I got a late start riding bikes—I was about 27 when I first climbed aboard my friend’s “crotch rocket.” He told me that I would need boots, gloves, and, most importantly, a sturdy leather jacket. I had that last one covered. My uncle had given me his old leather jacket when he got married and his wife deemed it unfit for wear. But I didn’t much want it at the time because I just wasn’t a “leather jacket” type of guy. I was a vegetarian who didn’t believe that animals were put on this Earth just so that people could make a fashion statement. But when I started riding bikes, I suddenly felt like maybe I should be a “leather jacket” guy. After all, my friend insisted that I should have one and scoffed at the idea of wearing something made from any other material. “Only leather will protect you if you crash,” he said.
I spent a few months recovering from a crash on the Pacific Coast Highway. I remember flying through the air and wondering why my life wasn’t flashing before my eyes. Then nothing. When I came to, I felt all warm, and my “indestructible” leather jacket was a tattered, bloody mess. I reached for my shoulder, where the jacket had come apart at the seams, and felt chunks of flesh, maybe some bone, along with that warm sensation again. I pulled my hand back, and it was so soaked with blood that I might as well have dipped it in a can of red paint.
My bike was totaled, and my right side still didn’t feel quite right, but I didn’t care. I wanted another bike. So I bought another old Honda, this one bigger and faster. I had been riding for about two years at that point, yet I had never gone to the cycle shop before, simply because there was nothing there that I needed. My first bike came with a helmet, and I had the gloves and jacket already. But now I needed something.
The first thing I did was ask the salesman to show me the jackets. His response?
“Leather or textile?”
Textile? Like synthetic leather? No, it turned out that most of the jackets in the store weren’t leather, pleather, or any other variation on cowhide. It turns out that there was a whole industry that made jackets out of textile, specifically for motorcycle riding. Who would have known? Me, I suppose, if I had bothered to look into it.
But surely they couldn’t be as strong as leather? Then again, mine did fall apart rather quickly, I thought, as I rubbed my sore right shoulder.
Soon, the salesman had me trying on a beautiful, essentially seamless jacket that hugged my body just right, with none of the bulky creases of my old leather jacket. It was made from 35 percent something and 65 percent something else, and I didn’t care one bit what it was. All I knew is that it didn’t come from an animal and felt better than the old jacket had felt. And the best part? It cost less than most of the leather jackets.
It wasn’t long before I crashed again.
But something was different. I wasn’t warm. There was no puddle of blood. In fact, there was no blood at all. As I reached around to feel for injuries, I got the familiar stabbing sensation that meant I had again broken several bones. But I didn’t feel any exposed flesh—just the ridges of my jacket, a bit worse for wear and dotted with gravel, true. But unlike me, it was still in one piece.