While a good motorcycle jacket can reflect a rider's personality, that's not enough these days. Motorcyclists want protection from road rash and the elements in a high-quality, durable jacket that also fits comfortably and looks sharp.
Among the must-have gear for motorcycle riders, a quality jacket is high on the priority list. While jackets are often a reflection of a rider's personality, there are more elements to take into consideration when purchasing a motorcycle jacket than simply whether or not you look good in it. Protection, quality, durability and a comfortable fit are as important as style. To help you make a sound decision before plunking down your hard-earned dollars, Motorcycle USA has developed this basic guide to make the decision process a little easier.
Things to look for in a good motorcycle jacket:
- Remember that you're not going to be wearing a motorcycle jacket standing up. Different bikes will place you in different riding positions. This means a jacket should run a little long in the sleeves, it should have a little extra room in the shoulders, and needs to come down a little further so there's no gap between the top of your pants and the bottom of the jacket. It should also have closures around the wrists, neck and waist. Not only will this provide protection against the elements, but it will also keep material from flapping around, which is distracting when you ride.
- Padding = Protection. Most jackets come with reinforced elbows, shoulders and backs. It can be as simple as extra material sown strategically into areas that are often injured in a crash to heavy-duty plastic inserts to reinforced Kevlar. Check to make sure the protective armor doesn't shift around when you put the jacket on. It won't do you any good if it doesn't stay in place.
- the more, the merrier. Look for an inner pocket to put your license, wallet, or cash in. Outer pockets are of little use if they can't be closed tight. I speak from experience. I lost a $120 pair of Oakleys
when I stuck them in my side jacket pocket without zipping it shut and wind buffeting knocked my favorite shades out somewhere on I-5 between work and home. Pockets with cover-up flaps are best. Wind has a way of finding its way between the teeth of a zipper,
I loved the thick, durable leather of this Icon Accelerant Jacket and its fashionable styling, but after a couple hundred miles in the summer heat, the jacket cooked me like a crawfish at a Cajun fais do-do.
so a small patch of material in front or back of a zipper will help keep wind penetration to a minimum. Also, check outer pockets to see if they are waterproof. This is always a bonus.
Liners and Vents
- a removable liner is best. A zipout thinsulate lining can make a jacket good to go all year round. Vents, especially in the shoulder and underarm, can keep you from boiling like a shellfish at a Pismo Beach clam bake.
- Even though you might look best in solid black leather, this style of jacket will make you almost unnoticeable at night. Most jackets include piping on the sleeves or back made from scotelite or some other reflective material. Many manufacturers make the logos on their jackets reflective also, like the bold "Rocket" lettering that is splayed across the chest and back of my Joe Rocket Big Bang Jacket
. Even though the rest of the jacket is black, thin white piping down the sleeves and the reflective logos make it highly visible at night.
You might be under the impression that one jacket should suffice for all riding seasons. Think again. It took me one summertime ride in stop-and-go traffic with a thick, black leather Icon Accelerant Jacket
on during a 95-degree day to convince me. Even with the vents open and the liner removed, I still suffered a mild case of heat exhaustion by end of
The 100% cotton Shift Cammer Jacket is an excellcent choice for summertime riding. It's lightweight but comes with a quilted liner for cool nights, has three exterior pockets that zip tight and an inside pocket that includes a sewn-in port hole to store and use an MP3 player or communication equipment.
the ride. The accompanying nausea and headache proved that black leather absorbs lots of heat and doesn't breathe well. A good summer jackets is light and breathable to help keep riders comfortable during hot days, but it still should provide adequate protection. Summer jackets are often cropped at the waist and have a thin, removable liner. Air vents are mandatory. A good summer jacket would be a wind breaker-style made from synthetic materials and mesh.
Riding wet sucks. That's why a longer jacket than a waist-level, summer-cut jacket is needed when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Winter jackets often are cut below the hip and can be as low as mid-thigh. Winter jackets are heavily insulated but should come with a detachable liner, be thick enough to keep you warm, and resilient enough to protect you from rain and cold. It should seal well at the wrists, waist and neck. Look for collars with adjustable flap-style closures that don't feel too tight on your throat when you're riding at speed. Reinforced padding and armor is a definite bonus because there's a higher probability of taking a spill when roads are slick. A good non-leather material is Dupont Cordura, which is a form of nylon. Items made from Dupont Cordura are divided into scales ranging up to almost 1000 denier. A good jacket rates about 500 on the denier scale. In comparison, heavy-duty luggage rank almost 1000 denier. Of course, leather is always a solid choice.
Wearing jackets for off-road riding is more for guarding against inclement weather rather than crash injuries. Of course, the more armor the better, but mostly riders don outerwear to fend off cold winds and wet bushes. Basically every manufacturer who offers motocross or off-road gear also makes a jacket. Since weather is the main reason for zipping up, waterproofing is critical. Things to look for include polyurethane coating, reinforced zipper flaps and sealed seams to help keep moisture out. Hopefully these features are applied to not only the main zipper, but the ones for pockets and vents as well. The more pockets the better. Storage can be your best friend when you have room for a spare set of dry gloves, goggles, spark plugs, trail tools or simply a towel to clear your lenses.
Off-roaders can't have a thick, bulky jacket that hinders their mobility. What they do want is a lightweight, waterproof jacket that has plenty of pockets to stuff necessities in.
Because of the physical nature of off-roading, there's plenty of moisture trying to get out as well. Today's jackets all have some form of venting, but we've found that few actually get the job done in hot, tight trail negotiating. Our favorite jackets tend to be the ones that convert into vests with zip-off sleeves.
In terms of protection, most off-road jackets have reinforced contact areas like elbows and shoulders, but some also offer built-in or removable hard protection as well. If these components are replaceable, that's an extra feature that is worth considering since it will enhance the lifespan of the jacket. Different types of nylon, including denier and polyester, are common exterior fabrics while most offer fleece around the neckline and sometimes cuffs for added comfort.
Another option to consider is always the packable jacket. These are lightweight units that are essentially windbreakers and allow riders to take off from the unload spot without the burden of a full jacket while still knowing that they have a little protection available if things take a turn for the worse.
Racing motorcycle jackets
Racing motorcycle jackets usually fit closer to the body and are lighter than their leather counterparts. They usually come in bright colors for easy visibility. A sporty option for summer riding, but not so good in inclement weather.
Somewhere out there lays a hardcore biker buried in his favorite leather jacket. That's how much cruiser riders love their leather. But you don't have to ride a big Hog just to enjoy the benefits of a good leather jacket. A high-grade leather motorcycle jacket can help keep the skin on your body while ones with armor plating further protect riders from road rash and puncture wounds. Cowhide is famous for its strength and durability.
Types of Leather
There are four primary types of leather. Here's a quick rundown of the four grades.
For riders who refuse to garage their bike and ride all winter long, Tour Master offers a heated jacket liner that will help counter the chill of a frigid wind.
is made from the lower layers of a hide that have been split away from the upper (or grain) layers. Split leather doesn't provide as much protection as full-grain leather, and is typically used as suede.
is split leather that has been buffed and brushed to create a fuzzy, soft surface. Suede looks good but won't help you much in a get-off.
Top Grain or Corrected Grain
leather has been sanded to remove scars and imperfections and then is sprayed for a uniform look. Top grain is a step up from split leather or suede, but is not the same quality as full-grain or naked leather. But a top grain jacket with a thickness of at least 1.2mm makes this type of leather a good choice.
Full-Grain or Naked Leather
is the best you can get for your buck. It is made from the finest hides with only a transparent dye added. The natural full-grain surface will wear better than other leather and develops a natural patina. This sheen only enhances the look of the jacket over time. This type of leather is the highest riding grade which ultimately also makes it the most expensive.
Buying and Care Tips for Leather Jackets:
Good leather should be at least 1mm thick. When buying a leather motorcycle jacket, check the seams and stitching on the hems and lapels and in the areas that will see a lot of movement. You can weatherproof your leather with neatsfoot oil or another conditioner to keep your jacket supple and looking good.
There's a host of clothing manufacturers making quality motorcycle jackets. Alpinestars
, Joe Rocket
, River Road
, and Tour Master
are a few companies to check out to get you started. Remember though. It's not only about looking good. It's about taking any measures necessary to make sure that you are able to walk away should you go down. A good jacket is an instrumental part of a rider's gear bag.