Why Bikers Wear Chaps

Over the 33 years I have been riding a motorcycle, I have acquired a number of pairs of chaps to use while riding. Chaps perform a great function, of keeping the legs warm on cool days, as well as are easy to put on over street clothes and quick to remove when one arrives at his or her destination.

While chaps do not provide the fullest protection as a pair of leather breeches may offer, nonetheless, well-fitted, quality chaps are often chosen by bikers like me who commute on their bikes to get to work. Seldom can someone who works in a regular job wear leathers all day. Leather jeans or breeches are not acceptable at my place of employment.

However, on mornings when it’s cool out — as it has been the past couple of mornings lately with temperatures about 60°F (15.5°C) — a biker needs something additional on his legs to keep warm. Dress pants that I wear to work aren’t nearly warm enough. Plus, I don’t want my pants to get dirty.

Some bikers I have met or know have “gone on the cheap” and buy inexpensive leather chaps from on-line retailers that cater to straight bikers. Cheap chaps are thin (usually 4 to 5oz weight leather), sometimes made of cowhide splits (not top grain leather), and often are pieced together rather than being made of one solid hide. Cheap chaps (US$100 or less) are pretty much worthless.

Good chaps usually cost in the range of about US$200. They are fairly functional and usually have a snap or belted front closure with rawhide strings in the back for adjustment. They generally are sold in sizes S-M-X-XL and thus may not fit the wearer well. You may notice puckering at the crotch area and the chaps will feel loose or baggy in the seat and thigh. Often those chaps will have a zipper closure down to about the mid-calf, then snaps to close down to the foot. They usually are made to one length, and the seller says “all you have to do is cut or hem them to the desired length.” The snap leg closure is functional, but often the snaps oxidize during use by getting wet with road spray or exposure to the elements, and become unusable.

Great chaps are fitted to the man wearing them, and may cost in the range of US$350 – $400. Measurements provided to a leather crafter are used to make chaps that fit well in the seat, thigh, and lower legs. The legs are long enough to go down to the boot and have double-stitched hemmed ends. Zippers for motorcycle chaps usually are sewn on the outside of the leg, to prevent scratching a motorcycle’s paint. Great chaps usually have pockets on the front, are made of thick 8oz top-grain leather. There is usually one solid band of leather across the back, or if rawhide strings holding grommeted ends together are used, the ends are spaced close together. The front of great chaps usually closes with a five-snap fitting (or a belt; your choice).

You can get more information about choosing chaps and where to buy them from my website in the Guide to Leather Gear.

Real bikers wear chaps (and boots) often.

Life is short: leather up and ride!