Denim vs. Asphalt
The O Pine

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© 2004 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

Please don't try this at home. Or anywhere. Ever.
The companies that sell motorcycle safety gear love to harp on the futility of wearing denim jeans as a safety precaution. They offer no impact protection, they say, and worse yet they offer very little abrasion protection!

Obviously any non-armored clothing is going to fail in the impact department, but abrasion is another thing. Some companies go so far as to claim that denim will only hold up for four feet of close contact with asphalt, a number that seems, well, unlikely. Search around, though, and there's nobody publishing information about firsthand abrasion tests of safety gear. Curious about whether denim was really an invitation for a skin graft, or whether the bad rap was just a marketing ploy to sell more kevlar and cordura, we devised a test of our own.

The premise was simple: simulate a motorcycle low-side get-off as well as we could without actually low-siding a motorcycle. To do this, we purchased one pair of Dockers denim bluejeans (size 38x32). We tied off the legs and lined them with two heavy-duty garbage bags (one per leg). These we filled with about 100 pounds of sand. Then we wrapped a heavy duty chain around the crotch of the jeans and tied off the other end on the trailer hitch of our Subaru. We put the jeans in the hatch and found ourselves a nice clear patch of road.

Once we found our road, we had a volunteer sit with the jeans in the hatch, and we accelerated to 30 mph. Once we hit 30, the volunteer kicked the jeans out the back of the car and onto the pavement. The jeans landed with a thud (oops I've lost my motorcycle) and skidded behind the car for about 200 yards (man I hope I don't hit something hard).

We figured this would be a good torture test. In the real world, no one would slide 200 yards from a 30 mph fall unless they were riding across a frozen lake. The theory was, we could measure the point in the 200 yards where our "man" started "bleeding" sand all over the road. Thus the point of failure for denim. We would then fill this space with all kinds of charts and graphs and scientific-sounding quotes to explain why the jeans failed and how long they might last at higher speeds and why you should spend lots of money on expensive gear and yadda yadda.

Didn't work out that way.

Our sand-filled Dockers not only survived the entire 200 yards, but did so twice with only one small tear to show for it. The trash bags underneath the jeans were completely unharmed and we are now faced with the prospect of figuring out what to do with 100 pounds of unused sand. Hard to believe? Check out the video.

Are we saying that denim is the equal of purpose-made motorcycle gear? Of course not. There's a lot of factors that this little test didn't address: potholes, gravel, patches, tar, debris, your motorcycle that is also sliding alongside you, the bumper of the car that was tailgating you, and of course banging into something when you run out of clear pavement to slide on. There are lots of things that purpose-built motorcycle gear will better protect against than off-the-shelf denim will.

All we're saying is, for low-speed riding, bluejeans are probably sufficient to keep you from polishing your hiney in a laydown. And when you see those safety gear ads ragging on denim for shredding like tissue, maybe take a moment to think about what else they might be exaggerating.

Thanks to Jason, Sean, and Austin for helping with the testing, photography, and video!