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Leather chaps are coverings for your legs that act as protective agents against falls, rocks, wind, rain and other hazards you will or may encounter while riding on the road. Chaps were used originally by cowboys when they were working, since the leather was strong enough to shield their legs and lower torso from the elements, while still allowing them to move about freely since they only cover the front of the legs.
Chaps should be worn while riding, especially if riding on a regular basis. Each time you ride, the chances of a fall increase, and the chances of getting hurt by a rock or some other type of debris from the road rise as well. The leather will also provide some protection against rain, wind and cold weather, although if you are riding in the rain then you should probably invest in more robust protection from the elements.