Streetwear vs Riding Gear - Buying a Leather Motorcycle Jacket

When it comes to riding gear every motorcyclist should own a good leather jacket. Historically leather has played a huge role in motorcycling and with good reason. Despite breakthroughs in tech fabrics, leather still offers some of the best abrasion resistance money can buy. Like chips and gravy, leather also happens to be the perfect accompaniment to a motorcycle. Since Marlon Brandon donned a leather jacket in ‘The Wild One’ in 1953 leather jackets have become synonymous with motorcycling. Unfortunately not all leather jackets are created equal so we put together this special 'Form vs Function' feature to help you find a jacket that's capable of protecting your hide.

Marlon Brandon wearing a Schott Perfecto in 'The Wild One' 1953

1. Form vs function

Your first consideration when buying a leather jacket for riding in is whether or not it has been made by a specialist motorcycle apparel company. Buying a leather jacket from your favorite fashion label simply isn’t going to offer you the same protection as a jacket made by a dedicated motorcycle gear manufacturer, no matter how much it costs. That is because there are considerations such as thickness, burst resistance, abrasion zones, the strength of stitching, types of fasteners used, their placement, and additional armor that all need to be carefully considered to create a safe motorcycling jacket. A specialist manufacturer will have conducted research and testing to ensure that their jackets offer you the protection you need in the event of an accident rather than simply looking good on a catwalk.

Rolands Sands in his RSD 'Clash' jacket

2. The right fit on and off the bike.

Another very important difference between a fashion leather jacket and one designed for riding is the fit. On a motorcycle, you adopt a unique posture for prolonged periods of time. When you ride your arms are outstretched and your back is curved. In a regular jacket, this kind of pose will generally result in your wrists and lower back being exposed. The sleeves in a fashion jacket are also made to look best when your arms are relaxed this means that in a riding position they create resistance against your shoulders and arms that will lead to fatigue. Well designed leather motorcycle jackets are made longer in the back to keep your spine and kidneys covered. Their sleeves are pre-curved for comfort and are slightly longer with fasteners to keep your wrists covered and allow you to limit the airflow in cooler conditions.

3. As tough as an old boot

Leather is tough, but it comes in different thicknesses that provide different levels of protection. Supple calf leather might feel great, but it won’t offer the same protection as a thicker alternative. As a rule, aim for a jacket made from leather that is at least 1.2 to 1.4 mm thick. It may not sound like a lot but that equates to around 4 seconds of slide time. Double it up and your skin will be safe for an impressive 18 seconds. Specialised motorcycle jackets use different thicknesses and layers in different areas to optimize protection. As a comparison, your favorite denim jacket will last 0.2 to 0.5 seconds in a spill.

D30 armor assortment from a Saint riding jacket

4. The school of hard knocks.

The most important reason to buy a leather jacket designed for motorcyclists is the integration of armor and how they are stitched together. A typical motorcycle jacket will feature armor in the elbows, shoulders, and spine. The types of armor vary but the latest technologies utilize shock absorbing material that offers increased comfort and a low profile fit such as that offered by D30. Stitching is also a key consideration. Both the material used and the amount of stitching on a riding jacket is key to its ability to withstand an accident. Abrasion, impact and burst resistance are the 3 main things your jacket should be designed to withstand.

Patrick Flynn of 'The Bullitt' wearing his Dainese Harrison Jacket

5. A jacket that suits your style.

While a motorcycle jackets technical performance is essential there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good on your bike. Sportbike gear has been the dominant style in riding apparel for years, but not everyone wants to appear as though they just took part in the latest GP. Thankfully you don't have to.  There are now riding gear brands who sell jackets to suit pretty much any motorcycle or rider style. There are classic brands like Schott and Vanson leathers who sell iconic styles they developed back in the 1950s and newer labels like Roland Sands Designs and 55 Collection who offer streetwear influenced designs. Longtime sports riding brands like Dainese now even cater to the classic and custom motorcycle crowd. Whether you’re after a closed collar, cuffed sleeves, an integrated hood or a lambswool lining you can be sure there’s a motorcycle jacket that will meet your needs.

So when you head out to buy your next leather motorcycle jacket keep these things in mind. Don’t settle for anything that puts form before function. As motorcyclists, our risk of injury in an accident is already increased so please do whatever you can to keep yourself safe. 

We’ve teamed up with riding leather experts 55 Collection to offer you the chance to win a custom leather motorcycle jacket valued at €600. 


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