How to choose your motorcycle suit material: Cow, kangaroo, or textile?

With three materials available to spec your bespoke Bison suit, chances are you have done everything from online searching to social media imploring trying to figure out which direction to go - and you're probably more confused now than ever! "Which material should I order my Bison suit in?" This is one of the most common initial questions we hear. In fact, if you're reading this we may have sent you this blog to help answer your question!

Let's start by outlining the three choices available to you for the primary construction of your suit: cowhide, kangaroo, and textile (DuPont Cordura/Superfabric). Cowhide is the old school, steady Eddie of the bunch. Kangaroo is the lighter, leaner animal hide. Finally, we have the new kid on the block - a suit which does not use any leather or animal products whatsoever! Our textile "vegan" suit uses a Cordura base in non-impact areas with Superfabric in the forearms, knees, and seat for excellent abrasion resistance. Now let's dive into each option and discuss why each one might appeal to you!

Cowhide:

In the early 1900's military aviators began enjoying the benefits of a new type of jacket: The cowhide aviator jacket. It proved warmer, dryer, and tougher than the wool and cotton garments prior. By the 1920's cowhide motorcycle jackets had been adapted and were quickly becoming the norm. Not much has changed since. A nicely broken-in cowhide suit or jacket is tough, fashionable, and fits like a broken-in baseball glove. Also cowhide, coincidentally.  

100 years on, cowhide remains the most popular option in motorcycle road and track gear construction. Be honest: Before you started shopping for motorcycle leathers, did you even realize there were other options for materials? Road-going motorbikes and cow leather are as synonymous as Rossi fans and neon yellow clothing.

The reason for the continued success and longevity of cowhide as a protective material? Very simply, cowhide has an excellent balance of cost and durability with a 100-year track record of proven performance. Let's check the pros and cons:

Cowhide PROS:
- 100 years of proven performance.
- Once broken-in, a classic and comfortable feel. 
- Excellent performance/price ratio.

Cowhide CONS:
- Weight: a cowhide Bison suit weighs 20-30% more than a kangaroo suit, and about 35% more than a textile version.
- Care must be taken to clean, desalt and condition the hide on a regular basis to ensure longevity.

Kangaroo: 

With a muscular build and a hide that has evolved to stand up to punctures during boxing fights, the kangaroo is much more a fighter than the cute & cuddly little guys depicted in our childhood storybooks. As such, it yields a very durable hide. There are many technical reasons that the kangaroo hide is lighter while still retaining excellent tensile strength as opposed to cowhide: structural uniformity in the hide, the absence of sweat glands and erector pili, and less fat and hair on the body means a less arduous tanning process which is less detrimental to the integrity of the hide. 

In the world of motorcycle protection, there is a common misconception that kangaroo is "worlds tougher" than cowhide. Yes, kangaroo hide has massively better tensile strength than cow, but it is not a guarantee against damage. In fact, repeated slides may be handled better by the thicker cowhide suit. As with everything in this industry, there is no way to build a suit for every crash because the nature of each crash is unique. Kangaroo is not impervious. Very frankly, there are situations in which cowhide may do just a good a job as roo - or better. Remember, tensile strength is only one measure of durability. The primary benefit of kangaroo over cowhide is actually not durability so much as it is reduced weight. Our cowhide leathers are comprised of 1.1-1.4mm leather, whereas our kangaroo leathers are .9-1.1mm. The weight savings is pretty substantial when worn on the racetrack - especially in the pro ranks where every pound counts. 

The last thing to consider is your own habits when it comes to caring for your leathers. Kangaroo typically requires more maintenance including cleaning and conditioning. If you're the rider who tosses your suit in the corner of the trailer until the next trackday, kangaroo may not be for you. 

So who would benefit most from a kangaroo suit? Serious trackday riders or racers who want maximum weight savings and don't mind caring for their leathers. 

Kangaroo PROS:
- Light weight.
- Superior tensile strength means great durability in high-impact situations and allows for thinner hide. 
- Once broken in, feels like a true "second skin". 

Kangaroo CONS:
- Highest price of the build options. 
- Demands higher maintenance than cow.  

Textile (Vegan):

In the opening paragraphs of this article I mentioned that cowhide has been the favorite material to protect motorcycle riders for 100 years. Although kangaroo hide continues to increase in mainstream popularity, we believe modern technology should allow us the opportunity to expand our thinking beyond using animal hides exclusively for protection in trackday riding and racing. Enter our textile option.

With a DuPont Cordura base and Superfabric impact/slide areas, our textile suit uses no animal products yet provides excellent protection. Textile gear has been used for years on the street, so what's keeping it from being used on the racetrack? Very simply it's a matter of changing the way we think. But when something has been done one way for 100 years, it can be difficult to depart from that method. 

Our vegan textile suits are very lightweight, have excellent breath-ability, and they're tough! We're working to make inroads into the racing community with our vegan gear, and hope to have it in the professional ranks in the future.  

Textile PROS:
- Cost equivalent to cowhide leather.
- Very lightweight. 35% lighter than cow hide and 10-15% lighter yet than kangaroo.
- Less environmental impact than animal hide.

Textile CONS:
- Much more limited design options. Cordura color palette is smaller, prints not available. Superfabric only available in black.
- Less durable than animal hides in some crash situations.

A quick note regarding perforation:

The great thing about your custom Bison suit is that it can be specified with as much or as little perforation as you want. This creates another decision point for our clients, and another frequent question during the order process. Let's touch on the pros and cons of perforating the leather on your suit: 

Perforation PROS:
- Breath-ability, of course! I always tell people, you can get warmer by layering but you can't get any cooler without perforation!

Perforation CONS: 
-  Something most people don't consider when option for perforation: Durability! What happens when you perforate a piece of paper, hold it taught and have someone punch it? It tears! Leather is no different. Perforated areas can tear with enough force, and do so much easier than solid panels.
- Longevity of the exterior finish. Without proper care, the finish of the suit is more prone to cracking and wear in perforated areas.

No matter which direction you choose to spec your suit, there will be benefits and there may be tradeoffs.  We hope that this article helped answer some of your questions and guide you to making a decision. If you have additional questions never hesitate to reach out to us with a phone call, email or social media message! We're always happy to help.

Go fast, be safe,

Robert Lackey

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