This is a great little video from BBC Sport, presented by commentator and former racer Steve Parrish (or Stavros as he’s known).
In the opening shots you can hear Murray Walker talking about racers having football boot studs on the knee part of the leathers for when they lean over – the studs were a home-made measure that seemingly offered some abrasion resistance. Parrish goes on to explain how the different riding styles led first to tape being placed on the knees and eventually to the velcro kneesliders that all racers and many road riders use now. I’ve got a pair on my leathers but I’ve got more chance of meeting Elvis than I have of ever putting a knee down when I’m riding my Tiger… I use them on the recommendation of a friend; he had a nasty crash and the sliders on his leathers gave a lot of protection for his knees. It’s a shame he didn’t have them on the ribs he broke and the two fingers he snapped.
Leathers and their various embellishments aren’t just used to help riders go faster and win races, they are of course the best protection if a rider comes off, which happens a lot, often at nearly 200 miles per hour:
Race leathers now come in a variety of exotic materials: kangaroo is popular for its strength and light weight, and stingray is incredibly tough (a good explanation of the qualities of different leathers can be found here). The more expensive suits often have carbon/titanium inserts in areas like the knees, hips, elbows and shoulders – when a rider separates from the bike and slides along tarmac, sparks are generated as the riders use these strengthened areas to lift their bodies away from the abrasive surface. Gloves are strengthened with carbon rider inserts and devices like the Italian Dainese D-Air and its road-riding equivalent, the Japanese Hit-Air are airbag systems that activate when rider and bike separate. A promo video from Dainese demonstrates why this technology works:
I’d like to see more road riders using this kind of equipment. The video demonstrates what an immense difference it makes and hopefully more of these features will trickle down from race leathers to road riding garments. Ride safe.