Motorcycle gear has several important functions. While maybe not the primary purpose of dedicated riding gear, our chosen wardrobe tells the world that we are motorcyclists. Yes, there is a large fashion component to our apparel, one that announces what tribe we claim. From canyon carvers to stunters to cruisers to tourers and adventure tourers to street racers or vintage riders to even the one-percenters (of the pre Occupy Wall Street variety), every subculture within the motorcycle world has its own uniform. And if we’re really honest with ourselves, who among us hasn’t at least once pulled up to a stop light, noticed our reflection in the storefront window, and thought, “Yep, I look pretty damn cool.”
Riding gear’s primary purpose, however, is to protect our delicate bodies from the ravages of road rash and blunt force trauma. While we are aware of this reality when we shop for gear, we all hope not to test the protection or the fates each time we slip it over our appendages and zip the zippers or snap the snaps.
Still, over time, our riding gear becomes more than a fashion statement or a means of preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. Like bugs collecting on a motorcycle’s headlight, the time and miles our gear shares with us changes it. The leather creases and gains a patina. Fabrics fade while becoming more supple. The dust from the road works into every crevice. If we keep it around long enough, our motorcycle gear becomes part of who we are.
Over my riding career, I’ve owned tons of riding gear – particularly during the time I’ve worked in the motorcycle industry. Manufacturers want us to wear their products in front of the cameras, which is a fairly inexpensive advertising cost compared to other methods. Even with that pool to draw from, the gear that I’ve maintained a long-term relationship with is relatively small. These are items that I will likely never get rid of even if it is either too small or too fragile (leather dries out after a while) to actually be used for riding any more.
So, join me on a tour of my personal hall of fame – as represented by a small wardrobe in my garage attic.
Hein Gericke V-Pilot Jacket
I bought my first leather motorcycle jacket a month or so after I started riding. The Hein Gericke V-Pilot jacket was a pretty impressive piece of kit in its time. One of the early jackets to offer any appreciable venting, the V-Pilot may be responsible for my preference for Euro-influenced gear. I’d read in all the magazines about how great the zippered front and rear vertical vents made the jacket breathe. (This was 1989 and there was no web to consult.) The V-Pilot offered “competition weight” leather throughout, plus the added protection of dual layers of leather and padding (open cell foam – yikes!) at all the major impact points.
I wore this jacket on my first cross-country motorcycle trip, and by the time I arrived in Los Angeles three months later, my jacket and I were inseparable. I bought the matching leather pants to further my immersion in the LA motorcycle culture. I have fond memories of the puzzled looks I got while walking through the local grocery store on sweltering San Fernando Valley summer evenings in a sweat-wet t-shirt, black leather pants, and boots. The experience was only made better by having my attractive, blond girlfriend who was also in riding gear along with me as we walked out to our bikes with the food we were cooking for dinner.
Today, the jacket looks impossibly small and is quite stiff. The leather is so dried out that it would probably disintegrate if I were unfortunate enough to introduce it to the pavement. My beloved V-Pilot still wears the scars of a couple street crashes. One of the front vents that gave the jacket its name is operated by a paper clip in place of the zipper pull. Every time I see this jacket, I smile. It’s going nowhere.
Aerostich Roadcrafter Two-Piece Suit
As I became further entrenched in motorcycling, I realized that I needed gear that I could commute in while wearing work clothes. Again, under the influence of pretty much all of the US motorcycle magazines, I selected an Aerostich Roadcrafter two-piece suit. While most of the magazine guys wore and recommended the one-piece, I wanted to make sure that I had maximum versatility. For the next five years, I wore this suit almost daily. Soon, it had faded from its fire engine red to a yellowy-orange that was a trait of the dyed Cordura of the time. Rather than seeing it as a failing in the product, I wore the weathered look as a badge of honor. It declared to the world that my suit and I had logged enough miles over enough days in the sun to earn that faded color.
This was the suit I wore on my honeymoon tour through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, as well as a cross-country tour on the Lincoln Highway. The suit was finally retired from daily use when my boss at my first magazine job told me that I had to get gear that was suitable to be worn in photos.
The last time I can be certain that I wore the suit was in the spring of 1999 when I took part in a drinking and riding experiment along with projectile vomit editor John Burns. While riding under the influence was entertaining – even more so by having a CHP officer in attendance to give the breathalyzer tests – the day didn’t end well. I suppose that, if I look closely, I might be able to find some traces of the pool of vomit I created on the ground I found myself prone on at sunset.
Although this suit is retired, a one-piece Aerostich suit has been its stand-in for mundane, mostly behind-the-scenes chores, for the past 16 years – and counting.
Vanson Velocity Suit
Every racer remembers the first set of leathers they owned with their name on the back. Really. Just ask around. My Vanson Velocity suit was no different. While I’d borrowed suits from co-workers for track days and had even owned a set of off-the-rack leathers, the excitement I felt when I opened the box to see my name across the back of the flashy red and white suit probably compared to the way I felt the first day I rode my own motorcycle on the street. I hung them in a place of honor in my apartment’s office. I lost count of the number of times I tried the suit on in the three weeks I had to wait until the first time I got to wear it in anger.
This was the suit that protected me in my first triple-digit crashes, and although that might be enough to earn it a place in my personal museum, the real reason I keep this suit is that it’s the one that protected me the afternoon I slid through burning fuel and caught on fire – earning myself the nickname Fireball. This suit suffered through numerous repairs in five years of racing, including my first 24-hour endurance event. I can’t think of a more fitting end to this suit than, when I’ve shed this mortal coil – most likely too fat and arthritic to be wedged back into any riding gear – it be cremated with me and scattered along some of my favorite roads.
The next member of my motorcycling gear hall of fame is, after more than 12 years, still in active duty. However, I have no doubt that it will one day be hung in the place of honor in the attic. I no longer remember the model name, but this Alpinestars jacket has been in photos in no less than five different magazines (of which I count MO as one). The jacket has traveled all over the United States and has been overseas a couple of times. I even wore it, along with its matching leather pants, for several track sessions at Misano (back when it was run in the proper counter-clockwise direction and long before it was renamed in Marco Simoncelli’s memory) which is the only European track I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding on.
I’ve worn this jacket so much that one editor, for whom I used to freelance, forbade me from wearing it in photos, saying it was so old that Alpinestars hadn’t sold it in years and he didn’t want his readers to think that I only owned one, ancient jacket. When I go out with the family on cool winter evenings and I wear this jacket, my wife just rolls her eyes and tells me to get something more appropriate for dinner and a movie. Some people just don’t understand true love.
I could go on about my favorite gloves or boots or the AGV helmet that was inscribed with a burnt rubber Mark of Zorro from a track incident involving another bike’s rear tire, but I think I’ve already made my point. Yes, the fashion of our gear plays an important role in the image we want to portray of ourselves as motorcyclists. The right equipment will also go a long way towards saving our hides should we go pavement surfing. Motorcycle gear, however, carries more than armor – it carries our stories, the history of our motorcycling lives, in both a physical and symbolic form. If you don’t believe me, just go pick up a jacket you haven’t worn in a few years and see if you aren’t transported back to one of your glory days of motorcycling.