Understanding Your Choices of Leather

As motorcyclists, we understand the role that leather plays in our culture is not just a trendy fashion statement going in and out of style every few years, but is a time proven necessity for the comfort and safety of the environmentally exposed biker, traveling the roads of the world at some very scary speeds!

Since the late 1920’s, motorcyclists have been dependent on the skins of dead animals to keep out the bone chilling cold, and to lay down between the rider and the road when things don’t go exactly as planned.

We have utilized leather from head to toe over the years. Leather motorcycle jackets, pants or chaps protect our upper and lower torsos from the abrasive qualities of asphalt, as well as the meteorological extremes of Mother Nature. Stiff leather motorcycle boots protect our feet, ankles, and shins from the potentially bone crushing weight of our two wheeled vehicles. Leather gloves keep our fingers nimble and warm, and in times of lesser technological means, a thick leather helmet under a hard shell was about the best we could do to cushion a blow to the head.

Yes, one could say that these skins of dead animals have saved many a hide over the years. Broken bones and concussions aside, the use of leather has prevented a lot of pain and suffering by allowing the unfortunate accident victim to arise from the scene with their own skin intact.

As a consumer of leather motorcycle apparel, the choices of leather are vast. One must judge the quality of a leather garment not only by touch, feel, or good looks, but by its origin, the animal that donated the skin, and the way in which it was prepared to keep it from rotting.

It is incumbent on the consumer to know what kind of skin they are getting into, and to be sure that the garment they are shelling out no small amount for is indeed “Riding Grade Leather”.

All Leather is Not Equal

Just about every animal has a skin. Thus, “genuine” leather can come from just about any animal. Leather is produced by tanning the hides of rabbits, deer, horses and cows; crocodiles, snakes, calves and kangaroos.

While a nice pair of alligator boots might be appropriate if properly reinforced, depending on a snake skin motorcycle jacket to protect you from an accidental case of road rash is generally not recommended.

When it comes to riding grade leather motorcycle apparel, it’s all about the thickness, thicker being better from a protection perspective. But can leather ever be too thick? Yes: When it’s so thick and heavy that it drags you to the ground when you’re leaning into a turn!

With all of the choices of leather available in the marketplace today, there is plenty of room for compromise between comfort and safety. A leather motorcycle jacket made from the right animal skin that has followed the proper tanning process can and does provide adequate protection and comfort. It is when you are doing a belly slide across the road where thicker is obviously better, but a good riding grade leather of medium thickness should hold up fine under most circumstances.

In the following posts we will discuss how leather is prepared, and offer a short history of the tanning process. We will examine the animals used for the soft, light weight leathers as well as the heavier leathers, and what it is that constitutes riding grade leather.

From a riding perspective, we will explain the leathers to avoid and the leathers to embrace, where in the world leather is produced and the quality of apparel to expect. And finally, we will provide some insight into how to distinguish between the types of hides, and the tanning process used in manufacturing the finished product.

In the end, it is our hope that you, as an informed consumer, will be armed with all the knowledge you need to make an intelligent decision, based on your own needs and wants, when choosing your next leather motorcycle jacket, chap, or pants.

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