Head injuries, although often the most serious, are not the only injuries motorcyclists suffer. Leg and arm injuries are common, and leg injuries in particular can be serious often causing permanent disability.
Under the EC personal protective equipment directive, a series of European standards are being developed for motorcyclist protective clothing that will be designed to.
Prevent or reduce laceration and abrasion injuries.
Prevent or reduce impact injuries such as fractures, broken bones and joint damage.
These standards marked with a CE mark are essentially to help riders distinguish between clothing that offers a minimal level of protection, and garments that may look similar but offers very little if any protection at all.
Unfortunately for many riders, the buying of new leathers is often no more than a fashion statement as opposed to a desire to maximise their protection, but, contrary to popular believe you can be fashionable and protected.
As with helmets, there are accidents and injuries from which even the best or most expensive clothing will not protect the rider. It is therefore important not only to try and reduce the severity of the injury, but also ensures that the garment is comfortable, does not impede your movement and will reduce the affects of fatigue thereby aiding concentration.
Leather is still regarded as the best form of protection against injury when riding a motorcycle. They are made from a natural material, which is breathable, abrasion resistant and supple. Like a crash helmet, they cannot offer total protection from injury, but they can reduce the severity and long term affects if they fit correctly.
Leather garments can be made from 4 different animals, Cow, which is the most commonly used, Goatskin, Buffalo or kangaroo skin.
Cowhide is the preferred choice of most manufacturers. It is heavy duty (compared with the others). It is hard wearing, and in the main the manufacturers use 1.4mm thick hides, which means that in the summer weather with the thickness and all the padding they can get hot inside.
Buffalo hide is often used on cheaper garments and this can be felt in the overall quality when compared to other leather products. Buffalo is tough, will last well but it tends to be a very stiff leather and can take some time to bed in and soften up.
Goatskin although worth considering as an alternative for summer use is very difficult to find in the UK. It is considerably lighter and more flexible than Cowhide, and many consider the goatskin to be stronger than cowhide due to the fibres being more closely knit together than cow skin. The downside is that goatskin stretches a lot quicker than cow so it may require specialist tailoring on an annual basis.
Kangaroo is probably the least known of the hides used although they are being used more regularly in very hot climates. The hides are supple, light and quite tough, but it has been found that they can react with sweat particularly when worn by riders who perspire freely. If this were the case then you would probably be well advised to look elsewhere as you may find your suit literally coming apart at the seams, although manufacturing techniques are improving all the time.
For those considering purchasing leathers for the first time, the question often asked is whether to purchase a suit/jacket combination, two piece suit or a 1 piece racing suit. The choice comes down to individual preference, but here are a few points that you may find useful to consider.
A jacket and trouser combination is probably the most popular choice for the majority of riders, and, they can be worn singularly or in combination. However, many jackets (not all) have a Thinsulate lining for warmth retention together with a quilted lining. Many riders to complain that they overheat in warm weather which can ultimately affect concentration. However, this combination is ideal if you are an awkward size or on a limited budget.
A two piece zip together suit can be a good choice for a number of reasons.
They can normally only be worn as a complete garment thereby maintaining your crash protection.
They come in a number of colour choices therefore conspicuity can be enhanced.
They are normally lighter than jacket/trouser combinations which for some means they will be more comfortable for summer or warm weather use.
When stopping for a break, the jacket can be unzipped from the trousers thereby enhancing comfort when away from the bike.
They maintain their shape and size better.
They often have features such as perforated leather to allow air to pass through in warm weather, stretch fabric panels behind the knees, waist and inner thighs which again can enhance warm weather comfort.
On the downside, riders may also wish to consider that:
They can normally only be worn as a complete suit.
They can take a while to break in and mould to your shape.
They are not particularly warm in the colder weather.
There are not as many pockets as in a jacket/trouser combination, which for some may be a good thing.
The colours tend to be more flamboyant than jacket/trouser combinations.
One Piece suits are the other alternative often favoured by those who ride Supersports or participate in track days. Whilst offering a fair degree of protection, for road use they have often been deemed impractical as you cannot separate them when away from the motorcycle, but more importantly in serious accident situations, the emergency services have occasionally experienced difficulty in rendering an effective diagnosis or treatment simply because they cannot cut through the leather to tend to the riders injuries, or they cannot risk removing the garment without fear of causing further injury. This of course comes down to a matter of preference.
There have been a number of occasions where the rider wearing a 1 piece has suffered multiple injuries to both lower and upper body, and Paramedics have had extreme difficulty in getting to one of the injured parts without causing further injury or suffering.
Leather is abrasion resistant, and its main function is allow you to slide, thereby reducing friction. From new, leathers should fit as tightly as possible to allow for stretching and moulding to the wearerâ€™s shape. If the leather is a poor fit then there is the possibility that as the rider slides down the road, the friction caused by the road surface will cause the leather to snag. This could cause a flailing limb to snag and whilst the torso is still travelling at speed, the flailing limb will slow down too quickly and can result in severe injury. On the plus side, good fitting leather can slow down any potential blood loss, particularly internal blood loss, or it can at least stem the flow until medical help arrives on the scene.
If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident as a result of which you are injured (and we all hope that it doesnâ€™t happen), at least you can be comforted that the severity will be less than if you were wearing non protective clothing, and the sympathy you receive from the emergency services and Hospital will be far more favourable than your compatriot wearing his jeans and trainers
As a matter of interest, I had a guy who had been involved in an accident wearing his leathers and was seriously injured. He was wearing his normal trousers and jacket (casual wear) under his leathers and he had been told by the retailer that this was perfectly acceptable. He could have got me and a few mates in his leathers with him they were that big. Suffice to say he made a full recovery in time, and with my help took out a successful action against the supplying dealer under the product liability regs.