Maintaining your leather items
© Copyright 2023, R. Fleischer
While fewer BMW riders wear leather clothing items, compared to, say, Harley Davidson riders, there are some BMW riders who do wear leather, and in particular, leather boots. Leather clothing...including boots... has safety advantages. Real leather is likely the very best protective material for a motorcyclist, with few drawbacks (very hot weather, but perforated leather designs do help with this), weight, cost, ....and leather usually requires occasional maintenance.
When I was a late teenager and for a while afterwards, I made a lot of leather items, and even had partner in a small leather business, making big 'travl'n bags' mostly. These were of massively thick leather, all hand-made, with NO sewing, just LEATHER parts in narrow strips, used as very wide thread ...plus a few rivets and brass handles. I learned a thing or two about leather.
Leather is prepared, treated, & 'tanned' in several types of processes; these tend to vary considerably in various places in the world. Some dye processes leave the leather in a state that some types of 'conditioners' should not be used.
Leather dries out & deteriorates from exposure to the sun, salt on the roads and especially on motorcyclist's leather clothing, water, etc. If leather gets to the cracking point, it is on its last legs. Be sure to treat leather BEFORE THAT STAGE.
If a real leather product is kept in good condition, it will last nearly forever, except for normal abrasion (or wear at seams, but some sewn seams are very long lasting). For boots, salt of any type is bad for the junction of sole-to-uppers. Boots need cleaning now & then, certainly drying out if they get wet. Wet especially here means INside if the outside is fully protected ...but exterior seams may not dry fully too. Never dry boots over a heater! Underarms area of jackets is where a jacket usually wears out first. Few ever clean and re-treat that area ....they just do not know or know how; or, are lazy. Boots have areas of where the normal foot movement, such as in walking, etc., 'exercizes' the leather...these places are or can be quite prominent, such as on the top of the foot, back of the toes, where the leather is constantly being 'folded'. Pay particular attention to those areas, when taking care/treating/etc., your boots. Same for jackets, pants, etc.
Some types of leather are very unique. Pigskin; doeskin; buffalo hide, all have special characteristics. I had a pair of real buffalo 'jeans' that was made decades ago by my wife, as a birthday gift. They were suede-side out. She purchased a brand new pair of Levi's to simply take them apart, then duplicate them in the buffalo material. Buffalo does not ever stretch nor get out of shape. These looked just as good as when they were made, decades previously.
In 2017 I sold my white leather racing suit, made back around 1970, and they looked near-new....because I kept that leather in good condition.
Our own 'Travl'n bags', mentioned above, were unique. They were sold as the Christoon brand. Some went to Neiman Marcus for sale to upper crust types, as they were very pricey. They were of super highest quality heavy leather that would last forever if treated now and then. I kept some for myself for many years, treating them every 3 years. I still do the same for my camping moccasins. My original 'Bates' real leather saddle bags are still in use on one of my old bikes, in South America now, and they are almost religiously kept up by the owner. These are from the late fifties. All my old leather items have been sold or given away, now that I am not riding anymore.
HINTS: When you purchase something of leather, best you ask the manufacturer (not necessarily the retailer!!) on what products to use in cleaning and maintaining your leather. The products you use may depend on your usage, besides the particular tanning process that was used. Treat the leather long before it dries out, cracks, & gets brittle. If starting to get brittle and barely starting to crack, do the treating in small steps, over some time. NO guarantees that will work. If treated properly from the beginning, they are unlikely to crack.
Some of the old stand-by products are shown below, and I will show very different types here:
1. SnoSeal: Basically a soft wax/silicone compound, that melts at a bit over room temperature. Many put it on their boots and leave the boots near a not-too-hot furnace outlet or in the sun. This product is OK to use on things like boots that need real waterproofing in severe conditions, yet you understand that the boots will not be kept forever, or for more than one re-soling. There is some tendency for this product to have problems with some types of sewing over the years.
2. Animal oils can soften leather, discolor it, and sometimes slowly rot out sewing, etc. The type of thread used on your boots and other items is critical as to what you use to treat the item. If natural thread (cotton, for example) was used, be very cautious. BTW ...There is nothing wrong with glue-bonding or vulcanization of soles .....if done correctly, ....although there is somewhat of a 'perception', that such methods are 'cheap and of lesser quality'. Their advantages are lower cost, and totally waterproof at the sole seams.
3. LEXOL. This is the industry standby product of most boots and shoe manufacturer's. A mixed compound, good stuff for the average person. Probably what I would generally recommend for most people. Read the directions!!
4. 'Saddle Soap'.....sort of a generic term for a special type of soap-cleaner-conditioner-wax. It does some or all of these things depending on who made it. Good for smooth surface leathers. Note the word 'cleaner' in my description here.
5. Neatsfoot oil and Neatsfoot Compound. These are very different things from each other. Neatsfoot oil should NOT be used by the unknowledgeable. It is rather powerful, does work, and is far more preferable to SnoSeal for softer leather items. Do not overuse it. I recommend you do NOT use the straight Neatsfoot oil (that I personally use) unless you clean the item and use it very sparingly. All Neatsfoot items may darken suedes (typical of many products for leather, actually). I use Neatsfoot oil from Fiebings, mine is 100%. Fiebings is in Milwaukee, WI, and probably also still sell Neatsfoot COMPOUND, which I recommend for your general leather use. Once a year or three or five; depending on your conditions. Use it sparingly.
06/10/2007: Now is article #74.
11/27/2007: Minor changes.
04/15/2010: Minor updating.
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05/23/2020: Minor updating. Same on 08/17/2023.
© Copyright 2023, R. Fleischer
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Last check/edit: Thursday, August 17, 2023