Motorcycle Jacket Buyer's Guide

February 8, 2016


A solid riding jacket should be in every motorcycle rider’s arsenal. No matter what riding style you prefer, a quality jacket will be a great tool to help you ride through whatever obstacles the road or Mother Nature decides to throw your way. Choosing the right jacket can be a difficult decision with multiple fabrics, designs, ventilation, storage options and features to pick from. Luckily there are a few determining factors that can quickly lead you in the right direction.

First, let’s take a look at what types of jackets are out there. Virtually all jackets will fall into one of these categories:

  • Leather: The most popular style is the always-classic leather jacket. Whether you ride a Harley, some sort of V-twin, or a sportbike at the track, leather will never be phased out.
  • Textile: The most versatile jackets on the market are undoubtedly textile construction. Super light weigh mesh jackets will free you of the summer heat, while rain and wind proof jackets can keep your season lasting longer.
  • Adventure & Off Road: If you venture off the pavement, you’ll need a jacket that is durable and tough enough to take on the dirt, trees, rocks, and nature’s other elements.
  • Heated Riding Jackets: If you’re truly die hard, and weather doesn’t deter you (or it simply isn’t warm where you live), there are great options that help combat rain and cold temperatures.

What Are The Advantages Of A Leather Jacket

We’ll start with leather, because it’s the original, tried and true jacket. The most important reason leather is still widely used is it’s durability and abrasion resistance. As you might expect, leather is tough, and traditionally does best job holding up against pavement. However, today’s cuts are a tad more advanced than what Pete Fonda wore in Easy Rider. With better features and fit, modern leather jackets are an even more appealing option.

Most people start at “cut” or “fit” when deciding on a leather jacket. The two different cuts you’ll see are American and European (American being roomier and taller, and European being slimmer) Using the size charts on each product page, you’ll be able to see what each manufacturer takes into consideration for size, which you can compare. As you might suspect, Italian brands like Dainese and Alpinestars fit very European, verses American brands like Icon and Speed & Strength which are (you guessed it) mostly American fit.

Once you’ve decided on a fit, finding the right jacket for you comes down to the features you want. Here are some enhancements you’ll often see on new leather jackets:

  • Armor: You’ll find a wide range of inserted armor from foam to CE rated armor built in to the elbows, shoulders, back, etc… Deciding the level of protection need is a very important step (we’ll cover that more in a bit).

  • Accordion panels: These allow a leather jacket to be much more flexible in the sides, back, waist, shoulders and most importantly, the elbows

  • Spandex and textile panels: Strategically placed along the sides or down the inside region of the jacket sleeves these help achieve that snug fit that not only cheats the wind, but allows flexibility and full range of motion for the arms and torso.

  • Perforation: If you ride in warmer climates, perforation is a must. There are a wide variety of perforation from just key areas, to virtually full perforation. Zipper-closable vents are an option found on many jackets that tend to work well in multiple seasons.

  • Liners: Found on many jackets, removable liners allow the versatility of riding in cold or wet weather. Typically liners will zip or button neatly into the jacket’s shell design for a nice fluid fit and lessen the need for base layers to combat the cold.

Whether you need a rough and tough jacket for your V twin, or need a sporty fine-Italian race jacket, leather can do it all.

What are the Advantages of Textile Jackets?

These days, textile jackets come in a variety of materials that range from super-ventilated mesh to ultra- tough close-woven fabric, of which can give leather a run for its money. Purists might scoff at this fact but the space-age textiles available today have opened the door for lightweight and inexpensive riding jacket designs that can even rival leather’s abrasion resistance in some cases.

You’ll be able to find many of the same features found in leather jackets incorporated into modern day textile jackets such as removable liners, ventilation ports, numerous storage pockets, CE armor and adjustable fit. With that said, there are two main reasons many riders are making the switch over to textile.

  • 1. Light weight-Mesh fabrics and other woven material offer impressive weight savings compared to leather jackets.

  • 2. Price- While some textile jackets can certainly be expensive, a quality textile jacket can be substantially less expensive compared to a leather jacket with similar features.
    • As we alluded to before, the wide range of materials used make textile jackets extremely versatile. If you live in the southern part of the States where the sun shines every day, a mesh jacket will keep you very cool and comfortable. On the flip side, textile materials can be 100% waterproof and can keep you dry in the worst downpours. Most textile jackets come with a warmth liner, to aid on those cold commutes, but make warm rides home comfortable.

Safety First

Riding jackets are great for abrasion resistance, but can be as equally valuable for impact protection. As we mentioned above, many jackets have CE rated protectors built in. For the most part, armor will either be sewn in or sit within the liner, which can be removed. Some jackets have additional pockets for upgraded or additional armor. While most of this added armor will be jacket model or brand specific, there are a handful of brands that make standalone armor pieces that work in conjunction with the jacket.

Elbow protectors is the most commonly pieces that come standard with jackets. Many brands have models with shoulder, chest and back protection as well. It is important to pay attention to each product description to figure out which protective pieces come with, or are available for that jacket. The level of protection you decide on, is ultimately up to your personal preference-but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Getting Dirty

If you like to throw in some dirt along with your travels, adventure/touring or dual sport jackets are available and rapidly becoming more popular. As the touring rider’s best friend, there are three major categories that should weigh in on your decision.

Adventure Motorcycle Jacket

  • • Utility: Pockets and cargo areas make a substantial impact, as maps, GPS, cell phones, wallets, and other gear is often carried within the jacket.

  • • Protection: Back to the main reason we all wear a jacket when riding, adventure/touring jackets have to be especially tough. Not only do you face asphalt, but nature’s dirt, rocks, trees and other obstacles are thrown your way. As mentioned be, most dual sport jackets are equipped standard with CE rate protective pieces.

  • • Weatherproof: With varying terrain comes various conditions your jacket will have to withstand. For most hardcore dual sport riders, water and wind proof are a must. Jackets with Gore-Tex and other pure waterproof materials can be expensive but are simply the best for keeping you dry. Other jackets have water resistant shells with waterproof liners that can be more affordable. Vents and other zippable features that allow more breathability can make a world of difference when the sun peeks its way out.

What Size Am I?

Sizing Jackets

Finding a correctly fitting jacket is a challenge in itself. We touched on Euro vs US “cut” or “fit”, which is NOT to be confused with US and Euro “Sizing” (cut or fit is how the garment is shaped, sizing is the size on the label). Essentially, with Euro sizing, you add 10 to US. So if you’re a 44 US, you’re a 54 Euro and vice versa. Keep in mind, most jackets with Euro sizing are Euro fit, which is tailored to an athletic body type. So if you don’t exactly fit that model, you may consider going up a size.

The best way to ensure proper fit is take your own personal measurements and compare to the specific manufacturers size chart listed on the product page. There are three popular measurements you’ll see across most brands: chest, sleeve/arm, and waist. It’s best to have some assistance when measuring.

Can A Riding Jacket Help Extend My Riding Season?

rain and heated jackets

Not one to let the seasons dictate riding time? There are a variety of jacket types that are equipped with the necessary features to help you combat the cold and rain. You’ll find many jackets come with some type of waterproof coating or internal liner. However, if a torrential down pour decides to rain on your two-wheeled parade, rain suits that quickly slip over your current jacket are your safest bet. Most are easily stored in a pocket or bag, and are extremely light.

If Jack Frost is what you’re facing, heated jackets can help keep you from turning blue. Brands like Firstgear, Mobile Warming, and Venture make under or base jackets that can be worn under your primary shell. Like most heated riding gear, heated jackets can be integrated with your current heated set up. So if you’re craving more seat time (and really, who isn’t?) these options should help keep your wheels spinning while most riders hibernate. Check out our heated gear buyer’s guide to learn the ins and outs of heated gear.

Bottom Line?

As a rider, a great riding jacket is as good of an investment as one can make. Whether your focus is on comfort, look, protection, weather resistance or utility, there’s a jacket out there for you. Our hope is this guide helped guide you down the right path towards your new jacket. If you have any questions about fit, sizing, or anything about any jacket, give us a call, or shoot us an email! (877) 668-6872