Leather is a versatile material that has been a motorcycle gear staple for bikers for decades. Because of their toughness and longevity, leather jackets and vests are an essential part of every motorcyclist’s wardrobe. Not only does leather gear provide protection to motorcyclists against weather conditions but also provide protection against accidents to some extent.
Highest quality leather has this supple and smooth look that can enhance the overall appearance of the wearer. Since leather is sourced from nature, its properties can’t be altered and it stiffs up with time and without proper care the surface of your leather vest can start cracking up. At times a fresh piece of leather garment may also be stiff and needs softening before it can be used.
First and foremost, it is important to understand the kind of leather you are working with so you can soften it up without causing damage to the garment.
Different types of leather and how do they differ in stiffness:
There are 5 types of leather depending on their source. These 5 types are most commonly used across all industries. The chief defining factor for each type of leather which differentiates them form the next is their grain, softness, and texture. Different types of leather may require different softening and maintenance techniques.
Here are the most commonly used hides along with their properties:
Cowhide: this is the most widely used hide. It is the toughest and strongest type of leather there is. Even though it is not popular with the fashion industry it is commonly used in motorcycle gear and is a favorite among bikers due to its toughness and rigidity.
Deerskin Leather: Though not too commonly used, deerskin is significantly softer compared to cowhide. The ability of deer hides to trap air on its surface gives it an even softer texture. The garments made out of deerskin can be worn throughout the year because of its property to keep you warm during cold and vice versa. It is tough just like any leather material and can see through the test of times.
Lambskin: Lambskin is the softest form of leather there is which makes it a fashion industry staple. The soft buttery texture of this type of hide is because the lambskin is majorly sources from the lambs that haven’t matured yet. The softness of the leather means that the garment is prone to get scratched and therefore requires extra care in order to maintain its longevity.
- Leather is further categorized into several types depending on their physical properties. Let’s take a look at those to better understand what you are working with:
Full Grain: Because this type of leather is derived from the top surface of the hide that contains all the grains, thus given the name full grain leather. Because the final product is obtained by making minimum alterations, it is the toughest and the highest quality of leather available and is a favorite among leather enthusiasts.
Top Grain: The significant features of top grain leather are its toughness and flexibility which are achieved by splitting and sanding the hide top. The top grain leather is mostly used in jackets and is a favorite among jacket wearers. Another property which sets it apart is its ability to be dyed into different colors because of its durability and flexibility, it is widely used in high end products because of its ability to last longer.
What causes stiffness in leather?
Apart from the fact that some leathers are naturally stiff and may need breaking into it before the leather garment can be properly utilized, there are several factors that may cause even high end leather to stiff up over the course of time. Some of them are:
Storing Environment: because of the delicacy of some fabrics, extra care has to be taken while putting them away at the end of the season. Most of us just dump our clothes together in one space without giving it much thought. Excessive dryness or wet conditions are equally bad for leather and therefore ideally be stored in controlled environment with a relative humidity of 40-50%.
Stretching: while buying a leather jacket or vest choosing the right size is the key. If you are trying to fit into a leather garment that is smaller than your size can cause it to stretch. Forced stretching can cause the garment to become less flexible and stiff.
Using a Dryer: never throw a leather jacket or vest in a dryer for any reason. The dryers not only have high temperatures but also have the mechanics of throwing the garment up and down against its walls which can cause the garment to damage and lose its softness. If your jacket needs trying either use a soft cloth to absorb the moisture off its surface or let it air dray.
Jacket has run its life cycle: taking good care of a leather jacket or vest can make it last for a long time. However, every garment has an expiry date and even though leather is known for its toughness and longevity, it is not meant to last a lifetime. Even with good care, the leather will become hard and brittle over time and ultimately lose its softness.
How to soften leather motorcycle vest?
You may not be able to save a leather vest that has started showing signs of wear and tear however, there are ways to soften a new biker vest that is a bit stiff to take out for the first ride or the one that have been sitting around for too long and collecting dust. You will have to be patient with the leather but it will ultimately be softened up by using some of these methods.
Using natural oils: Natural oils are the best materials to use if you are a beginner. Use commonly available oils such as coconut or mink oil to soften your leather jacket or vest. The leather should be exposed to the sun before the application for good 10 minutes. Evenly apply the oil on the surface and allow it to be absorbed.
To ensure that the oil may not damage your leather vest, test it on the hidden area first. Apply small amount at a time. If it appears to be discoloring the leather, then don't experiment further on the surface of the leather vest.
Using water: Water has the ability to soften and stretch the leather. The best way to do that is to wear your jacket or vest in light drizzle until it has dampened nicely. This will cause the pores of leather to open up and absorb moisture. Bend your arms or try some pushups that can cause the leather to stretch and soften up and will take up the shape of your body after drying.
Make sure that the leather doesn’t soak up excessive water as it will cause the leather to become rough and brittle.
Using Leather Conditioner: the most commonly used method to soften up a leather jacket or a vest is by using leather conditioner. A good leather conditioner not only softens up a new leather vest but it is also vital to use it on your old garment every now and then to maintain its softness.
Using Alcohol and Vaseline: if leather oils or conditioners aren’t readily available you can always use alcohol and Vaseline for this purpose as these materials are almost always available in most households.
Apply rubbing alcohol on the surface of leather using a cotton pad. Carefully dab the pad over the entire leather surface. To seal in the moisture, apply Vaseline on the surface of your leather vest afterwards and leave it to dry overnight.
Motorcycle Jacket for your next ride
Tips for keeping your motorcycle vest from getting stiff:
Proper maintenance along with sound habits will ensure your leather from becoming stiff.
There are a number of tips that you can make use of in order to prevent your leather from getting stiff. Moreover, with a mix of common sense and best practices, your leather will remain smooth and supple for a long time to come and will see it through the test of times.
- The importance of quality cannot be undermined. Buying quality leather is of utmost importance. To ensure that that your leather vest remains with you for a long time, it is absolutely vital that you invest in high quality leather garments that are easier to care for and avoid inferior quality items at all costs as they may deteriorate quickly even with proper care.
- Don't expose your leather garments to the extreme heat for excessive length of time. Prolonged and excessive exposure to sun’s radiations may cause the leather to dry up, fade, and even become brittle. Store leather garments carefully and in a controlled environment at the end of the season.
- It is not recommended to use adulterated methods for drying up leather. In case your leather garment gets wet, let it air dry instead of putting it near fire or under the sun as it will soak up excessive moisture from leather causing it to dry up and cracked.
- To keep leather supple and flexible, regular maintenance is necessary. The softness and shine of the leather can be ensured by using conditioners such as mink oil, or olive oil.
- By following the manufacturer's instruction label is one of the greatest methods to preserve clothing and other leather garments in pristine condition. The instructions that comes with the garment are key to lasting your leather products through the wear and tear and keep soft texture and suppleness.
A leather motorcycle vest is an investment that is meant to last you for decades to come if it is properly sourced and cared for. While buying a leather motorcycle vest make sure that you choose your accurate size and good quality leather. A well-fitting leather vest or motorcycle jacket will ensure that it is flexible on your body and isn’t causing undue stretching of the leather.
Leather is a delicate material which if not properly stored or cared for, can stiffen up and lose its delicacy and softness over time that it is famous for. However, if this does happen these minor defects can be sorted out with some methods and proper application of protective materials. The procedures listed above will not only restore your leather garment or accessory to its former glory if there is no substantial damage to the garment or accessory. Some of these procedures and recommendations are not suitable for faux leather items, and therefore you should do your due research before application of corrective materials on leather garments. If you are unsure, refer to the manufacturer's instructions on how to care for your leather garments. These tried and tested tips have helped many over the years and are meant to help you as well.