The whole point of riding a bike is that you get to wear a bad-ass motorcycle jacket. But even though looking awesome is obviously the most important point, there are other things to consider when you’re buying a new jacket.
If you should crash, it plays an important role in keeping all of your soft squishy bits intact and stopping your brittle bony bits from breaking. This one of the main differences between a proper motorcycle jacket and a flimsy biker-style fashion jacket, and is achieved in two ways.
Firstly, there’s impact protection, which stops your elbows from shattering into a million tiny pieces when you get bounced onto the tarmac. This is provided by body armor inserts in the jacket’s shoulders and elbows. Some also feature padding or armor in the back to protect your spine from being hit.
To state the obvious, armor works by absorbing energy from an impact, so less energy is transferred to your body and the risk of broken bones is reduced. It’s important to pick a jacket with good quality armor, but how?
The Europeans have created a strict standard for motorcycle body armor and, while it’s not legally required in America, it is widely used and provides a good indication that the jacket you’re buying will protect you properly. Armor which meets this standard should protect you from broken bones at typical street speeds. There are two versions of the standard:
EN-1621-1 (also called CE Level 1) covers body armor intended for any part of the body except the spine, so for motorcycle jackets this standard is most relevant to shoulder and elbow armor.
EN-1621-2 (CE Level 2) is a tougher variant of the standard specifically for armor intended to cover the spine, which needs extra protection, so jackets with built in back protectors should meet this standard.
There is a good explanation here of the testing methods used to certify armor for these standards.
So, If you’re buying a motorcycle with body armor (and you should) look out for these standards – the jacket or its packaging should have these numbers displayed somewhere. There’s no equivalent American rating system at present.
Does this mean that motorcycle jackets which don’t have these standards markings won’t offer enough protection? Not necessarily, but there’s simply no way to know. If you choose a jacket that does comply with these standards, then you can have a much higher level of confidence.
The other thing you need to worry about when you get bounced off your bike at 70mph, is what happens to your body while it’s sliding and rolling down the tarmac. Without proper protective gear, big chunks of skin and flesh are going to get badly shredded.
This is why you need abrasion protection. Traditionally, leather has been a popular material for motorcycle jackets because it offers good abrasion resistance. But not all leather is created equal, and for any motorcycle gear it should be at least 1.2 millimetres thick in order to offer enough protection. Believe it or not, kangaroo leather is the best and strongest available, so a lot of manufacturers use that.
Leather is not very waterproof, once it gets wet it is heavy and uncomfortable to wear and takes forever to dry. You can treat leather jackets to improve their water-resistant, but this doesn’t always work very well. A better option is to wear a waterproof jacket or oversuit on top of leather when it’s raining.
The other disadvantage of leather jackets is that they are not great in very hot or cold weather. In the cold you can at least wear extra layers to warm up, but in hot weather leather can be very uncomfortable – especially if you’re stuck in slow moving traffic on top of a hot motorcycle engine.
There are a lot of options for man-made textiles instead of leather, with many of the big manufacturers using their own brand of special materials. These are usually waterproof, breathable and a lot more comfortable in warm weather.
The disadvantage of textile motorcycle jackets is that they often do not offer the same level of abrasion resistance as good quality leather. But the fact that they are much more practical and comfortable in different weather conditions means that this is a tradeoff many riders are willing to make.
Whatever material is used, it’s important that the different panels that make up the jacket are double-stitched so that it will hold together in a crash. Even the best leather will be useless if the seams tear apart due to weak stitching.
Jackets for all Seasons
Most motorcyclists won’t want to buy more than one jacket, so they need one which will work well in all seasons. If you frequently ride in the rain you should probably avoid leather, and pick a textile jacket with good waterproofing.
It’s also worth thinking about how the jacket’s cuffs work. If you ride in the rain, you want the cuffs to fit over the sleeve of your gloves so that the water runs off, instead of into the glove. Most good jackets feature zippers which allow the cuffs to be opened wide enough to fit over gloves, and often Velcro straps to help keep the jacket cuff sealed tight over the glove so that wind doesn’t get in.
If you often ride in very hot weather, conventional motorcycle jackets tend to get uncomfortably hot, so mesh jackets are a good compromise. These are made out of a man-made mesh textile that allows air to flow through whilst still providing a degree of abrasion resistance, as well as the usual armored padding on the shoulder and elbow joints.
If you ride all year round, through winter and summer, it’s a good idea to find a jacket with a removable lining that will provide extra insulation when you need it. Trying to keep cool in warm weather can be tough, but many jackets feature vents on the chest, arms and back which can be opened (usually with a zipper) to let air flow through.
Finally, make sure you pay attention to the collar of the jacket. If you need the jacket to keep you warm, then the collar should fit snugly around the neck so that heat doesn’t escape and cold air doesn’t blow in.
Popular Men’s Motorcycle Jacket Styles
Classic Leather Biker Jacket
Made popular in the fifties, this is what most people picture when they think of a motorcycle jacket. These days they’re more of a fashion statement than practical motorcycle gear, as they’ve been replaced by more modern designs and materials.
All the same, the classic style is hard to beat if you want to look good. Remember, make sure the jacket is constructed from good quality leather (at least 1.2mm thick) with double stitching. Avoid jackets which look the part but don’t offer any real protection.
Motorcycle Racing Style Jacket
A more modern, sleeker looking variant on the classic biker jacket, this style has a sportier look. This type of jacket usually has more safety features and is more likely to include body armor inserts on the elbows and shoulders, as well as a spine protector.
Like the classic jacket, these are most likely to be made from leather so it’s important to choose a good quality one. Good leather offers better abrasion resistance than most other materials. This type of jacket is best suited to motorcyclists who only use their bikes for leisure in good weather. For commuters or tourers who need to ride in a all weathers, there are better options.
Motorcycle Adventure Touring Jacket
Designed with comfort, convenience and weather protection as priorities, these jackets are designed for riders who spend all day on their bikes and have to cope with lots of different riding conditions.
They can also be great for commuters, but bear in mind that for the sake of comfort some touring jackets might not offer the best levels of crash protection. That said, many of them do feature CE rated armor and good abrasion resistance, so if you find the right one it should do the job well.
Touring jackets tend to feature lots of pockets for storing phones, maps, wallets and other bits and pieces because, if you’re riding on long journeys, you don’t want to rummage around in your bag every time you stop for a coffee break.
Modern Textile Motorcycle Jacket
Built as a practical all-round jacket using modern design and materials. A good textile jacket will provide great crash protection as well as a reasonable level of weather-proofing so if you get caught in a downpour on the way to work you won’t get soaked.
They usually have removable linings and zippered air vents to help you stay cool in the summer months. Textile jackets often have safety features that you won’t find on their leather counterparts, such as high-visibility patches and reflective piping.
Although they might not look as cool as leather jackets to most people, modern textile jackets are great for everyday practicality and that makes them ideal for commuters who need to ride their bikes to work.
As with all motorcycle safety gear, don’t be tempted to cheap out and save yourself some money. That instant we all hope will never come, when something goes wrong and you feel yourself being thrown off your bike at speed, you’ll be glad of every last dollar you invested in your gear.
A motorcycle jacket is supposed to protect you from death or serious injury. So don’t buy a cheap jacket just because it looks good. Spend a little extra on one with the best protection you can afford.
And if you are unlucky enough to have an accident, always get your jacket checked out by a professional – if it looks damaged and you can’t get it safely repaired, then replace it with a new one.