Here's a topic that (in my opinion) isn't talked about enough in the motorcycle trackday and racing community: underwear!
Over the years, our Bison team has measured thousands of people around the world for custom fit leathers and jackets. The first question we ask prior to the measurements session is what the person is using for a base layer, or "What do you normally wear under your leathers?". We've heard everything from "Blue jeans and a T-shirt" to "Absolutely nothing". For the record, both of these responses make my skin crawl - albeit in very different ways.
The truth is, most people - new riders especially - have never really thought much about what's going on under their leathers. To make the matter more complicated for those new riders, if you ask ten different riders about their undergarments you're going to get a bunch of different answers but the most common response will likely be: "Oh I don't know usually just some Under Armor stuff". Clearly, many of you are missing out on the benefits of a quality base layer (undersuit)! Let me explain:
What makes a moto undersuit unique?
The first time you wear a moto-specific undersuit you may be surprised at how tight yet stretchy it is. If you're anywhere close to a "typical" body shape the undersuit will fit you like a second skin and act as a compression layer. You'll also find that each brand of undersuit is just a little bit unique in their own ways, yet the material will almost always be lycra or a blend using lycra. Lycra's natural elasticity combined with the fact it will always return to it's natural position, as well as it's excellent resistance to tearing ensure that it is tough enough for the job, while its excellent moisture-wicking and breathability properties make it comfortable and functional.
Motorcycle undersuits are typically available in 1- or 2-piece construction and may include specific features not found on similar garments you'd find at a sporting goods store. For instance, our Bison undersuits are available in 1- or 2-pc and have some unique features made just for moto riders: Our 1-pc men's undersuit has a small zipper in the crotch area for potty breaks, our 2-pc undersuits have long shirt bottoms so they remain overlapped in a tuck, our female undersuits have a unique cut and shape, and all our undersuits have loops on the arm and leg cuffs which you can use to keep the sleeves in place as you put your leathers on. Little things like this make a big difference when you are getting into your leathers on "second call"!
Benefit #1: Ingress
Speaking of getting into your leathers, this is where you will notice right away that the undersuit is going to improve your quality of life! Whereas bare skin can grab the inner liner and bunch it up (something made exponentially worse if you're even the least bit sweaty) and a regular long-sleeve T or workout pant will slide up on your arms and legs and bunch up, a tight-fitting lycra undersuit will allow the suit to glide right on! If your undersuit has sleeve loops, hold them in your hand and loop them under your feet until you're in the suit. I personally like to fold them back into my suit sleeves and zip them in there once I'm dressed.
Benefit #2: Cooling
One of the unique things about lycra is that is helps keep you cool when it's hot. Because lycra has low heat retention properties and high moisture-wicking properties, it is always breathing while pulling the sweat from your body and allowing it to evaporate quickly via airflow through your leathers. When I said this layer will act like a second skin on your body, I didn't just mean in terms of fit! A quality base layer literally cools you in the same way your own skin tries to cool itself, through the process of perspiration and evaporation.
Benefit #3: Mobility
Now we come to one of the most overlooked benefits of a proper undersuit: mobility. There are a couple different ways your current base layer (or lack thereof) can prevent you from getting into position on the motorcycle and frankly, despite the importance of mobility on a bike, most people never give this a second thought!
The first thing that we see is an ill-fitting undergarment sagging in the crotch area and preventing leg spread. Right now, even if you're in denim jeans, you should be able to spread your legs a comfortable amount. Now stand up, pull your pants down just a few inches in the crotch and try to spread again. You're suddenly limited aren't you? If your base layer is sagging in the crotch area, it's likely not the only thing limiting you. The sagging undergarment can press the stretch material in the groin of your suit down as well, causing the leathers themselves to limit you. On more than one occasion, we've had a customer complain about lower leg mobility with their leathers only to find that it wasn't the suit that was the issue - it was their undersuit!
The second way your base layer may be limiting your mobility is due to bunching of excess material in loose garments, or your skin sticking to the inside of the suit if you have uncovered parts of your body. This is something almost no one thinks about: Your external layer (your suit) should be able to move around on your body slightly as you work back and forth across the motorcycle in all your various positions. Surprise - a nice, moto-specific undersuit will allow just that! When your leathers can slide around on your shoulders and torso - even your arms and legs - you're going to get just a little more range of motion and comfort in your positioning.
Benefit #4: Egress
Do you stress out when it's time to remove your leathers after a riding session? Is it a multiple-person job? Do you feel like your flesh might come off of your body with the suit? You need a good undersuit!
The first time you try a lycra undersuit, you're going to be happy with how easy it is to get into your leathers, then you're going to be thrilled at the cooling and mobility during the ride. Finally, when you get off the bike and shimmy out of your jacket or suit you'll be blown away at how much easier you shed your gear! Remember, lycra and similar materials are moisture wicking and slick by nature, meaning the leather and inner liner of your external layer will not stick and grab as it does with other materials (especially bare skin).
Which undersuit should I buy?
Well, obviously, Bison!
Just kidding. But seriously, we think you'll find our entire lineup of undersuits to be high quality, comfortable, functional and a great value to boot! There are of course many brands of undersuits out there but as I said earlier, each one has a little different construction as well as varying material and price points. One competitor to note is VNM Sport, whose base layers are high quality, well thought-out and constructed, and available in various materials for different conditions as well as in custom sublimated patterns. Because VNM only makes undersuits, they are quite good at what they do! The tradeoff is a higher price point and the limitation of 2-piece only construction (which, for most is not a big deal). No matter which undersuit you buy, make sure the fit is snug while not being too restrictive and make sure it isn't bunching too much in areas like the armpits and behind your knees and elbows.
Speaking of 2-piece, should you go that route or do a single piece instead? Is there a benefit to either? Honestly, this is more personal preference than anything. I personally like the sleek, seamless fit of a 1-piece base layer although even with the "pee zipper" bathroom breaks can be a challenge. If you can deal with having a waistband, the 2-piece option might be a more functional option (especially for street use). If you've never worn a proper undersuit, I recommend buying one of each and giving them a try!
That brings me to my final recommendation: Buy more than one undersuit! These things do tend to get stinky very fast and you're not going to want to put it back on for that Sunday trackday after riding in it Saturday. Buy one undersuit for each day you plan to ride between laundry days.
Hopefully this helps you make the decision on whether or not to wear a good, moto-centric base layer and steers you towards the right type for your needs! Once you experience the benefits of a nice undersuit for the first time, you'll never wear street clothes or go naked under your leathers again.
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.