Maybe it was a $200 meal at a very good restaurant. Maybe it was an MV Agusta. From time to time, you just have to spoil yourself.
If you're in the mood, may I suggest a set of custom leathers?
Sure, you can buy a set of inexpensive roadracing leathers for under $400. They will even fit okay and protect you somewhat when the unfortunate but sadly inevitable high-speed get off happens. Off-the-rack leathers, even nice ones, are often ill-fitting. The less expensive ones seem to be made with marketing and cheap gimmicks as priorities instead of safety. They seldom make it past the first crash. And the high-end suits are almost as much - or more than - a custom-made suit anyway. Plus you have to pick a pattern that somebody else thinks is the epitome of high fashion.So we all know custom leathers are the way to go, but it's hard to spend $1,200 or more on a product that doesn't yet exist! We want to be able to know that the manufacturer will stand behind his product, that it will fit, and that it will do the job.
If you've attended a trackday in California, you've probably seen a lot of riders wearing flashy, beautifully made suits with the "Helimot" logo on them. Often these are racer-types with plenty of sponsor's patches and the even more hallowed badges of high-speed scuff marks proving their credibility. A sponsored AMA racer can have any leathers he wants - so why do so many of them choose Helimot?
I was given an opportunity to order a Helimot suit, so I headed down to their San Jose factory to design my suit and get measured. Once there, I was greeted by an enthusiastic, professional staff inside the eclectic, cluttered showroom. Historic and damaged leathers from a myriad of famous racers were hung all around the walls, and the place was redolent with the wonderful smell of high-quality hides. It was like freebasing a new car.Helimot's founder Helmut Kluckner emerged from his factory floor, greeting me with a firm handshake and enthusiastic welcome. He's quite a character, with his nutty professor German accent and tall, gangly physique. He's lived in the US for 20 years and has been making custom suits for almost the entire time. He was never formally trained as a leather tailor: it's just something he "picked up by watching." Helmut and his wife, Linda, named the company after themselves: "He" is for Helmut, "li" is for Linda, and "mot" for motorcycles.
Before Helmut greeted me, I had been poring over the pattern books. There are dozens of basic patterns to choose from, as well as examples of custom suits customers have ordered in the past. Some of the more wild designs include a Trompe l'oeil CHP officer's uniform, a Spiderman outfit, and a suit covered with glittering fish scales. As of yet, nobody has requested a giant squid suit.
I wanted a basic suit that would look good on a variety of motorcycles but would stand out from the crowd while looking much better than Sean's custom-made Alpinestars sausage skin. I selected the J-92 pattern, named after Jamie Hacking's 1992 design, with my name in swanky silver lettering. The font we picked is a standard Microsoft Word font we found: Helmut's craftspeople can trace and cut out just about any shape or pattern you want for graphics.
The next step was an intensive session of measuring, with Helmut putting his measuring tape on almost every possible part of my body. I tried to count how many measurements he took: I lost count after 20! I appreciate this kind of attention to detail, as leather needs to fit snugly to offer maximum protection, and my body doesn't follow the proportions and contours of your average guy's.I'm more like Mr. Potato Head. I went home feeling fairly confident that my suit would fit perfectly.
Just a few weeks later, there was a message on my answering machine telling me to come down and pick up my suit. I expected it to be nice; what I received was beyond my expectations.
Hanging proudly in the showroom was my suit. Every seam, every piece of leather was exactly as I had ordered it, and it looked much better in person than I could have ever imagined. Zipping into it for the first time was a bit of a struggle, but Helmut assured me it would loosen up and break in to my body's shape. Looking in the mirror, I saw a blue-clad, broad-shouldered superhero. Gabeman!
During my inaugural wearing of my new suit, Helmut proudly pointed out the features and innovations of his suits. The liner is fully removable and washable, and includes a nice stretch panel in the lower back. All the high-impact foam armor is removable, either through the liner or from zippered pockets in the knees. The back protector is cut to fit perfectly in the suit and provides cooling and extra rigidity with a raised central channel over the spine.
Racetrack specific features include the vented lower torso and aerodynamic racing hump. Helmut realizes the hump is mostly hype: "Once the GP racers have it, every suit has to have it - it's mostly for fashion." he laments. The added protective effect is negligible, especially when manufacturers use low-quality foam that breaks down quickly, and the improved aerodynamics apply only to the fastest of Moto GP racers, who draft each other at speeds in excess of 180 MPH. However, the Helimot Hump is special: the top is vented leather, creating a ram-air scoop that can be filled with ice to blow cool air down the rider's back.
My first trackday at Streets of Willow was just the next day, so I was able to try the suit out almost immediately. Off a bike, the suit was tight and constricting in some spots and baggy in others, but once I was in a sportbike crouch, the fit felt very good and loosened up as the day went by. The stretch panels allowed me to move my arms and legs enough to get my knee down and try out the new, super-hard and firmly-attached knee sliders.
With a soaked cotton t-shirt underneath, the pinhole venting allows just enough airflow to keep the rider cool in desert temperatures.
The hump-cum-swamp cooler didn't work as well as I had hoped it would, as the suit is really designed to work in a full racing crouch, and the bikes I was riding - street bikes rather than hard-core race equipment - had my upper body a bit too upright to allow wind to blow directly down my back. Helmut told me that in a racing crouch, wind would deflect off my helmet into the hump, and recommended I try putting the ice into a cotton bag, to keep the cool dampness from being wicked away by the lining material.
I'm happy to report that I didn't have an opportunity to crash test the suit, but I'm confident it would do very well if I make a trip to either Highside or Lowside Island. The armor is top-notch: it doesn't meet CE standard, but Helimot says completing the testing is prohibitively expensive and not worth the trouble in the USA. In any case, it might not be a guarantee the armor will protect you: "Many items made in Pakistan or China have misprinted labels naming the specific standard, or they just use an older CE standard, eight or more years old" claims Helmut. Instead, Helmut selected US-made safety padding from four different manufacturers for his suits.
Even if it is the best armor known to mankind, it can only do so much. The best thing to have is a well-stitched suit using the best leather. Looking at and touching this suit assures me that the leather is as good as it gets, and the stitching is all meticulous: double-stitched in most places, with hidden seams. Of all the many track-damaged suits I saw in Helimot's top-secret factory and laboratory, the only torn or ruptured seams I saw were on lettering and other cosmetic panels. There's little doubt in my mind that Helimot provides the best protection I can get.
My new Helimot J-92 suit is definitely the nicest piece of apparel I've ever owned, nicer than my 50's vintage tuxedo or my Marine Corps dress blue uniform. It fits perfectly, is comfortable and makes me look like a serious rider. The features and quality are all top-notch. Pricing starts at $1,370 for a two-piece suit, or $1,425 for a one-piece. You can start the ordering process by calling Helimot at (408)298-9608 and requesting an ordering kit.