Man, few things are as iconic and badass as the leather motorcycle jacket. Movies like Easy Rider and Terminator 2 are but a few examples of how the traditional motorcycle jacket has become a part of American and Western culture. They symbolize toughness and freedom – like a bald eagle riding a tank.

Things are different now, though. This is the 21st century and things have changed since the days of just taking thick cowhide and making a heavier-than-usual jacket out of it. Bikes are much faster too, which means that it’s not enough to just protect you against a bad case of road rash. It has to be comfortable, aerodynamic, and good-looking too, while also armoring you against direct, bone-breaking impacts.

Below I’ve put a mix of the most popular and best specified jackets that you can buy. My top picks are listed first with the rest in no particular order. You’ll notice that I have only put men’s jackets on this page. Unfortunately, women’s jackets are not so readily available or available in as many varieties. If you are a woman and like one of these jackets you should get in contact with the retailer and find out if they make a female version of that model. Things are thankfully changing as more and more ladies are getting into the hobby, but at the moment it’s still a chore for women riders. It shouldn’t be, but there you have it.

Anyway, let us get to the reviews.

Best Overall Jacket – Alpinestar Andes Drystar

It’s always been clear to me that Alpinestars really knows what it’s doing. There’s a reason it’s one of the international big boys when it comes to protective gear. The Andes Drystar is, quite frankly, a masterpiece. It has fantastic, modern styling and comes in always-fashionable grey and black options with reflective strips, or a very safety-positive, high-visibility version. Although it doesn’t look as cool, it is definitely a safer alternative.

The Drystar comes packed with modern jacket technology. It’s made from a poly-fabric textile that’s (by some sorcery) both breathable and waterproof. It also has shoulder-mounted vents for additional climate control. These use zippers, so it should be easy to work them while riding and with gloves on. Most importantly the Drystar provides specific impact protection thanks to certified armor inserts which cover the most critical areas that are prone to injury during a fall. It has a removable thermal lining and waist and sleeve adjustments. It also has a wealth of utility pockets and other practical considerations.

Now I will admit that it is far more dorky than a cool leather jacket, but if you are going to buy one jacket that is supposed to be all things to all men, well this would be it. I’m 100% sold.

Best Cruiser Jacket – Milwaukee Crazy Horse

Milwaukee is one of the older bike clothing companies out there. According to them they’ve been in business for over 40 years. I’ve never owned any of their stuff myself, but my friends have spoken highly of their products and you sure see them everywhere.

This particular jacket is labeled as “distressed black”, but to my eye it pretty much looks like brown leather. I like that – it has a WWII traditional bike jacket vibe to it; it would look great while riding a Harley-type cruiser. The old-school look is only skin-deep though. Under the full grain cowhide leather there’s a fully-removable liner, two front and two rear air-vents, and a special internal pocket for your smartphone. As with many of the better jackets on the market, the leather comes from Pakistan, which is one of the best providers in the world when it comes to cowhide leather.

There’s no mention of armoring or other protective features, so I guess it’s just the cowhide keeping you safe, On the upside, this looks good even when not riding, so that’s a bonus. You can just keep it on all day.

Best “Too Many Doughnuts” Jacket – Hot Leathers Vented Jacket

Another more or less bog-standard bike jacket from Hot Leathers – it’s cut in the bomber style, in case 60s greaser is your preferred look, and is marketed mainly on its venting features. Bomber jackets have a comfortable, loose fit, which makes them nice for people like me who are a bit soft in the middle. It also has an elastic waist, which is good for the same reason. It looks pretty nice as well, and I feel that the price is reasonable.

People who have bought it are very happy indeed, with the worst complaint basically being that it is too loose fitting for a given size. Which may mean that you’ll have to size down one notch and get to feel skinnier as a free bonus. Hey, always look on the bright side, right?

If all you are looking for is a decent leather jacket then this guy might be the one.

Best All Round Entry-Level Synthetic Jacket – Cortech GX Air Series 2

This is a more modern composite material jacket. It does have leather paneling, but uses other textiles to increase comfort and protection. One of the big advantages of this is that the jacket is available in more colors than just brown or black. There are very nice looking red, yellow, grey, and blue options from which to choose.

There’s high-visibility reflective piping so other motorists can see you more easily, and sleep straps for fit adjustment. The “Armor-link” mesh also allows for good breathability so, unlike with leather jackets, you don’t have to rely on explicit venting. The arms are also precurved so that you’ll feel more comfortable riding in “performance” positions, i.e. more sports bike type riding.

Personally I prefer synthetic jackets to leather and at this price this is a good place to start. You won’t be pouring sweat from the sleeves of this jacket.

Hot Leathers Jacket with Double Piping

Well, this is pretty much the definition of a vanilla bike jacket. It’s Pakistani-made and that’s generally a good thing, as Pakistan is famous for its high-quality leather industry. Some people have, however, reported quality issues with this particular model. One customer reported that it smelled absolutely awful, as if it wasn’t cleansed of the tanning chemicals before being sold. Really though, it is very cheap for a genuine leather jacket, so that’s a warning sign right there.

I can’t find any mention of specific protective features, so this really is just a leather jacket. It looks pretty good though. It has a removable quilted lining so that you can use it all year round, and it has a racing collar. If you feel like taking a chance on it, it may well be worth it at this price. You can always return it if you get a bad one.

Mossie Retro Premium Leather Jacket

I’m always skeptical of products that tell you how premium they are in the product description, especially since the price the Mossie is going for doesn’t exactly reflect that. Based on what I’ve read from people who have bought this jacket, there are definitely issues with the quality of the leather itself and there seems to be a problem with the proportions of the jacket. In other words, while the chest sizing may be correct, the sleeves are far too narrow. Other than that it has decent features, such as shoulder and midsection vents and a removable liner. I wouldn’t take a chance though, since it’s more than likely you’ll have to send this one back.

Hot Leathers Racing Jacket with Stripes

You gotta have those go-faster stripes, right? I know it’s actually pretty lame, but racing stripes sort of make me feel like a kid. I like ‘em, what can I say? Like other Hot Leathers jackets there’s not much that makes this one stand out. It is priced very well, though, and has the proper stand-up racing collar. There’s a removable lining for cold weather, and side slit zipper pockets. All in all I think it’s OK for the price, and people have for the most part been complimentary about Hot Leathers’ material quality. Also, that stripe is awesome? Have I said that already?

Joe Rocket Superego

I’m not sure if Joe Rocket is aware that “superego” is not just an inflated ego, but actually the bit of the psyche that is very bothered about being responsible and moral, and stops you from having too much fun. Oh well, what’s in a name, right?

What makes this jacket special? Well, it’s a hybrid jacket that has both leather and synthetic mesh components. Most importantly, it looks like a leather jacket, which is a look many people want. Unfortunately, cowhide leather is not the most protective of materials, at least when compared to what new-age textiles can do.

This jacket has a 1.2 mm leather outer shell; you can zip the panels off these to reveal the mesh underneath and to improve breathability. There’s also a ventilation system and armor at the elbows and shoulder. I like this approach, since many people will defer the added safety of synthetic materials and armor for the style of leather. This way you don’t have to choose. It’s a bit pricey, but I think it’s worth it if you want the best of both worlds.

Dainese Super Speed Textile Jacket

Dainese products are almost always a good bet, I have found, but is that the case for this all-textile jacket? It’s actually a pretty sweet package. There are several certified armor protectors made of composite material. Aluminum shoulder inserts, adjustable wrists, removable windproof insert. You can also add additional chest and back protectors, for which there are already inner pockets. This is a jacket I would feel pretty safe in and it is attractive to boot. At nearly $400 it’s not cheap but, as always, Dainese is worth the price.

Keeping Cool

Jackets are not only a fashion statement, they can be the difference between staying on your feet and needing a wheelchair. If you get the right duds you’ll not only feel confident on your ride, but will actually be safer. It may not be cheap to get a good jacket, but as with all protective gear you get what you pay for. I know that new organs don’t come cheap, so maybe a few hundred bucks for a good jacket is not too much to ask.