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Crash Tested: Alpinestars GP Force Chaser Leather Suit
[Full disclosure: Alpinestars is a supporter of my racing program, but I am not being paid a penny to wear any Alpinestars products, nor am I being paid to write this review.]
We’re often told to buy the best products we can afford. We’ve associated cost with quality, and so it is that the $100 toaster I bought 12 years ago is still toasting like a champ after replacing the $20 toaster I bought before that which crapped out after a year.Alpinestars GP Force Chaser
|Desirability||9/10||Editor Score: 80%|
|+ Highs All the essentials at a reasonable price Tech-Air compatible Light and comfortable||– Sighs Missing any substantial hip padding Limited color options May not get you as much street cred as flashier race suits|
The Alpinestars GP Force Chaser suit doesn’t have some of the bells and whistles that higher-end suits have, but the important elements are all there.
We’re led to believe that leather race suits are the same way. The pricier suits are usually the ones we see people lining up on the grid with. They look so cool with their shiny colors and bolstered armor. They must be better. While, yes, those suits feature materials and options that result in a higher price, for many, affording something like that is just not going to happen.
Alpinestars, like all the other major suit manufacturers, isn’t blind to the fact that a lot of people can’t afford the top-of-the-line suit. This is why you’ll see a variety of options in the catalog to choose from, at various prices. For the cheapskates among us and/or the broke college students looking to get their track fix, there’s the GP Force Chaser. Available in both one-piece or two-piece varieties, its $900 price tag makes it among the least expensive Alpinestars suits you can buy, coming in well below other suits costing more than twice as much. It became my go-to suit to grab whenever I was heading to the track. And now that I’ve crashed in one, I’m really pleased with how it held up.
Earlier this year, I crashed the Lightfighter electric superbike during a race. Two months later, the bike was rebuilt in time for the CRA round at Laguna Seca, the first time club racing would be back at Laguna in 40 years. It was an event we couldn’t miss, but would also be a test to make sure both bike and rider were operating correctly again. During practice, I entered the braking zone for Turn 2 and I remember thinking, “Man, I’m braking really hard. I better be loading that tire.” Milliseconds after the thought flashed through my mind I hit a bump in the road. With my fork fully compressed on the brakes, the energy of that bump had nowhere to go and the front tire tucked underneath me so fast. The next thing I knew I was sliding on my back and side, watching the Lightfighter sliding alongside me, straight into the gravel trap.
Once the sliding stopped, I got up and felt pressure all around my upper body – my Tech-Air 5 airbag had gone off. After a few choice curse words shouted at the racing gods for the crummy predicament, I had to appreciate the fact that I was wearing one of Alpinestars’ least expensive track suits – the GP Force Chaser – and I was totally fine. Thankfully the damage to the bike was minor and we were able to continue our weekend.
The majority of the damage can be seen on the back of the suit. What’s interesting is the honeycomb pattern of the Tech-Air 5 back protector imprinted itself to the back of the suit.
Yes, certain concessions are made to get a suit under a thousand bucks. With the GP Force Chaser, you’re not going to find any kangaroo leather anywhere. It’s all bovine leather here, with strategic stretch panels along the abdomen, all around the arms (except in impact spots, those are leather), crotch, and back of the leg. The suit needs these stretch panels in order to expand if the airbag inside goes off. Combine these stretch panels with the more relaxed fit that doesn’t crouch you into a tuck (as much) compared to true race leathers, and you get a level of comfort with the Chaser that makes it easier to wear on the street or during a whole trackday if you wanted (if you really want a comfortable street suit, get the two-piece version).
Designed to be worn with or without a Tech-Air 5 airbag system, I’ve always chosen to wear the airbag. Even if you don’t, there’s plenty of room for a back and chest protector underneath. As a side benefit, holding the GP Force Chaser with the TA5 inside feels lighter than my other suits with the Tech-Air Race inside. Part of this difference in weight comes down to the amount of internal padding. The Chaser saves you money by using Alpinestars’ GP protectors in the elbow, shoulders, knees, and shins. On the hierarchy of armor, these don’t rank as high as other pieces Alpinestars uses on higher-end suits.
DFS external armor is used on the shoulders…and nowhere else. The knees and elbows are simply covered in leather (sorry elbow draggers). What this means is that the suit is more prone to “catching” along the pavement instead of sliding. The DFS armor, specifically, has a smaller profile to slide along the ground compared to external armor higher up the Alpinestars food chain. Again, in theory, this means you could face a higher chance of rolling instead of sliding across the ground. Considering how each crash is different, it’s impossible to say what will actually happen. I just slid.
The good news for those concerned about the actual safety of the lower-end armor is that the GP Force Chaser – like all Alpinestars suits – is a fully CE-certified riding garment, meeting “CE – Category II prEN17092 standards – AA class.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I know I’d rather have it than not.
As for my suit, I slid across the ground on my side and back before coming to a stop. Thankfully I didn’t tumble or get hit by anything. All that is to say, in the grand scheme of things, my lowside was relatively benign. Still, the evidence of road rash is obvious all over the suit – but that’s the point. The leather is clearly rashed, but my skin is perfectly fine. I can’t find any signs of holes or complete tears where the leather wore through.
My left thigh took a good whack with the ground and left a nice bruise. With minimal padding on the thigh, this result wasn’t much of a surprise. But at least the leather held up well and didn’t wear through.
Equally as impressive is the stretch material looks a little frayed in spots, but also not worn through. As I looked over the suit, I was impressed that, even though some of the stitching wore off in places, to me it didn’t look like there was any structural or terminal damage done. The fact it had room to expand when my airbag deployed meant I felt snug, but I wasn’t suffocating. Plus, I’m glad my collarbones and ribs are intact and not painful at all.
In fact, the only pain I had after the crash was a nice bruise on my thigh about the size of a baseball. The Chaser only has some flimsy foam padding on the thighs (again, a cost-cutting measure), which is one of the things you give up when getting a budget suit. Of course, the Tech-Air 5 doesn’t cover the hip area either. Had I been wearing the new Tech-Air 10, which does go down to the hips, this would have been a completely different story.
It’s the same story for the left arm. It took a good slide and didn’t wear through. The internal armor and padding took the impact so I don’t have even a hint of a bruise on my arm.
Crashing sucks. There are no two ways about it. But if there’s a stigma against buying the least expensive track suit a company offers because of perceived inferiority, I think those fears are being vastly overestimated. Yes, when it comes to suits on the lower end of the price spectrum, you are giving away some concessions in terms of features, but when it’s coming from a reputable company like Alpinestars (and many others) – again, with full CE certification – there’s little reason to worry that the GP Force Chaser leather suit isn’t up to the task of protecting you in a track crash.
Why do motorcycle race suits have a hump?
The hump’s main purpose is to make the rider more aerodynamic when they are in a tuck. However, some companies hollow out the inside of the hump to make space for a hydration pack that feeds into the rider’s helmet if it’s particularly hot. Early editions of wireless airbag suits would use this hollow space to hold the electronics needed to power the airbag, but this isn’t the case anymore.
How much does a racing suit cost?
If you have to ask…
Racing suits can range in price from a few hundred dollars on up to a few thousand dollars. It just depends on how far you and your wallet want to go. Lower-cost suits will be much like the GP Force Chaser reviewed here, while the higher-end suits will have more exotic materials, more robust external armor, and more features. A fully custom suit that’s tailored specifically for your body will be the most expensive.
Do motorcycle suits break in?
Some people have superstitions about lying (or rolling) on the ground when you first get a new suit. We never understood that one. If a suit fits properly it shouldn’t need any break-in period. Just put it on and go ride. However, a new suit might be slightly stiff initially. Your natural sweat will help loosen the leather and it should feel well worn-in after that.
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