Friday, 20 April 2018

Clothin'

One of the easiest places to find bike gear when buying a bike for the first time is off the vendor. The owner may well be giving up bikes for the delights of a Metro, and will chuck in his bike clothing as part of the deal. If it fits you, well and good, if not you can sell or swap it later.

Relatives or friends who have given up motorcycling are another useful source. A recent check in the nether regions of my garage revealed no fewer than three sets of Belstaffs collected over the years, for a grand cost of sweet FA.

The postcards in shop windows reveal all sorts of strange offers - never realised there were so many French teachers about... a decent pair of boots can be had for between £10 and £30, depending on the seller. A lot better than £60 plus for a new pair.

Some time ago I managed to pick up a set of one-piece leathers for £20. Alas, a slight problem of liquidity meant they had to be sold not long afterwards. A decision I was to thoroughly regret when I took up despatching for a couple of years.

The local free-sheet often carries ads for all sorts of useful stuff, and most have a Bargain Basement or Under A Tenner section, as well as the more obvious sections. A nearly new set of waterproofs and the like can be picked up for about a third of the new price.

One of Britain's growth industries seems to be Thrift Shops - Oxfam, Cancer Research, etc. All sorts of bits and bobs get in this kind of place, at nice reasonable prices. Derriboots for a couple of quid, throwovers a fiver and so on. Anything good tends to go quickly so be prepared to visit them frequently. And, of course, it’s all in a good cause.

If you want to go a bit upmarket. an ex-catalogue shop often has nearly new leather boots, for instance, at half new price or less. Well worth searching out. Most of the stuff in this sort of place will have only been worn once or twice, and is usually a name brand.

Car boot sales, of which there seem to be millions every Sunday, are a useful source of tools as well as clothing. Check your local paper or freesheet for when and where. Some dealers like Motorcycle City, have occasional sales of old stock at very cheap prices, watch MCN for details.

Of course, once you have acquired some decent clobber you'll want it to keep you dry, at least for the time being. Being a traditionalist (or pervert) I tend to stick to leather or waxed cotton, both of which repay an occasional dose of tender loving care and elbow grease. 

Reproofing waxed cotton is a simple affair; also messy and smelly. If you feel it is beyond you, alternatives exist. Send the stuff to one of the firms that advertise reproofing in various mags, or your local dry cleaners. With the recent Barbour craze (who would have credited wax cotton becoming a fashion?), many of these places offer reproofing - they probably just send them away and charge you extra.

Doing it yourself simply consists of buying a can of proofing compound (I must admit l haven't tried the aerosol, they cost three times as much) then following the instructions on the the can. There are ways of making the process simpler and more entertaining.

I hang the garment on the washing line and clean it with a hose. When dry, the real fun starts. The wax you are meant to apply with a brush is often rock hard. In summer just leave the can somewhere outside, assuming it's sunny. Let’s face it, no-one but an idiot would reproof his stuff in winter. If you do, leaving the wax to liquify in the airing cupboard or oven can have some interesting results... eviction, evisceration or clothes and food stinking of the stuff for the forseeable future, just to mention a few. Putting the can in a bowl of hot water for a while seems to do the trick.

Then take a stiff brush and paint it all over. Pay particular attention to areas you might have noticed driving rain seeping through. Normally, this will be the knees and crutch of trousers and the arms of jackets, in fact, anywhere that gets creased with subsequent weakening of the proofing.

When the garment has dried, you will note white waxy deposits where too much has been applied. Leaving it somewhere warm will allow this-to soak in... my preferred method of getting rid of it is to go to the last pub that refused to serve you a beer when wearing leathers, then sit back against the plush seating in the nice warm pub and let the seats do the work.

Leather is rather different. Every few months a wonder product that promises to preserve, beautify and waterproof dead cow skin comes out. What they don't mention is that many of these rot the stitching - there is no use haying a nice shiny jacket if it does a good imitation of a sieve through every joint.

For boots I still use old fashioned dubbin. Worked in warm with a spoon (the back of, fool) and left overnight. A few treatments like that and it will be as close to waterproof as leather can get. Not pretty and shiny, but for me practicality comes before looks.

If you wear boots a lot, some hard rubber or composite heel pads will keep the heel from wearing down. It is very annoying to have to junk a perfectly good pair of boots just because they can’t be resoled. Whilst on the subject of boots, there are all sorts of thermal liners that reflect the heat of one’s fetid feet which are very wonderful in cold weather. Well worth it for under a fiver. Most chain stores will have them.

Until recently, I swore by a product called Hydrolan for all other items of leather clothing, and sometimes boots as well. This both cleans and protects the leather and can be applied with a sponge. However, recently I have noticed that the stitching on my jacket is going, but I put this down to having worn it nearly every day for the last 15 years. The jacket did spend a year mouldering away in a damp cellar once, the application of two coats of Hydrolan got it looking okay again, but it took months to stop smelling. A product I have heard great things of is Nikwax, which is supposed not to rot stitching and be waterproof.

If you can’t get these goodies from the local bike shop, specialist leather, climbing or shooting shops will usually have all sorts of things for preserving and restoring leather. Even the most abused can be made to look better and last longer. As for repairs, after doing GBH to my fingertips, I refuse even to attempt to stitch my leathers. Forget the big cleaners and repairers, who charge an arm and a leg. Most towns seem to have a small repair shop or a little old lady who will do it for a fraction of the cost, and normally a better job, too. Ask around.

Bruce Enzer

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