Fashionable riding? It's better than going naked

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When I got word this issue was going to highlight fashionable riding gear, I choked. I know virtually nothing about fashion — as anyone who’s ever seen my collection of motorcycle gear can attest. Ninety-five percent of my outerwear is black, salted with gray. I own one blue riding jacket for a dash of color. In addition, most of my gear is old — dating back about 12 years — and I can’t say that any of it is, or ever was, fashionable. I’m not the right person to make a fashion statement.

However, like most folks, I at least know what fashion actually means. But just to be certain, I consulted my dictionary. The third definition listed under “fashion” is “the current style of dress.”

A problem arises, though, when you think about style in the context of motorcycling. It appears there’s no universal motorcycle fashion standard. When you start talking about our wonderful world of motorcycling, you realize we’ve got a variety of groups that have different points of view on fashion.

Outside of the motorcycle world, fashion is one way a person makes a statement about themselves, their status, even their sexuality. Executives on Wall Street wear expensive suits. Others conduct their business in a simple shirt-tie-slacks combo, with the tie being the only element that makes a statement. Women seem to have the largest fashion vocabulary, with necklines, hemlines, and bare midriffs all offering the opportunity to make some kind of a statement through fashion, whether it be about themselves or their status.

GEAR AS FASHION STATEMENT
In our crowd, we’ve got the sportbike guys with their colorful one- and two-piece leathers, boots, gloves, and equally colorful full-face helmets. Then there are the Harley-Davidson folks with their black-on-black and orange highlights, T-shirts, leather jackets, vests, chaps, fingerless gloves, boots — and when forced, beanie helmets. The touring enthusiasts can be seen swathed head to toe in red, blue, yellow, black and gray textile one- and two-piece suits that can perform multiple protective tasks, including breathing (which must make for interesting sounds coming from their closet at night) and protecting from the elements. They’re usually topped with a solid-color modular helmet. Let’s not forget the dual-purpose guys with helmets, off-road boots, and textile riding gear. Then we’ve got guys like my buddy Dave who doesn’t fall into any conveniently identifiable group. He wears a leather or sometimes textile jacket, cowboy boots, jeans and a full-coverage helmet.

And then you have to take into consideration the subject of gender. Women have shape requirements that are different from those of men. A jacket and pants cut for a man simply won’t work for a woman. As for color, I don’t know if that’s really a woman’s issue or not. (I personally love bright colors, but wouldn’t likely buy a coral colored riding jacket.) For years, some clothing manufacturers have been pushing the pink-and-white theme, which presumably appeals to women. But I don’t see a lot of it on the road, so I’m not sure that it’s meeting a demand. Mostly what I see are women wearing versions of what men are wearing — and that, at least to me, makes sense.

In our business, what we wear is a great gender neutralizer. Motorcycle fashion first and foremost has to follow function. The primary reason we wear gear is to make our riding experience comfortable. Even if it were legal, I don’t think many of us would ride in the nude. Sometimes I’ll see a guy (and yes, it’s always a guy) riding in shorts, a wife-beater tank top and flip-flops. I’ll stare in amazement at his tolerance for discomfort. Bugs, rocks, the wind, and the sun beating down on him can’t make a ride very pleasurable. Normally, we wear garments to neutralize those aspects of motorcycling that are unpleasant.

GEAR AS FUNCTION
A good motorcycle garment has to fit well and not flap in the breeze. It’s got to give you some protection from the elements and, at the same time, keep you warm or cool, depending on weather conditions. For those of us who worry about a potentially painful encounter with asphalt, gear should keep the pavement from coming in direct contact with our skin. It’s ideal if it can do that and also provide conspicuity at the same time.

I don’t think we’re ever going to see a jacket with a plunging neckline or mini-leathers for women, or even a double-breasted racing suit for men. (At least, none of this will become mainstream.) Yes, there are jackets, suits and pants that are cut differently, but the differences are slight and the garments are more often differentiated by color and graphics than by style. Colors tend to be more muted than everyday street clothes because they’re easier to keep looking clean.

So, it appears to me that what’s fashionable depends on your style of riding, and what’s “fashionable” with one group may be outlandish for another — think Rossi AGV helmet, DayGlo orange and yellow leathers at a HOG chapter meeting, or a beanie helmet, vest, bare chest, chaps, jeans, engineer boots, and chain drive wallet in a MotoGP paddock.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews September 2011 issue.

To a large extent, in motorcycling, what you wear tells a lot about what style of riding you do and not much of what your social status is.