Magazine article Sunset

Western Wanderings

Magazine article Sunset

Western Wanderings

Article excerpt


Worn to be wild

To the uninitiated, slipping inside a Langlitz custom motorcycle jacket is like finding yourself at the controls of an F-15. You sense you may have placed yourself in a situation that is more than you can handle. Dave Hansen zips the offset front zipper, and the jacket tightens around you like a black leather carapace. In the three-way mirror stands someone you don't recognize: you, but a dangerous version of you.

"Nice fit," Hansen says.

For more than 50 years, Langlitz jackets have offered motorcycle riders a nice fit plus an aura of invulnerability mixed with menance. Such qualities do not come cheap. Prices begin at $650 and can rise to $1,000; the jackets are so popular among thieves that they now bear serial numbers for easier tracing. In the world of motorcycles, the Langlitz shop on Portland's Division Street carries the same cachet that, say, the House of Chanel once carried in the world of haute couture.

The story begins when Ross Langlitz, a 17-year-old Portland boy who loved to ride motorcycles, was hit by a truck while on his Harley-Davidson. The accident cost Langlitz his right leg. Even with a wood leg, he could still ride, but he needed a sedentary way to make a living. Unhappy with the motorcycle jackets he'd purchased, he set out to make his own, and he opened a shop in 1947.

He had a kind of genius for it. Dave Hansen holds up a 1999 Langlitz Columbia - the company's flagship jacket - little changed from the version Ross Langlitz devised. "There's nothing on this jacket that is an accident," Hansen says.

This is true. Ross Langlitz did not invent the motorcycle jacket, but he honed it to perfection as a garment that could withstand open highways at 75 mph. The front zipper is offset to allow an interior leather flap to be opened in summer to let cool air in, or zipped shut in winter to block the cold. Zipped sleeves prevent wind from shooting in to inflate the jacket like a leather balloon.

Walk inside the Langlitz shop today and you see leather and smell leather and hear the cheerful chingchingching of Pfaff sewing machines stitching leather. You will probably see Dave Hansen and maybe his wife, Jackie, who have run the place since Ross Langlitz died in the late 1970s. Like most everyone in the shop, Dave has a passion for motorcycles, which in his case he found in the 1960s as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …

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