Category Archives: Leather Facts

Stuff that every motorcycle rider should know about leather.

Tried & True Riding Grade Leather

Top Grain Leather

Contrary to the way it sounds, top grain is the second best quality leather found on the market. Sometimes called corrected leather, it is taken from the top of the hide, thus preserving the grain to a certain extent.

However, because the life of a cow or buffalo can sometimes be environmentally harsh, the top few millimeters are sanded down to hide any blemishes that might be there like scars from barbed wire, brandings, insect bites, coyote bites, well, you get the picture.

A finish coat is then sprayed or plastered onto the hide giving it a stiff, sort of plastic look. In the case of corrected leather, as with splits, a pattern is stamped on the finish to mimic the natural grain.

Top grain leather motorcycle gear is the most common leather found, and is perfectly suitable for riding grade leather. Because of the way it is finished it is resistant to stains (as long as the finish remains intact) but it does requires a breaking in period before it becomes pliable and soft to the touch. This breaking in period can be expedited at the tannery by a process called soft milling.

Naked Leather

Without embellishment, naked leather has nothing added to the hide other than the dye.  The hides are hand-picked for uniformity and lack of blemishes, accounting for less than 10% of the world’s leather supply. Only the best hides are used to produce true naked leather motorcycle apparel.

The terms naked and full grain leather are sometimes used interchangeably, however full grain implies that the entire hide is used, a practice common in the furniture industry. A cow can be thick skinned, up to 5 or 6 mm thick! That would be a very heavy jacket, so both top grain and naked leather often have the bottom split off to achieve the desired thickness.

Because it is the least processed, naked leather is soft, supple, and pliable from the beginning and does not require a breaking in period. Over time it will develop a patina giving it a warm comfortable worn in look. Needless to say, naked leather is the most expensive grade, and can reach well into the $500 range for a jacket at a well branded retail store.

Riding Grade Leather – the Thicker the Better

True riding grade leather motorcycle apparel is most commonly made from top grain or naked buffalo or cowhide (or Kangaroo if you can get it). The next question is how thick should it be? From a protection standpoint, the thicker the better, however, the choice is yours. Top grain buffalo and cowhide leather typically start around 1.2 millimeters thick, with the real heavy naked leather jackets reaching up to 1.6 mm.

The climate you live in may be the determining factor for you, but if you stay within the 1.2-6 mm range, you will have found a perfectly good riding grade set of leathers.

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Determining the Grade of Leather

When an animal’s skin becomes leather, i.e. the decay process has been stopped, there are a number of ways it can be finished that are suitable for a variety of uses. A single hide can be split into several hides of different thicknesses, which is but one factor in determining the riding grade of the material.

Leather can be buffed with abrasives to create a very soft and pliable material we call suede, or you can add some coats of urethane to make some shiny patent leather shoes. None of these methods would be considered riding grade.

The most important thing to remember at this point is that leather gets its strength, durability, pliability and breathability from the outer skin, the epidermis of the animal,  commonly referred to in the leather apparel industry as the “grain”.

In the motorcycle leather clothing industry there are typically three grades of leather (buffalo or cowhide) that are prevalent throughout.

Split Leather

Starting at the bottom, split leather, or splits, are made from the bottom part of the hide. Remember one hide can be split at least twice to produce the desired thickness. Split leather has a smooth surface quite suitable for stamping or embossing. Alternatively, splits are also used to produce suede.

Keep in mind that being from the bottom part of the hide, split leather has no grain. Split leather motorcycle jackets, chaps, pants and vests will typically have a pattern embossed on them to mimic the natural grain of the animal.

Splits are thin and lightweight, probably making them more appealing in warmer climates, but don’t count on them for any kind of protection in a road slide. They are the cheapest grade offered to bikers, so just be sure you know what you’re getting into. Split leather, for our purposes, is not considered to be riding grade, and therefore should not be purchased as motorcycle safety gear.

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Riding Grade Animal Hides

For lack of a more all inclusive term for our purposes, the following group of animal skins I have classified as simply riding grade.

In the late 1920’s, with the Industrial revolution in full swing and when manufacturing was actually done in the U.S., a company named Schott NYC came out with the first jacket specifically designed for the comfort, convenience, and protection of the motorcycle enthusiast. The Perfecto had all the characteristics of what we know today as the traditional or classic  style motorcycle jacket. The material of choice, and thus the first true “riding grade” leather, was horsehide.

Today, most commercial leather tanning and garment manufacturing is done in Pakistan, India, and more recently, China. While they are indeed experts in the manufacturing of all kinds of leather, Buffalo and Cowhide have emerged as the predominant leathers that have been determined to be strong enough and thick enough to protect a biker’s skin from a bad case of road rash.

This is not to say that’s your only choice. I hear the Aussies are making some jackets out of kangaroo, and I’m sure somebody has taken a slide down a sand dune in a nice camel skin jacket, I just haven’t seen any testing on how they would hold up on an asphalt surface, and they aren’t really commercially produced in mass quantities anyway.

With the determining factors for riding grade leather being thickness and strength, both buffalo and cowhide in their most natural state meet the criteria. But how do they compare?

Riding grade biker leather should be at least 1 millimeter thick; indeed most quality motorcycle jackets and chaps range from 1.2mm up to 1.6mm. Cowhide is thicker than buffalo hide naturally, but thickness can and often is altered in the tanning process.

The strength of the leather (resistance to tearing) is determined by the outer skin, the epidermis if you will, which is referred to in the industry as the “grain”. Once again, after much stress testing, cowhide wins out.

The Bottom Line

Clearly, cowhide is the superior leather for both strength and durability, yet buffalo is quite adequate in terms of protection and esthetics. Once again, it’s your choice. Buffalo is (or should be) less expensive than cowhide. If you run across some “soft leather” as mentioned previously, that should be cheaper than buffalo.

But! Riding grade leather is not solely determined the type of animal skin used. How the hides are finished is also a major consideration to take into account.

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Grading the Animals by Skin

A nice pair of Python boots might be a great compliment to  your snazzy riding attire, but would you really want a snakeskin motorcycle jacket or chap? There are many terms you might run across that tend to classify certain animals into broad groups of leather: soft, lightweight, premium, exotic, ultra, etc.

Here we attempt to identify these more common terms and their animals, and to editorialize a bit as to what they might be useful for from a Bikers point of view.

Exotic Leather

This one should be obvious. Like I said before, all animals have a skin, and not just mammals! Fishskin? Yes, shark, manta ray, stingray, dolphin (mahi-mahi very pretty!) all are capable of becoming genuine leather. Reptiles such as alligators, crocs, iguana, any kind of lizard skin all are pretty exotic if you ask me. Dinosaurs (chicken?) well, maybe not.

So what are they good for? Nothing wrong with a good pair of properly reinforced crocodile boots, or any other exotic skin for that matter. Just make sure the leather is used as nature intended: to cover a sturdy skeleton.

Bikers like their leather and have created a whole niche out of what used to be called a waistcoat. An Anaconda Biker Vest would be an interesting topic of conversation in any biker bar (yea, I caught it myself). A great way to meet chicks!

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A Bikers Guide to Leather

We at Biker Leather Ltd believe that an informed consumer will eventually become a happy customer. To that end, we would like to attempt to clarify some of the terms and nomenclature related to the motorcycle leather clothing industry that one might typically find strewn across the vast wilderness of the Internet.

While not manufacturers of leather motorcycle apparel ourselves, after more than eight years of selling top quality biker leather around the globe, we have done the research for you. Now we’re going to lay it all out in detail!

For a more succinct list of some of the terms we in particular use on our site, check out our Glossary of Terms page.

What We Mean by “Riding Grade” Leather

The history of using an animal’s skin for clothing dates back to the pre Neanderthal ages, and was more than likely the one material first used by our ancestors to cover up and protect.  Ok, maybe Adam and Eve preferred plant leaves as a fashion statement, but even Tarzan understood the value in making his own leather. That loincloth wasn’t made of plastic!

Every animal has a skin, and is therefore a great candidate for leather. There’s snakeskin, coonskin, beaver pelts, sharkskin, lambskin, cowhide, horsehide, and kangaroo, just to name a few, all of them when properly tanned earning the right to be called “Genuine Leather”.

For the serious motorcycle enthusiast, leather is much more  than a fashion statement. It’s a matter of protection. Whereas a good  motorcycle helmet or lack thereof may be the difference between life or death, the  quality of your leather motorcycle jacket, chaps or pants, can determine how long and painful your recovery will be should you survive.

So what constitutes “Riding Grade Leather”? Basically, it comes down to two factors: The type of animal skin used, and the tanning process used to turn it into leather. So let’s start with getting the skinny on the skins.

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The Web 2.0 Biker Leather Shop

Social Media opens up a brand new marketing frontier for small businesses of all types. Given the propensity for motorcyclists to join clubs, gather at rallies, and organize charity runs, building a community of like minded bikers that offers entertainment, communication, and collaboration gives the leather merchant an opportunity to build lasting relationships with potential customers world wide.

A Web 2.0 biker leather e-tail store might take the form of a blog, with static pages being the basis for navigation, while the product pages are added over time as chronological posts. Each page and post is interactive, in that the visitor is invited to post comments on the content at the end of the page.

The consumer is now able to ask questions, comment about a product, give a testimonial, or note where there’s room for improvement, right there on the product page for all to see!

Customers are invited to collaborate by offering product reviews, stories of their own experiences, even suggesting things they would like to see on the site. For the merchant, the sense of community the people feel translates into a sense of trust, establishing the company and the customer as one on a level playing field.
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Finding a Reputable Biker Leather Web Site

It’s not that hard! Most biker leather shops online are legitimate, and offer fine quality products with excellent customer service. Here are a few tips to help you develop a process when judging a site.

SERP for Motorcycle Jackets

Motorcycle Jackets SERP

Find Something You Like

This would be the first step. Use a Search Engine to find the sites that would most likely have the product you want. Searching for the term motorcycle jackets for example, will yield broad results and show you the most popular sites for that term. “Pink motorcycle jacket” will yield more specific results, if that is what you are looking for.

Pink Motorcycle Jacket

Pink Motorcycle Jacket

Find at least two or three sites and compare prices of similar items. Look for good descriptions and accurate depictions of the product. The picture on the product page should be clickable for a larger image (turn your pop up blocker off!). Make sure the web site gives you all the information you need to make an informed decision.
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The Drop Ship Phenomenon

Since its inception, the Internet has brought us a number of exciting innovations, including the advent of a widely adopted business model known as Drop Shipping. The drop ship phenomenon has allowed business men and women to offer all kinds of products to a whole world of consumers without ever having to stock the first piece of merchandise.

The concept of drop shipping was neither born of, nor is exclusive to the Internet. Construction contractors, for example, would often enter into a special relationship with their appliance supplier to have a refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher delivered directly to the building site, long before the world became so widely webbed.

What the Internet has brought to the table, along with the proliferation of alternative shipping methods like UPS and FedEx, is the ability for an entity like a website to promote and sell a single product, with the wholesaler taking on the responsibility of shipping the item to a third party (who already has a massive shipping facility anyway). The sheer volume of traffic to the site generated from the Internet is what makes this business model economically feasible.
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Shopping for Biker Leather Online: The Cons

Don’t Fall Into These Pits!

Will it Fit?

The biggest advantage a brick and mortar shop has over an Internet retailer is that you get to try it on! By far, the biggest problem with shopping for biker leather online is getting the size right. Most leather motorcycle clothing today is manufactured in India, Pakistan, or China, and sizing standards will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Also note that it is standard practice that the consumer pays for all shipping costs in a size exchange transaction, the logic being that if you had taken the time to measure you’d have gotten it right the first time!

So take the time to read the size chart, and measure! Just because you normally wear a large is not going to cut it. Some very reputable leather clothing manufacturers recommend that you size up one, two, even three sizes larger.
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Shopping for Biker Leather Online

Shopping for biker leather online can be a daunting experience. There are literally hundreds of web sites that offer all types of leathers and styles. Who do you trust? Will your credit card and personal information be safe? How do you know if you’ll get what you want?

As more and more consumers turn to the Internet for their shopping needs, technology has kept the pace by implementing stringent security measures, providing for more bandwidth via broadband and warning consumers of suspicious activities of web sites via various software applications.

Search engine technologies offer increasingly better results making it easy to find what you’re looking for. Online shopping has never been more safe or convenient!

The Pros and Cons of Shopping for Leather Online

As with everything, there are advantages and disadvantages of shopping for biker leather online. Informed consumers know what they want and how to find it. They know what to look for in a reputable site, and are able to avoid the pitfalls of the unscroupulous merchant.

An informed consumer will find, do the research, and buy, coming out of it all with a pleasurable shopping experience the first time around.

As an informed consumer, you have a choice of shopping for leather online or locally, and understand the pros and cons of both.

First, to the Pros…
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