You’ve just received your new suit and you’re excited! It’s time to retire that old rag you’ve been wearing. Maybe you bought it new a decade ago, or even better maybe someone else wore it for a decade before they handed it down to you! Either way you’re replacing that old suit because it’s clearly not up to par anymore. Chances are you’re concerned about the outgoing suit’s integrity, appearance, fit, or a combination of these three things!
In most cases, unless the wearer is a growing youth rider, an old suit probably fits loosely and therefore, comfortably. Frankly, most riders wearing old off-rack or hand-me-down leathers have fitment issues which go unnoticed for years. It's not until they have a crash incident that they find the armor is not of good quality, not in the correct places or is loose enough to roll out of position, or they find that the loose suit material grabs the asphalt and sends them tumbling and/or creates a hot spot which burns through the leather during a slide.
For this reason, many riders who have not worn a proper-fitting motorcycle suit commonly have concerns when trying on new, properly tailored custom-fit leathers for the first time. In this blog we will discuss what to expect when you first try on your new suit, how to break in your new suit to remedy any initial issues, and what to do if you feel something isn’t right with your suit.
Race Fit or Comfort Fit?
In a prior blog I addressed the ins and outs of choosing between a race fit Bison suit and a comfort fit suit. I’ll summarize here:
Race fit leathers are - in a word - unforgiving. We find that a majority of our racer clients choose race fit simply because of the word “race”. In actuality, very few racers below the pro ranks maintain a true race weight. This means if you choose race fit and deviate from the weight at which you were measured, you’re going to notice it. And by “notice it”, I mean you straight up may not be able to get into the suit! Why do I bring up race vs. comfort fit? Because race fit leathers may require more work off the track to get them to a comfortable, usable place.
The First Fit
When you first get into your suit - especially a race fit one - it’s important not to panic or be overly critical. Many times people get into their brand new custom-tailored motorcycle suit and freak out. It may feel too tight in the arms and legs, yet baggy in the butt and lower back (while standing). Most of the time the wearer is able to mount the bike and take the suit out for a maiden voyage, but not always. We certainly don’t want you out on the track at speed with a new suit keeping you off your game. Even if you can’t get onto the bike don’t despair - there are some things we can do to make the suit better before you even take it out for a spin.
Whether you choose Comfort or Race fit you’re probably going to need to do some breaking in. Race fit suits are going to require more intense work but even comfort fit suits may need some love. Each person has their own “tolerance” with new leathers, but one thing is certain: if you are even thinking about the way your leathers are allowing you to move while at speed, you should not be going all-out in them. The most important thing is that you are safe on the bike, and a big part of safety is comfort. Assuming you are not comfortable riding in your new suit, let’s take a look at how we can break-in the leathers right at home!
Things that help break-in
Whether you have cowhide, kangaroo or even our vegan textile suit, there are three common things that help these materials take shape and loosen up:
- Moisture (But not too much! More on that to follow.)
- Repetitive movement.
I’m going to add a fourth element here exclusively for cow- and kangaroo-hide suits:
Break In Tips
There are a ton of opinions out there in regards to breaking in your new gear. In a prior blog I talked about the many cleaning and conditioning methods out there, and this topic is quite similar. It seems everyone has a buddy who gave them some crazy story about how they broke in tight gear. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to give you my top three tips on breaking in your new kit.
Removing liner/padding: Sometimes movement restrictions in a new suit can be remedied by removing the inner liner, and in some cases even padding. For instance, if the inner liner is bunching behind the knees or elbows you may have tightness, discomfort and/or pinching. A mis-installed or twisted liner can be fixed by simply removing and reinstalling. If the crotch area is restricted and the upper thighs are tight, remove your hip pads and inner liner and see if that helps until the suit is broken in. Keep in mind in no scenario would I advise you to ride without elbow/forearm, shoulder, back or knee pads installed!
Moisture: As with cleaning, I don’t recommend fully dousing a suit in water (you can read more about why in the cleaning blog). A few sweaty rides in your gear is the best possible way to get them acting right, but sometimes the new gear is restrictive enough to make you uncomfortable - and the last thing we want you thinking about on the motorcycle is being restricted or fatigued by your gear.
So what can be done if riding in the gear isn’t an option? We replicate sweaty conditions! Steam is the best way to do this, in fact if you have a steam sauna available go ahead and get your suit on and do some sauna yoga! Even sitting in a sauna with the gear on will begin the process of it molding to your body. Take it a step further and do some stretching. Naturally not all of us have saunas at our disposal but we do have steamy bathrooms! Get a hot shower going and you’ll get similar results. A last resort would be a quick rinse to get them wet.
Beyond actually getting in the suit and doing some steam yoga, leaving the suit in a stretched position with the moisture will help as well. Let’s discuss how to get the suit stretched using items other than our body.
Stretching: Stretching the gear with your body is ideal. This is because your natural body shape and movements will form the kit in a way that molds to you, and you will stretch the joints and panels in areas dictated by your movements and body. Wearing the gear around the house and crouching, reaching and stretching your body will do wonders but it does take some time. When you hear the suit pulling and creaking you will know things are happening! Don’t be afraid to get rough - you won’t hurt anything (other than maybe yourself! haha).
As with the moisture step, let’s say you can’t comfortably get into the suit. Don’t fret, again we have some options here. I personally like to put deflated volleyballs in any tight areas in the arms or legs, even a large exercise ball in the torso. Once the deflated balls are zipped into the suit, inflate them to stretch and leave them for 12-24 hours. You can condition leathers to help this process. It’s important to keep in mind once you stretch your new gear, there’s no “going back” in shape. You can’t just shrink it. So take your time and check in every few hours when attempting this.
Other methods I have heard but not personally tried include hanging the suit with weights (dumbbells) inside to gain length or break in an area such as the back of your arm/torso, and even clamping and pulling the suit taught using ratchet straps. The latter seems pretty wild and a little excessive, but I suppose it could work! It doesn’t hurt to get creative as long as you’re cautious.
Repetitive Movement: As you might imagine, working the gear around repetitively is very good for break in. I read a crazy comment from someone on social media who told their friend to put the new leathers in a dryer for an hour. While I have never tried this personally I can only imagine the noise would make me want to pull my hair out.
So while I can’t attest to the dryer method, I can tell you that literally exercising in the gear is the next best thing to riding with it! In fact exercising in your gear is beneficial in more ways than one: Firstly, you will sweat and therefore dampen the suit, secondly you’ll also give yourself a nice workout! Once you start getting comfortable moving around in the gear you should then start riding in it, and you will likely begin to feel the suit taking shape and feeling great.
- Drying and Conditioning: Once you have “worked” the suit in a damp state, dry it immediately with a Hang Dry (available from our friends at Southern Adrenaline, enter BISON in the promo code for $5 off!) or laying it down with fans in the extremities. After the leathers are completely dried, use a high quality conditioner on the leather. This will replace some of the natural oils that the suit loses when it gets wet, and it may increase the elasticity of the leather and therefore assist with break in.
Determining Whether a Concern Is a Fitment Issue vs. Break In Issue
Tried everything above but still concerned about an area of your kit? First of all, it’s important to remember if your suit is a Bison we have you covered with a Fitment Guarantee! If you have tried the above methods and you still can’t get the suit (or gloves) where you feel they should be, we would love to schedule a video call to review the situation. To initiate the process you can email me (Rob Lackey, Co-Founder) directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include photos and a description of your concern along with methods used to try and remedy the issue (if any).