This article appears courtesy of Motorcyclist Magazine,
new bike time again and while I'm psyched about the new-for-2002 models
(see "New Bikes 2002" on page 33), I've gotta admit it's cowhide
that's really got my attention. (Motojournalists are to new leather goodies
as junkies are to dope, and I'm no different!)
See, I've finally retired my trusty black-and-gray
Vanson race suit, a suit I've had since late '93, and one that's followed
me through eight years of track tests, photo shoots, and AHRMA (American
Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) race meetings. It's also a suit
that, according to certain staffers who'll go unnamed but whose initials
are M.C. and J.N., has appeared for far too many years in the pages of
I'm not really sure what the fuss is all about.
I love that suit, mostly because it fits my strangely shaped body and
isn't skin tight and/or weirdly colored. I've also not crashed in it,
a nearly miraculous fact given all the track miles it's seen. I've become
almost superstitious about wearing it-as if I simply can't crash with
it on. Plus, like all Vanson gear, it's built tough enough to survive
an Iraqi battlefield, circa '91.
Despite all that, I finally heeded the vulgar catcalls
and dramatic nose-pinching that accompanied every public display of those
well-worn Vansons and took the folks at Z Custom (714/890-5721; www.zcustom.com)
up on their offer to build me a brand-new custom suit. Z Custom's Debbie
measured me in the company's Huntington Beach, California, office, where
we spent a half-hour choosing a design and colors, and roughly two-weeks
later I found myself back there trying it on. Standing before the mirror
in the showroom to see how successfully the suit's hourglass stripes hid
my substantial girth (not as much as I'd hoped), I realized I'd forgotten
how cool it was to step into a new set of custom leathers for the very
the clean lining, the smell of the hide itself, the perfection
of the lettering and, hopefully, the perfect fit.
The whole experience had me flashing back to my
very first set of "leathers": a pair of Wheels of Man (remember
them?!) vinyl MX pants I used in '75 on my XR75-my first, full year of
motocross. Things improved the following year with a pair of buttery-soft
Pierre Karsmakers-replica customs Bates pants; I can still remember their
smell when I opened the Bates box Christmas morning.
Real street leathers didn't come until '84-a secondhand
Bates suit purchased originally by a budget-conscious club racer. They
were linerless, which put the rough side of the hide right against my
skin-so removing them after a race at Willow Springs on a 100-degree-Fahrenheit
day took some doing. (Today it's called exfoliation.) They were stinky,
sweat-stained, ill-fitting, and, without a liner, would've been extremely
tough on my epidermis had I fallen off in them, but I loved 'em anyway.
Actually, the incentive to get a new suit went
above and beyond bad odors and worn, faded hides or the constant taunting
that went with them. The Z Custom suit, like most of the top-shelf leathers
coming from today's established makers, is both highly protective (even
more so than the bulletproof Vanson suit it replaces) and superbly detailed,
offering such features as venting, stretch sections in key areas for ease
of movement, improved armor, a built-in back protector, etc.
So the catcalls and the nose-pinching have stopped.
But that doesn't mean I'll be tossing those crusty old Vansons. I figure
I'll pull 'em out on wet race days.
Just don't tell Cook or Norem.
Mitch Boehm, Editor in Chief