Bates Fast Lane Sport Racer Boots
Nowadays, it seems, if you're looking for high-quality leather shoes or boots, your only option is something from Italy. Granted, there are some fine pieces of leather coming from the land of Dainese and Alpinestar, but here in America, Bates Leathers has been quietly making some of the best motorcycle boots in the world.
...here in America, Bates Leathers has been quietly making some of the best motorcycle boots in the world.
Bates is best known for supplying the high-quality racing leathers that have been worn by "King" Kenny Roberts and Jamie James. Their showroom is a virtual racing museum, with leathers on display that were worn - and crashed - by some of the most famous names in racing. Hard evidence that Bates knows how to make a quality product.
Bates' boots are no exception. The same leather used to make their racing suits goes into the Fast Lane series of boots. Also, since everything Bates makes (out of leather that is -- their gloves are made with deerskin and are imported pre-made) is cut, dyed, and hand-stitched at their shop in southern California, getting a perfect match is practically guaranteed. We put a pair of Bates Sport Racer boots to the toughest test of all: Two years of full-time riding in Los Angeles.The Sport Racer boot is one of five different models available from Bates, including one that is made specifically for women. Standard features on the Sport Racer include foam padding over both inner and outer ankles, extra leather pieces sewn on the outside edge of the boot giving extra protection to the outer toes (replaceable toe-sliders are an available option), and another extra layer covering the shifter area. Yes, Brit-bikers, there is one on the right boot as well. The tops of the nearly foot-tall boots are flared to allow leathers to tuck inside, though jeans will still fit over them, no problem. The soles come standard with a heel; that may sound obvious, but they are also available with a wedge-shaped sole that some racers prefer. The soles and heels are both replaceable.
Since the Sport Racer is sold as a street boot, there are no toe sliders, plastic in the heel, or Kevlar inserts anywhere since they can make a boot uncomfortable to walk in.
The inner lining is made from thin perforated leather for comfort and durability, and there is a full-length zipper that runs up the back of the boot - this was a little weird getting used to after having boots that zipped up the (inner) side, but the knowledgeable people at Bates say it is less likely to suffer crash damage there.
We put a pair of Bates Sport Racer boots to the toughest test of all: Two years of full-time riding in Los Angeles. Twenty-four months and over 100,000 miles later, the boots were still in one piece, though a hole was starting to wear through on the left boot where it engages the gear shifter. Other than that, durability, comfort, and value were excellent.
Indeed, the boots needed no more than new soles and heels, nothing that 50 dollars and a week at the Bates shop wouldn't fix. Unfortunately, our tester was unwilling to crash-test the boots (we considered heaving him out of the back of a van, or at least dragging his lower torso a few hundred feet), but if the rack of crash-tested leathers in the showroom are any indication, there is no reason to doubt that the boots, and the feet inside them, would survive an "incident" unscathed.
Boots take seven to 10 days to make. The Sport Racers are 175 (US) dollars in black and another 30 dollars for any other color combination imaginable. If you've priced a set of off-the-shelf Italian boots lately, you'll realize what an amazing deal that is for a pair of custom, hand-made boots.
Bates is located at 3700 N Industry Ave. #102, Lakewood CA, 90712. Please wear clean socks when appearing in person. Bates can be reached directly at (310) 426-8668 or fax an outline of your foot to (310) 426-4001. Don't forget to tell them who's foot it is! Sorry, no online address for Bates yet.
Ed. note: Their website address is http://www.motorcycle.com/cgi-bin/redirector?batesleathers.com
At first the boots seemed tight, the zipper not allowing my feet to slip in easily. Fortunately, this was only temporary and after a couple weeks of break-in, they slipped on with ease. Indeed, the leather seemed so soft and supple, I questioned how well they might stand up to a crash. Luckily, I never had to find out. Except for the wear over the left big toe, the boots stood up amazingly well. These are beautiful, comfortable, stylish, hand-made leather boots that last. I'd buy them again, but for now, I'll just re-sole them. Definitely four (out of a possible five) stars. --Mike Franklin, Road Test Editor
**** I, unlike Mr. Upright Man Mike Franklin (who's the bloke that put 100,000 miles on - or rather, in - the Bates boots), have done some tarmac kissing with Bates gear, and found their products to be most durable, even while sliding through the West Horseshoe at Daytona (you know, the one after the high-speed kink). I would, however, like to see more T-Pro-style soft-plastic-backed foam armor incorporated into Bates products, which offer minimal to no padding. Safety always come first in my book. Actually, on second thought, staying off the blacktop is my primary goal, possibly with the exception of winning races. But I digress: Superior comfort, fit and value minus a few points for lack of armor tallies up to four stars in my book, too.