The motorcycle jacket. For someone that doesnt ride, images of the classic black leather jacket are sure to come to mind. That's the iconic image that the media has used for years to portray motorcycle apparel. While that style of jacket is still wildly popular among riders, especially in the cruiser and vintage crowds, there are so many more options available for riders.
No matter how and what you ride, there is a motorcycle jacket that will fit your style and needs. The wide array of motorcycle jackets does pose a problem, though. How do you choose the right motorcycle jacket that will best fit your style of riding? A leather cruiser jacket may be the best option for a cruiser rider, but it could be the worst for and Adventure touring rider.
In this guide, we will break down all of the intricacies that separate the types of motorcycle jackets from each other. By the end, you should have a pretty good idea of which style and type of construction is best for you and your riding style.
Motorcycle jackets can be broken down into four major categories: Cruiser, Racing, Sport/Street and Adventure Touring/Dual Sport. The jackets of each category are tailored to fit the specific needs of each style of riding. There are both leather and textile options for each style, giving riders the choice of their preferred material in the style of jacket that best fits their riding style. While many jackets adhere to a specific style, there is a growing number of jackets that blur the lines between the styles to accommodate riders who want the best of each. Listed below are the four main motorcycle jacket categories.
The classic styles of motorcycle jackets that have become synonymous with motorcycling all fall under the category of cruiser jackets. Leather is far and away the most common material used to construct cruiser jackets. That being said, synthetic textiles and cotton are growing in popularity. Fashion and comfort are the two largest driving factors behind cruiser jackets. The fit is generally on the looser side to provide more room for comfort. Armor is usually little to none, though more and more offerings are starting to come with the jacket as the armor technology improves and becomes less intrusive.
Motorcycle racing jackets need to be constructed with high abrasion resistant materials due to the risk of high speed offs. A thick cowhide is often the best and most common material used for the jacket's main chassis due to its excellent abrasion resistance. Synthetic stretch panels are placed in key areas to aid in rider mobility. Internal armor and external TPU sliders are common to provide protection against high speed impacts and slides. Pockets are minimal to none. Motorcycle racing jackets have a very tight fit to be more aerodynamic. The sleeves are pre-curved to fit the tucked riding position, which helps to reduce rider fatigue. A zipper is often included on the bottom hem of the jacket to attach it to a pair of racing pants. This will prevent the jacket from sliding up during a slide.
Sport jackets are often seen as a more casual or relaxed version of a racing jacket with a few more features. The cut is very similar to meet the needs of the sport bike riding position, but the fit is a bit more loose and relaxed. Unlike racing jackets, street jackets are commonly made with textiles. There are quite a few leather options as well and there are also combinations of both. For more seasonal versatility, venting and removable liners are often included in sport bike jackets. Pockets are still minimal, but there are usually more on a sport jacket compared to a race jacket. Armor is very common in most sport bike jackets.
As the niche of adventure touring/dual sporting continues to grow, so does the gear that is specifically tailored for it. ADV jackets need to accommodate the variety of different riding situations that you may come across on an ADV ride. They are almost always made with highly durable textiles that are waterproof/breathable. Armor is almost always included or is at least an option. You will find plenty of venting and often an insulated liner so that you are prepared for all temperatures. ADV jackets generally have a plethora of pockets to be able to haul more gadgets and necessities for longer trips. The cut of the jacket comes below the waist for the best coverage for riding in an upright position or standing, both of which are common positions on ADV bikes. The collar is often tall for complete neck coverage.
Leather vs. Textile
This is one of the more heated topics that can be discussed about motorcycle jackets. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. It's important to match those advantages and disadvantages to your riding style and preferences to determine which material best suits you. In the end it will be a personal decision. There is no real cut and dry answer.
The major advantage of leather motorcycle jackets is their abrasion resistance. A jacket made with a top quality leather is your best option to provide protection from road rash. This is why the main chassis of all of the top motorcycle racing jackets are made with leather. Many people choose leather for the aesthetic aspect as well. Leather always looks amazing and has a long history of being the material of choice for motorcycle jackets.
Where leather jackets don't perform as well as textiles is when it is raining and when it is hot. Leather can be treated to be water resistant, but it will eventually give way to the moisture. Perforation can make wearing leather more tolerable in the heat, but it still cannot compare to some textile jackets, especially mesh ones. Leather can also be fairly heavy, which can accelerate rider fatigue.
Textile motorcycle jackets can be far more versatile than most leather jackets. Because textile fabrics are easier to work with, you will usually find far more features built into a textile motorcycle jacket. Textile jackets can be made waterproof fairly easily, which is a huge advantage for riders who know they will encounter adverse weather. Textiles breathe very well and often have great ventilation, making them a preferred choice for many in warmer weather. Compared to leather, textile jackets are often much lighter in weight and are far more flexible.
While the advancements in the textiles over the years have made them far more durable, they are still not on the same level as a good leather. Textiles, especially mesh, do not have the same abrasion resistance qualities that leather has. Jackets made with textile materials need to be strategically constructed in layers to get the most abrasion resistance. Textiles often tend to wear out much faster than high quality leather as well.
One of the biggest advancements in motorcycle gear over the years has been the addition of armor and padding. In the beginning, motorcycle jackets had no such additions and would not offer much protection against impacts. Later, padding in high impact areas was introduced and then eventually armor was added as well. At first, the armor was bulky and very rigid. The early forms of armor would restrict the rider's mobility and comfort to the point that many riders would opt against it.
Now, motorcycle armor technology has evolved to the point that it is almost unnoticeable in the jacket. D3OÂ® armor has been one of the biggest innovators. It is thin, lightweight and very pliable in a normal state. The beauty of D3OÂ® armor is that it becomes very rigid upon impact to protect the rider and then will go back to the pliable state after the impact. Some other similar acting armor names to look for are Sas-Tec and Exo-Tec. To ensure that you are getting suitable armor protection, look for jackets that come with C.E. rated armor, or you can often upgrade your armor package if it is removable.
Some jackets, particularly race and ADV jackets, come with hard armor called sliders on the outside of the jacket. These sliders are often made of TPU, which is a hard and durable plastic. Sliders are placed in high impact areas, like elbows and shoulders. Their purpose is to let those areas slide on the pavement to reduce tumbling.
Not all jackets come with armor, but most that do always come with shoulder and elbow protection. Back protectors do come standard in many jackets, but are also available just as an upgrade for some others. Removable armor is a nice feature if you do not need the armor all of the time or would like to wear the jacket casually off of the bike.
Being visible on a motorcycle is a huge factor in rider safety. Other motorists often fail to notice motorcycles, which can lead to accidents. Having very visible riding gear can make a huge difference by drawing more attention to yourself. To accomplish this, many brands are offering their motorcycle jackets in Hi-Viz colorways and an abundance of reflective material.
Being so bright isn't for everyone though. For these riders, the latest advancements in reflective technology can be hugely beneficial. There are stylish jackets available that have small, inconspicuous reflective piping in the most visible areas. This piping goes unnoticed in normal lighting conditions, but becomes very bright once a headlight hits it.
Proper venting in a jacket can help prevent excess sweating and even heat exhaustion during warm weather riding. Not all venting in motorcycle jackets is created equally, though. Some jackets have straight-through venting, while others vent to a perforated or mesh material. The mesh material helps keep moisture off of you if it is raining. Look for exhaust vents in the back as well as intake vents in the front for the best results. The exhaust vents will help draw out the excess heat and moisture.
Removable liners can give a motorcycle jacket more versatility. With an insulated liner, the jacket can be made warm enough to be worn for three season riding or even year round. The liner is left in for cold weather and then can be removed for when it becomes warmer. The warmest liners have full length sleeves, while others are only vests. Depending on your needs, you will need to pay close attention to which liner is in the jacket that you like.
Motorcycle jackets with waterproof liners are also available. This removable liner is often used on water-resistant jackets to prevent any water that does seep through the outside from getting to your skin. Because it is extra material, a waterproof liner will add some warmth, though not to the degree of an insulated liner.
It's very important to get a motorcycle jacket that fits you as best as possible. A jacket that is too large will be more prone to riding up during a slide, leaving your skin exposed. If the jacket has armor, it is likely to move out of position if the jacket is too large. A motorcycle jacket that is too small can make you work harder every time you move, which could lead to rider fatigue very early. It could also cut off blood flow.
Many motorcycle jackets come with fitment adjusters on the waist, sides and sleeves. These are very useful for getting a very personalized fit for yourself. They also work very well at eliminating any extra material from flapping in the wind, which can cause buffeting and even accelerated wear to the jacket.