The Dealernews Roundtable: Gear manufacturers raise the bar

Publish Date: 
Aug 27, 2012
By Dennis Johnson

LEATHER, OR TEXTILE. Those used to be the two apparel options. Now we’ve got improved fabric technology. Better body armor. A greater demand for performance. More focus on technical functions. The renaissance of riding gear is upon us.

Riding apparel is also fashion, and customers are hungry for new product, new styles and new technology. Look no further than the dirt market to see the seasonal cycle of new colorways and styles. Even street lines offer product for cold- and warm-weather riding, sometimes in the same garment. Great news for dealers looking to add some bulk to the bottom line, right? For some, yes, but for others it has led to questions of stocking, merchandising, education and The Great Lament: sales lost to online retailers.

We contacted a number of operatives in the apparel market and asked them about the latest trends in riding gear and how best dealers can capture sales with would-be online buyers.

Participants include: Bob Lowry, national sales manager for FLY Racing. With the release of its 2013 line, FLY Racing celebrates its 15th anniversary; Adam Redford, sales and marketing manager for Twisted Throttle, a distributor, designer and manufacturer of aftermarket P&A aimed mainly at the adventure bike market, and exclusive distributor of Macna riding apparel; Steve Blakeney, marketing director for Sullivans, owner of Joe Rocket and Power Trip; Bill Berroth, president of Motonation, the exclusive U.S. importer/distributor of Sidi boots, and which also carries Vemar helmets and AGV Sport street apparel; Greayer Clover, brand manager for Firstgear, a lineup of technical, functional gear that has been on the market for more than 20 years; and Nic SIms, the technical media guy at Alpinestars.

Hosted by Dennis Johnson

Dealernews: What do customers demand when it comes to fit and comfort?

Lowry: More of a slim, form fit with breathability and less restriction of movement.

Redford: The advanced development of membranes and abrasion-resistant fabrics has fueled the growth in textile garments. Textile is versatile and often waterproof, making these jackets and pants usable in a wide variety of conditions compared to leather and are generally cheaper as well. Customers are more and more aware of this versatility, as well as the small difference in protection between textile and leather, making textile gear a very popular choice.

Sims: If you put on a jacket that does not fit well, then chances are it's taking concentration away from riding and certainly taking enjoyment away. Every new customer should demand a great fitting and comfortable garment, whether it is a full suit or a boot or a sock. We will sit-test models on bikes to see if zips are in the right place and which is the best way for them to open when you are riding. It is those small details that make a difference to riding pleasure and performance.

"'Looking good' standing in front of a showroom mirror is very different from actually looking good on the bike."

-- Steve Blakeney, Joe Rocket/Sullivans

Clover: More than anything, quality and continuity of fit is paramount. You can have the best technologies out there, but if the jacket doesn’t fit well, it won’t matter. We spend a lot of time on the fit of our apparel. We try to accommodate the majority of customers with our fit-spec, and also to maintain fit continuity across styles. In other words, a large Kilimanjaro jacket should be consistent with a size large Jaunt jacket. However, as we utilize different fabrics for different applications, size does not always equate as well as we would like, but that is the nature of engineering these garments. So we always encourage the rider to try on the article.

Blakeney: Consumers’ demands remain pretty straightforward. They simply want something that is comfortable and makes them look good — unfortunately the “looking good” part trumps proper fit too often. Especially when “looking good” standing in front of a showroom mirror is very different from actually looking good on the bike. This is especially true with women’s gear when you consider how common it is to see a little too much of a ladies backside while she is perched on the bike.

Sims: If you try a jacket on that is cut for a sportsbike, then it may feel strange if you are standing up straight. But if you bend over and imagine you are riding, the fit becomes easy to understand.

What are some of the more popular fabrics/materials being used?

Redford: Fabrics used in motorcycle gear often come from the auto and aerospace industries. Development and incorporation of these fabrics can be a slow process. Cordura became the standard fabric used by many manufacturers, but those who wanted to stand out from the crowd began looking for alternatives that provide a unique appearance. Macna uses various fabrics, including R-Tech, C-Touch, and Dynax materials that provide equal or better strength and functionality as Cordura, as well as Superfabric protective panels.

Blakeney: I have not seen that many new fabrics over the past few years. What I have seen is a more creative combination of these materials achieving interesting results. The FullFlex System used on our Radar and Fallout jackets [is] a prime example.

Clover: Our biggest challenge in fabrics is finding the right balance of waterproofness, breathability and abrasion resistance/durability. The challenge is that most waterproof/breathable fabrics are developed for the outdoor industry with a focus on “human” or “muscle-powered” activities — the emphasis there being on lighter weight.

Sims: With the growing adventure-touring scene, we are using Gore-Tex and our own Drystar waterproof and breathable material for riders who are on the bike over long periods at a time and maybe in all weathers. That customer needs several jackets in one, so a combination of advanced textile materials that are hard-wearing, waterproof and breathable, and importantly, light in weight, packable and very comfortable. For the street side, the use of mixed materials (leather and textiles combined) is proving effective. The women's market is evolving with ladies who are increasingly looking for dedicated, well-fitting apparel. The new Stella Vika Collection will offer an even more advanced, high fashion look. [Finally,] Alpinestars low-profile boots and riding shoes are among the fastest growing categories, and popular with dealers for the sales gains they have opened up.

Redford: The future will see the development of “green” fabrics that are already seen in outdoor sports garments. This evolution will take time to implement, but it is clearly on the horizon. (continues)