There’s more to buying a bike jacket than wanting to look cool like the Fonz. Modern motorcycle jackets are a wonder of 21st-century technology; they also have one of the most important jobs of all protective gear. Along with the helmet, the jacket protects the most vital parts of the body. A serious injury to the upper body can easily result in death, which is why choosing the right jacket is just as important as choosing the right helmet, and you should never go riding without both.
Be prepared for lots of sticker shock when it comes to bike jackets. These garments are made of the latest and greatest materials. They have to go through expensive certification and testing regimens and they aren’t manufactured in the same quantities that mainstream clothing is.
All of this adds up to a potential outlay totaling hundreds of dollars. Buying a motorcycle is a large financial investment and so it is understandable that many bikers then balk at the idea of spending many hundreds or even thousands of dollars on buying protective gear, but this is one area where cheaping out is not the best strategy. That’s not to say that you should simply buy the most expensive thing out there, but that you should be willing to spend as much as you need, to get the right level of safety.
The key feature of a motorcycle jacket is the protection that it gives you, so you should pay special attention to the armor and other protective features that are included with your potential purchase. The most important areas that require hard armor pads are the shoulders, elbows, and back. These are the parts of the upper body that are prone to hit the road first and hardest in the event that something does go wrong and you come off at speed.
Any jacket that you are looking at should have armor pads in those areas or at the very least have pouches that let you add the armor pads of your choice to those spots. Materials such as Kevlar and high density foam are some of the choices when looking at armor pads. These days you even get ripcord-operated CO2 airbags in some jackets. Just be prepared to REALLY pay through the nose for these.
Direct crash protection isn’t the only way a jacket can keep you safe. There may also be reflective panels or piping that will allow other motorists see you clearly in the dark.
What should your jacket be made of? Traditionally bike jackets have been made of leather and even today leather remains a very good, abrasion-resistant material.
There are three main materials that a jacket can be made from, each with their pros and cons. Of course, many jacket makers use different materials in different places to perform the jobs for which they are most suited.
Denim is a strong, rip-resistant material that we all know pretty well from everyday jeans. Motorcycle denims will of course be better stitched and thicker. This is a great summer material since it breathes so well, but unless you have a fleece lining or something that zips into the garment, you’re in for a pretty cold winter.
Leather is a super popular option that really taps into the culture and fashion of biking. It’s probably one of the oldest protective materials associated with bikes. It still has a lot going for it too. It’s durable and provides decent abrasion protection but it doesn’t breathe, and without any sort of venting it definitely is not suitable for the summer or otherwise hot climates.
Textile jackets use various materials and weaves. You’re most likely to encounter nylon and polyester. These materials breathe well and are great for summer, but without a lining (fleece, for example) it won’t keep you warm.
Often you’ll find jackets that have a mix of materials, removable liners, and so on. This allows you to use one jacket year-round with just a bit of adaptation in between.