A few weeks back, I found myself in a very unexpected position: Astride a sporty Yamaha YZF-R7, zipping through the twists and turns and chicanes of a professional motorcycle racetrack in southern New Jersey. As a café racer-and-cruiser type of guy, such a scenario had never been on my radar — but when the chance to check out the Yamaha Champions Riding School appeared, I couldn't pass it up.
For all the steps outside my comfort zone that this adventure involved, perhaps the oddest was the key piece of attire involved: a $1,500 Dainese Laguna Seca One-Piece Leather Suit. Anyone who's caught a snippet of Moto GP or MotoAmerica can picture it: a virtually skin-tight bodysuit armored with shoulder, elbow and knee pads, and shaped in such a way that it only looks somewhat normal when you are actually crouched on a bike.
The pro suits often have personal touches and an airbag system (which tacks another grand-plus onto the price), but are otherwise pretty similar. And as apprehensive as I was about rocking one, I came to appreciate its charms.
So much so, in fact, that if you're doing a track day, I — as Ferris Bueller might say — highly recommend picking one up — or at least renting one to try it out. Here's why.
1. A one-piece riding suit fits like a glove (really)
This expression gets thrown around a lot, but you know it really applies when the item in question takes at least 15 minutes to put on. You really do have to contort and squeeze to don one of these suits, at least the first couple times. I'm sure from the outside it was pretty comical, watching me and the other noobs struggle to suit up. (Especially in the first suit I tried, which was too small — and so tight my voice went up an octave.)
The suits are perforated, so even on a hot race track you don't feel totally overheated. They're chiefly made of full-grain cowhide leather, so they presumably stretch a bit to accommodate your body over time. And you get the hang of how to wear them, even unzipping and shaking out of the top part (a process made easier with a tug on a sleeve from a fellow rider) during breaks.
By the end of the two-day school, I could get the suit on in about five minutes, but even that figure speaks to its form-fitting-ness. Which, in addition to streamlining you for speed, gets you in the right state of mind to ride your best.
2. The leather racing suit boosts your confidence
The great Ned Flanders once opined that a skintight ski suit allowed for maximum mobility. While the Laguna Seca doesn't necessarily have that effect — I can't imagine trying to run from a bear in this suit and the matching Axial D1 Boots — there is no question that zipping into it made me feel like a superhero.
I'm not the fittest man on the planet — and my fellow students in the school came in many shapes and sizes — but everybody looked ready to rock in the suits. Thank Dainese's design principles. I've tried a number of their products, including other technical ones ,and while I am sure my partially Italian blood leaves me biased, I'm convinced the brand is incapable of making stuff that isn't at (or at least near) the apex of form and function.
That's definitely the case here. The black-and-white color scheme is classic, and the garment seamlessly integrates a lot of nice qualities, including breathability and a surprising amount of flexibility, thanks to XF Arrow, a proprietary Dainese material that introduces some stretch into the garment.
It also packs performance and hydration in one fell swoop — the aerodynamic hump on the back is designed to hold a waterbag kit with a tube that goes right up into a compatible helmet for sips on the go. All these features added up to give me a sense I had everything I needed to ride faster — and safer — than ever before.
3. You're safe as a turtle in its shell in a one-piece suit
I swear I didn't put this part here because the expression Safety Third is popular enough to land on T-shirts. I'm more going for the recency effect, because safety is the main reason suits like this one exist. Even without the airbag, it's packed with protective features, including room for a back protector, plus those strategically placed plates and pads.
That's right, the shoulder protectors are actually aluminum plates — an approach Dainese pioneered and patented — to help you slide rather than dangerously roll in the event of a fall. The suit also features Pro-Shape 2.0 protectors on the hips. Meanwhile, the elbow and knee pads are made of a composite material, designed to make track contact as frictionless as possible. The knee pads are attached via Velcro, because elite riders drag knees in the sharper turns and need to replace them from time to time. But hey, if you're riding at that level, you sure don't need me to tell you to invest in a suit such as this one.