I've been promising you for awhile, and myself for even longer, that I would post something in depth about riding gear for scooter riders.
Well, I just stumbled upon this recent article in the New York Times about leather jackets, and thought it was a good place to start. It's a strange article, with an accompanying set of photos of male models posing on Vespas. One of the photos even features a chopped Lambretta, though most of the scoots are modern Vespas. The thing that gets me though is all the jackets are fashion leather jackets, ranging in price from over $600 to over $5k! I know the dollar is weak, but good lawd!
Now, I'm sure the piece was intended as a fashion article, and I'm sure someone in the creative department had the brainstorm that Vespas are way more hip than motorcycles, thus the photo shoot. But I have some problems with this.
First of all, some of these skins may be styled after classic riding jackets, but none of them actually strike me as being riding jackets. The leather looks thin, design features intended to let in and keep out air are totally forgotten, and I'm sure there is no armor to be found. Sure, any leather jacket is going to be better protection than a nylon wind breaker, but these things just scream poseur to me. Plus, I'd imagine one good slide would totally destroy them... and then there is $2k down the drain. Whereas a good $300 to $500 motorcycling jacket would probably just need a little mink oil, and would good as new.
The article does touch on the mystique of the leather jacket:
Since the early 1980s, when American men first truly embraced the leather jacket as the antihero’s anti-sport coat, a new one has risen from the tomb of rebels past every six or seven years. In the 1980s, there was the ’40s-style WWII bomber (very Indiana Jones), then, in the late 1980s, the ’50s-style motorcycle jacket (very Mad Max). In the 1990s, the ’70s hip-length jacket (very John Shaft) had a moment, followed by the 1960s-style streamlined “cafe racer” that would shout Steve McQueen if McQueen ever shouted.
But I think if you are really trying to emulate rebel machismo emphasizing form over function, isn't the way to do it.
My other problem with this article, is that leather isn't that popular with scooter riders. I suppose there are a multitude of reasons for this, from the classic Mod vs. Rocker feuds, to the fact that a lot of scooterists view their scoots as day-to-day transportation, and don't want to tailor their whole wardrobe around their ride. Plus, though I have no stastics to back this up, I think you will find significantly more vegans and vegetarians on scooters than on motorcycles. Plus, if a scooterist did decide to go with leather for their riding gear, I think this article does them a disservice. There are now plenty of stylish leather jackets, which are made for riding and its dangers, which don't make you look like a Hell's Angel or like you are ready for Le Mans.
And while a lot of folks might think that any leather and the hardened outcast image it brings with it would be incongruous, I don't necessarily agree. In my mind a scooter is way more punk-rock than a motorcycle, especially when you get into the DIY subculture of 2-strokes. And unless you are a vegan straight-edger, a leather jacket is still pretty iconic punk-rock. I also think the right leather jacket can be pretty steampunk, giving off a vibe of the classically civilized adventurer in a way that is very difficult for ballistic nylon.
So without further ado, I bring you the Dragon's guide to leather riding jackets that are both fashionable AND functional.
The jacket pictured above is the Triumph Rivton. This is currently my favorite leather riding jacket. It's hard to tell in this picture, but the elbows feature quilted patches like the shoulders, and the leather has a supple, aged and broken quality. We've got these at the shop, and the one in my size fits me perfectly. I really like the retro-styling of this jacket, which though it is supposed to recall the cafe-racer jackets of late 60s British rockers, to me it has a steampunk or dieselpunk vibe. Though it is obviously a riding jacket, guys I've talked to who own this jacket tell me they get complimented on it all the time by non-motorcyclists. I don't know when I'll be able to afford one (list price is $409), but I've already got the patches picked out to cover up the Triumph logo.
The Triumph Portland jacket is very similar to the Rivton, only monochrome. Well there are a few other styling differences, but it still has those assume quilted leather panels on the elbows and shoulders. Of course both jackets feature CE armor on the elbows and shoulders as well, and I know the Rivton has a pocket for inserting a back protector, I believe the Portland does too. The Portland is a little subtler I guess, but still stands out in a crowd of wannabes in cookie cutter 50s styled leather jackets. Again, very retro-futurist. $419 MSRP
OK, one last Triumph jacket, this time the Madison. Not quite as steampunk as the other two, just a good basic leather. Very classic, it definitely brings to mind 60s and 70s cafe racers, but in a very no-nonsense way. I dig the aged leather. The Madison doesn't come with armor, though it does have pockets for it, and is thus a little cheaper at $319. I really like a lot of Triumph's gear. It's well designed, well made, in touch with it's roots, and looks badass in a subdued manner. If you have a problem with the Triumph logos, just cover them with rally patches, or pick up something at Angry, Young and Poor. If you are really worried about maintaining your skooter-boy cred, I'd recommend a Specials patch.
The least expensive jacket on this list is River Road's Hoodlum. No armor, very little frills, costs $200, which is about the least you should expect to spend on a quality leather jacket. This one looks sweet, and I imagine will protect you much better than any of those boutique jackets featured in the NYT article.
From the least expensive jacket we move to the most expensive. The Dainese Montone sheepskin jacket lists at $1299. But for that price you are getting a quality jacket from one of the most respected manufacturers of motorcycling gear in the world. To me this retro-futuristic garment brings to mind the long-standing connection between two-wheeled travel and aviation. For the steampunk scootering enthusiast this is the top, the most flash, the shiniest. Of course it has removable composite protectors at the elbows and shoulders. Now, you'll have to excuse me for a moment, as I believe I just drooled on my keyboard.
Really, if you wanna be protected AND fashionable on your stylish Italian scoot, Dainese is a great way to go. They are an Italian company, with that implies fashion wise, and they make some of the best gear in the world. Plus in Italy, two-wheeled transportation isn't just a weekend hobby for testosterone poisoned kids and guys with mid-life crises, it's a fact of everyday life, just like a passion for fashion.
This baby features elbow and shoulder armor, has a space for a back protector, and comes with a removable thermal liner. Just a gorgeous, and pragmatic coat, with styling that should please any steamy velocipede pilot. Not cheap at about $700, but then again, nothing about this jacket is cheap, and it makes those fashion leathers in the NYT article just seem silly.
The last leather I'm featuring today really makes me wonder about that NYT article. The Dainese Superdune is currently available at Bloomingdales in NYC. I guess I don't know enough about NYC fashion, 'cause I thought that was kinda hoity-toity. Anyway, the Superdune is inspired by jackets worn by riders in the classic Paris/Dakar race. The leather on this piece is gorgeous, strong and tough, while also being light and supple. It includes elbow and shoulder armor, and also has a pocket for inserting a spine protector. Yet again, great classic styling that should make any Steam- Jazz- or Diesel Punk quiver.
So if you are inclined toward leather as a protective garment for your two-wheeled adventures, there are definitely some options out there for you. The links for these jackets go to the ecommerce page for Vespa Ridgefield / Branchville Motors, so if you feel like ordering one of these, I'd be processing that. The Dianese stuff, we handle as well, drop me an email if you are interested. Of course if you are in or near Fairfield County, CT you should ride in and check us out. If you are farther away, I encourage you to check out your local gear dealers, dig a little deeper in the racks, and ask the employees for help. There are many options out there for quality riding gear which won't make you look like you should be in a Motorcycle gang, or on a racetrack. If you don't have a nearby dealer, well, again, I'd be happy to assist you online.
Coming soon, I'll take a look at textile jackets, helmets, gloves, boots, ladies gear and more.