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MD Product Review: Shift SR-1 Leathers

Anyone familiar with the motocross side of the motorcycle world knows all about Shift apparel. Founded in 1997 by Fox Racing (and existing as a subsidiary of that company), Shift quickly came to the limelight through its association with Jeff Emig, who at the time was perhaps the best motocross racer in the world. The company also developed a close connection with the then-infant freestyle movement, through sponsorship of riders like crazed distance-jumper Seth Enslow. All of Shift’s sponsored riders were featured frequently in edgy ads in all the mainstream motocross mags, ‘flossing’ Shift’s style-conscious duds (both riding gear and casual wear). As a brand, Shift has come a long way.

Shift began investigating the market for street-riding gear a few years ago, and its first few entries into the market were not generally well-received. Undeterred, Shift hired a few experienced designers (one of which I know for certain came directly from an Italian company with a familiar ‘A’ logo), and set about re-designing their street line to take on the competition head-on. The SR-1 leather suit I was provided for testing was one of the first fruits of Shift’s renewed push into the street market; several all-new riding jackets and a host of gloves are also currently available, and even more products are likely to arrive in the near future.

One thing Shift shares with parent company Fox is a reputation for quality. A former top professional racer recently broke it down for me when he said “In the motorcycle world, a company’s reputation means alot. When you buy something from Fox, you know you’re getting some of the best quality stuff out there, and the same goes for Shift.” Although he may have been a little bit biased, overall I would say that his evaluation is pretty accurate. The question is, does Shift’s street gear live up to the reputation for quality it has built with its off-road products?

The short answer is yes. In over a month of living with the SR-1 suit, including a significant amount of track time and a few mid-length (3-5 hours) street rides, the SR-1 definitely lived up to my expectations.

The first thing to consider when you’re testing a pair of leathers is durability. After all, the reason you’re wrapping yourself up in a bunch of padded cowhide every time you go riding is to protect your precious ass (and assorted other vital body parts) when you screw up, right? The SR-1s are certainly on par with other leathers in the same price range as far as protection – the majority of the suit is constructed of 1.2-1.4mm premium cowhide, with stretch kevlar panels providing flexibility without compromising protection, and CE-certified armor reinforcing likely impact points like the shoulders, elbows and knees. The suit also features an integral pocket to hold a standard-size back protector, which is an addition that anyone serious about protection will almost certainly make.

Fortunately, I didn’t get the chance to actually test the protective capabilities of these leathers, so I can’t provide any real-world reports on how they handle a crash. However, close visual inspection of the suit’s construction didn’t reveal any obvious weak points, and I’m confident that the Shift leathers would perform just as well as any other suit in this price range as far as protecting my body in the event of an off-bike excursion.

Of course, the next biggest concern to most potential buyers is comfort. Full one-piece leathers are never going to be particularly comfortable for riding around, which is why most riders only suit up when headed out for a particularly, um, aggressive street ride, or a track day/race. With that in mind, a good set of leathers should be comfortable enough to ‘disappear’ when the rider is involved in a focused session of riding, so as not to disrupt his concentration. In my mind, there are three necessary components for this to occur: fit, flexibility, and ventilation.

Of the three, fit is the most personal issue when buying a set of leathers. In fact, with my rather slender build (ok, maybe I’m just skinny – 5’9″, 135lbs) I often have trouble finding gear that doesn’t fit me like a potato sack, with loose folds hanging everywhere. Luckily, Shift’s smallest available size for the SR-1 suit (a Euro 48) was just about as good as it gets for my build. As always, your mileage may vary, depending on height, weight, build, distribution of fatty deposits, and numerous other factors. ‘Try (on) before you buy’ is the key here.

Flexibility is another area where the SR-1s excelled. In the past, I have worn a few pair of leathers that left me feeling like a knight in a suit of armor – not the best feeling when you’re hanging way off through a 100+mph sweeper, and you have to quickly shift to the other side of the bike for the next turn. I never had this feeling while wearing the SR-1s, which contributed to their ability to disappear and allow me to fully concentrate on riding.

Finally we come to ventilation. This is another area where different traits can be desirable to different riders, but in this case it depends more on the environments in which you ride than your body type. I don’t know a whole lot about the rest of the country, but here in Inland Southern California we pretty much have three types of weather: hot, hotter, and ‘hellfire’. The venting in the SR-1 suit is limited to an area around the groin and upper thigh, a small section surrounding the neck and upper back, and a few holes under the armpits – looking pretty sparse in comparison to some competitor’s suits, some of which feature more vent holes. The SR-1 was great in weather up to about 70-75 degrees, after which it started to get a bit uncomfortable. Overall, for the climate I live in, I would have preferred significantly more ventilation.

On the other hand, head out on a chilly early morning ride in a heavily vented suit, and you’ll find yourself approaching ice cube status before you get halfway to your favorite canyon. So again, your mileage may vary depending on typical weather conditions in your region.

Since we’ve covered protection and comfort, the only element left is style. As we often say in articles about new motorcycles, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, and this holds doubly true for riding gear. Personally, I’m a big fan of the understated black, silver and white color scheme of the SR-1s – the fact that it doesn’t feature any crazy colors also helps, since as a journalist I often find myself aboard many different colored machines, and I try to avoid gear that will clash too badly with my mount of the day (bright red on a neon green Kawasaki, for example). Again, this may just be my personal style – I have a tendency to buy cars only in black, white or grey rather than any bright colors, just for reference. Shift also produces the SR-1 in an attractive black/blue scheme, if you’re interested.

Oh, and I can’t leave out a mention of the ‘aero hump’ – yes, the SR-1s have it, which I’m sure is an important factor for those of you who just have to have that ‘Superbike Look’.

So what’s the bottom line? Shift’s latest foray into the ultra-competitive and trendy street market maintains the company’s reputation for producing quality products, and is certainly a competitive option with other one-piece suits in a similar price range (the SR-1 suit carries a US MSRP of $899.95, though street price may be somewhat lower – at least from what I have seen). Attractive and comfortable, the SR-1 is let down only by a relative lack of ventilation that makes itself felt on extremely hot days.

For more information on the SR-1 suit, and the rest of Shift’s product line, check out shiftstreet.com.