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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