Although Langlitz Leathers is not a widely recognized name, they don’t spend much time worrying about their public profile being low; they’re too busy making sure they’re quality is unsurpassed. For decades, veteran riders have recognized leathers bearing the Langlitz name as being synonymous with excellence.
Ross Langlitz founded the company in Portland Oregon in 1947. He was a young motorcycle enthusiast who was dissatisfied with leather jackets available at that time because they weren’t well suited to riding bikes. They were too short in the back, too long in the front and the sleeves rode up his arms when he leaned forward to grab the handlebars.
Ross bought a jacket from Sears and took it apart. He was working as a glove maker and had experience working with leather. Ross used the panels as starting points to create templates for an improved design that would work better for motorcyclists.
He formed a company called Speedway Togs to make and sell leather garments specifically designed for motorcyclists. That company was eventually renamed Langlitz Leathers and has been doing business in Portland for over 60 years. Motorcycle garments are not a part of their business; it’s their only business.
The company offers jackets, pants, vests and variety of accessories. Over the years, their products have earned a reputation for fit, quality and durability that is second to none. Motor officers in many police departments have equipped themselves with Langlitz leather jackets and swear by them. About 35% of their output is sold to overseas clients. Their products sell well in Japan in particular, where a Langlitz black leather biker jacket has a uniquely American Brando-esque mystique about it.
A Manx Norton hanging from the rafters.
The company’s products are entirely hand-made at their shop using American hides and hardware. They cut the hides and sew the garments in-house. There are no logos visible on the jacket, only a discreet label on the inside of the jacket. There’s also no “size” tag, just the customer’s name, the date the jacket was made and the unique serial number for the jacket printed on the inside of the inner breast pocket.
Having a leather jacket custom made is self-indulgent and expensive. Why would someone do such an extravagant thing?
|Ross Langlitz wearing his first jacket in front of Western Cycle Sales in March of 1948.|
Well, mostly because people come in all shapes and sizes. Some folks are lucky enough to be able to find something that fits perfectly right off the rack. I’m one of those people who’s “between sizes”: my chest measures 43” so standard jackets are usually a bit snug or a tad loose. Two people with the same chest size can have different length arms, bigger or smaller bellies, etc. If you happen to be at either end of the sizing bell curve, a custom-made garment makes a lot of sense.
The skilled artisans at Langlitz Leathers can build something that not only fits perfectly but also looks exactly the way you want it. Accurate measurements can be taken either at the shop or at home using the instructions offered on their website. Decades of experience outfitting motorcyclists tells them where the jacket needs to be a bit shorter to prevent bunching or a bit longer to prevent air gaps and how much the sleeves will shorten over time as they get creased.
Before measurements are taken, decisions need to be made about style, color, collar type (dress or Cossack), quilted padding (yes or no), hardware (brass, black or silver), pockets (how many, where, leather or cloth lined), type of leather (cow or goat), weight of leather (heavy, medium or light), fit (snug, medium or loose) and a few other options. It sounds intimidating but the helpful folks at the shop walk clients through the process painlessly.
Most folks go with black leather. It goes with anything, has a slimming effect and ensures a good re-sale value, if your jacket ever needs to go to new home. By the way, an expensive custom-made jacket is an excellent incentive to NOT gain weight.
There are several basic styles of jacket, all of which can be seen on their website. Again, these are all starting points and can be customized to your heart’s content (or the size of your bankroll). Quality comes at a price, which, in this case, is upwards of a thousand bucks (how much upwards depends on how you configure the garment).
Look at it this way: it’s a lifetime investment; the jacket will likely outlast you (assuming it doesn’t have to save your hide someday in an unfortunate encounter). If you think about what you spend on tires, chains and other consumables for your bike(s) it’s really not that bad.
Think about how many leather jackets have you bought since you started riding. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has purchased several over the last decades trying, like Goldilocks, to find the one that was “just right”. Now that I have one from Langlitz, I won’t be wearing the others as much. In hindsight, it would’ve been cheaper to buy the custom jacket in the first place.
The jackets hold their resale value quite well (just take a look at Langlitz jackets on ebay sometime). And don’t forget: Oregon has no sales tax!
Scott and Bennie behind the counter inside the Langlitz shop.
Langlitz Leathers is not trying to compete with anyone and they’re not in a hurry. The eleven employees turn out four or five jackets a day. The wait list grows and shrinks depending on the time of year and turnaround times can vary from weeks to months. My jacket was promised in two months but came sooner. They strive to under-promise and over-deliver when it comes to turnaround times.
I ended up going with a black goatskin, Cascade jacket with Cossack collar, with quilted padding on the shoulders and elbows and brass snaps and zipper. I also opted for the ever-popular leather-lined gun pocket (which will also hold a paperback book, depending on what kind of day you’re expecting).
When the Man-in-Brown came by my house to deliver my new jacket, I opened the front door to find what looked like an abandoned papoose on my doormat. It appeared to be a brown paper pillow secured with strapping tape and bearing a typewritten label with my address. I was expecting a big box but must admit that the plain brown paper did an excellent job of protecting the jacket.
I opened the package to find the supple, black, wonderful-smelling jacket, a leather pouch containing a small tub of leather conditioner, a stick of zipper lube, some Langlitz Leathers stickers and a short hand-written note from Bennie telling me they hoped I enjoyed my new jacket and reminding me to get in touch if I had any questions or issues.
I inspected the jacket closely and couldn’t find a single flaw or misplaced stich. I put it on and, not surprisingly, it fit me like a proverbial glove. I’m a picky guy and my expectations were exceeded.
Ross Langlitz’s 1947 Velocette KSS.
I’ve been riding in it and it’s supremely comfortable. No binding, bunching, or gaps. It’s comfy around the arms, the middle and the neck. You can zip it all the way up when it’s cool or unzip it a bit to get some air flow. The jacket has a non-removable lining and I wore just a t-shirt underneath. Here in Texas, it’s still pretty warm in October and the jacket feels perfect temp-wise in the mornings but by afternoon, when temps rise into the 80s, the jacket is feeling pretty toasty. As long as I’m moving and there’s some air circulation, it’s fine.
I brought my new jacket to a party at a friend’s house to show it to my riding buddies. The ladies were asking if they could touch it and the fellas were clearly green with envy. A jacket like this could do wonders for your social life (or get you shot, if things get out of hand).
I’m like a lot many Langlitz customers who get to mid-life (or later) and decide that, hey, if I don’t get one of these now, when WILL I do it? They sell a lot of jackets to “mature” riders who have reached a point in life where they feel like they can afford to splurge and treat themselves and, once they do, they kick themselves for not having done it ten or twenty years earlier.
The company credo is: “Langlitz builds the best quality leather garments in the industry and provides the best possible customer service”. That sentence pretty much sums it up. Their goal is to make the best product regardless of cost. They do not intend to expand their operation, rather to continue as a specialty business, staying small to ensure quality. They’re not happy until the customer is happy. 100% satisfaction guaranteed. You don’t hear that very often these days.
If you get to Portland, visit their shop; the store is like a shrine/museum. Over the main counter hangs Ross’ 1947 overhead cam Velocette, a Manx Norton and other eye candy. Talk to Bennie, John or Scott. They’re enthusiasts and you’ll enjoy the conversation. Try on some of the pre-owned jackets on the rack (there are a ton of them). If you find one that fits, you’re in luck; it’ll cost way less than a new custom jacket and, odds are, it’ll be in excellent condition. Be careful though: the temptation to get a jacket made with YOUR name in the pocket is powerful and might just be impossible to resist! MC
Visit Langlitz Leathers online.