Intro: DIY Armored Motorcycle Pants Upgrade
If you love riding motorcycles, you know how important motorcycle gear is. And if you already have motorcycle gear, you also know how expensive it can get. The severely limited options as far as aesthetics and features go only makes matters worse. Here I'm going to show you how you can make your own custom DIY motorcycle armored pants.
This how-to guide is great even if you just want to add some serious abrasion resistance to your favorite pair of "normal" jeans. However, in my case, I admit I went all in. I wanted some casual riding pants with knee sliders, cargo pockets and supreme protection. You might not care for all that, and that's fine. You can tackle this project in any way you want. If you want something more basic, include what suits your needs and skip the rest.
Regarding difficulty or having to sew, don't be intimidated. This project was the first time I did anything meaningful with a sewing machine. Up until now it had only been basic fixes. This DIY isn't all that hard as long as you take your time and go little by little. And who knows, maybe you might even pick up a skill or two in the process? Also, this project might get updated over time. To see the latest version, click here.
How did this project start?
So the inspiration for this project came about as I was starting to get frustrated with my riding pants. Like with most off-the-shelf 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, they just aren't practical for casual riding. The lack of pockets, the difficulty of donning, and the hardcore motorcycle look isn't exactly the most suitable option. Unless you want to pretend you're a Power Ranger at your destination, this is.
On the other hand, since my leather pants cost me less than 200$, I wasn't exactly fond of paying more for technical textile pants than for leather gear. So yeah, I'm cheap.
But even if I was willing to spend, things don't get much better. With the majority of casual riding gear, the abrasion protection is limited to small, Kevlar panels solely located in impact areas. Since I didn't find anything great, I thought why not make my own custom motorcycle pants?
I certainly looked around before starting this project. To my surprise, the amount of information available was underwhelming. Nonetheless, I decided to take the task up and the end result was great. Sadly, I didn't take pictures of every step. That's because I wasn't sure from the start that the outcome would be so good. But this information is definitely sufficient for anyone to find the inspiration and motivation they need to complete a project like this.
Motorcycling is a dangerous activity, and no amount of protection will ever guarantee walking away from an accident without injury. Anyone who decides to follow this tutorial must do it at their own risk and under their own exclusive responsibility. Neither this Instructable nor it's author make any claims about the performance of this armor, and any allusions to CE ratings refer to the undamaged, unmodified original piece of equipment as the manufacturer intended.
A bit of motivation to keep making instructables always helps. I'm a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program as well as eBay Partner Network, affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for creators to earn fees by linking to their sites, at no extra cost whatsoever to you.
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. 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 characteristics I was looking for were 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. Not to mention easier on-off and staying cooler in the heat and humidity of South Florida.
- A full circumference pant-jacket zipper connection compatible with both Icon and Alpinestars gear.
- Tailbone protector. Because why not?
- Leather reinforcement at heels to avoid future damage stepping on them.
- Knee sliders. I'm sure not all riders will agree, but it's nice to have them. Even for once in a while use. And if nothing else it's extra protection in a slide. Basically it's an alternative to having to wear something like this.
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 items on the following, non-exhaustive list.
- Cheap 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. Plus pockets for hip and knee armor. But if you don't have some Kevlar pants to cannibalize, you could even use normal jeans if you wanted to.
- Reinforcement fabric - 1 full yard is needed. I used a technical fabric specifically and explicitly designed for motorcycle gear. 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 and Knee Sliders- Only if you have interest in adding knee sliders.
- Zippers of the right type and length - In case you want to add a pant/jacket zipper connection.
- 1-2oz Leather - Used to reinforce the heels. It's optional.
- Athletic Mesh Polyester Fabric - 1 full yard is needed. I used it for the inner slip liner.
- 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.
Tools & Supplies
- Sewing machine - A strongish sewing machine is recommend. I used a Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist Computerized Sewing Machine. While this machine certainly isn't intended for such heavy-duty sewing, it worked fine and ploughed through easy enough.
- SpeedyStitcher- This is used where your sewing machine can't power through. Not obligatory, but it certainly made my life a lot easier.
- Seam ripper - For repairing messy stitching or sewing 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.
If you can, use cheap motorcycle jeans as the frame
The "donor chasis" I used was my favorite pair of riding 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). For me that's probably the most important factor. I like pockets everywhere, what can I say. Specially on a motorcycle with no trunk. They were pretty worn down already, so if I screwed them up in the process it wasn't a big deal. Thankfully, I didn't and the custom DIY motorcycle armored pants turned out great thanks to them!
The riding pants are already Kevlar-reinforced in all impact areas, and the material is a 10 or 12oz cotton/polyester blend. Basically the idea was to make something good, better. Even as is it can already take a decent slide.
The only thing worth mentioning is size. If I did this project again I would use jeans in one or two sizes above my usual size. With all the material added to the inside of the pants, they do tighten up a bit.
Regarding abrasion-resistant fabrics - Schoeller Keprotec
Let's talk about the material used 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. And that's a whole different beast. I only found it 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. Though some do, and if I had to, I would have used it without a second thought for some custom motorcycle gear. If I could find it, that is.
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 of Alpinestar's 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 its abrasion resistance is undoubtedly suitable for a task like this. More info about the material here. I bought the material at RockyWoods online store. You might also find the Schoeller Keprotec fabric on Ebay. The price is typically in the 20 to 30 dollar range (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.
Note on fabric breathability
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. If you hold the fabric up to a light you can perfectly see the gaps through the material, so it's 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. I found the finished pants fine even in South Florida's 80 degree hot and humid weather.
Step 3: Making the Tailbone Protector
That's an D3O CE 1 Back Protector that I trimmed down with a razor. ThenI used a bench grinder on the edges to make the transition smooth. The finish was perfect. I copied the shape from my AGV Sport Willow Leather Pants. I used the rest of the back protector to make a pair of hip protectors for some other jeans. That's another project that came out great.
To attach the tailbone protector, I first made a pocket for it with a thin white fabric. I then sewed that into the right place on the pants with a Speedy Stitcher, a size 100 Jeans needle, and #89-T90 upholstery thread. One good thing about the Speedy Stitcher is that you can use regular machine needles with it. The idea is to try to catch the edge of the pouch made with the white fabric, not to sew through the pad. If I did it again I would have probably used a thicker thread, such as T138 or more. While I tried sewing it by machine, that didn't work out for me.
And how'd it come out?
The end result was like in the picture above. Not really noticeable on camo pants if you aren't staring where you shouldn't. That's part of why I chose to do this on camo pants since I knew the sewing would be sloppy anyway.
Now it does feel weird the first time you sit down with it, but it's as comfortable as any other leather pants. Most of them 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. It depends on your preferences.
Step 4: Adding the Knee Slider Patches (Optional)
To make the knee pad patches the best anyone is going to be able to do is sew together 2 pieces of 4" Mil-Spec 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 (again) to do the sewing if you don't want to have to open the pant. It's laborious and a bit annoying but can be done. You can also do it by hand, but that would probably leave the stitching a bit uglier on the outside. Plus you're bound to have some difficulty with all the layers.
The size and position of the patch 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 (read dragging knee). Initially I thought I'd have to add straps behind the knee. Thankfully, that wasn't 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.
Among the images 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. All you have to do is print it out making sure that the center line measures the right length.
Who knows, maybe a guide on adding titanium rods to the sliders for sparks with a knee down is a future tutorial?
If someone is going to try to argue that I'm enjoying my motorcycle in the wrong way for touching knee, I'd rather them save it. Really. It's added protection, and a convenient alternative to m Icon Cloverleaf sliders in a very abrasion protection garment. If I want to use it, it's there. That 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.
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, it 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. However, if you buy thinner leather, use a leather needle and some machine oil on the needle, a decent sewing machine should be able to do it.
I used T90 Nylon Upholstery thread, but would have probably 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. Mostly because I had no idea about what I was doing.
I attached a full yard of Schoeller Keprotec's fabric centered at the center-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 over-sized, since it will bunch up under the pant. You certainly don't want to make it undersized either.
How to start adding the abrasion-resistant liner
First, unstitch the lower attachment points of the belt loops using a seam ripper.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). Then sew it just below the belt line as close as possible to it. Make sure to fold the fabric in 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. I also used polyester serger thread 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). 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.
Make sure the reinforcement layer is well attached
In order to add it to the main pants, I simply stitched over the stitching that was already there. Unless you look at the stitching closely, the pants are still identical from the outside. Knee sliders aside, at least. The only extra stitching is under the belt-line. Thankfully, it's mostly hidden by the belt loops, pant-jacket zipper or virtually unnoticeable anyway.
Sewing it was seriously abusing my Singer 9960, but it didn't complain at all. Thankfully, 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. Rarely 20. I'm surprised I didn't consistently 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. Nonetheless, it's perfectly doable.
All in all, the pants have 10-12oz jean material, Knit Kevlar, Schoeller Keprotec and a polyester mesh liner. As far as abrasion resistance goes, you can't do much better.
Some notes on comfort
I included cut-outs behind the knee for comfort, and around the groin area for ventilation and easier movement. Thankfully, the fabric is non coated and very breathable. On the other hand, it has that potato-sack fabric feeling of 1000D Cordura and is pretty scratchy. That's why I later added the comfort lining afterwards.
The fabric has almost zero stretch, for good or bad. I understand why a manufacturer would only use it punctually in impact areas. As such, 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 good enough and not too hot on a Summer afternoon. I'd call it a win. I already mentioned it before, but just to make this crystal clear, Keprotec is actually pretty breathable.
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 its own, it's pretty resistant, with a bit of stretch plus very wicking and soft. Furthermore, it keeps the Keprotec away from your skin making the pants even more breathable.
Honestly, I'd prefer something a bit lighter but all I found was this. The pants now weigh almost double with all the extra material added, but it worked out okay. If I'd have known from the start that this was going to be a successful project, I would have gone a size up. But as long as I don't go for 2nds, this should fit for a while.
After attaching the comfort liner, feel free to reattach the belt loops.
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, I would try to make the mesh pants outside of the pants. Then I'd simply mate them with the jeans. That way the seams could be facing towards the Keprotec. The way I did it the seams face towards the legs. Later 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 a 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. Those riding pants use a YKK #8 VSG Vislon Molded zipper, 80cm long.
I decided to add a #5 Nylon Coil YKK zipper (28 inches long) to these pants. Then I made an adapter which works with both of the jacket types. If I ever want a jacket-pant connection on other pants, I can just add a #5 YKK Nylon Coil zipper. By the way, I chose a #5 YKK Nylon Coil zipper since it's pretty ubiquitous and cheap.
Here I used 1" Nylon Webbing to attach the zipper to the webbing, and the webbing to the pants. The purpose was 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 I'd use the shortest webbing I could find. Mainly because 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.
Do this step last in order to catch the reinforcement and comfort lining layers. Do it after reattaching the belt loops. That way you can sew the webbing just beneath the belt loops.
Be careful and don't catch the labels when sewing! Guess how I know.
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. The result was some really nice, super protective custom DIY motorcycle armored 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. Especially if it came with all this protection.
Well, I'll leave it here since this DIY is long enough as is. I hope someone finds this helpful. While you're here, check out what other projects I've been up to. Here are a few you might like: