If you’re getting into riding motorcycles, you’ll need to gear up. And one of the first things you’ll want to purchase? A good motorcycle jacket.
Motorcycle jackets aren’t just to win style points as you snag apexes on your local backroads. Motorcycle jackets keep you insulated from wind and weather, defend against the inevitable barrage of insects that will pummel you at speed, and – most importantly of all – they offer critical protection in the event you go down. It’s no exaggeration to say that a quality motorcycle jacket can literally save your life.
But with all the different motorcycle jackets on the market, what separates the best from the rest? Which qualities are most important when shopping for a motorcycle jacket? Aren’t all jackets the same?
The answer to that last one is a definitive no – like anything, there is a variety of different jackets out there, made of different materials and designed for different riding styles and purposes. We’re here to keep you from becoming paralyzed by choice, so we’ve created this guide in an effort to highlight the most important elements of a motorcycle jacket.
What to Look For in a Motorcycle Jacket
Image courtesy of Pixabay
There are a few broad attributes that should be present in any motorcycle jacket you’re considering. Let’s consider each in turn:
Armor. Motorcycle jackets are primarily about function, not form. To that end, many quality jackets offer some degree of built-in armor. This armor is exactly what it sounds like: stiff, strong internal padding sewn into the innards of the jacket in an effort to protect various critical bits of your body. Typical locations that might feature armor include the elbow joints, spine, and shoulders.1
You might think an armored jacket sounds heavy and overly protective – wouldn’t a plain old leather jacket be more comfortable? Maybe, but the thing is, taking a tumble on a motorcycle is not something to dismiss. Even at relatively low speeds, you can incur significant injuries, and fatal motorcycle accidents are all too common. An armored jacket adds another layer of defense between your meat sack and the asphalt, keeping you that much safer if the worst were to happen. We’ll take a slightly cumbersome jacket over a skin graft any day.2
Materials. As we mentioned, an armored jacket can be clunky and stifling. Yet the thing about the modern moto-jacket marketplace is that there are numerous solutions to combat overheating. To start, there are numerous alternatives to the traditional leather jacket design, including motorcycle riding shirts and motorcycle mesh jackets.
The latter is an especially comfortable way to blend the protection of a motorcycle jacket with the breathability of something more porous than leather. The mesh material ensures excellent airflow through the jacket itself, letting the wind cool you down even during the hottest of summer days. At least some armor is included with these jackets, and usually, a waterproof or windproof liner is part of the deal as well.
Another leather alternative is solid synthetic textiles. Jackets made of synthetics are lighter, stronger, and cheaper than genuine leather. They do give up some ground to the mesh jackets in terms of breathability, but in return, they offer the standard full protection that leather-wearing riders enjoy. A full complement of armor is common, and you won’t need to worry if you get caught in the rain – unlike leather, synthetic materials shrug off the water.
Leather, however, does remain the classic option, and for reasons beyond style. If you do suffer an accident, leather will provide more protection from road rash thanks to its strong, thick outer shell. A synthetic material, by contrast, will tear much more easily.3 As for the riding shirts and mesh jackets, they’re great until bad luck strikes – and then we’d be wishing we were wearing leather.
Features. The latest crop of jackets comes with more features than a pocket or two, so consider what’s important to you when shopping. Of course, pockets are a primary concern – and different jackets feature a variety of pocket counts. Some might only have one or two small pockets; others may offer a half-dozen pockets of different sizes.
Fit and Cut. Like a suit or a dress, a motorcycle jacket needs to be sized with a certain exactness – if it feels even a little off, it won’t protect you in an accident. A snug fit is critical: of the three primary styles of jackets on the market, even the most relaxed-fitting jacket has to hug your body closely. The most extreme racing jackets actually come with pre-bent arms and a cut that traces the rider’s contours as they’re bent over a superbike at speed.
We’ve already covered how to size a motorcycle jacket in more detail, but we highly recommend getting specific torso and arm measurements before going shopping. Even if a jacket follows the conventional S-M-L-XL format – and many don’t, instead of using the more precise European standard – it’s imperative getting the right length arm and torso. If you choose a size too small, your jacket will ride up and expose skin. Too big and the jacket will be baggy, which will prevent the armor from protecting you properly.
Price. At what cost safety? Motorcycle jackets that take into account all the above can be quite pricey – don’t be surprised if you see jackets running for a few hundred dollars. Some may even run a few thousand dollars, though any four-figure coats likely have a designer name stitched on them.
Can you get cheaper motorcycle jackets? Yes, but remember what your parents always told you: you get what you pay for. Cheap jackets won’t offer armor and will likely be made out of a cheaper material. That’s all well and good for going to the club, but on the road you need protection – and only quality gear can provide that. Because your life is literally on the line when you ride, spend a bit more to get something up to the task of protecting you in an accident.
Image courtesy of Pexels
A motorcycle jacket is an essential part of a rider’s wardrobe, up there with a helmet and gloves. The right jacket will shield you from the elements, bugs, and anything else that might get thrown your way on a ride. More than that, jackets offer critical protection if you crash. Their thick layers and built-in armor can be the difference between hailing a cab home or taking an ambulance to the ER.
If you follow the tips laid out here as you shop for a motorcycle jacket, you’ll be setting yourself up to stay cool, stay safe, and look sharp as you enjoy your bike. Safety, form, and function, all in one piece – with a jacket that ticks those boxes, you’ll be good to go.
Ride Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Tim, CE Level 1 & Level 2 Motorcycle Armor Explained. Motorgearexpert.com. Accessed 24 Sept 2021.
- Can you tell me something about CE/European ratings for back protectors and other armor? Motorcyclegear.com Accessed 24 Sept 2021.
- DeLong, M., Gage, K., Park, J., & Sklar, M. (2010). From Renegade to Regular Joe: The Black Leather Jacket’s Values for Bikers. IJMS, 6(40). Accessed 24 Sept 2021.