Cleaning Motorcycle Race Leathers

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The most visible, most expensive and second most important piece of safety gear is your leather suit.  Whether it is an off the shelf basic suit or a fully custom job like my Ballistik Attack G2, taking proper care of them is critical to getting the longest life possible.

If you do a lot of riding especially in hot weather the day will come that you will have to clean your suit.  You obviously can pay to have it cleaned by a professional with a cost to match or buy new leathers. However there are advantages to going about cleaning yourself. There are a number of ways to accomplish this task and the safest would be to contact the manufacturer to find out what they suggest. The method I used worked for two different sets of leathers and wasn’t too difficult if a hair time consuming.

After a full season of use the suit had become soaked in sweat and covered in bug guts. Spot cleaning wasn’t gong to cut it.  I started by disassembling the suit of all its armor and liner and even the hump.  I tried to remove everything that could be removed. The number and type of removable pieces will vary depending on how it is constructed.

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The liner was then washed on a gentle cycle in a modern front loading washer.  The low agitation and sophisticated programs ensured that the mesh didn’t get ripped to shreds or over heated.  Hand washing is also an option for this.  Then it was hung up to line dry.

The suit itself sans knee pucks and armor went into a luke warm bath with a dash of powdered soap.  I used a micro fiber to scrub the leather but a soft brush would have also been useful for stains and dirt.  I mostly soaked and squeezed the suit to try to remove the salts from sweating.  Oils and sweat can degrade the leather and stitching making the seams weaker and therefor less protective.  So a mild cleaning helps keep abrasives from destroying your suit. I did not take a photo of the resulting tub water but it was a rather murky green.  Some of this was residual dye from the leather since this is the first time it has been washed and some silk-screening may have come off as well.  It was not pretty but also fairly normal.  None of this stuck to the suit and the white printing ended up staying nice and white.

With help the suit was held above the bath and wrung of as much of the water as possible.  We then laid the suit on a bed of towels and rotated the suit front to back while switching to dry towels.  After a day or two of this I hung the suit up to finish drying.  I avoided hanging up right away because of the weight in water I didn’t want to risk stretching out the shoulders.  I also didn’t want to force dry the suit and risk shrinking it either.   If you have a blower to gently force air through the suit it will dry quicker as well. I did this when it was cool and very humid so it took a very long time to dry.

After fully drying I could tell the suit was a bit crunchy, so the next step was conditioning and restoring the oils back to the leather.  I did some research and ended up at a local ranch supply place that listed saddle and tack supplies.  I asked their opinion and was surprised when she said it was common for motorcyclists to come in looking for leather conditioner.  I picked up two kinds to try.

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I opted for true leather conditioners in place of something I could find at walmart because I want my $2000+ custom suit to last as long as possible.  Skimping here could cost a lot more than $25 of leather conditioner.  I followed the instructions and rubbed the conditioner into the suit.  The dry crunchyness was quickly replaced with the supple and softness that I was used to with the Kangaroo leather.  After a first round I re-assembled the suit and hung it back up to dry.  A second round of conditioner will ensure that I don’t miss any ares and get the full suppleness back for the coming season.

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The upside of doing this task yourself is that you get to inspect every inch of the suit and evaluate any crash damage and look for rips or tears or loose seams.  Despite one good fall this year my Ballistik suit is still in excellent condition and ready to keep me safe and looking good!.

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