don't have the armor.

I also felt the jacket should be cooler in the hotter weather. I also thought it would be easier to keep clean, but in that department I am wrong. It's really dirty right now (actually, it's lost some of it's bright red look, lol), but I have found out on the label that I can't wash it in the wash or dry clean. It's spot clean only with a mild detergent and I have ground in grim on my jacket, sigh.

So I am currently a "combination" girl and like the mix. But, I just recently found a company in Colorado that does make "purple" chaps in a material that's suppose to beat out all in toughness and durability. They also have a cool design sewn in with 3M refective material. They are made for women and I hope to some day get a pair. One problem: purple chaps don't go with red sports motorcycle jackets too well, lol.

Lucky said...

Hi Betty,

Being a combo-girl isn't necessarily a bad thing... I've seen a few textile jackets that use leather in strategic areas to offer more abrasion resistence in a slide (ex. elbows, back, shoulders, etc.). It sounds promising, but not many manufacturers have picked-up on it.

For riding around town, when the weather isn't too hot, I like my leather jacket. But for just about everything else, I'd rather stick with my synthetics. Too bad yours can't be washed, 'cause to me that's one of the big advantages of textiles.