Motorcycle style as tough as the rider wearing it

Few material items is this world encapsulate the essence of cool like a vintage motorbike.

Though their popularity has soared in recent years, any time you see a classic bike - even one edging along a busy city street - it's hard not to believe its rider has once and for all thrown in the 9-to-5 life to take a chance at life on the road.

With such an enviable image, it's little wonder those who sit astride an engine and two wheels (and even those who don't) are looking for classic motorcycling style to match.

Spurred by this – as well as an evocative Hunter S. Thompson quote from his book Hell's Angels - Melbourne-based biker and third-generation rag trader, Mike Lelliot, set out to create vintage-inspired motorcycling apparel.

Style with protection

But after a day's riding with his mates, he had one very specific thought in mind. "We started talking about fabric design and what it would be to make a single layer, all-day wearable, protective fabric," says Lelliot, "and that got me thinking about what we could do."

The only sounds are the wind and a dull roar floating back from the mufflers.

Hunter S. Thompson, Hell's Angels

After much investigation, two-wheeled fashion sense took Lelliot firmly in one direction: denim. His goal became to create a single-layer variety that would afford bikers the twin goals of style and protection – meaning they could step off their bike and into a party or workplace without looking like they've been riding.

His search to find the strongest possible fabric led him through numerous laboratories and eventually to a product called ultra-high molecular weight polyethelene (UHWP).

"It's used a lot in making sails, making really strong tow ropes, and even used on the International Space Station," Lelliot says.

"It's got some amazing qualities to it, which are that it is really slippery and abrasion resistant, but the flip side of it being so slippery is that we had to do a lot of work on how to spin it and extrude it so it would hold so when you wove it together, the fabric wouldn't just slide apart."


Saint marches in

The brand he founded, Saint, now make a range of jackets and jeans using UHWP. That includes their motorcycle denim using 66 per cent UHWP (making it 133 times stronger than standard denim), to a 'technical' denim that uses just six per cent UHWP.

(Interestingly, jeans pioneer Levi's is also weaving seven per cent UHWP into its 501s to increase the strength and durability of the signature original twofold.)

While technical fabrics are having a massive influence in motorcycle gear, as well a whole range of sports apparel, there are some aspects of motorcycling that will never change as long as bikes keep rolling. At the top of that list is the classic biker's leather jacket.

Wren Steiner is a Melbourne photographer and keen biker who rides a Triumph Bonneville 2008, a modern take on a classic English motorcycle. Like many riders, Steiner looks at his leather jacket as a symbol of who he is and how he feels when he's riding.

"It's kind of a subtle statement for me, but it definitely goes hand in hand with the bike and my personality," he says.

"Your helmet, jacket and your bike, those three for sure are an extension of who you are on the bike."

Dressed to thrill

In recent years you might even add a tailored sports jacket, dickie bow, or dapper suit to that list; well, on one day of the year at least - the day of the annual Distinguished Gentleman's Ride.

The ride, in which dapper-dressed gents ride classic and vintage-styled bikes through city streets all around the world, was the brainchild of Mark Hawwa, the founder of Sydney Café Racers.

Event spokesman Stephen Broholm says: "After seeing an image of fictional ad man Don Draper resplendently dressed aboard a classic Matchless Motorcycle he decided a parade of stylishly dressed men would be a great way to combat the often negative stereotype of men on motorcycles."

The first edition in 2012 saw 2500 riders take part in six cities around the world, and it has grown like wildfire since. This year's ride, which will take place on the last Sunday in September, is expected to see 37,000 participants ride through 410 cities in 79 countries to raise money for prostate cancer research.

Registrations for this year's Distinguished Gentleman's Ride are now open. Check the gallery above for global highlights from last year's ride.