The odds are even worse for motorcycle roadracers. Their probability of contact with the pavement is what originally lead racers to seek out swatches of cow skin to cover their own hides for protection. Despite the advancments of modern synthetic materials, nothing protects like leather.
Recently, the staff of Motorcycle Online seems to need their collective hide covered more often than we would like to admit, so we set off in search of the finest hunk of beef skin we could find. Fortunately we didn't have to go very far from home, and called Z Leathers in Huntington Beach, California.
Z manufactures and sells a complete line of street and roadracing leathers, as well as boots, gloves and jackets, though they are best known for their custom roadracing suits. The actual creation of a custom suit is an involved process, and to get the best fit from your leathers, it can take up to three weeks from the original fitting to actually wearing a set of Z's finest on your back.
The first step is to look through the book of patterns and pick the one that suits you, or design your own. If you go the designer route, Z will give you an outline of the leathers on paper, then you color in your design with pencils and pens -- or crayons if you're that artistically inclined -- marking the color names from the cowhide-shaped samples of leather that Z provides. When your masterpiece is complete, you may then add vents, padding and armor from a list of available options to customize your suit to your tastes and your wallet. For women, ordering a custom suit offers the chance to finally get some riding gear that fits properly.
If you don't have the time or talent to create a suit of your own, Z has many suit styles and packages available. The Z folks have a large variety of suits on display in their main store. For the convenience of those folks living farther south than the Huntington Beach area, they have also opened a satellite office in San Diego, and for the convenience of everyone else, they have a mail order catalog available.
The most important step in making your leathers is the sizing of the suit. The suit can be tailored for a racing crouch, or a less cramped street riding position, all to ensure that you are comfortable in your suit. The more comfortable the suit, the more you will wear it, and the safer you will be. Measurements are performed by the staff while you're in various riding positions, and your vital statistics are written down on a special form. After measuring, the completed form passes to the fabrication department; Z cuts, sews and repairs all of their suits on site to expedite the entire process and assure the highest quality standards. Quality control is important: Unlike helmets, there are no US standards for leathers. Often, buyers must rely on the claims of manufacturers, or road test the suits themselves.
Leather thickness alone is no guarantee of strength. Well-tanned hides, experienced designers and well protected seams are just some of the important factors that contribute to a leather suit's protective ability. Z make all their suits in house, oversee all the steps of production, and they're quick. It's an exciting experience to see the suit that you colored in on a sheet of paper a few weeks before metamorphasize from a heap of colored leather into a second skin.Once you've spent your money on leathers though, be careful when you're crashing as repairs can be costly, though not as expensive as a visit to the Emergency Room.
One nice feature about the Z company is that they are so quick. If a suit needs any alterations (like after Thanksgiving dinner) or repairs (like after mishaps at the local track) there's no need to worry about waiting for long periods of time for your suit to return. Once you've spent your money on leathers though, be careful when you're crashing as repairs can be costly, though not as expensive as a visit to the Emergency Room. It cost us about $150 to repair our suit after an off-track excursion in Willow Springs' high speed Turn Eight.
One common misconception about full leathers is that they are only good for racing, and are too much trouble to wear on the street. Actually, when you're riding a motorcycle, it's hard to have too much protection. Racers need abrasion resistant clothing, roadriders need impact resistance above all: A good set of leathers offers some degree of both. So whether you are canyon carving, commuting, touring or racing, think about what separates you and the ground. Purely in the interest of science, Motorcycle Online has tested Z leathers at speeds over 120 mph and survived without a scratch or any physical damage. (It's the 2mph dirt bike crashes that knock us out). An added bonus was that the crashed suit was repaired and is back in use. This is a testament to the Z suit's ability to absorb punishment.
Custom leathers should offer more protection when you fall, because they fit your body better (and are usually more expensive than) off-the-rack suits. Part of the added expense is because people add options that are not available in an off-the-rack suit, like added impact protection and extra vents. When ordering leathers, take into account your riding conditions -- don't order a completely vented suit if you ride in cool weather, or an all-black suit if you ride in Southern California summers. Remember, you are investing in a long-lasting piece of protective equipment. A well-designed, well made suit will last you through more than one friction test, although leathers should be checked and repaired after each crash. Luckily, leather is still cheaper than skin grafts and hospital bills, and they look infinitely cooler.
Because of their strength, fit and the fact that the store will work on anyone's leathers, Z or otherwise, we give Z Leathers a perfect five star rating.
You can get yours at: Z Leathers 5445 Oceanus Drive, Suite 107 Huntington Beach, CA 92649-1007 Phone (714) 890-5721 fax (714) 890-5723
Cool catalogs with swatches and design options are available by sending 4.00 dollars to the main office.