- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

Is it possible to put together a head-to-toe leather riding suit that is both racetrack-safe and yet comfortable, stylish and functional?

The answer, from Vanson Leathers for under $1,000, is yes.

For years, leathers have been limited in their function by their style. Race leathers were uncomfortable with too few features. Cop jackets were stylish, but not particularly helpful in a high-speed crash. And touring jackets served a dozen functions, but at the expense of bulk.

Now, Vanson's Cobra jacket and Sportrider pants make an excellent combination for the daily commuter, touring and even track days.

In short, the all-black combination was confidence inspiring. It is a sporty workhorse that will last a decade.

There are some who insist they do not need leather. For them, I suggest a simple experiment: Drive down the road at highway speeds, open the door and touch a hand to the tarmac. Madness? Certainly, and just as dumb as riding without protection. Denim may help at very slow speeds, but really doesn't cut it.

The Cobra jacket and Sportrider pants put at least 1.5 millimeters of leather between you and the road. Some manufacturers use 1 millimeter or less.

At the elbows, shoulders and knees, a double layer of leather makes that 3 millimeters of a cow's hide taking the punishment before you do. Strong stitching assure there will not be a blowout. And a substantial overlap between the top of the pants and the bottom of the jacket coupled with a beefy waistband make it unlikely for the jacket to roll up leaving back or belly exposed.

Vanson says many of its competitors' suits will protect a rider in a crash, but its suits will protect the rider and survive.

Every wreck I have ever been in, and there have been several, has been at 35 miles per hour or less. And every one hurt. A lot. One, I am lucky to have survived.

More to the point, every place I had armor I was glad to have had armor. And all the hard places knees, hips, etc. where I did not have armor got hurt. A lot.

While Vanson makes hard armor for the racetrack, the soft armor is ideal for the street.

The suits, while not as aggressively styled as full race leathers, are designed for riding. That means the shoulders are hunched slightly forward and the knees and elbows have a bend.

Soft armor is more forgiving.

And as good as the suit is, it will do no good if not worn and it will not be worn if not comfortable. And soft armor is oh, so comfortable. But what makes the combination really great are the features. First on the list is the patented Vanson "air curtain."

The front of the jacket is perforated with a honeycomb of small holes allowing air to flow through, but maintaining the leather's strength. Inside the jacket over the chest and ribs is a wind barrier with a zippered panel. In the winter, the panel stays up and locks out the air. In the summer, the panel zips down, providing a pretty substantial breeze when under speed.

The pants have accordion expander sections above the knees to flex when the knees bend.

The jacket retails for about $535. The pants for $427. Would I rather they cost $750 total. Yes. Are they worth $962? Also, yes.

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