The importance of correctly fitting leathers

Don't be vain and in pain...

HOW OFTEN have you found yourself squeezing into a pair of spray-on skinny jeans or a skirt two sizes too small (blokes don’t answer that), in order to make your waist look smaller or your bum bigger?

You probably can’t breathe, and your circulation may suffer, but you are safe in the knowledge that you look great. Your vanity comes at the cost of your comfort.

‘What has this got to do with motorcycles?’, you may be wondering. Well, in this Instagram generation, shrunken clothing is no longer the reserve of nightclubs and music videos. And I’m not talking about Grid Girls, either – that’s a whole other can of worms.

Such is the desire to look good, that riders are often compromising their comfort in order to wear the most flattering gear. A quick search of ‘#girlracer’ or ‘#bikerchick’ on Instagram affirms this. Beautiful women practically bursting out of one-pieces, with not a saggy bum in sight.

Now I’m not saying everyone deliberately buys too-small leathers. I certainly didn’t, I just went for the suit that I thought fit me – a size 42 (UK 10) Dainese Assen perforated 1pc and learnt the hard way that while it may fit while stationary, it’s a different story when you’re moving around on the bike.

Admittedly, the warning signs were there. Being an Italian brand, Dainese understandably models its suits on its home market – petite women and wiry blokes. As such, the Assen 1pc in a 42 is advised for women between 158 and 162cm tall. I’m 173cm… The brand does do a tall version of the suit, but unfortunately only in a boring black and I had my heart set on the tricolour Assen, so that was out of the question. And I certainly wasn’t going to size up at the expense of bagginess elsewhere.

The suit arrived late last year, but it wasn’t until June that I had the chance to get out on track – on our Donington Park Superbike test. I wore it at Donington again the following week on a California Superbike School, and later did my Level 2 during the ladies day at Brand’s Hatch. Each time I felt restricted and unable to move around the bike. I struggled to hold myself far enough back to be able to grip the tank with my knees and ended up supporting my whole weight on my arms. I was so uncomfortable, and in pain after just a few laps, but I dismissed this as due to poor core strength and a back injury earlier in the year. I’d done a couple of trackdays the previous year and while I certainly wasn’t fast, I didn’t remember being this bad – I’d even got my knee down on my track debut.

During my second CSS it dawned on me that it could be the leathers causing my discomfort, and discovered that riding with my cuffs unzipped (definitely not advised) allowed improved arm mobility. My shoulders and back still felt restricted, however, and despite suggestions from my instructor, I refused to swap into one of the School’s suits as I wanted to be photographed in my beautiful Dainese number.

It all came to a head at the Honda Ron Haslam Elite experience at Donington last week. After just one lap I ached, and coming off the first session I felt dejected, ready to accept the fact that track riding just wasn’t for me.

After listening to my complaints, and the theory that it may be the suit holding me back, instructor James Westmoreland suggested I tried one of their suits. Willing to try anything by this point I agreed, and jumped into the smallest one piece they had – an ancient, scuffed Spada in a men’s size 38. My bum was saggy, shoulders wide and the knee sliders were somewhere on my shins, but I was past caring. Hopping onto the bike I immediately felt more comfortable – hanging off the bike came naturally and I absolutely sent the session, returning to the pits eight laps later, grinning like the Cheshire cat. 

‘You look like a different rider’, James exclaimed. I bloody felt like it too.

The track timings confirmed this – I’d taken a full 10 seconds off my lap time, from 2 minutes and 42 seconds, to a 2:32. Things only got better in the third session, with my best lap down to a still-slow 2:21. By the end of the session, my knee was hovering off the floor, I was hitting every apex and most importantly, I was having fun on track again. Of course, much of that progression was down to James’ excellent instructing, but being able to move once more helped a great deal.

Now I’m left with four options. Ditch the Dainese and go for a brand which makes taller women’s one pieces; ditch women’s suits altogether and go back to my trusty, if somewhat spacious, men’s Furygan Dark Apex; splash out on a custom piece or have my Assen suit altered with horizontal stretch panels added.

The custom option is an attractive idea and brands including Alpinestars, Held and Dainese offer a comprehensive service. The Dainese custom works experience allows you to design and spec your suit online before being measured in an approved store. Check it out here…

However, I’m not willing to sell a kidney just yet, so I’m going to look into the latter option. The Assen suit fits perfectly in every aspect apart from height, so a few adjustments should make it perfect. Costing £749.95, it’s a well-made, attractive track suit, with a high level of protection. I’m not ready to give up on it yet!

Manager Liz from Dainese’s new London store recently recommended a manufacturer approved adjustment service, so that looks like the next step from here.

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