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Race leathers provide the first line of defence for competitors in MotoGP™ when they suffer the occasional crashes and slides that all riders go through. With corner speeds quicker than ever and lean angles becoming increasingly acute, the importance of a good set of leathers cannot be underestimated.
The most common way a rider comes off his MotoGP™ bike is to lose control of the front or rear tyre when leaning into a corner. This usually results in the rider sliding along the asphalt and onto the gravel at the side of the racetrack, sometimes apparently seamlessly, though almost always at high speeds. Clearly doing this with exposed flesh, normal clothing or inadequate leather protection would result in massive damage to the skin and other parts of the body.
The various manufacturers supplying the leathers to the MotoGP™ participants therefore design the outfits to be as protective as possible – but they must also be aerodynamic, breathable, comfortable, durable, flexible, light and water resistant.
The MotoGP™ leather suits are mainly made of kangaroo leather, which is more resistant, more flexible and weighs less than cow hide. The leathers have to provide strong resistance and protection from abrasion and impact in particularly vulnerable areas such as the back, elbows and knees - whilst also giving the riders the elasticity they need when utilizing their lightening quick reflexes.
Of course the riders’ leathers also have to work perfectly in tandem with the helmets to stabilise the head, so the ‘humped’ back protectors the race outfits carry fit snugly against the helmets allowing air to glide over them aerodynamically when the riders are in the customary hunched riding position. When stood upright and off their racing machinery the back hump built into the back of the leathers can clearly be seen, but they are also fairly flexible to allow movement and bending of the back - in the right direction.
The built-in spinal column protection units and the chest protectors the leathers carry mainly use carbon, kevlar and titanium combinations to safeguard the riders without weighing them down. Indeed the overall weight of a Grand Prix rider’s leathers will of course vary in relation to his physical stature, with the entire weight of the leathers usually totalling around 3kg to 3.5kg
BOOTS, GLOVES & KNEE SLIDERS
Leather manufacturers generally provide riders with their entire outfits, excluding helmets, which means supplying specially designed boots, gloves and knee sliders, which are also essential for safety.
Providing sturdy but flexible and ultra-light boots, for example, ensures they do not weigh the rider down and they reduce rather than inflict injuries in instances of high speed crashes.
Likewise, the gloves should be light enough not to hinder the feel of the handlebars, with reinforcements at the points where there is most risk of abrasion or fracture – for example the thumb, wrist and palm.
The riders also wear knee sliders which are separate from the rest of their leathers as they regularly make contact with the asphalt as the riders lean into corners. They therefore have to be replaced more regularly than the rest of the protective clothing, often after each session for the MotoGP™ riders who can get through 100 pairs in a season, while Moto3™ riders use fewer as their knees touch the ground less.
Knee sliders are made of thermoplastic compounds and they guide the riders who rely on the feel of the ground as they slide through corners at lean angles close to 55%, brushing the surface of the track as they do so.
Plastic wet weather rain suits can be worn by the riders over their suits to prevent the leather from absorbing water and becoming sodden, which could double the weight of the outfit and would be a clear hindrance to any competitor.
Leathers can also be fitted with cooling systems, to keep the internal temperature bearable when the heat is on. Systems such as cooling circuits on vests, which make contact with the chest and back, worn under the suit and circulating gel-cooled water (powered by ultra-light batteries and micro-pumps inserted into the back hump) are used by certain manufacturers. Suits can also carry re-hydrating drinks - stored in the back hump and linked with the helmet.
Leathers often also feature data acquisition systems, where information is gathered directly from the body of the wearer, allowing the technicians to analyse the physiological effects experienced by a rider during his time on the bike, whether in testing or during a race.
Using a series of patches mounted on the suit or placed directly onto the skin, sensors can provide measurements which allow for useful analysis on pressure points, gravitational loads experienced, rider pulse and body temperature. The sensors can record the specific impact sustained should a rider crash, which can provide useful insights for technicians to make improvements to designs of future incarnations of riders’ leathers.
COLOUR & DESIGN
Finally, as with riders’ helmets, the colours, designs and overall appearances are a combination of team liveries, sponsor logos, rider numbers and personal and national motifs - with each rider’s distinctive outfit helping everyone from race officials and fellow competitors to commentators and team members to distinguish who is who on track.