Monday, October 1, 2007

The fashion statement: The Barbour Jacket.

By Rick K From webbikeworld:

The Barbour Cowan Commando from

"It doesn't get more classic than this, folks.

You're looking at the Barbour International jacket, which has been in production just as you see it here since -- get this -- 1936!

And since what's old is new again in our Retro is Golden age, the International is now red hot.

The International is now being distributed by British Motorcycle Gear in the U.S.A. (the same folks who bring us the Belstaff goodies) so get 'em while you can, because you never know what tomorrow will bring...

Look through a book with photographs of the motorcyclists of yore and it's obvious that the International jacket was de rigueur riding apparel for the serious motorcycle rider.

Barbour's own website has some of the statistics: 97% of the competitors in the 1957 Scottish Trials wore Barbour and they were the official motorcycle police jacket in 14 different countries. And other than WWII, when there were no international motorcycle events, Barbour was worn "by virtually every British international motorcycle team from 1936 until 1977". How's that for a pedigree?

Most Americans probably got their first introduction to Barbour clothing via the characters in "All Creatures Great and Small" or one of the other interesting British shows on public television. Like many other things, we've pigeonholed our British cousins with stereotypes involving tweed, Wellies, snorkers and Barbour jackets. But hey, it could be worse, right?

I lusted after a Barbour jacket and finally saved up enough scratch to buy one -- almost exactly 20 years ago. My Bedale still looks like new and it's even hipper now than it was back then. And the nice thing about it is that it works -- whenever it rains, summer or winter, the Bedale's waxed cotton keeps me warm and dry.

Some of you may recall that we reviewed the Belstaff Trailmaster not too long ago, which uses a construction that is very similar to the Barbour International and is a classic in its own right. But the Barbour is one of a kind, with its classic slanted left-hand chest pocket instantly recognizable in the vintage photos of classic riders and their mounts.

The four big cargo pockets with their real brass snaps can hold lots of junk. Bulging bottom pockets seem to indicate a serious off-road rider, because back in the International's heyday you'd have to carry spare plugs, points and who knows what else to keep running.

The huge brass zipper with its big pull ring on the left-hand side (of course!) give the owner a trip back in time with every zip. When's the last time you saw a brass jacket zipper??

And although the waist belt really does help to keep the jacket watertight in a blow, most owners will probably slip it out of the loops and toss it. But the neck belt should be left hanging from that soft moss-colored corduroy collar to ensure that "The Look" is kept intact.

Speaking of The Look, the Barbour is also instantly recognizable by its classic signature tartan interior cotton lining, which is also very comfortable. And best of all is the "Made in England" label, along with its gaggle of Royal seals, attesting to Barbour's official appointments to various Kings and Queens.

The International certainly doesn't replace any of the modern motorcycle jackets with their high-tech fabrics, CE-approved armor, Gore-Tex liners and Nylon zippers. The decision to buy a Barbour International comes from the same set of illogical emotions that "force" one to come to the decision that only a Moto Guzzi Le Mans, Ducati Paul Smart 1000 or Triumph Thruxton will do as the next bike.

Owners of those classics or any other vintage British or European make will surely want to complete The Look by going all the way with an International. And while you're at it, how about a pudding bowl helmet and some stringback gloves?

But it's more than nostalgia -- the great thing about the International is that it looks (and works) just as great off the bike as on, so you'll be the envy of the pub when you're wearing it.

As an old-time Bedale owner, I can tell you that the waxed cotton (the only way they could keep anything waterproof back in the days before Gore-Tex) is sticky at first and attracts lots of lint, cat hair and other assorted fur-balls and tumbleweeds, especially in the International's near-black color.

But after a few outings, the wax stiffens up and the jacket will get that wonderful broken-in patina that Barbour owners know and love. The jacket can be re-waxed if necessary, either by the owner or by sending it back to Barbour for a refurbishing.

Which is another nice feature about buying a classic that's been in production for 70-odd years. Barbour is always there to fix it should something go wrong. Try doing that with your globally-sourced mesh jacket and see how far you get!"


Stu said...

As a long time admirer of the waxed cotton look I have to wonder about it's crashworthiness... Anyone care to comment on how it stands up to gravel rash?

Uncle Ant said...

In answer to the last comment...

I've got one and wear it to work every day - going in on my old XS400. Got knocked off at about 15mph by a car in April. The jacket was only slightly marked, despite a bit of tarmac scraping. I was OK apart from a bruised knee. Learned my lesson and now wear padding (it does make a difference).

So I can confirm they hold up OK in low speed scrapes.

The main advantages are that they are totally waterproof (I was out in the Sheffield floods and it didn't leak), they are long enough to cover your backside(unlike most leather motorcycle jackets) and the huge pockets allow you to carry innumerable essentials (such as a leatherman, adjustable spanner, sunglasses, spare fuses, wire, snacks, insulation tape, string and so on). You can be guaranteed that those essentials will remain dry! Also - unlike wearing a lot of modern leather - you don't look like an extra from Blake's 7 wandering around.

Another major factor is that it's a Barbour jacket, made in England. The quality of the garment is extremely impressive. The Barbour English made waxed garments are about the highest standard of quality you can get.

I re-proof mine every 6 months with the Barbour wax. This is based on my own experience of using it every day. I've had mine for 2 years and will buy another in due course (even though there's not much wear on this one).

I don't know if Barbour still make the matching trousers, but I was disappointed with a set I bought second-hand. The problems with the trousers are: no re-inforced knee patch, no decent pockets, poor fitting round the backside (too tight), no belt loops, poor waist fastening system (a zip at the side and press-studs), pointless belts and buckles which get in the way. They could improve the trousers with a Kevlar lining, pockets in the lining for knee pads, padding on the hips, removal of the belts on the legs, introduction of a belt on the waist.

Barbour could improve the jacket with a Kevlar lining under the waxed cotton and internal pockets for CE padded inserts. This would raise the price, but they could offer the new jacket as an 'enhanced' International or something, whilst still offering the original.

Finally, in terms of overall protection, there is nothing to beat armoured leather. And if you want total safety buy a Volvo!

HYPOGENE said...

That jacket in the photo is actually the Cowan Commando Jacket; the International Jacket is belted and has a patch on the chest.

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Enda Cunnane said...

I Inherited a Barbour international jacket from my Dad, who was a motorcycle Cop in Ireland, during the Harsh winter of '81-'82.He banjaxed his back a couple of years before that in an accident,so could not ride anymore. It was put through its paces sleeping rough at music fesivals, working on building sites and Mineral prospecting for the next 25 years , re-proofed and repaired many's a time .I likened it to a shed made of fabric and wax. My big mistake was to take all the old wax off in 2007 in a hot detergent wash ,after trying to reproof it , it never was the same D'oh!I cried when I binned it!!! I have just bought a light version of the International "The Enfield" , Im older now and less adventurous, so may be a fitting replacement. Barbours are "The Dogs Bollox" (Very Very good Indeed).Highly recommended, even from an Irishman, thats something to be said about British Products .My local Outdoors shop(Galway City -Duffys of Mainguard st.), has one thats Fifty plus Years old and still doing its job to keep you warm and Dry . as for motorcrashes Hmmm !