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What's the story with one-piece riding suits?

Published on: 11 September 2018


Maybe it’s because we spend just about every waking hour of our days trying to make the riding of a motorcycle a more pleasurable, comfortable and secure experience for our customers that we cannot get our heads around why some people persist in riding on the road in a one-piece riding suit.

We’re not anti-leather. We love leather jackets. We think leather jeans can look fabulous. And there are times when even we would still choose to tour in a two-piece leather suit. But we can think of nothing less comfortable, or less practical for road riding, than a one-piece.

If it’s cold, a leather racing suit does nothing to keep you warm. If it’s hot, most race suits have no proper ventilation to speak of, and leather doesn’t breathe too well, so you can end up getting hot and sticky. If it rains, of course, a race suit is about as useful as an ashtray in an oxygen tent.

To ride well, to ride safely, and to maintain full concentration, a rider has to be comfortable. Neither too hot, nor too cold, and preferably pretty dry too. A one-piece leather suit doesn’t really deliver on any of these requirements, so we cannot understand why people still ride in them.

The justification, for some, is the safety that they believe leather offers in the event of an accident. And whilst we accept that leather naturally delivers a degree of abrasion resistance, a one-piece suit offers no more protection than a zip-in two-piece. Not, of course, that leather offers unmatched levels of abrasion resistance these days, anyway. Many Kevlar jeans will offer just as much protection as leather in those areas where the Kevlar sits, whilst many single-layer jeans are much stronger than leather throughout. Some of the single-layer jeans we offer are actually more than twice as strong as leather.

Of course, we accept that some people will want to wear a one-piece race suit on the track but, that aside, we cannot think of any road trip, or any conditions, where a rider will be better served by a one-piece leather suit.

Knee down motorcycle

Are we correct in thinking that if you’re wearing a one-piece, race-suit complete with knee sliders, you’re going to ride just that little bit faster and more aggressively? Are you going to be looking to get your knee down more than you might be if you were wearing jeans or a textile trousers?

But if it doesn’t really make sense to wear a one-piece suit when you’re riding a bike on the road, it most certainly doesn’t make sense when you’re walking around ’off’ the bike. The one-piece was never designed for walking in. All a one-piece was designed to do was get a rider from the pit garage to the bike and back. No more.

We see riders walking around in one pieces. They can barely move, and most people look faintly ridiculous in one; John Wayne minus the horse. We sometimes get people wearing one in the shop. When it’s hot, they look totally beat. When it has been raining, or is cold, all they are looking for is somewhere to warm up and recover. And they never want to try anything on in the shop because they know it will take them 15 minutes to get the suit off, and then another 10 minutes to put it back on again!

So why do people wear them?

Somebody put it to me that it’s nothing more than the adult equivalent of ‘fancy dress’. As kids, we wore Robin Hood outfits, firemen outfits or cowboy outfits, in an attempt to play out our childhood fantasies. Those who wear one-piece race suits, it has been suggested, are doing the same thing; dressing up to emulate a racer or a particular riding hero. When you buy a sports bike you give yourself permission, perhaps, to indulge in this form of more adult role play.

Kid dressed up as police officer

Some would suggest that putting on a one-piece racing suit is no more than an adult form of dressing up. A kid might put on a Superman or Batman outfit in order to play out their super-hero fantasies. When a motorcyclist puts on a one-piece racing suit, is it any more than an attempt to look like a motorcycle racer?

I suppose I can buy into this, and can see how it might be the case. In fact, I’m sure that something like this happens when a sports bike rider climbs aboard his steed in his matching leather suit. He is transformed from a regular guy into one of the untouchables.

But it’s a free world, and if somebody buys a Panigale, an R1 or a Fireblade, and then wants to dress up like a MotoGP rider, then far be it for me, or anybody else, to object. People do far stranger things in the privacy of their own homes.

My biggest concern, however, is that the wearing of a one-piece suit on a road bike can encourage a certain style of riding. It causes some people to ride in a less responsible fashion.

Valentino Rossi racing

Race suits are designed purely for the track and purely for racing. They’re meant to be worn skin tight to prevent any wind resistance as you try to wring out those extra few miles an hour down the straight. They were not designed for the cold and wet conditions that you might experience on a day out. And they were not designed for walking around in. As far as we’re concerned, a one-piece suit is just about the most impractical thing you could ever wear on the road.

I don’t suggest that this applies all the time and to all one-piece wearers, but I know that there is some truth to this assertion because I used to wear one; back in the days before I knew that one could actually be comfortable riding a bike!

Zipping up your one-piece instills a sense of invulnerability. ‘I am now fully protected’ is the mind set, and so riding a little faster and more aggressively seems an acceptable risk.

In its extreme iteration, bends in the road are no longer just bends, they become apices. Roundabouts became somewhere to get your knee down. Lights are for wheelieing away from, and long straights present an opportunity to tuck in to see how fast you can go.

I love bikes as much as the next guy. In fact, I love bikes far more than most. They are my life. I live motorcycling seven days a week. Biking is amazing. I love everything about it: the freedom, the camaraderie, the exhilaration, the acceleration and, from time to time, when it’s safe and nobody is around, an outright turn of speed.

But too often when I see somebody riding like a bit of an idiot on the road, doing ridiculous speeds, making an excessive amount of noise in a rural village, overtaking down the inside, or weaving in and out of traffic, the rider is in a one-piece suit. Not always, but more often than not, I would say.

Man wearing one-piece motorcycle suit

The reality is that, frankly, most of us look ridiculous in a one-piece racing suit if we’re not at the track. Nobody is ever going to mistake us for Valentino, Jorge or Marc. So why do people ride on the road in a race suit? It’s certainly nothing to do with comfort. It’s not practicality. And there’s not a safety angle because a two-piece would perform to the same level. Answers on a postcard, please.

It was Spider-Man who told us that with great power comes great responsibility. Modern sports bikes develop absurd amounts of power; far more than any of us can use or handle. But I believe that if we are not to bring motorcycling into disrepute, we need to handle this level of power with a degree of responsibility.

My fear is that, in true superhero fashion, the putting on of the suit can change even the most mild-mannered Clark Kent of a rider into somebody who can only see the world through a fog of red mist. I feel sure that many of these people have wives and kids, mortgages and professional jobs. But when hidden behind the mask of a full-face helmet and the protective shield of a brightly-coloured outfit, sensible riders are sometimes transformed into their alter-egos.

So whilst I consider the one-piece leather suit to be wholly impractical, and whilst I question the mind sets of those who wish to parade themselves in a racer’s outfit, what really concerns me is the emotional transformation that can come come about when a race suit is worn. That mentality might be okay for the track, but I cannot see that it has a place on the road.

It is true, in conclusion, that one-piece race suits are not our thing.

On any rational analysis they don’t make sense for riding on the road. But bikes themselves don’t tend to fare well under any examination of sensible behaviour, and it is not up to us to dictate how motorcyclists dress.

But anybody who has ever worn a one-piece suit will recognise the fact that it makes one feel just that bit more invincible. And that’s what worries us; that’s really why we have an issue; and that’s why we don’t sell them.

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