Shoulders and elbows come with overlay panels and polyurethane armor to absorb impact. Windproof and waterproof to keep moisture out.
Best for colder weather.
Stands out for its headphone wire system. Features multiple interior and exterior pockets. Breathable material keeps you cool in hot weather.
Issues with the zipper.
Five sections of removable padding via Velcro pockets for maximum protection. Quilted liner provides maximum comfort.
Lining rips easily.
Designed specifically for women. Has a crossover front that's adorned with pockets and zippers for a classic biker look. Cowhide leather is soft but durable, easy to clean, and resistant to moisture.
Sizes tend to run small. Jacket has a heavy feel, but this is also a testament to its quality. A few reports of a strange odor upon arrival.
The classic leather motorcycle jacket is something of an icon. It's been around for almost 100 years, and if you put a new one up against the original, you'd have trouble telling them apart.
As a means of providing comfort and protection, it's still a tough act to beat, but there are plenty of modern alternatives. BestReviews has been looking at the market so we can offer comprehensive advice to potential buyers.
Our recommendations cater to a variety of budgets and types of rider. Each jacket offers excellent performance and value. We've also put together the following motorcycle jacket shopping guide that looks at the important areas you need to consider when making your decision.
That classic motorcycle jacket we mentioned is now so widespread that it's as much a fashion statement as it is an item of biker clothing. However, there's an enormous difference between the lightweight versions you see in most clothing stores and the one you wear on your bike.
While style will always play an important part in each person's choice (and some motorcycle jackets make great streetwear), the motorcyclist also has to consider a number of other factors, including riding comfort, weather protection, and safety
When looking at each factor, you also have to consider the type of motorcycle jacket. Broadly speaking jackets are divided into two groups: leather and mesh, though the latter can cover a variety of different material combinations.
For many, leather provides superior comfort in dry conditions. A good leather jacket is snug but supple enough to move with you. Leather offers high abrasion resistance, which is just what you want in the event you end up sliding along the asphalt. Despite modern material alternatives, most of the motorcycle gear you see worn on the racetrack is leather. It offers a combination of properties that no other single material can match.
On the downside, leather doesn't handle weather as well as modern textiles do. It can be cold and quite unpleasant to wear when wet and too hot on sunny days. Though a lot of engineering goes into good ones, a standard leather motorcycle jacket isn’t very breathable.
A mesh motorcycle jacket is almost like a kit of parts. There are numerous textiles available, and manufacturers can pick the best ingredients for each particular type of jacket – whether you're taking it to the track or going long-distance touring. An outer mesh shell is designed to allow your body to breathe. It keeps you cool in hot weather but is supported by a waterproof interior. Washable liners add comfort and warmth. Several manufacturers have their own patented materials for improved performance.
On the downside, most mesh jackets lack the abrasion resistance of leather (though they’re improving all the time). Mesh offers adequate protection, but in the event of an accident the jacket could well be damaged to the point where it needs to be replaced. To combat this, some mesh motorcycle jackets incorporate Kevlar for additional strength, but the mesh look isn't as popular with traditionalists or retro-style riders.
Aside from the material and structure of the jacket, there are some individual elements to consider.
Protection: Extra protection might be offered by padding and armor at potential impact points. Padding is an integral part of the jacket's construction. Armor is removable and usually fits into pockets in the elbows and back. While many jackets have the facility to take armor, it's often not provided, so you'll want to check.
Motorcycle jackets continue to develop, particularly in the area of protection. The latest trend is to use airbags, which not only cushion impact but are also designed to prevent excessive neck and head movement. They're operated by a battery that needs recharging every couple months, and the whole jacket has to be returned to the factory (at the owner's expense) in the event of an accident. For the moment, airbags are rare and very expensive; however, as with every other technology, it all gets more affordable over time.
Adjustability: It's nice to have plenty of adjustability. Elasticized panels in the sides plus adjustable fasteners or straps at waist, neck, and cuffs all allow you to get as comfortable as possible and keep out the elements.
Vents: Vents give you the option of opening them to increase airflow when it's hot or keeping them closed when it's cool.
Length: Jacket length is quite an important factor. A short jacket is fine for sports and summer riding, but you want a longer jacket for winter and/or long-distance riding.
Visibility: Some riders like to maximize their chances of being seen by other road users, and mesh jackets offer a wide range of colors. You don't get that variety with leather bike jackets, but some still offer reflective areas for increased visibility.
Pockets: Not having enough pockets can sometimes be frustrating. Most traditional motorcycle jackets have two outside pockets and may or may not have an inner one. If you're in the habit of carrying a lot of stuff with you when you ride, you'll want to check.
Connectors: Some motorcycle jackets have loops, zippers, or some other means of attaching motorcycle pants to the jacket, giving similar protection as an all-in-one suit but with greater flexibility.
Buying a cheap motorcycle jacket is false economy. You might get the style you want, you might even get reasonable comfort, but you won't get durability, and you certainly won't get adequate protection in the event of a spill.
Inexpensive: That said, you don't have to spend huge amounts of cash for a decent jacket. You'll find a number of good-quality jackets for $65 to $80. Some people spend more on a pair of jeans!
Mid-range: The “sweet spot” seems to be between $120 and $200. In this range you'll find an enormous variety of well-made men's and women’s motorcycle jackets in every available fabric and style. Most riders will be perfectly happy with what they find in this price bracket.
Expensive: You can always spend more. High-end Italian leather, and highly engineered racewear are at the pinnacle of motorcycle jacket development and craftsmanship. These can easily push your budget beyond $300, and it's not difficult to spend $500 or more. The most expensive one we looked at retails for over $1,500, but that does include the air bag!
If your motorcycle jacket can keep you warm and dry and protect you from the road in the event of an accident, you'd think it would be tough enough to look after itself. You'd be right, but there are still a couple things you can do to maximize a jacket’s useful life.
Q. How do I make sure I get a good fit when ordering online?
A. Rule number one is to make sure the people you’re buying from allow returns!
Sizes can be confusing, especially when manufacturers use S, M, L, and XL rather than dimensions. It's not a good idea to base your choice on clothes you already own because one maker's M can be another maker's L. Every bike jacket manufacturer should have a size chart. Some put it right there on the product page, while others, for reasons we can't understand, make it more challenging to find. When measuring yourself, think about the kinds of clothes you'll be wearing under your jacket. There's a big difference between a summer T-shirt and a bulky wool sweater. Finally, get someone to help you measure, and stand normally!
Q. What is napa leather?
A. The terms “leather” and “napa” can cover a variety of hides. Did you know you can actually get turkey leather? Napa can be any animal – cow, sheep, goat (the latter two are usually a lot cheaper). Napa leather is smooth, soft, and supple, but it doesn’t have great abrasion resistance and can tear quite easily. In our opinion (and that of a number of experts), napa is fine for fashion items but not for real motorcycle jackets intended to protect the rider. If you want leather, always look for genuine cowhide or, perhaps surprisingly, kangaroo, which is equally tough.
Q. Does motorcycle jacket armor have to be certified to a particular standard?
A. At the time of writing, there's no legally required standard in the US. In theory, anyone can make armor for your elbows or back out of whatever material they like. In practice, most manufacturers of high-quality motorcycle jackets follow the European EN or CE standards. Armor is rated CE Level 1 or CE Level 2 (sometimes just called Level 1 and Level 2). The ratings tell you the maximum impact force transmitted to the rider in kiloNewtons (kN), which is all a bit technical. Suffice it to say that Level 2 provides more protection than Level 1. You often find that elbow protectors are Level 1 and back protectors are Level 2.
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