Imagine for a moment if you could wear absolutely anything you want on your legs while riding a motorbike, and yet still retain abrasion and impact protection. Suit trousers on the way to work, your favourite chinos as you head for a cuppa, skinny jeans completing the grunge look for a gig… heck even a kilt as you wind your way around the North Coast 500. The Bowtex brand concept for protective clothing enables precisely that. Over the past eight years they have been perfecting this concept and now I think they might have managed perfection.
Having experienced everything from dreary night rides to a 30-degree heatwave, I’ve managed to put the Bowtex Elite AAA Leggings on review here to the real-world test. After gracing the seat of my Honda CB500X under an eclectic selection of trousers over the last 2500 miles, here’s how far they’ve come…
Having used several generations of Bowtex leggings the design, fit and finish of the latest Elite AAA model is an enormous step up.
The new Elites are constructed using Dyneema, a protective material claimed to have a breaking strength 15 times higher than steel. This wonder material is woven throughout the leggings, giving full protection in every area.
While immensely strong and durable, the material is similar in feel to the stretchy fabric often used in modern sportswear (think sports leggings, not long johns).
Despite being thin and supple, the material has a confidence-inspiring weight without being overly bulky or heavy.
Finishing touches such as the branding labels and stirrups on the lower legs add to the premium feel of the overall product.
The general quality of the finish feels like a big step forward, especially in areas such as the seams. Each material join uses what Bowtex describes as a ‘reinforced flat-lock’ seam, which in testing manages 12.9N/mm of pull resistance – the level required for a top-grade AAA pass in the CE tests in the most vulnerable areas of a garment – and Bowtex says every seam reaches that level.
While being significantly reinforced they are also impressively smooth, meaning the seams cause no irritation.
The use of Dyneema throughout the leggings, along with these new seams, rectifies one of the issues with earlier iterations, which used different materials in different parts of the leggings. Inevitably the variance in elasticity of these materials put strain on the seams, which was where my previous pairs ultimately failed.
This seems to be entirely resolved in the Elites’ design. In terms of the materials used and the finish there’s very little, if anything, to fault. They are remarkably well made and strike a balance of comfort, protection and practicality in almost every way.
The fit may be somewhat different to what many riders are used to. Unlike the airy feel of traditional textile trousers or armoured jeans, these have a reassuring tightness, moulding to your shape.
They sit in a similar position to a conventional pair of trousers, with the waist riding at a similar height to jeans and the lower cuffs sitting at the top of the ball of your ankle. This is a slight change from previous generations, which sat higher on the waist. That was something I never got totally comfortable with and I feel the new fit will be more familiar to most riders.
Despite the waist sitting at belt height, the thickness of the material, slim adjustment cord and general fit caused me no discomfort under additional layers or belts. I felt no discomfort from the presence of the additional layer, even during active days dashing about with the Elites under my normal clothes.
For me one of the draws to this approach for protection was a struggle in finding biking trousers that suited my size and style. The fit of these is near-perfect for me as a somewhat short, slim-waisted rider. By providing the full level of protection they give me the flexibility to wear whatever suits over the top, opening up a world of clothing that’s better suited to my size, shape and style.
Even with their slim fit and discreet design the Elites have an impressive level of protection with a higher CE rating than much of my conventional textile touring kit.
For starters, armour is only fully beneficial if it’s in the right place at the right time. The form-fitting nature of the Bowtex Elites means the armour is held exactly where it needs to be; skin-tight and uninterrupted by other layers or materials. There’s also no risk of the armour shifting away from the joint it’s designed to protect.
The Elites feature SAS-TEC armour at both the knees and hips, and both sets meet the higher CE Level 2 protection standard. These armour inserts are an evolution from those in the older leggings, now using honeycomb-style flexible pads that are form-fitting, thin and lightweight. Even under skinny jeans most people wouldn’t notice the armour and I find it very comfortable.
While the armour is the larger-rated ‘Size B’, it’s at the bottom scale of that template, and could be bigger. The form-fitting nature keeps it in the right place, but it still feels small compared to some other kit.
In addition to the armour, the garment achieves impressive standards of abrasion resistance thanks to the strength of the Dyneema material and the strengthened seams mentioned above.
The combination of the material and seam design means tear resistance is high and leads to an overall rating of AAA under the CE standard EN 17092.
While several products meet the same standard of protection, I find it immensely impressive to see such a thin, lightweight and discreet product achieving it, and it’s no surprise to seem them carrying the Bennetts High Performance Gold Award for protection.
All motorcycle clothing sold in the UK and Europe is deemed to be Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This is a good thing for riders as it can help them choose kit that has provable levels of safety because, to meet this legislation, it must be tested to a recognised standard. To fully understand the labels found in all bike kit, click here.
Fitting like a pair of sport leggings, there are no fastenings as such. The cuffs at the lower leg have elasticated stirrups to prevent them pulling up as you add your outer layer, however I’ve never found that to be an issue as their stretchy nature holds them in place.
Personally I would prefer to negate the feeling of the strap (thin as it is) across my feet over the occasional need to tug the legging back down and into position.
I initially worried the stirrups would cause other problems as the position of the joint with the leg cuff sat just where the ankle cups are located in many protective boots.
At first this was quite uncomfortable, but after a few weeks the material and seam softened and I now no longer notice it, irrespective of the boots I’m wearing.
It’s worth noting that with such a snug-fitting item and no fastenings, toilet visits can be a bit tricky - especially in hot, sticky weather. Some may miss the simplicity of a fly, but it’s something I got used to very quickly and it was by no means a problem for me.
I’ve worn these for chilly early morning motorway slogs, long days in heavy rain and even the glorious 30°C heatwave we enjoyed in early September 2023. I’ve been surprised by how well they performed, and fascinated by Bowtex’s claim they are all-climate capable.
It seems counter-intuitive to wear an additional layer in warm weather and feel cooler, but somehow these leggings manage precisely that.
Thanks to the moisture-wicking effect, as long as I was moving I remained remarkably cool, with sweat and clamminess drawn from the skin and dissipated to the passing airflow.
Even in extreme temperatures I didn’t feel overly warm, sweaty or uncomfortable. This remains the case off the bike too, although less efficiently due to the lack of airflow. Despite this I’ve not found myself rushing to remove the extra layer. That’s beneficial to someone like me, who can visit several locations in a day and is forever desperate to avoid excessive wardrobe changes.
As an under layer, waterproofing depends on what you wear on top. However, I’ve appreciated how quickly the Bowtex Elite leggings dry when they do get wet.
As a serial ‘I forgot my waterproofs’ rider these seem to dry much faster than any of my other kit, comfortably drying out in just a few hours when aired well. For a commuting rider this again has really proven its worth, helping cope with the day-to-day practicalities of British weather and my forgetfulness.
A product worn so close to the skin will inevitably be a more frequent visitor to the wash than a pair of regular riding jeans. I’ve previously owned multiple pairs of Bowtex leggings to facilitate washing as I go through the commuting week. I’m pleased to say the new Elites have managed to impress again here.
Firstly the Dyneema material doesn’t seem to hold onto smell like other materials. Where I might have felt the need to wash previous under layers or base layers after just a few uses, the Elites have barely needed to be washed in the three months I’ve been riding in them. I’ve found simply airing them well at the end of a day is enough to keep them going for many rides. When it is required they wash well and where previous generations were prone to losing colour the Elites show no signs of fading, or other ill-effects of washing.
Sizing is everything with a product like this so it’s worth having a good look at their size guide. I’ve also found the Bowtex customer services team to be very helpful in getting the right fit.
The stretch in the material mostly negates the need for adjustment, however there is a drawstring at the waistband to ensure they stay up and in place. I’ve not felt the need to use this as they hold in place well thanks to the stretch of the material. The drawstring is still useful to have, especially as it sits nice and flat and causes no irritation.
There is no lining as such on the Elites, however the inner face of the leggings is a slightly different texture to the outer and silver in colour with an almost fine mesh style of finish.
There are few similar products out there, but the choice of riding jeans and trousers is nearly endless. Here’s just a selection from recent Bike Social reviews, all of which also achieved the Bennetts High Performance Gold Award…
Worn under all kinds of trousers, the Bowtex Elites look and feel great
The Bowtex concept presents an entirely different approach to protecting yourself when riding a bike. For me, the versatility of being able to wear just about anything without compromising on protection is absolutely game-changing.
Riding around in ordinary chinos or smart trousers almost feels naughty, until you remember you’re backed up by AAA level protection from the Bowtex Elites. It feels like you’ve tricked the system. As a year-round commuter who values discretion when it comes to gear, this feels like the dream solution.
Previously the concept of protective underlayers had flaws and older Bowtex models lacked the durability, fit and comfort I expected of them, but in this new form I think Bowtex has perfected the concept. From the premium feel to the transformed durability, these are a complete evolution from earlier products.
Having also now reached the AAA standard for protection it’s hard to find anything of significance to criticise besides wishing for slightly larger armour. The Bowtex Elites offer full abrasion and impact protection while remaining almost impossible to spot when worn under even the skinniest of clothing, which means the Elites will continue to be my first choice for day-to-day rides.
These are without a doubt one of the best pieces of motorcycle kit I’ve used to date.