Pros and Cons: Synthetic Gear vs. Leather

Synthetic Gear vs. Leather - OMG Motorcycle Training - Synthetic and Leather Gears Calgary

If you’re a relatively new motorcycle enthusiast, you might not have had the time to accumulate the essential riding gear yet. If you’ve been using a certain type of gear for as long as you’ve been riding, it might help you read about some important differences in materials.

Most motorcycle apparel is either leather or synthetic. Leather has been a steadily popular option for many years, but synthetic gear has been growing in popularity in recent years. Motorcycling can be a dangerous activity, and the gear you wear can either contribute to or detract from your safety on the road.

When riding a motorcycle, it can only take seconds for you to go from enjoying the scenery to enjoying your body in contact with the ground. This is not meant to scare you away from riding altogether, but it is extremely important to consider your safety when operating a motorcycle.

If you do make impact with the ground, your contact is likely to involve both speed and impact. When selecting motorcycle gear, there are two main characteristics to consider: impact protection and abrasion resistance. 

Knowing What to Look For

Both leather and synthetic gear can be bought with additional armor and padding already in place. Of course, it’s up to you to make sure the padding and/or armor actually works. A good way to do this is to look for the CE mark on the item of clothing you’re considering. This mark signifies that the armor meets European Community Council Directive 89/686/EEC for personal protective equipment. 

For thousands of years, men and woman have appreciated the superior abrasion resistance of leather. For a long time, this material was the go-to choice for most motorcyclists. This, however, was before the advent of synthetics.

If you do fall, leather will slide across the road rather than getting hung up on the surface and causing the rider to spin out of control in a potentially injurious tumble. Additionally, leather will absorb the heat generated by friction better than synthetics, in general.

Leather’s Drawbacks and the Advent of Synthetics

Although leather is still commonly used for most motorcycle gear, it does have two large drawbacks: it’s expensive and it’s not waterproof. Until the arrival of synthetics, primarily nylon, waxed cotton and wool gabardine were the only main alternatives to leather.

Nylon can relatively easily by woven into waterproof fabrics, but it was not until the development of ballistic fibers by DuPont that nylon became a viable option for motorcycle wear. This was primarily because early materials demonstrated poor abrasion resistance and a lack of breathability.

Ballistic nylon has a very high molecular weight and it was originally developed for use in bulletproof vests. It’s extremely strong and melts at a very high temperature and, thus, is less affected by the heat of friction. It can also be combined with other fibers for enhanced breathability, abrasion resistance, and more.

While synthetics are an emerging option for motorcycle enthusiasts everywhere, they still take a back seat to more traditional leather gear when it comes to overall abrasion resistance. Most racers still wear leather because, in the event of a crash, synthetics can pick up in a slide, causing the rider to tumble out of control.