Buying a suit is a bit like buying a car: you're likely either really excited about it or generally annoyed and anxious. And like a vehicle purchase, if this is your first time buying a motorcycle suit those feelings are probably amplified. How do you know you're buying the right product? Is this a good price? Will pricier leathers keep me safer than the less expensive stuff? If you're reading this you may have already made the decision to purchase from Bison, which is a great thing! But like varying models and trims of an automotive brand, there are several different suit options in the Bison catalog. Today we are going to dive into the differences in each model (Thor.1, Thor.2, Vegan, Vintage Rebirth) and help you determine which is right for you.
When making an important purchase there are many variables to consider. Everyone has a different budget and needs. Consider as an example the two newest entries in Ford's small truck and SUV lineup: the Ford Maverick and Ford Bronco Sport are compact utility vehicles that offer their owners good fuel economy, maneuverability and utility in two unique packages; a 4-door pickup and a 4-door SUV, respectively. Both are made on the Ford C2 platform and therefore share the same underpinnings as well as much of the running gear, however each one has features which make them more appealing to different types of buyers based on their needs and wants. You see, auto manufacturers offer several models of vehicle based off a common platform in order to give the brand lineup a more broad appeal to their customers. The commonality in underpinnings are both cost effective for the manufacturer and reassuring to the customer. At Bison we try to offer that same type of versatility within our product range. Common, track-proven underpinnings are shared between each model but the overall package serves slightly different needs.
Building the platform
The first step of our product development was nailing down the underpinnings of our suits. This was the equivalent of Ford developing the C2 platform. Without a solid, capable common chassis it didn't matter what components we stitched to them or how pretty they looked - the suits simply wouldn't do their job. With the help of experts in the field including leather smiths and contacts from existing motorcycle gear companies, I personally spec'd how we wanted Bison suits to be constructed. The Thor.1 leather suit was born.
Small tweaks and additions applied to this base construction over the years mean Bison suits have a unique identity compared to our competitors, with features and cuts exclusive to the brand. While our suits have changed a lot since that first Bison test mule was debuted four years ago by yours truly, the soul remains the same: a tough, well constructed suit with thoughtful placement of various materials and seams. The Thor.1 was a strong seller but we knew there was demand for additional models. Air vest capability was #1 on our list of priorities, followed by a retro-inspired model for fans of the old school look, and finally an alternative-material "vegan" model.
Each of these suits were planned with their own look and feature list in mind while sharing Bison's proven construction language underneath and brand identity on the outside. Like the Maverick and Bronco Sport - clearly different vehicles easily identifiable as Fords and sharing a common platform. Yet while it is quite easy to determine whether the best vehicle for you should have a pickup bed or not, choosing the right suit may prove a little more complex. Let's dive into the differences between each Bison suit model and determine which is right for you!
Thor.1: Evolving Roots
Before I dive into each of these models and explain the products themselves, I want to first answer a common question: Where does the Thor name come from? The answer to that is simple; Thor is the name of the bison image in our logo! How Thor came to be named is a worthy of a whole blog in and of itself, so I'll save that for another day. What I can tell you is it's a direct nod to our Oklahoma City roots and we wanted to carry that directly into our product line. Thor.1 indicated that it was indeed the first product in our range. Thor.2 was the second, naturally. You'll find this branding carried over to our glove lineup as well. With that out of the way, let's talk about the suits!
The Thor.1 started life as a fairly basic model with sturdy construction which could be ordered with a slew of available add-on options: a hydration pouch in the speed hump, rubber inner knee grips, CE level 2 armor, and stingray impact panels for instance. What we found after just a few months of the Thor.1 release was that the majority of orders were being placed with all of the options added. Shortly after, we made the decision to simplify the ordering process by making all those features standard and raising the price slightly. What we had now was a full-featured suit that was still priced under $1000, and it didn't take long for us to figure out we'd found the sweet spot! As with all of the Bison suit models, you can find the list of features on our website. We think you'll find impressive value in the Thor.1.
We spec'd the Thor.1 to be appealing (and affordable) to the masses - a suit built to be worn by the pros but attainable by street & trackday riders and club racers. What we found was that the formula was a winner, however we were missing one key element. Air vests have become more popular in the past five years, and the one downside of the Thor.1 is that it is not air vest compatible. This brings us to our second model, the Thor.2.
Thor.2: AirHide is born
There are two types of people who buy our suits: those who wear an air vest, and those who don't. While the Thor.1 is a terrific option (and value) for riders not using an air vest, we knew right from the start that we needed to offer air vest compatibility sooner than later so as not to alienate air vest wearers. In addition to the loss in sales, we knew most professional racers were using air vests. Since our marketing plans relied heavily on professional roadracing, this project became even more important.
Despite the pressure of a clear need for an air model with a new race season looming, we got to work developing this new suit. We started with a mindset based around flexibility and accessibility. We also knew the suit should look and feel like our already proven and identifiable Thor.1 model. Our decision to use the Thor.1 as a base meant we could put the suit to production quickly and reliably, however there was much to be done when we talked about adding the features needed for vest compatibility and subsequent testing.
With all the challenges of creating this new suit in mind, the Thor.2 came into focus over the course of just a couple months thanks to the efforts of our factory and many a late night on my end. Prototypes reached us quickly and in-house testing proved that the AirHide system not only worked - it did so very well with the four key air vest products we had in mind from the start. What we had here was an air vest compatible suit unlike any other on the market. It was not proprietary to any one brand or model of vest, and once we did the math we found we could offer this suit at a great value to the public even with some added features.
So what differentiates this model from a Thor.1? Most of the differences lie within the construction of the suit: additional accordion panels are needed to allow the suit to expand in the event of vest deployment. Accordion panels are made by stitching leather over stretched elasticized material. Once the material is released the leather retracts into a product which looks a lot like an accordion bellows. While the Thor.1 features accordion panels in six places on the suit, the Thor.2 adds accordion material over the shoulders and on the biceps area of the upper arms. In addition, accordion panels on the sides of the suit are larger in percentage of surface area. A dead giveaway that this suit is a Thor.2 as opposed to a Thor.1: the AirHide LED tab on the left arm which allows for installation of LED indicator lights.
On the inside of the suit, the first thing you'll find is a removable, bright yellow 3D mesh inner liner which offers an increased level of breathability and durability over the standard Thor.1's black mesh liner (which is also removable). The liner also features velcro attachment points for various air vest models. Just inside the main torso zipper you'll find male zippers to attach one type of vest, as well as six slots allowing for installation of two different models of mechanical tether-style vests. Unzip the liner and you'll find Schoeller Keprotech kevlar infused material behind all accordion panels for additional durability. The groin area has attachment points for yet another style of vest as well as a hollowed speed hump pad with access window to allow for installation of air vest components. In total, there are six different models of air vest that we intend for use in our AirHide suits. See AirHide in action with the use of a HitAir tether vest here.
While it may seem easy to make a decision between the Thor.1 and Thor.2 given all the details above, that's not necessarily the case. Here are some of the questions we get regarding the Thor.2:
- Q: "I don't have an air vest yet. Can I buy the Thor.2 now and add a vest later?"
A: The simple answer is "YES!" you can add a vest later. The more complex answer is that we ideally want you to wear an air vest in the suit as you may experience some fitment issues without it. Excess material in the upper back and behind the arms are possible, but another odd situation you may encounter is that the groin area of the suit doesn't seem to allow you to spread your legs comfortably. This can occur when the suit falls too low below the groin. Think of it like trying to spread your legs with your pants drooping. This could be something you fight against without the vest dimension on your shoulders pulling the suit up into proper position.
- Q: "I don't have an air vest yet. Can I measure without one?"
A: Again, the simple answer is yes. We can use your standard dimensions and add generic allowances for the addition of an air vest, however each vest tends to fit slightly different from the next. For this reason, we cannot guarantee fitment unless you measure while wearing the airvest you plan to equip inside the suit.
- Q: "I don't plan to use an air vest in the near future but is it worth it to just buy a Thor.2 for the added features?"
A: My opinion is that it is not worth buying the Thor.2 based simply on the nicer inner liner and added Keprotech material/accordion panels. The Thor.1 is an excellent, safe, comfortable suit in it's own right with the simple downside of not being air vest compatible.
- Q: "Couldn't I just put an air vest into a Thor.1 and save some money?"
A: Technically, there are a few different air vests you could wear underneath a Thor.1 suit. The lack of attachment points, slots and ports in the Thor.1 would rule out the use of many more advanced vests. Most importantly, the lack of accordion panels in key areas mean that the vest may not protect the wearer in the event of a deployment. In fact, deployment could damage the inner liner or shell. For these reasons we do not recommend or condone the use of an air vest in the Thor.1 suit.
Vintage Rebirth: Everything old is new again
The Vintage Rebirth was a bit of a passion project for me. It all began when I attended an AHRMA event and walked the pits checking out all the amazing old school machinery. Naturally, I was also eyeing everyone's gear. I quickly came to a realization: these racers were either wearing old school leathers which were archaic by today's safety and comfort standards yet durable and timeless in appearance, or they donned modern fluorescent suits and gloves with bold logos and plastic sliders on the extremities. The latter offered modern safety and mobility features however they simply didn't look right when donned aboard a vintage racer like an RD250 or old Triumph. This was again the case when I began looking closer around the flat track and drag race paddocks. There was a niche not being filled here.
Maybe this was the answer to a question nobody asked, but I felt it necessary to address the situation before me. I began work designing a new Bison suit model with retro inspired looks and modern construction. I started on the exterior first, deleting the external protectors. In lieu of this, I spec'd additional layers of thick leather in the joint areas and slide zones. The collar zipper bridge is leather and button rather than rubber and velcro. The cut of the suit is generally more conservative and standard than aggressive and molded (although this can be modified based on the wearer's riding style). The exterior needed a crown jewel and I knew exactly what that meant: I adorned the shoulders, forearms, shins and small abbreviated speed hump with copious amounts of lightly quilted diamond stitching.
The inside of the suit was easy to spec. I wanted this thing to have the most modern guts available. Armor is CE Level 2, the Thor.2 donates its 3D mesh inner liner, and all slide zones retain multiple layers of 1.4mm cowhide (or 1.1mm kangaroo). AirHide is optional, with all attachment points and features found on the Thor.2 included. If you're someone who appreciates a timeless vintage look yet doesn't want to sacrifice safety or comfort, the Vintage Rebirth might just be an option for you!
Vegan line: Alternative materials, and the way of the future?
The first time someone asked me about a vegan suit I was a little surprised. At that point in time we had sold dozens of suits and not once had anyone requested a suit made from anything other than cowhide or kangaroo. Despite this I immediately promised to get to work on this option and in doing so, I found myself deep in thought about alternative materials, sustainability, and the future of motorcycle safety gear.
Our vegan suits can be optioned in Thor.1 or Thor.2 and are constructed using 1000D Cordura and Superfabric in place of animal hides. The end result is impressive; an incredibly lightweight and breathable garment unique in appearance. Construction is nearly identical to that of leather Bison suits, however it must be said that abrasion resistance is reduced when using these materials. At this time, nothing protects against abrasion and heat like cow or kangaroo hide. For this reason we recommend use of a leather suit for high-pace trackday riding or racing.
Photo Credit: Jed Sampsel
We will continue to explore new and innovative options for alternative materials, however in its current form this vegan textile Bison suit is a great option for street riders as well as moderate-pace trackday riders looking for a more lightweight suit and/or a product which represents a more eco-friendly alternative to animal hide.
Which is right for you?
When narrowing down your choice of Bison suit, the first thing you should consider is whether or not you will be running an air vest.
If you are NOT running an air vest, your options are as follows:
- Thor.1 leather
- Vintage Rebirth
If you ARE planning to run an air vest, your options are:
- Thor.2 leather
- Vintage Rebirth (spec'd with AirHide)
- Vegan (spec'd with AirHide)
Second, consider the style of riding you plan to do. Obviously the Thor.1 and Thor.2 are identical in their appearance and performance, with the Vegan textile suit looking very similar yet slightly different with a neat matte look. Performance-wise keep in mind the textile suit will be less durable in slide situations. The Vintage Rebirth is it's own animal entirely when it comes to looks, however it performs similarly to a Thor.1 or .2.
Lastly, most people will need to consider budget. The great thing about the entire Bison lineup is you have value across the board. Our most expensive model is the kangaroo Thor.2 AirHide at $1699, and this is less than the cost of some non-air cowhide custom suits offered by our competitors. In addition you have the benefit of no added charge for design, logos and print, plus the protection of a 2-year Limited Workmanship Warranty and Fitment Guarantee.
For most riders however, our tried-and-trued Thor.1 or Vintage Rebirth cowhide (or vegan textile) suit will provide years and years of performance and abuse for just $999. If you're wondering whether or not kangaroo hide is worth springing the extra $300, check out our past blog which discusses the pros and cons of each material. We feel that you can't go wrong with any of these suits at their price points!
Lastly, remember that each suit can be had in 1-pc or 2-pc construction with no difference in price. Our 2-pc suits feature a 280-degree waist zipper and are therefore legal for use at most trackday events and in some racing organizations.
Where do you start?
Now that you have an idea of which Bison suit might be best for you, it's time to get started! Simply place your order at Bisontrack.com and we'll begin the design process for you immediately! Use our YouTube tutorial to get your measurements, or contact us for video consultation if you need further assistance. We want you to be confident in your product selection as well as your measurements!
We hope this blog helped narrow down your choice and clear up any confusion about the various suits in our lineup as well as their capabilities. As always, if you have any questions that weren't answered here please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 405-252-0484.
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.