Getting leathered with Alpinestars’ MotoGP suits
We get an exclusive look at the leathers that keep the world's fastest motorcycle riders protected.
If you're throwing yourself around a track at speeds in excess of 300kph on a bike that's packing 230hp, you'd want to make sure you were suitably protected in the eventuality that you had a close encounter with the tarmac, right?!
Thankfully, those in charge of kitting out MotoGP's elite employ the very finest materials and the latest technologies to ensure that every set of leathers is packed with features that offer the highest level of protection.
Made to measure: The perfect fit
With freedom of movement absolutely essential but a snug fit just as important for safety reasons, every set of leathers is tailored precisely to each rider's individual requirements.
Jeremy Appleton explains: The suit is made to measure in order to give the best possible performance to the rider, but also to make sure that if they do crash all of the protection is properly in place. It's also to ensure the abrasion of the impact doesn't pull protection off the body.
We'll measure the riders up at the end of the previous season or at pre-season testing, to check the measurements. It's an ongoing process.
Overall the average suit weighs about 4.5kg. It depends on slightly different specifications we build into the suit.
Jeremy Appleton: Within the suit there is protection in the elbows, shoulders and knees. It's built in and removable. That provides a good level of impact protection. The inner lining of the suit is removable so it can be taken out and washed.
With regards to the stitching, the suits are constructed with different panels. We double stitch all the panels, and in some cases we double line particularly vulnerable areas. We make sure everything is double stitched internally, as well as externally, and that we use particular types of thread so that even if the threads do give way the strength is retained internally.
Construction and contact: Top grade materials
There are key contact points on a rider's body when he comes off the bike, namely the knees, elbows and shoulders, so these need extra special attention. A combination of specific materials and construction techniques makes for the best possible protection.
Jeremy Appleton: We choose the best quality leather hide. In most cases we use cowhide, but we do use kangaroo as well. Bovine is used mostly though because it is very wear resistant, and it's usually between 1.2 and 1.4 millimetres thick.
The leather itself is of a very good quality so the filaments in the leather retain a lot of strength, and therefore provide a good deal of abrasion protection.
The special protection around the knees, elbows and shoulders is made from specially formulated thermo plastic.
We have moulds for these and injection mould these structures, and they are dual density – harder in the centre and slightly softer round the outside – and have a gel pad and protector built underneath too.
The idea of these special protectors around the shoulders, elbows and knees is that they help dissipate the energy of an impact, and spread it over a wider area. By doing that, the energy received through the protector is less. The first contact with the tarmac should be a glancing blow, so we try to control that initial contact and reduce the friction. When the rider is then sliding the energy from the impact is dissipating.
The elbow slider is designed as a protective feature, but we incorporate an extra slider if the rider drags his elbow. Not everybody does that, it's very much a riding style. Marc Márquez is the most visible exponent of this technique, and there are now quite a few riders who are doing it.
We do also use an airbag system, and that protects the rider's upper body. The stretch areas on the suit are really important because when the airbag is deployed it usually inflates to about 4-5 centimetres. That means the suit has to expand to accommodate that, because the airbag doesn't come out of the suit. Most of our riders have the airbag system.
Keeping cool: Hydration and airflow
Hydration is also hugely important. An overheated rider will lose concentration rapidly, so keeping cool and being able to access fluids during a race are key features.
Jeremy Appleton: The suit is pretty much fully vented all the way down the front surface. The aerodynamics on the bike work very efficiently, but even so we can get quite a lot of airflow through the front of the suit.
Once the air is in, it has to get out again so in the back of the suits we build slightly bigger perforations, all the way down the back of the suit and into the legs. We try and build a positive airflow through the actual suit. That's the case with gloves as well, it just helps to keep the rider cool and aids physical performance.
Jeremy Appleton: The hydration sits in the aerodynamic hump of the suit. Normally there will only be 200-300 millilitres of fluid because one of the big issues in racing is weight, and everybody wants to be as light as possible.
Over the distance of the race in MotoGP the riders aren't really dehydrating in a huge way, it's more a case of the mouth drying out and becoming uncomfortable, and it's just a little bit of relief to be able to take some fluid on. The hydrobag goes in the hump and we have a system that runs through to the helmet, where the rider can just grab the sucker and drink.