Even the Mighty Can Fall - A Failure at the Highest Level
One of the most worrisome things that could possibly happen to a motorcycle gear manufacturer is undoubtedly a high-profile failure in front of a large audience. Even worse if the racer in question is hurt. In the case of a fellow suit manufacturer, that is exactly the situation they’ve faced over the past couple weeks. Naturally I am not going to name the brand, although you can probably figure it out with a quick Google search and a touch of common sense. For the sake of protecting them and retaining the flow of the article, I’ll simply refer to them as “Brand A” from this point forward. But hey, surprise: I’m here to defend them!
A couple of weeks ago during the MotoGP race at Aragon, Fabio Quartararo had a collision with Marc Marquez (which was purely a racing incident… we’ll leave it at that). The collision sent Fabio flying, and he tumbled along the track before sliding along on his chest and coming to a halt. He got up and took a ride back to the paddock on a scooter, two-up with a track marshall. Later, stories began to surface on social media stating that Fabio had been involved in an accident during that scooter ride, and since his leathers were allegedly unzipped during the ride, he suffered abrasions on his chest and abdomen. “Thankfully,” they said, “he was wearing his helmet when the scooter crashed.”
Okay, I gotta say I immediately saw some yellow flags flying at this one. First, while it is SUUUPER common to see Fabio with his leathers unzipped and washboard abs exposed, he also isn’t exactly the helmet-wearing type. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the guy does like showing his stuff. He’s a decent looking dude, so more power to him I guess. Second, it seemed a pretty convenient story given that there would be no real footage of this type of incident (a scooter crash in the paddock). Third, the guy did slide on his chest for quite some time on the track. How could we be sure this wasn’t an injury sustained during that slide?
Alas, I went back and looked at all the footage of the crash I could find, doing as much super sleuthing as I could using my phone screen and low-res playback footage on a poor connection. I didn’t really see anything abnormal, so I went about my evening. When I awoke the next morning, however, other more sleuthy people had indeed turned over some pretty damning still shots which showed Fabio’s suit opened during the crash, as well as photos of him on the scooter before with the marshall before they were underway and headed back to the paddock, wincing in pain with large scrapes all over his abdomen. The story was out, and Brand A was taking a beating on the socials.
“Really Brand A? Two suit failures in MotoGP this year? Time to go back to the drawing board on some things!”
“Wow, I won’t be buying a Brand A suit anytime… ever.”
“A zipper failure like that is unacceptable. End of story.”
“How does a suit even come apart at this level? Aren’t these suits supposed to be the best in the world? Brand A should be ashamed of this, and FIM needs to take a look at them.”
I started replying to some of these comments before I realized I had way better things to do with my time and I was simply fighting a wildfire with a spray bottle. That’s when it occurred to me: I could write a Bison blog and fight this wildfire with a Super Soaker instead!
You may or may not know that I have written several blogs and shot videos talking about the challenges of the motorcycle apparel industry as well as how-to pieces explaining how to inspect and repair your gear after an incident. I pride myself in being an expert in the industry and although I am by no means the end-all-say-all authority on these topics, let’s just say I have learned a lot not only through information provided by others but moreso from real-world experience. There are an infinite number of variables that factor into a motorcycle crash, whether it is at 200 mph or 20 mph. In fact, in a closed-course setting, your risk of injury or gear compromise does not exponentially increase as speeds increase! Case in point: I recently crashed at a pretty decent speed on my SV650 recently and walked away unscathed, yet a TTR125 crash at a very low speed caused me a groin strain and left me with a wicked bruise and a limp.
All that being said, I have seen all brands of suits fail in all sorts of spectacular ways. I’ve seen suits come apart almost completely at the waist. I saw the legs of a suit shred apart like paper in a simple low-side. I’ve seen zippers explode and threads come unraveled. I’ve seen kevlar stretch material fray apart in an instant during a slide, leaving the rider with some horrible road rash. Gloves have come completely unraveled or slid through, grinding fingers to the bone. Name a brand you think is durable and safe - I could give you at least one horror story about them that I’ve seen first-hand. Then again, I would never name names when telling these stories. The reason I don’t name names is because - besides being unprofessional - in certain situations, our gear is just as prone to failure as anyone else’s.
In this industry, at the highest level all you can do is give your best effort. We plan for the most likely scenarios and build our gear to withstand those situations. Sometimes (usually) this means sacrificing something; comfort, mobility, or a bit of safety in the instance that a different (more rare) type of crash occurs. We’re playing the odds, making an educated guess, and basing decisions on the things we’ve seen in the real world. I imagine it’s a bit like outfitting an army to go into war: study the enemy, identify the battle theater, equip accordingly and hope it all goes the way you think it’s going to… but something as trivial as a change in weather could suddenly put you at a disadvantage by rendering your chosen equipment useless. This is why every suit and glove is different from the next: We’re all planning to attack the same enemy with slightly different strategies.
This is why it’s so important as a manufacturer to investigate each compromise to figure out what happened and determine whether there is any way to avoid the same issue later down the road. Case-in-point: When one of our MotoAmerica Jr.Cup riders crashed at Pittsburgh a few years ago, he ended up in the middle of the track sitting upright with his back to traffic. He was hit squarely in the back by a fellow racer, and that impact tore a gaping hole in the back of his leathers. This was an easy one to solve, as we quickly found that the hole was exactly the size and shape of the front brake rotor of the bike that struck him. The combination of the torque and speed of the motorcycle wheel as it struck the rider, along with the shape and sharp edge of the rotor made for a perfect slice in the back of the suit, but there was one more element: a perforated back panel. Perforation adds ventilation but decreases the tensile strength of the panel significantly. Think about a perforated piece of paper or cardboard - tears a lot easier and cleaner than a solid piece, right? Same principle applies.
With that in mind, let’s circle back to the case of Fabio’s zipper. I’m unsure what Brand A’s reasoning is for choosing the zipper they did for their MotoGP suits, but I’m positive it has nothing to do with cost cutting or sacrificing safety. They’ve seen plenty of crashes to know what works and what doesn’t. It should also be noted this is not the same budget Brand A suit on the rack at your local cycle shop. In addition, keep in mind that Brand A probably doesn’t make this zipper in-house. It was likely sourced from a supplier who makes zippers as their specialty. From what I have seen (and read), it appears that the zipper itself failed, not the stitching or leather surrounding it. That’s not to say that there isn’t the possibility of failure from a quality control standpoint, however it doesn’t appear Brand A’s workmanship had anything to do with this compromise. More notably, there is a great explanation for the zipper failure as noted by Moto.IT per Brand A:
“After examining Quartararo’s race-worn suit from Aragon, as well as reviewing video footage of the incident taken from various angles, [Brand A] stated that two things apparently happened. Firstly, the airbag on Quartararo’s suit inflated before he hit the ground, as it absolutely should have done.
When Quartararo landed on his back on the ground, the combination of the airbag’s inflation and the leather’s stretch as he slid on the ground amped up the stress levels on the suit. It was then that Quartararo’s front wheel came in contact with the front of his race suit, and that’s when the rubber from the tire caused the zipper’s teeth to fail, resulting in the suit opening and Quartararo sustaining chest burns.
Post-crash examination of the suit in the [Brand A] laboratory revealed that all the seams were intact after the crash—including those holding the zipper in place on the front of the suit. The company adds that although this was an extraordinary combination of events, it is already addressing ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen again in the future.”
So there you have it. Brand A completed an investigation into the incident and described perfectly how this could have happened. Of course, I can tell you first-hand that these types of investigations go much easier and smoother when we’re talking about broadcast races involving multiple angles of the incident in slow motion. It’s a different story when your buddy crashes in an Intermediate trackday group and some guy 100 feet back had a GoPro 3 recording in 720p. In that case, it’s easy for people to take a look and say “Wow the zipper just blew up for no reason”!
To me, the compromise of the suit is less of a concern than the subsequent deflection of blame and outright fabrication of a story in what appears to be an attempt to cover up the truth. The concern is magnified when you had a similar incident involving Fabio and his Brand A zipper during the 2021 Catalunya GP in which he says his zipper simply came apart without even crashing, causing him to race the final laps bare-chested. In that case, it was initially reported not as a failure but as the fault of Fabio as it was said that he unzipped the leathers. Although this has since been dispelled by Fabio himself, there have been many reports that he does not zip his chest zipper fully to the top. Failure to bring the zipper up to its stops could indeed increase the risk of failure under stress.
With all of the above being said, I haven’t been able to identify who issued the initial fabrication about Fabio’s abrasions and the scooter crash. We also don’t know if this was reported as a miscommunication or an outright lie, nor do we know the motive if it were a lie. As it stands, it looks a lot like an attempt from someone to cover up the incident and hope no one would find the truth. Then again, that sounds pretty silly when I type it out, considering there are dozens of hi-res, high-FPS cameras all over the incident and it was almost certain that video or at least still shots of the failure would surface quickly.
In closing, it’s important to remember the old cliche statement that “all crashes are unique and no piece of gear is indestructible". Keep this in mind next time you see a well built, quality piece of gear fail - because it’s going to happen.
Rob Lackey has been a motorcycle gear connoisseur for years, mostly because he crashed a lot there for a while. After spending 20 years in the automotive industry managing service departments with a focus on culture and customer service, Rob decided to combine his passion for making people happy with that of racing and "going fast while staying safe". He founded Bison Track LLC with his wife, Tosha and they now roam the country with their two youngest kids, Edith and Carter, growing The Herd and educating others about the importance of safe riding gear. Every now-and-then he still gets to race.
I am a track day rider and a broke graduate student in analytical chemistry. The cold hard truth is my business, and you get bet the first high dollar suit I buy will be a Bison.