By James Parchman
[This River Road Leather Motorcycle Gloves Review was originally published in the April 2009 issue of Rider magazine]
While China is the world’s largest glove producer, Pakistan, especially the city of Sialkot, is home to literally hundreds of companies specializing in the manufacture of leather motorcycle gloves and apparel. Pakistan is 8,000 miles from GearLab headquarters, but we thought it worth exploring since the products of so many famous brands are manufactured there. The country also is a major exporter of leather hides, and there is a high probability that leather motorcycle apparel made anywhere in Asia began life in Pakistan.
One American brand sourcing leather products in Sialkot is River Road, a division of Tucker Rocky Distributing. Each year Pro Tech, its fully integrated production partner, produces millions of motorcycle gloves, garments and accessories destined for markets worldwide. We observed production of several models of River Road motorcycle gloves during a visit.
Gloves are manufactured from the leather of cattle, sheep, goat and buffalo. The stiff, fingerless $10 gloves offered at local flea markets usually derive from low-grade hides, and give Pakistani products an undeserved image. Cowhide is the preferred leather for motorcycle garments because of its strength, appearance and pliability. A pair of motorcycle gloves consumes 3-5 square feet of leather (about the same as a boot). The cowhide leather used in River Road gloves undergoes a full tanning and milling process that results in a soft, flexible hand while retaining the necessary protective thickness.
Glovemaking is an extremely laborious process, requiring deft and well-trained workers. Each skin of black leather looks identical to the untrained eye, but large variances in shades exist. Sorting and cutting leather is the first step in glovemaking, and requires the most experienced operators. We watched thousands of partially finished gloves wind their way through Pro Tech’s multifloor factory. Each glove goes through eight production steps, some very intricate in models that contain specialized design and performance enhancement features. Before final branding and packing, each glove undergoes a thorough quality inspection.
Back on American soil; it’s time for a glove-to-handlebar evaluation. River Road brands each glove by name: The Taos Cold Weather (insulated), Firestone (sport) and Mystic (mesh) are our GearLab subjects. Weather conditions were ideal for back-to-back testing. Cold mornings made us thankful for the warmth and extra length of the Taos; a switch to the Firestone by midday; and warm afternoons, where the airflow of the Mystic was much appreciated.
The endemic design features of the $49.95 Taos reflect its motorcycle heritage. A lot of cold-weather gloves are too bulked up for riding applications because of the quantity of the insulator. These soft cowhide gauntlets achieve the desired result using Thinsulate (thin + insulate = warmth without mass). Should the day be cold and wet, the Hipora membrane ensures dryness, and the left glove’s rubber face-shield wiper works as designed. The zippered wrist closure of the Taos prevents up-the-arm cold blasts, allowing a snug fit inside your jacket sleeve.
The Firestone, our all-around favorite, sells for $10 less. A wrist-length leather glove with natural finish, its gel-padded palm helps reduce handlebar vibes. This glove also includes internal knuckle protectors. They’re mostly unobtrusive, and you’ll be appreciative should your hands meet asphalt. Another feature is the small reflective strip across the glove’s back, a design enhancement that nonetheless improves your nighttime visibility to traffic.
The mesh Mystics are a bargain at $26.95. The mesh fabric adds to its cool looks and comfort, just right for warm-weather cruising. Its features include a padded palm, and leather overlays at the knuckles, along with an adjustable wrist strap. Like other River Road gloves, the Mystic comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty.
River Road gloves are available at Tucker Rocky and Biker’s Choice dealers, most in sizes XS-3XL. Our normal size felt a bit tight, the next larger size fit perfectly, so you may want to try on before purchasing. Leather gloves stretch a bit, too, so don’t get them overly large.
For more information: See your dealer or www.riverroadgear.com