Motorcycle Jacket Buyers Guide
Here at J&P we’re passionate about riding and with that passion comes lots of knowledge surrounding gear, specifically jackets. Our team’s jacket collection includes everything from high-tech textile to traditional leather and vintage biker-wear (also known as jackets some have owned since the beginning of time).
We are firm believers that a biker can never have too many jackets and specific jackets for extreme riding conditions are a must! The motorcycle jacket is our second most prized possession and should be chosen carefully.
Since bikes first roamed the earth, the road ahead has been paved with leather, or at least it should have been. Ah, the smell of it. There is something very tribal about wearing animal skin, something that is a part of our ancestral DNA. Today’s motorcycle enthusiasts may still feel that connection, an intoxicating mix of movement, danger and the need for protection against wind, cold, rain, claws, and maybe teeth and asphalt.
Few materials can afford the abrasion and wind resistance that animal hide has been providing for centuries. Today’s modern bikers have a large choice of styles, textures, weight and color. From lightweight and perforated styles for gentle summer riding, to hulking, Mad Max, tougher-than-the-Apocalypse, 10-lb. jackets made from half a cow herd, most manufacturers offer a jacket that suits your style during every season. But why not collect them all?
It was only a generation or so ago that there basically two styles of motorcycle jackets: the standard police style with epaulets and lots of zippers, and the clubman, a more collegian look favored by the likes of James Dean and his ilk. These jackets typically had no epaulets, only side hand pockets and zipped up the middle with no wind flap. If you were smart, or lucky, you got one that buttoned down so the collar wouldn’t slap you in the face as you rode down the highway.
The motorcycle jacket has evolved over the years and is no longer considered a garment worn only by thugs, as our parents sternly warned us about when we bought that first leather jacket at the age of 15. The cruiser jacket, for instance, is a style that is fashionable on and off the bike. The difference between a casual jacket and a riding jacket is that the armor and padding gives a riding jacket some serious function to go along with the form.
All major motorcycle factories seem to have their own private label brand of biker-wear, but some fit and work better than others. Your choice of jacket brand or style depends on your body type, how much you want to advertise a brand’s name and what kind of riding you do. Domestic market jackets from Harley-Davidson or Victory tend to have jacket lines that fit a roomier since Americans tend to be bigger than the rest of the world. US sizing is generally roomier than a European-cut jacket from Triumph or Ducati.
There are also a bunch of aftermarket jacket companies out there, many who offer high-quality riding jackets. Just as many of these companies offer entry-level gear as well, so take some time to compare the features, the thickness of the leather and the quality of craftsmanship, so you can make a purchasing decision that allows you to get the best jacket for your budget. Pay close attention to the size charts too. Don’t underestimate your measurements and when in doubt choose a size bigger, so you can layer or utilize a jacket liner, if necessary.
Sport riding jackets usually come with Nehru-type collars and some kind of extra leather padding on impact points, such as elbows and shoulders plus internal pockets that hold removable composite or CE-approved body armor. These sport or sport-touring style leather jackets will usually have some type of expandable panels or pre-curved arms that help improve comfort when you are in the riding position. Some jackets even have stretch panels in the sides to allow for a little room to grow those love handles. The world might be a more comfortable place if everything came with an elastic waistband, and rubbery side panels.
If you find leather unappealing or disturbing at some level, you’ll be happy to hear that there is a healthy supply of textile products to serve your needs. There are jackets constructed of everything from waxed cotton to ballistic nylon. Textile jackets are an emerging market that grows bigger every day. Some textile jackets are thick and heavy, some are lightweight and weather-resistant, but they all tend to be a little less expensive than leather. They generally hold up as well or better during a day in the rain compared to leather. Textile jackets come in a wide variety of styles and colors and are typically made with synthetic or composite fabric that is often billed as being waterproof. Some of these jackets feature Kevlar reinforced elbows for added strength and durability. It is important to know that while Kevlar is known for its ability to stop bullets, the material isn’t going to make your jacket impervious to abrasion, but it is tougher than plain nylon.
There is a textile riding jacket for every style of motorcycle rider on the streets these days. The shorter style is popular among sport bike riders and is usually lightweight and flashy. Bright colors, lots of logos and Kevlar seem to be all the rage these days. On the touring side of the equation, the long designs and lightweight material make textile jackets very popular for adventure touring and dual sport riders. The ADV jackets tend to have a lot of external pockets and adjustable ventilation zippers. Cruiser riders tend to shy away from the fabric jackets, but they are making their way into this market too because of the wide range of styles, custom-looking colors and of course the lower price tags. Most textile jackets are easier to clean, and in some cases may even be machine washable (Check the tag).
There was a time when only bad boys wore tough denim jackets and maybe even paired them with jeans in an effort to complete the tough guy look. Natural fiber denim is lightweight and is usually machine washable. Denim does offer more abrasion resistance than say, a T-shirt, but no serious rider would consider it adequate gear unless it is one of the modern denim riding jackets, equipped with armor and some strategically reinforced abrasion-resistant materials. Denim also absorbs moisture so when it gets wet, it stays wet for a long time. There is no denying they are comfortable and less restrictive than their leather or textile counterparts, which is part of the reason behind the resurgence of denim riding jackets.
Regardless of where you’re shopping for your motorcycle gear, bikers today have little excuse to not dress well for the occasion. Leather and textile jackets come heavy or light, vented, hooded, long, short and in a dazzling array of colors, styles and fit. Keep in mind that a good jacket should fit securely; not too loose and certainly not too tight, leaving ample room for shoulder and arm movement as well as room for the liner if it has one.
It’s a good idea to leave some room for layering. Many riders like to use undergarments that incorporate built-in armor or padding sewn into a spandex-style shirt (or pant). Doing so gives a layer of comfort as well as added protection. Basic underwear can be long or short sleeved, padded or non-padded, but they all tend to be manufactured out of material that helps draw moisture away from your body. They add to the comfort level and fit tight to your skin so they don’t take up much room. Then again, you may just toss on a set of thermal underwear and call it good. Whatever your style is, make sure you leave some room.
Just in case the weather turns bad, you may want to consider a water resistant jacket as primary gear. The majority of waterproof riding jackets are made of textile, so you need to be OK with wearing something other than leather if you want protection when riding in any of the four seasons. A riding jacket designed to keep water out will have a few common features including a storm flap that can be secured over the front main zipper, some sort of collar that can be secured tight around the rider’s neck area and an external shell that is constructed of some type of waterproof material that should be clearly stated on the product description. Additional features that make a waterproof jacket useful include welded seams, waterproof zipper pockets and some type of mesh liner that helps keep the shell away from your body.
We also recommend a motorcycle vest. Leather or wool vests not only add a nice fashion flare, they can provide that extra warmth without a lot of bulk. They add more pockets to keep stuff in while providing a little bit more protection from wind and road hazards, and they are a stylish throwback to the Old West. How cool is that?
You should respect and care for your riding jacket with the same diligence as when you care for your bike. If you want your jacket to last and provide miles of happy service it should be cleaned regularly. For a leather jacket, that means using a damp rag to wipe away the bugs and road grit followed by a spritz or two of a mild cleaner like Murphy’s Oil Soap. Make sure to check for the care instructions on your specific leather jacket because there are a bunch of products on the market and it’s always a good idea to use the stuff your manufacturer recommends. Of course a careful application of mink oil or other leather treatment will keep it supple and looking new.
Textile jackets usually just need a good wiping down with clean or mild soapy water but you should check your care instructions because most can be machine washable too.
There used to be an old saying that you may have seen posted around the parts counter of your favorite motorcycle shop that goes, “If you have a $10 head, buy a $10 helmet.” Well, the same could be said of your riding jacket. Think of it as an investment in your short- and long-term health and happiness. Plus, if it adds some swagger and flair both on and off the bike, consider it a perk of the biker lifestyle.