Introduction: DIY Armored Motorcycle Pants Upgrade
So if you love riding a motorcycle, you know how important motorcycle gear is. And if you already have motorcycle gear, you also know how expensive it is, combined with the severely limited options as far as aesthetics and features go. This project can be tackled in more than one way, and including one or all parts. If you want to add some serious abrasion resistance to your favorite pair of "normal" jeans without breaking the bank, this project is perfect. If like me, you want to upgrade your current off-the-shelf riding jeans into something worthy of tackling the twisties, this project is for you. If you have never sewn anything in your life...then it's possible than this project isn't for you. Oh well. Baby steps. Hopefully more than one person will find some value in it.
So the inspiration for this project came about when I was starting to get frustrated with the commercial options for riding pants. I found them lacking in either practicality (pockets), looks, and/or protection. While I do own leather motorcycle pants which I love, my trusted AGV Sport Willow Perforated Leather Pants, the lack of pockets, the difficulty of donning, and the hardcore motorcycle look isn't exactly the most suitable option unless you intend to pretend you're a Power Ranger at your destination. On the other hand, since my leather pants cost me less than 200$, I wasn't exactly fond of paying more for textile than for leather gear. Among my other requirements, I wanted something that didn't scream "motorcycle rider", had plenty of pockets, a more or less casual look, and better than average abrasion protection. With most casual riding gear, the abrasion protection is mostly limited to thin, small, kevlar panels solely located in impact areas. Since I didn't find anything great, I thought why not make my own?
I certainly looked around before starting this and the amount of information available was underwhelming. Nonetheless, I decided to take the project up and the end result was great. Sadly, I didn't take pictures of every step since I wasn't sure from the start that the result would be so good, but hopefully the information available is sufficient for anyone who wants to do a project like this to find the inspiration and motivation they need.
Disclaimer: A bit of motivation to keep making instructables always helps. I'm a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for creators to earn fees by linking to amazon.com.
Step 1: So, What Do We Want to Do?
First, you have to decide which are the features you are interested in. By no means are all necessary, and maybe you even have some features of your own worth adding. Your creativity is the limit when it comes to projects like this. In my case, the features I was looking for was as follows:
- Reinforced abrasion protection on virtually the whole pant, not just crucial impact areas. I wanted the protection of textile gear (so better than reinforced jeans protection) or better, without the in-your-face aesthetics of most textile or leather pants.
- A slip liner for better general comfort, easier on-off and more comfort in the heat and humidity of Miami.
- A full circumference pant-jacket zipper connection compatible with both Icon and Alpinestars gear.
- Tailbone protector
- Leather reinforcement at heels to avoid future damage stepping on them.
- Knee sliders. Just cus'. I'm sure not all riders will agree but it's nice to have them even for once in awhile use, and if nothing else is extra protection in a slide. Basically it's an alternative to having to wear something like this.
So yeah, real men can sew, even those who ride motorcycles (who do you think sews on all those MC patches?) . I'm sure many would think "Just wear leather", but the reality is that you only get protection from the gear you're wearing. Race track gear does no good in your closet. This is a lot more comfortable than slipping into leather, a lot more useful with all the pockets, and nearly as protective. And they almost look like normal cargo pants.
Step 2: And What Do We Need to Do It?
Given the nature of the project, what you need will depend on what you decide to do, what you already have, and how you like to do things. In my case I ended up using the following (not an exhaustive list):
- Some Jeans - I used my favorite pair of Bilt Iron Workers Camo Cargo Pants. They are decent, MC specific pants that already had decent kevlar reinforcement panels and pockets for hip and knee armor. You could even use normal jeans if you wanted to.
- Sewing machine - A strongish sewing machine is recommendable. I used a Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist Computarized Sewing Machine. While this machine certainly wouldn't be recommended for such heavy duty sewing, it worked fine with some use of the hand wheel.
- SpeedySticher - Used where your sewing machine can't power through. Not obligatory, but it's worth having anyway and is very cheap.
- Reinforcement fabric- 1 full yard is needed. I used a technical fabric specifically and explicitly designed for motorcycle gear, and I'd recommend you do the same. However if it came to it, Cordura or any other high denier or abrasion resistant fabric would be better than nothing.
- Large Velcro Strips (3 ft of 4" Velcro Loop) and Knee Sliders - Only if you have interest in adding them.
- Zippers of the right type and length - Depends on if you want to add a pant/jacket zipper connection.
- Seam ripper - For repairing messy stitching or errors, mostly
- Heavy duty scissors- Cutting the thick layers will take its toll on the scissors, and lesser scissors might not cut it to begin with.
- 1-2oz Leather - Only if you want to reinforce the heels
- Athletic Mesh Polyester Fabric- 1 full yard is needed. Used for the inner slip liner. Recommended.
- Heavy duty thread in the necessary colors - I used mostly black thread. Black Polyester Serger Thread, T69 Black Nylon Upholstery Thread, and #89-T90 Upholstery Thread were the main types used.
- Icon D3O Back Armor- Only if you want to make the tailbone protector
The "donor chasis" was my favorite pair of ridings jeans. A pair of Bilt Iron Workers Cargo Pants. They're as cheap as it gets, super comfortable, and they have 9 pockets (or maybe more, I lose count) which was probably the most important factor. I like pockets everywhere, what can I say. Specially on a motorcycle with no cargo space. They were pretty worn down as was so if I screwed them up in the process it wasn't a big deal. They are already kevlar reinforced in all impact areas, and the material is a 10 or 12oz cotton/polyester blend so it was about making something good, better. Even as is it can already take a decent slide. If I did this project again I would have bought jeans in one size above my usual size since all the material added to the inside of the pants do tighten them up a bit.
As for the material to upgrade abrasion protection, I found out that the normal knit kevlar material used in motorcycle pants (the fuzzy yellow stuff) is pretty much impossible to buy as a consumer by the yard. Impossible! I asked everywhere and the only type I found was kevlar for composites, which is a whole different beast. It can only be found at AliBaba bought by the Kg, with a minimum order of 100 kg, so no. I did find UHMWPE, which should also be a viable alternative, but since I didn't really see many manufacturers using it, I shied away (although some do, and it's certainly used for abrasion and cut protection. Even bulletproof armor like kevlar). I ended up going with the only thing I could find at a cheap price and in small quantities: Schoeller Keprotec. It was designed for motorcycle gear, and is actually what is used in the reinforcement areas in Alpinestars Top-of-the-Line 400$ Supertech Gloves. If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me. The stuff is made of Cordura®, high-tensile polyamide, and Kevlar®, so it's abrasion resistance is undoubtedly suitable for a task like this. More info about the material here. I bought the material at RockyWoods online.It costs about 22.99$ per yard, and you only need one yard to virtually line the whole interior of the pants. So yeah, I'd like to think it cost me less than 30$ to turn 80$ pants into 300$ pants.
Just a note, you might see Keprotec's "Breathability" listed as "None". Take that as "Not reported". The fabric is more like a tight mesh of small cords then a solid fabric, and if you hold it up to a light you can perfectly see the gaps through the material which makes it pretty breathable. Most abrasion resistant fabrics tend to be coated (DWR is commonly mentioned - Durable Water Resistance) which means they are waterproof and have zero breathability. Keprotec on the other hand is perfectly breathable, and I found the finished pants fine even in Miami's 80 degree hot and humid weather.
Step 3: Making the Tailbone Protector
That's an Icon D3O CE 1 Back Protector that I trimmed down with a razor, with the edge grounded down to make a soft transition using a bench grinder. The finish was perfect. I used the rest of the back protector to make a pair of hip protectors for some other jeans (that also came out great). The shape was copied from my AGV Sport Willow Leather Pants. I made a pocket for it with the white thin fabric, and sewed that into the right place on the pants with a Speedy Stitcher, a size 100 Jeans needle, and #89-T90 upholstery thread. The idea is to try to pinch the edge of the pouch made with the white fabric, not to sew through the pad. If I did it again I would have used thicker thread, probably T138 or better. Sewing by machine was not working out for me.
The end result was like in the next picture. Not really noticeable on Camo pants if you aren't staring where you shouldn't, which is part of why I chose to do this on camo pants since I knew the sewing would be sloppy anyway.
Now it is weird the first time you sit down with it, but it's as comfortable as any leather pants, most of which have (or should have) a decent tailbone protector. I don't know if I would use a CE level 2 back protector trimmed down if I did it again. CE Level 1 is 11mm thick, and CE level 2 is 17mm thick (from the Icon D3O line). You know, I think it might be worth it since it isn't all that much thicker, although it would be a bit more uncomfortable. Depends on your preferences.
Step 4: Adding the Knee Slider Patches (Optional)
Disclaimer: If someone is going to try to argue that I'm enjoying my motorcycle in the wrong way, I'd rather them save it. Really. It's added protection, and a convenient alternative to my Icon Cloverleaf sliders in a very abrasion protection garment. If I want to use it, it's there. Doesn't mean I have to use it on every corner. If I go this far to be ATGATT you can trust I'm not the worst squid out there. Like most things in the EDC world, it's better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it. Plus, it's added protection at an impact zone in a slide.
So to do the knee pad patches the best anyone is going to be able to do is sew together 2 pieces of 4" MilSpec Velcro, using double stitching both between themselves, and later to the pant. If 4" velcro cannot be found, sewing together multiple thinner pieces of velcro would work just the same. A SpeedyStitcher is probably the easiest option to do the sewing to the pant if you don't want to have to open the pant. It's laborious and a bit annoying but can be done. By hand it can also be done, but would probably leave the stitching a bit uglier on the outside, and might have some difficulty with all the layers. The size of the patch as well as position was copied, yet again, from my Sport Willow Pants. It's only necessary to stitch around the periphery (not across the center of the oval), and to my surprise, it stays perfectly in place during use. I thought straps behind the knee would have to be added but that doesn't seem to be the case. With a knee down the pant tightens around the knee so the pad stays in place 100% perfect. Turned out to not be a bad idea at all.
Attached you will find the template for cutting out the velcro patches. The template attached is for the Left Knee Slider Patch, but simply flip it over for the right side in order to maintain symmetry.
Who knows, maybe an Instructable on adding titanium rods to the sliders for sparks with a knee down is a future tutorial?
Step 5: Heel Reinforcement
I also ended up adding some leather reinforcement at the heels since it was already fraying from stepping on it. The leather I added was way too thick (3.5oz), but it works. I'd use 1oz top grain leather if I did it again. With all the trouble I was going though to do this made sense to make the pants last. To calculate the size just look at how it is already fraying on some worn jeans of yours, and decide what you like.
A SpeedyStitcher was required in my case, but if you buy a thinner leather, with a decent sewing machine, a leather needle, and some machine oil on the needle you should be able to do it.
I used T90 Nylon Upholstery thread, but would probably have used something thicker if I would have had it on hand at the time.
Step 6: Adding the Reinforcement Layer
Now comes pretty much the most important part, the abrasion resistant lining. I'm not even sure it was the hardest part but it sure did require some thought since I had no idea what I was doing.
I attached a full yard of Schoeller Keprotec's fabric centered at the back and simply improvised following the shape of the pants from there. The length of the abrasion liner will be pretty much determined by the length of your fabric and the shape of your pants. Make sure to extend the pants as flat as possible so the liner fits it correctly. You don't want to make the liner oversized since it will bunch up under the pant. You certainly don't want to make it undersized either.
First, unstitch with a seam ripper the lower attachment points of the belt loops. That way you don't sew over them when attaching one or both linings. Sadly this step is pretty much obligatory.
With the center of the fabric marked, line it up with the center of the pant's rear (with the pants inside out), and sew just below the belt line as close as possible to it. Make sure to fold the fabric before sewing so it doesn't unravel or rub against your body (Look at the pictures closely to see what I mean).
I used T90 Nylon upholstery thread at structural areas, with Nylon T69 at less crucial areas, and polyester serger threads at non-structural areas like doubling the edges to prevent fraying or rubbing. Since it's one single piece of fabric it won't rip apart at a seam in a crash, and most attachment points are double, triple or more straight stitched (3mm stitch length) so that liner is not coming out in any accident I could possibly survive. One benefit is that the liner is so strong that it would actually help keep together the exterior denim in a crash.
Cut outs were made behind the knee for comfort, and around the groin area for ventilation and easier movement. The fabric is non coated and very breathable, but it has that potato-sack fabric feeling of 1000D Cordura and is pretty scratchy. That's why I later added the comfort lining. I put Keprotec against a bench grinder, and my anecdotal evidence is that it's great abrasion-wise. It turns into a glassy powder but doesn't burn, melt or rip. The fabric has almost zero stretch for good or bad. I understand why a manufacturer would only use it punctually in impact areas, so it's obvious that I'm sacrificing comfort for better protection doing a whole liner like this. Nonetheless I tried it without a liner and it's perfectly comfortable and not too hot on a Miami summer afternoon. I'd call it a win. I already mentioned it before, but just to make this clear, Keprotec is actually pretty breathable.
In order to add it to the main pants, I simply stitched over the already existing stitching so unless you look at the stitching closely, the pant is still identical from the outside (Knee Sliders aside). The only extra stitching is under the beltline and most of that is hidden by the belt loops, pant-jacket zipper or is virtually unnoticeable anyway. Sewing it was seriously abusing my Singer 9960, but anything I couldn't sew directly I could sew via the hand wheel. Some light machine oil at the needle helped. The upper thread tension was around 16 out of 20 most of the time, sometimes 20. I'm surprised I didn't have to max it out with such heavy duty materials and threads. The machine powered through like a champ, honestly. Some parts were more layers than I could count. I really can't recommend that sewing machine enough, not that many motorcycle riders would care...
The white pockets on the sides are for hip armor. Re-attaching them through the jeans, Keprotec and mesh liner was really hard. All while doing it over the original stitching. But it was done.
Anyway, with 10-12oz jean material, Knit Kevlar, Schoeller Keprotec and a polyester mesh liner it's obvious that as far as abrasion resistance goes, you can't do much better.
Step 7: Add in the Comfort Liner
Finally, I added a comfort liner. The material is a 100% polyester sport mesh, so it's like what is used in athletic sports clothing. On it's own pretty resistant, with a bit of stretch and very wicking and soft. Plus, it keeps the Keprotec away from your skin making the pants very breathable. Honestly, I would have preferred something lighter but this is all I found. The pants now weigh almost double with all the extra material added, but it worked out okay. If I would have known for the start that this was going to be a successful project, I would have gone a size up because of all the extra material on the inside, but as long as I don't go for 2nds, this should fit for a while.
After the comfort liner is attached feel free to reattach the belt loops.
As a note, I followed the same general procedure to attach the mesh liner as I did with the Keprotec liner. That is, I attached the fabric centered at the top and followed the shape of the pants from there. If I did it again, though it might be a little more time consuming, I would try to make the mesh pants outside of the pant, and then simply mate them with the pants. That way the seams could be facing towards the Keprotec. The way I did it the seams faced towards the legs, and I simply stitched them flat while already attached to the pant.
Step 8: Pants/Jacket Zipper Connection
As for the pant-zipper connection, I wanted it to be compatible with both my Alpinestars jackets and my Icon jackets. Alpinestars uses an unsourceable reversed #5 Nylon Coil zipper (28 inches long). Icon uses a normal #5 Nylon coil zipper (50cm long). Regrettably I wasn't able to source the same zipper used in my AGV Sports Willow pants (YKK #8 VSG Vislon Molded zipper, 80cm long), for which I already made an adapter, so I had to add #5 Nylon Coil YKK zipper (28 inches long) to these pants, and then make an adapter to work with both of the jacket types. That way if I ever want a jacket-pant connection on other pants, I just add a #5 YKK Nylon Coil zipper and reuse the same adapter. A #5 YKK Nylon Coil zipper was selected since it's pretty ubiquitous and cheap.
In this case I used 1" Nylon Webbing to attach the zipper to the webbing, and the webbing to the pants, in order to put the zipper in the right place while still being able to use the belt loops. If I did it again I'd sew the zipper directly to the pants or with the shortest webbing I could find since it ended up rising a bit high with the webbing to #5, and #5 to both jacket zippers. At least it looks professional this way and if I don't intend to use the zippers I can remove the adapter. This step should be left for last in order to catch the reinforcement and comfort lining layers. Do it after reattaching the belt loops so the webbing can be sewn just beneath the belt loops.
Be careful and don't catch the labels when sewing!
Step 9: And You're Done!
Well basically that's it.
It ended up costing some maybe 30-40$ in materials (which is chump-change by motorcycle gear standards), but the result was some really nice, super protective motorcycle pants with all the features I could possible want. I feel confident saying that in a way they are priceless (nobody sells pants compatible with both Icon and Alpinestars Jackets, all the rest aside), but if they were something similar commercially available, I would bet it's in the 300-400$ range if it came with all this protection. I'll leave it at that since this DIY is long enough as is. I hope someone finds this helpful. Not necessarily just after I wrote this, but to somebody who stumbles on this website by chance looking to do something similar years from now.