Motorcycle leathers are meant to save your skin while you’re out riding—and if you choose well, they look pretty cool, too. With that in mind, you want to keep your leather gear looking and performing as well as possible for as long as possible, right? After all, you’re hopefully already doing regular maintenance on your bike, so the idea of having one more regular part of your riding routine shouldn’t phase you.
How often should you clean your leather? That depends on the kind of riding you’re doing. Particularly buggy rides will demand that you clean all those sticky, potentially damaging bug guts off your leathers (and your helmet, and your headlight, and any fairings you might have) sooner rather than later. Finding a way to make it a regular part of your routine is definitely a good idea, even if you aren't a walking sea of insect carnage after every single ride.
Cleaning and conditioning your leather
Ideally, if you get to where you’re going and you already know you took a serious bug goo explosion on that ride, you should clean the mess up before you put your gear away and forget all about it. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to clean up when it’s fresh, before it has a chance to crust over—it's kind of like dirty dishes that way. For another thing, the longer some bug guts and plant matter sit, the more damage they can do to any surface they’re coating. Some of that stuff can eat through and/or discolor vehicle paint, and you don’t want it on your leathers, either.
No matter what type of leather you have, you want to remove bug guts and other debris before you start cleaning and conditioning in earnest. Get a soft rag or cloth wet with warm water, wring it out, then wipe away the debris. You don’t want a soaking wet cloth, because you don’t want to purposely get your leather soaking wet; you just want it wet enough to do the job.
There is a plethora of leather cleaning and conditioning products available, at all different price points, and made by all different manufacturers. Just like chain cleaning, everyone has their favorites, and riders can (and will) likely debate the merits of each for as long as people wear leather. All these products have different directions for application, so it’s best to read the package on whichever products you choose to use to ensure that you’re using them as directed. That’s usually how you’ll get the best results out of each product.
Broadly speaking, it works a bit like shampoo and conditioner for your hair—use the leather cleaner first, according to directions. Pay attention to whether the product you’re using suggests any kind of waiting period between cleaning and conditioning; then, apply your leather conditioner of choice according to those directions.
Note: If you have suede bits on your jacket, you’ll want to invest in a suede brush to keep it looking its best. They’re not super expensive, and you can use them on any suede shoes or other suede items you may also have in your closet, moto-related or otherwise.
Weatherproofing your leather
As with cleaning and conditioning your leather, there are a wide variety of weatherproofing options available, depending on what type of leather you’re looking to weatherproof.
From general leather shoe and boot options to brands specifically marketed to motorcyclists (including Nikwax, Motorex, Motul, Dainese, and Teknic, to name just a few), browse forums or talk to other experienced riders and again, you’ll find a wide variety of opinions about what works and what doesn’t. As with many things in the motorcycling world, your individual mileage may vary. It’s about finding what works best for you, which may not be what works best for someone else.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that weatherproofing solutions usually require re-application on a regular basis in order to stay effective. Since specific products have specific instructions, your best bet is to read the instructions carefully on your chosen product, and then follow them for best results.