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 KUSHITANI - Sixty Years of Total Protection by Alan Cathcart.

Few aspects of bike riding have changed as much in the past quarter of a century as rider protection. It's remarkable how much we take features like body armor, back protectors, knee sliders and carbon/Kevlar for granted nowadays, but 25 years ago the level of safety offered by personal motorcycle attire was much poorer. Arguably, no one company has played such a key role in the development of this vital sector as Kushitani, the prestigious Japanese leather suit manufacturer which this year celebrates its 60th anniversary in business.

I'll own up here to a vested interest in the excellence of products adorned with Kushitani's trademark emblem of a snow-capped Mount Fuji, because I've personally been using them without interruption - or, indeed, being paid to do so - ever since 1984, the year in which I crashed out on oil at the Bol d'Or 24 Hours, then held on Europe's most punishing engine-killer of a track, Paul Ricard.

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A visit to the company's Hamamatsu factory gave me a unique chance to watch my latest Kushitani custom race leathers being created from the ground up - although only after Mrs. K had checked my measurements that they keep on file, complete with knowing smile as she double-checked my waist. It was all that Sapporo beer they'd fed me at lunchtime, see….

Arguably the single most important person in the entire process of hand-crafting a new bespoke suit of Kushitani race leathers is Yukiko Imada. She's the lady who consults the measurement chart for the customer and the CAD drawing showing the chosen design, then uses an array of scissors to cut out the paper templates by hand for the more than 100 leather components in each suit, including the net lining which every set of Kushitani leathers carries. One mistake and the error will be carried through to the finished suit, conceivably making it unwearable by the customer, so this is a crucial task.  
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With the templates now created, the next task is to trace out the pattern of each one, then cut the piece out.  Kushitani has always exclusively used Holstein leather sourced from cows bred in Japan specifically for the company, which is the key to getting the leather so smooth and supple, yet extremely strong and abrasion resistant in a crash. The skin of 11/2 cows is needed to produce a single leather suit, since only the best parts of the hide are used to make it - around 60% in total.  One reason Kushitani leathers are so extremely comfortable to wear is that they match the parts of the animal's hide to an appropriate part of the suit. So they use softer parts of it for under the rider's arms, behind his knees, and other areas which require flexibility but aren't likely to come into contact with the ground, so don't need to be so abrasion-resistant, while employing thicker-skinned sections like the animal's back for parts that are likely to be put to the test in event of a crash. Stretch is an important issue, too, according to Fumiko. "That's because human beings bend over rather than twist from side to side," she said. "This means that we must pre-stretch the suit components before they're sewn together, because otherwise they'll stretch when the suit is worn for the first time, and won't recover their shape. “


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And - that's the suit!  Coming to a road or race track near you.  Kushitani makes around 1,000 full leather race suits every year, of which 90% are custom made-to-measure, with just 10% the less costly off-the-shelf versions. Around 150 in total are sold in the USA, where the latest type Kushitani innovation will soon go on sale − the Proto-Core suit. "We've been testing this product since the 2004 Suzuki 8-Hours," says Jun Kushitani, "and it's been shown to have great liquid resistance properties, so it doesn't absorb either the rider's perspiration or rainwater, as a conventional leather suit always will, which means it becomes heavy in use....

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