As mentioned in my review of the Nexx XG100 helmet, I've always hankered after a classic race outfit rather than the titanium shielded Power Ranger suits one would sport at Cadwell. Compromising on protection though isn't something I'm prepared to do in the name of style. Well that's not strictly true, the lurid fluro gear I've worn at Dirt Quake for the last three years has been so tight I barely had room for the Crown Jewels, let alone armour. Movement is perhaps as important as protection in preventing its need in the firstplace.
So what's out there if you want a whiff of Lewis Leathers chic but don't have Barry Sheene's pain threshold? French firm Helstons have hit the nail on the head with their KS70. It's made from cow, 1.1 and 1.2mm thick hide, is fully mesh lined and of course armoured. It'll pass the European CE approval without breaking a sweat and has elasticated Kevlar stretch panels on the inner thighs and under arms, just like a modern road race suit. If you are intending to clip apexes and get your knee down there are large Velcro panels for sliders, covered for normal use. It only comes in black and has just the subtlest of embossed branding on the chest. Perfect for not drawing attention to one's self in a rookie season.
The KS70 isn't boring though, there are cross stitched, quilted sections on the shoulders, hips, elbows and shoulders, and a ribbed stretch panel at the lower back. All making for a distinguished suit without being hipster, shouty or modern. The black leather is soft and supple, without feeling flimsy. Seams are tough looking and the aforementioned panels double-up abrasion resistance. The zips are quality and finished in a matt nickel effect, or just raw metal. Whatever they are, the look is right, no shiny chrome or brass.
The good people at Helstons sent one over for the start of the 2016 DTRA British Flattrack Championship, sized large. Embarrassingly this didn't even come close to fitting. I wear a Helstons Cruiser in medium (if you've seen the photos... it's snug!) and figured the next size up would do the trick. If I'd actually committed to the winter training programme and pie reduction schedule as planned then I'm sure a bit of sweat would have allowed the leather to soften and stretch to fit. But I hadn't factored in quite how bulky body armour would be.
I planned to wear Mobius X8 knee braces, a Knox Defender Elite shirt and matching padded shorts. Overkill for riding on dirt you might say. Trust me, landing on compacted clay isn't fun, especially when do so multiple times. Track Day goers might experience higher speeds than flat tracking, in the UK at least, but a couple of spills will have most reaching for ratchet straps and calling it a day. My record so far in a day? A dirty dozen. A combination of highsides and lowsides, and non of them comfortable. In MX gear I'd have looked like a scarecrow by lunch.
In the end I went for the an XL, removed the liner and CE armour and used the suit as merely a good looking second skin. With the padded comfort panel removed from the Knox Defender I was able to squeeze in the chunky chest protector. Slightly restrictive but I'm bored of cracked ribs.
The first thing I noticed was not being hampered by stiff leather. The stretch panels between the legs and under arms are brilliant, and I've really tested them. The one thing you need when starting out flat tracking is movement, lots of it. The more you can move, the less time you spend in the air fence. In theory anyway.
Since starting this feature last year I've lost count of the crashes, made multiple visits to hospital, destroyed helmets and gloves but the suit remains nearly unbreakable. I've burst one seam on the left forearm, unsurprising as this has spent so much time slowing me down on the shale. There are multiple abrasions on the arse area but none show any signs of being much more than a blemish. To say that I'm impressed is an understatement.
The only real criticism I'd have is the amount of cleaning the leather requires. When I've had a good sweat on white stains appear, making me look like a knackered race horse at the Grand National. Usually a sponging with saddle soap does the job but recently I've become lazy and bunged the thing on a 20 degree cycle in the washing machine, with a tiny dribble of gentle eco detergent. I'm sure the tannery would hate me for suggesting this but life's short and wiping down a suit 20-30 times a year is not fun. I now use a really lovely smelling almond based wax treatment from Putoline. It's dead easy to apply and maintains the hide's natural suppleness.
I'd like a bit more flexibility in the left leg as the knee braces are pretty bulky, so I'll be heading to Hideout Leathers and have an additional kevlar stretch panel stitched into the rear of the left knee. More on that another time.
For now check out more from Helstons here
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