Sure, its the uniform of classic coolness, but a “motorcycle jacket” doesn’t have to be black leather anymore; now you’ve got sleek racing jackets, breathable mesh textiles, versatile three-season jackets, and much more. Here’s what to look for to find the perfect jacket for you!
What Makes a Motorcycle Jacket?
Motorcycle jackets have a lot more functionality than just a regular jacket. You may be thinking that you’ll save a few bucks and wear a hoodie or a regular leather jacket when you ride, but those garments are missing a lot of the features that you’ll need while on any motorcycle.
Other than being built to be more comfortable while riding, motorcycle jackets are also designed with more safety features to keep you intact if you happen to find you and your bike unexpectedly horizontal. Shelling out the extra cash to get a safe jacket will be well worth the avoidance of road rash (or worse.)
Motorcycle jackets are also specially designed to do the obvious: deal with the climate while riding. While designed to give you that extra bit of protection, jackets made for cooler weather have insulating layers and wind blocking features that can help cut down the effects of speeding through the brisk air.
The Icon Outsider Convertible Jacket – a cool, straight-forward, high-quality leather and textile motorcycle jacket that looks at home on any kind of street bike.
Other jackets are made to do just the opposite. If you’re riding in the heat of the summer, you’ll still want the protection a jacket gives you without slow-roasting under black leather. With special vents and materials like mesh, warm weather motorcycle jackets have armor and abrasion-resistant panels, but flow tons of air to keep you cool and dry.
And a number of jackets actually do it all. Many jackets have an armored shell that can be worn with included windproof, waterproof, or warming liners by just zipping or snapping in the ones you need. These jackets are supremely versatile and have true three-season capability, and you don’t have to break the bank to get one either!
Safety and Protection
The extra safety features are the biggest difference between an everyday jacket and a motorcycle jacket. Most motorcycle jackets contain armor to protect from unwanted impact; the most common places for motorcycle jackets to be reinforced with armor are in the elbows, shoulders and back.
The “Field Armor” set that comes in many Icon jackets. The elbows and shoulders are CE rated; the back protector is PE foam, since many users end up upgrading to a back protector of their choice.
Reinforcement can vary depending on the jacket. Some, like the Fly FLux Air Mesh Jacket, have only layers of dense PE foam to absorb impact; others, like the Icon Sanctuary Motorcycle Jacket, have flexible armor like D3O which hardens on impact; and still others, like the Alpinestars GP Pro Air Motorcycle Jacket, have hard cup race-style armor with sliders for maximum protection. The style of armor and level of protection varies with the style, and of course, the price.
The Alpinestars GP Pro Air Motorcycle Jacket: A beautiful, Level 1 CE certified riding jacket, with thick cowhide, CE rated armor, and external sliders for maximum crash protection.
Some jackets will come with a heavy duty race-style back protector. This is usually a piece of articulating plastic and foam that can absorb big impacts, and is installed in a pocket down the middle of the back to protect your spine. Not all jackets come with one, however, as many riders prefer to invest in a high quality back protector of their choice and install it themselves.
When buying a jacket with armor, make sure that the pieces are secured onto the jacket properly. For armor to work properly, the jacket must be somewhat snug; if you can move the armor past where it should be (e.g. your elbow) by hand, then an impact with the road definitely can too. If armor doesn’t stay put, move down a size, or try a different style. Armor only works if it fits!
Another safety feature that is important if you plan to ride at night is reflective material. Your all black leather jacket may look cool, but the color of the material will make you much harder to see in the dark, and it’s hard enough to get cars to see you even in the day time.
You could wear a bright hi-vis safety vest over your existing jacket – which is the most economic option – but we find jackets with reflective piping or logos like the Cortech GX Sport 3 Jacket to be far more attractive. Jackets with bright or light colors are also a good option for night or low visibility rides. Riding at night tends to follow the same rules as jogging at night: the more visible you are, the lower your chance of being hit by another vehicle.
The Tour Master Sonora Air Motorcycle Jacket: A best-selling, fully armored jacket with Phoslite reflective piping, and a reflective rear triangle for night time visibility.
The All-Important Fit
How well your jacket fits plays a big part in how comfortable you will be while riding, and how effectively it will protect you. As I mentioned previously, motorcycle gear should fit as snugly as possible; shoulder pads won’t do you any good if they’re hanging down by your biceps instead, and elbow armor won’t work if you can twist around to the sides of your arms. In the case of motorcycle jackets, bigger is not better.
It’s important to make sure that your jacket fits you well when you’re sitting on your bike as well as when you’re standing. We’re used to trying on a jacket while standing up with our arms at our sides, but when you’re on your motorcycle, your posture will be a different. Depending on the type of bike you have, you’ll need to keep in mind how far you will be leaning forward in your riding stance, and give yourself enough room in your jacket to do so.
The Cortech GX Sport 3 Jacket: A well thought-out, highly-featured textile jacket with multiple adjustments points to armor, sleeve diameter, and waist to fine tune it to get the perfect fit!
For this reason, motorcycle jackets tend to be designed with longer sleeves, and many are pre-curved for the riding position. Many jackets also have additional length down the back, to cover up the area above your pants when you’re bent over (AKA the dreaded plumber’s crack!)
Get a jacket that has closures around the wrists, neck and waist. Even the most perfectly fitted jacket will need to be cinched down around the openings when you go to ride in order to keep air and other elements from blasting through them. The tiny bit of extra fabric in these areas have a tendency to flap around when you ride, so keeping it on lockdown can minimize your jacket annoyance.
Winter: Staying Warm and Dry
Some of you think that storing your bike for winter is for pansies, and you’d rather ride all year round. If that’s you, first we give you a big thumbs-up, and then we advise that you invest in a jacket that will keep you warm and dry in the winter weather, like the Alpinestars Valparaiso 2 DryStar Jacket or the Scorpion EXO Yukon Jacket. A good jacket for the winter should be heavily insulated to keep in your precious body heat, but the liner should also be removable for changing weather conditions.
You’ll also want to make sure that it has materials and construction that can keep any rain out. Most winter jackets are longer than their warm weathered counterparts; some of these jackets are parka-style, and go down to the thigh. While the jacket that you have for the summer may cut off at the waist, a perfect jacket for rainy conditions will have the extra length to keep more of you dry.
The Alpinestars Valparaiso 2 DryStar Jacket: the second generation of this great-looking, premium all-weather touring jacket with fully taped seams, quilted liner, and CE-certified armor throughout.
For the same reason, your winter jacket should seal at any points where moisture can enter. Particular areas to keep an eye out for are the wrists, the waist, the neck, and zippers. We really like to get jackets that have adjustable flap-style closures around the collar, like on this Olympia Moto Sports Motoquest Guide Jacket, to keep water from running down your neck as you ride, but won’t feel too tight around your neck.
The type of material that your jacket is made of can have a huge impact on how well it keeps you warm and dry. Leather is not the best choice for wet weather, as soaked leather can change its color and shape as it dries out. Synthetic materials, AKA textiles, are a better choice for weather, and they use advanced fabrics such as ballistic nylon, Kevlar, and Gore-Tex to protect you from both road hazards and harsh climates.
Pockets are an important thing to have, as carrying your valuables in your pants pocket just doesn’t seem to work well while on a motorcycle. Adventure Touring jackets, like the Firstgear Kathmandu Motorcycle Jacket, have plenty of these for all your gear. Make sure that the pockets on your winter jacket not only have a good seal to keep valuables in, but have a waterproof seal to keep moisture out.
The Olympia Moto Sports Dakar Dual Sport Jacket: Windproof, waterproof, insulated, armored…and lots of pockets!
Summer: Staying Cool and Dry
Taking the liner out of your winter jacket may be enough to keep you cool as the weather starts to heat up in the spring. It might be tempting to say “sun’s out, guns out” and just ride in a t-shirt over summer, but the potential for injury in a crash is just too great of a risk. It’s a much better idea to pick up a jacket made for the heat of summer. Mesh jackets, like the best-selling Tour Master Sonora Air Motorcycle Jacket still will give you the padding and armor that your winter jacket will, without the feeling of being in a sauna.
The Joe Rocket Phoenix 5.0 Motorcycle Jacket: One of the most popular hot weather jackets on our site, built with free-flowing mesh and with a zip-in waterproof liner.
A good mesh jacket will be more light weight than your jacket for winter, and be built from very porous and breathable mesh in order to allow your skin to breathe. As much as you want your winter jacket to keep the heat in, you’ll also want your jacket for warm weather to be able to let the heat out.
If you find yourself riding in a place that tends to have wet summers, don’t feel like you’ll need to find a heavy winter rain jacket to keep you dry. Many mesh jackets, like the Joe Rocket Phoenix 5.0 Motorcycle Jacket, come with zip-in waterproof liners that you can use when the weather turns wet but not cold. There are also several summer rain jackets that go over your existing jacket, like the Alpinestars RJ-5 Motorcycle Rain Jacket that are light enough to not overheat you, but still keep you and your regular motorcycle jacket dry.
The Tour Master Elite Series 2 Rainsuit Jacket: A druable, high quality rain overcoat that will keep you dry and help get you seen in inclement weather.
The Most Important Feature: Looking Cool
Now that you know what it takes for a jacket to make the cut in safety, protection and comfort, find the features you need and pick a jacket that makes you look how you feel. There are many different riding styles and jacket manufacturers make a wide variety of looks to suit all types.
And since a jacket can say a lot about the type of individual you are, don’t be afraid to shop for looks as well as features. After all, we may try to deny it, but so much about riding really is about looking cool. And that’s one thing just about all motorcycle jackets do have in common – they definitely make you look cooler!
The Icon 1000 “The Hood” jacket: Made of premium Brazilian cowhide, this jacket uses a unique D3O armor system, and is quite possibly the only moto jacket you’ll ever see with this cool leather hood.
The Roland Sands Design “The Ronin” Jacket: made with hand-finished, washed, and oiled top grain cowhide with perforated trim, satin lining, and some of the most beautiful colored leather in the industry. If you want to look good on and off your bike, you can’t go wrong with this one.