[Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Orlando Bloom in their leather jacket glory...]
Okay so here’s the truth about leather motorcycle jackets… And this is directed mainly at the men – women already have a good handle on this… Hey buddy, I know you THINK you look really cool in your motorcycle jacket – or you think you WOULD look cool walking around in that jacket – but you’d actually look like a dork (or an a**hole or scumbag, or like you’re going through a midlife crisis). There I said it. Even rock stars and movie stars look like that way – it’s just that they (sometimes) have enough cool to overcome it. Leather jackets don’t t actually make you look cool – I know you think it does, which is why your friends have asked me to tell you. It’s kind of sad. So thanks for understanding.
Now with that out of the way we can talk about motorcycle jackets. They’re for safety, not glamour. So you might want to spend the money on the parts of the jacket that are really worth it…
Usually, the lighter and more comfortable something is, the less abrasion resistance it has… So mesh jackets (generally) have the least abrasion resistance, thicker textiles a little more, and leather even more depending on the thickness. But the best protection won’t be any good if it’s too hot and uncomfortable to wear… And safety gear isn’t very safe if it gives you heat exhaustion sitting in traffic.
Venting is important. Some sport jackets have mesh or textile on the inner part of the arms and sides (where you don’t really need abrasion resistance) and leather on the elbows and shoulders (like the Joe Rocket Sonic 2) Fully perforated leather (even in black) is comfortable for highway riding even in the hottest summer days (like the thinner leather Spidi Ultralight). Of course neither of these compare in comfort to full mesh jackets like this Tourmaster jacket. If you get a full mesh jacket expect to be cold on the highways early in the morning and late at night…you can think of it as air conditioning.
Some textiles, like the D-Stone fabric in Dainese jackets, actually vent less than perforated leather… If staying cool is your priority you want something that air can move through easily… Full mesh, or combination mesh + textile, or perforated leather…
The maximum amount of safety a jacket can give you comes in the form of 1.4mm leather with C.E. armor (like this Alpinestar Ice Jacket). Of course a step higher would be to have the pants to match or a 1 piece suit – but we’re just talking jackets here. Here’s what you need to know about the safety a jacket can offer you: In most cases, a jacket won’t be able to save your life. In a life-threatening accident, CE armor isn’t going to cut it. If you crash into a telephone pole at a 100mph, no amount of gear will save you. But…a good jacket can take smaller and medium level accidents much less costly to your body!
Abrasion resistance refers to how much friction the material can take without being torn to shreds (thereby exposing your skin). Your skin has awful abrasion resistance…and your cotton clothing is really not any better (people who don’t wear gear usually wind up being able to see their bones – not good). Leather is generally best and the thicker the leather, the better…
However, in street riding, you’re generally not going fast enough in an accident to need the HIGHEST level of protection… And in street riding, you are usually not able to slide far enough (without hitting something) for the maximum abrasion resistance of thick leather to come into play. However, city streets are filled with gravel and debris so you really want something that will keep these things off your skin in the event of a fall. What this means is you have to choose the level of abrasion resistance you feel you need – keeping in mind that greater protection = greater weight and heat. My *opinion* is that you don’t need full 1.4mm leather during summers in the city… but you should probably wear more than a t-shirt.
If you’re looking at dual purpose leather jackets, jackets that are fashionable enough to wear on the street yet provide some safety benefit – then I highly suggest you go back and read the first paragraph. But if you’re still interested, or you happen to be a fashion model or movie star, then there are motorcycle grade leather jackets by Belstaff, Schott, and Vanson (the jacket on House MD with the optional stripes)…that come mostly without any armor, but provide excellent abrasion resistance. But they usually aren’t very good at venting air, and have the same problems as the higher quality sport jackets.
CE Rated Armor
The other aspect of safety that you need to consider is armor. Any armor is better than no armor, but if you have a choice, CE armor tends to be preferred simply because there is a standard (as opposed to non-CE armor which is hit or miss). Personally I think the non-CE armor when they’re found in motorcycle brands like Joe Rocket or Fieldsheer or Power Trip, are fine for city riding. The purpose of the armor (in the elbows-forearms and shoulders of a jacket) is to help absorb impact from a fall.
My opinion on this is there is no reason not to have armor in your riding jacket. The added safety they bring compared to their slight bulk makes it an easy decision. If you did buy a Schott leather jacket and planned to use it for motorcycling you can always have pockets added to take CE armor (which you can buy for around $30 on many sites, or on Ebay). A small piece of rubber foam can make the difference between a fall that you get right up from unharmed and a broken arm… The armor pieces also provide some abrasion resistance as long as they are held in place.
One more thing – Fit
There’s just one more thing about motorcycle jackets we should mention…the fit. The sleeves on jackets with armor in them need to be tight fitting. Why? The tight fit around the arms is what keeps the armor in place in the event of a crash. Most people find this a little uncomfortable, which has prompted companies like Joe Rocket to make more “comfy” jackets for the US market – but don’t fall for that. A motorcycle jacket needs to fit snugly to keep all the armor pieces in place. Also, the short waist on leather jackets (which can look good on women, but silly on men) is to keep the jacket from bunching up while in the sitting position. A nice alternative to this is the parka-styled textile jackets sold by almost every brand from Alpinestars to Belstaff to Joe Rocket.
Okay so there you have it. Anyone want to add anything I missed concerning jackets? If you think jackets are a fashion nightmare – pants are worse – but we haven’t gotten there yet. The nice thing about jackets is, you can take them off when you’re not riding – so please, please, for the love of riding, don’t be the guy hanging around bars with your motorcycle jacket on unless you’re planning to crash…