If you’re lucky, you still have your favorite leather jacket—maybe you even wear it every day. I sometimes pine for mine—it was a ’70s-era Schott I bought in a used clothing store. It looked, fit and felt just right, but I sold it to buy a brand-new Vanson suit, as the Vanson’s protection, durability and features were inarguably far superior. A succession of riding gear has followed, and though every year brings new innovations in safety or comfort, it’s hard to find a jacket that has the soul of that old brown Schott. If a jacket is comfortable and stylish, it usually sacrifices protection, and if it’s protective, it isn’t the kind of thing you’ll want to wear out to dinner or taking the kids to the park.
Luckily, there are enthusiasts who share our desire for a stylish, comfortable, functional and protective jacket that is built to last. One of them is Roger Sgarbossa, General Manager for Roland Sands Design. RSD—known for building eye-popping customs that touch on not just choppers and bobbers, but also roadracers, cafe racers and even supermotos and dirtbikes—wants to expand its operations past designing and building customs, so riding apparel seems like a logical next step.
Sgarbossa came from the action-sports industry, where he has experience with both marketing and product design and development. He’s also a devoted moto-enthusiast—not a poseur dabbling with a hobby, but a guy who grew up around motorcycles, racing and riding his whole life. Like many of us, he still wants protective gear, but knows he doesn’t need to be armored up like a medieval night just to go for a relaxing Sunday ride. He wanted gear that was stylish, well made and protective, but the offerings on the market were always either too Ricky Racer styled, too poorly made, or both. “We all wear gear, and it’s about style, performance and what you need,” Sgarbossa told me in a phone interview. “What makes us happy isn’t putting on a race suit, but something that will make us feel good and protected and can be worn anywhere.”
Hang around moto-apparel designers or manufacturers and it will be about five minutes before you’re talking about materials. Roger, like Andy Goldfine of Aerostich or Helmut Kluckner of Helimot, is a serious fabric nerd, somebody who can talk for hours about different leathers and textiles. Sgarbossa tells me RSD’s riding apparel lineup—which will include boots, gloves and other items—will use made-in-USA materials like waxed tent canvas and wool as well as Indian and Indonesian leather. The domestic materials don’t just look, smell and feel right, they also offer shorter lead times and smaller minimum orders, which allows RSD more flexibility in bringing its burgeoning apparel line to consumers. The motorcycle industry has few cool, small, upcoming brands, Sgarbossa tells me, because “there’s no distribution model for it.” Apparel lines are handled by a small number of large distributors (who only want to deal in thousands of jackets, beyond the scope of most small manufacturers), and most shops can ill afford to stock a lot of different brands, or even many styles or sizes from any one brand. Are the identical-looking Chinese-made jackets from four or five big brands the best thing on the market—or just the only thing available?
What is available is the buttery-soft jacket RSD sent me, and I like it a lot. The cut, fit and features are unique. It’s loaded with pockets, both hand-warmer, breast, sleeve (for change and toll money) and interior stuff pockets. It has an extended back, zippered side gussets so you can add extra layers, underarm venting, zippered sleeves and a soft, silky liner embossed with RSD logos and graphics.
RSD doesn’t want to build racing gear, but understands you may want more protection than a fashion-oriented jacket may offer. The Ronin has armor pockets designed for low-profile armor (that will be available from RSD soon) that accepted some basic CE armor I filched from some other apparel I had hanging around. Also, the soft pre-washed waxed leather is 1.2mm—not roadracing weight, but it should be far better than a sweatshirt and will probably outperform some textile riding gear. All the major seams are double stitched, which is much better than the single stitching you’ll find on most fashion apparel, but the multiple seams on the fashionably segmented sleeves make me nervous. Sgarbossa acknowledged they’re not as strong as you’d find on a race-grade item, but still offer plenty of protection, especially for street riding. Harry Hurt found that the great majority of street crashes happen at under 30 mph, which means you probably (hopefully) won’t experience the long street-Luge style backslides I’ve had on the racetrack.
The Ronin fits a lot like my old Schott, although the sizing runs small—I went up a size and although the sleeves are a touch long and the chest is a little baggy, it’s a pretty good fit. The leather breaks in almost instantly, blocks wind the way leather is supposed to (except where it’s perforated, of course), and feels like you’ve had it a million years a few miles into your first ride. It’s not perfect, though—the collar bit into my neck and the baggy cuffs bunched up, making it challenging to put gauntlets on. But it looks great, and got me plenty of compliments, especially from the over-40 crowd.
At $590, the Ronin is priced higher than your average moto-shop boy-racer jacket (although the other jackets are much less), but it has a special feel that makes it worth the extra dough. That higher price gets you a bit of handmade exclusivity that’s hard to find these days, and if this jacket turns into your go-to leather that goes with you everywhere, on and off the bike, you’ll quickly amortize the extra money you spent and be left with an item of apparel you’ll enjoy for a very long time.
“Everybody’s got that go-to item of gear,” says Sgarbossa, “It may not be the latest, or greatest, but it’s just my stuff.” The Ronin seems to fit that description, and it will hold that place in my wardrobe until somebody sends my old Schott back to me—and I lose 15 pounds.
Thanks, Jeff Latta for the use of your old GSX-R as a prop. Check out RSD’s line of jackets, shirts, hoodies and now gloves at the RSD website.