7 min read
Unsure What to Look for When Shopping For A New Jacket?
You're in the right place.
Our motorcycle jacket guide will help you find the right jacket for your needs, riding style, and budget.
Why We Created This Guide
Motorcycle jackets are a critical piece of gear that every rider should own and wear. In years past, the biker jacket became a fashion statement throughout the country but it is important to remember that this style of jacket was created for its function long before it caught on with the fashion world.
The original leather bikers jacket was an adaptation of the bomber jacket worn by early pilots. The leather was not only a great insulator but it was also very durable. Both of those benefits made leather the best choice for early motorcycle jackets.
As the years have progressed, motorcycle jackets have also evolved. Now leather is only one of the many options that riders have when looking for the perfect jacket. Textile and mesh jackets have become very popular because they are lighter weight than leather and they can provide much greater airflow. These two features have provided riders in a warmer climate the ability to ride more safely with hot weather jackets which still offer great protection. Prior to the creation of the new fabrics, riders often rode in the summer with no jacket and no real protection on their arms and upper body.
Not only are there a variety of different materials used for motorcycle jacket construction but many jackets are also purpose built. Riders today have many choices when buying a bike. They can go for the large cruiser with the upright ride position or the race bike with the very aggressive forward position or just about anything in between.
Other options now include going off road for motocross or a combination of on and off road for a tour and adventure ride. And each one of the styles of riding poses its own challenges and risks. So to keep up gear manufacturers have created gear that is purpose-built to meet the needs of each different type of rider.
That brings us to the most important point of this article. There is never going to be one perfect jacket or one jacket that we taut as the best any rider can buy. What is important to know is that there are certainly top quality jackets for every type of rider, the secret is to find the one that best meets your specific needs and personal taste.
To help you in making the best selection for your perfect motorcycle jacket we are going to educate you on the different types of jackets available and their features. We are also going to provide some additional information about some of the different underlayers that are available and what their features and benefits are. The end goal is to assist riders in making some great selections which allow them to be safe and comfortable as they enjoy their adventures.
There will not be specific manufacturers or brands listed in this buyers guide and we are not sponsoring or promoting any specific gear. This is a guide to teach riders what to look for in quality motorcycle jackets and underlayers. Riders will then need to apply our information along with their own taste and comfort to find the jacket and underlayer that best meets their needs.
Motorcycle Jacket Brands
Most riders don’t realize just how many motorcycle jacket brands exist. Over the years we have reviewed a lot of jackets and we can barely keep up with the new ones coming onto the market every year. Below, we have listed all the jacket brands we have tested (and some we haven't). You can simply click on the link to see all the reviews we have conducted for each brand. We hope this makes finding the right jacket for you a little easier.
A Quality Motorcycle Jacket's Got Your Back
As a new rider, you might have a very limited understanding of the importance of a motorcycle jacket. Its most basic function is to provide safety for riders in the event of an accident. The two biggest concerns for any rider are injuries from impact and injuries from abrasion, but new riders are obviously more concerned due to their inexperience on a bike. Riders should also understand that a motorcycle jacket provides more than just a protective layer for all riders.
Understanding Impacts & Armor
Impact injuries can occur when a rider hits another object, is hit by an object or upon contact with the ground. All of these can be very serious, especially if the rider is not well protected with a motorcycle specific jacket. Motorcycle armor and padding are what is going to absorb the energy from the impact and reduce the injury to the rider.
For jackets, there are 2 standards for armor.
The first is EN1621-1 which covers armor for all parts of the body except the spine.
EN1621-2 covers armor designed specifically to protect the spine. The main difference is that the spine protector must meet more stringent standards due to the potential for devastating injuries as a result of impact to the spine area.
To know that a jacket has quality armor, riders should look for a notation stating that the item is CE approved.
Motorcycle jacket armor can include shoulder, elbow and back protection.
Some jackets offer full back protection while others offer only lumbar protection.
The protective inserts can be made from foam, memory foam, silicone, hard plastic and viscoelastic.
As you can imagine, the thicker and harder the layer is the better it will protect the rider. In some cases, jackets offer removable softer inserts as well as the hard plastic armor on the outside of the shoulders and elbows.
Again, the more armor the better for the most part. But all of these safety features do come at a cost. New riders who are shopping on a tight budget will quickly learn that many jackets only offer a basic foam pad which can be removed and replaced with a higher quality armor when budget permits.
The biggest take away here is that as long as the jacket has pockets for armor inserts, the rider can upgrade to increase the level of protection.
When considering abrasion protection, what you see is pretty much what you get. The outer shell material of the jacket is your abrasion protection and cannot be increased or changed. Exterior hard armor will help to protect shoulders, elbows and the spine during slides but the base material of the outer shell is all that protects the rest of the rider’s skin.
Leather was the material of choice for many years but new man-made textiles offer riders other high-quality options now. Cordura, Kevlar and other textiles have been proven to be as durable or more durable than leather and are also lighter in weight and offer better breathability.
The choice of the outer material should be made based on rider preference and the climate and environment of most rides. Leather material is still a good solid option in cooler climates. And the advent of laser-perforated leather makes it a viable option for slightly warmer climates as well. Textile materials are certainly the favored selection in hot and humid areas. Often these jackets will offer ventilation panels which have zipper or velcro closures but can greatly increase airflow without compromising the level of protection.
In addition to the protective benefits of motorcycle jackets, other features include protection from the elements and comfort features such as purpose-built jackets for specific ride styles. Riding in rain, wind or extremely cold weather can make many riders very uncomfortable and can suck any and all enjoyment from the riding experience. But a jacket designed for these environments or one which offers a windproof or waterproof liner is a game changer.
With the right gear, the elements will never ruin an opportunity for a great ride.
Comfort & Airflow
Another feature that new riders often overlook is airflow. There is a certain comfort benefit from air flow on a hot day but so is having a jacket that fits properly and allows air to flow through the material and not flap in the wind. New riders can easily become very distracted by the flapping arms, collar, and body of a jacket that is not meant for use on a motorcycle. What sounds like a small and manageable annoyance can become a big distraction which causes a new rider to lose focus and can result in an accident.
Along those same lines, jacket comfort comes from having the right style of jacket for the ride and your riding style. A touring jacket is perfect for a long ride. It offers a relaxed fit and covers the riders entire lower back. But that same jacket for a rider who is crouched in an aggressive position on a sport bike would not be as comfortable.
Again, having the right jacket to meet all of the needs and demands of the rider, the ride and the environment is critical to determining any “perfect” jacket.
Under layers are not necessarily an item that is needed for safety but they do make many riders much more comfortable which can impact their attention level, state of mind and overall safety on the road.
The two basic types of underlayers are those designed to be worn in extremely cold climates and those designed for extremely warm climates.
Most cold weather underlayers are designed to trap body heat or reflect body heat to help keep you warm. The newest materials can provide a great thermal layer without being thick and bulky like older gear. An added benefit for the higher-end underlayer gear is a windproof or wind resistant quality.
For riders who are willing to face any level of frigid temperatures to go for a ride, there are options which are heated and can be powered via a plug which connects to your bike. If you are not a fan of cold weather, a good underlayer is a great investment to make you more comfortable and keep your body more functional and alert. No rider should endure numb hands or feet when riding. It is just an unneeded risk that can easily be eliminated.
A less well known but equally important type of base layer is designed to be worn in extremely hot weather. The material is designed to wick moisture away from the skin and promote the natural evaporative cooling process. The comfort benefit is fairly obvious but added safety benefits include less moisture on your skin which makes it slippery. Shifting and braking can get more difficult when feet are squishing in soggy socks and boots. And wet gloves can greatly reduce your grip and dexterity.
The greatest benefit to a warm weather base layer on your core is that you will not experience the discomfort and issues related to excessive sweat such as heat rash and abrasions from soaked clothing.
Not everyone lives in a climate where any type of baselayer is needed. Or a rider might simply decide to only ride when the climate is comfortable and does not require additional layers to fend off the heat or cold. But for riders who face these conditions regularly, a base layer is a solid investment that will increase your enjoyment of a ride and allow you to completely focus on what is around you and not your discomfort.
Adventure & Touring Jackets
Planning on riding long distance, through inclement weather, or both? An adventure jacket is the best choice.
These jackets are designed for maximum rider comfort and usefulness, affording more relaxed fits, armor on all the key joints, and plenty of pockets and storage space.
Robust liners and insulation make them ideal for three or four-season riding
Ample storage and utility
Longer length that provides ideal coverage for riders in upright positions (such as on adventure or touring bikes)
Bulkier than other types of jackets
Few leather options exist
Clearly a motorcycle jacket aesthetically speaking
Cruiser & V-Twin Jackets
When most people think of the classic motorcycle jacket, this is what they have in mind. Comfort and style come together and incorporate safety into the mix, creating a jacket that looks good on and off the bike. Cruiser jackets are often made of leather or composite materials, with a shorter cut compared to adventure jackets.
Often good looking, on or off the bike
More comfortable to wear compared to sport jackets, with a looser and more accomodating fit
The style compliments many different types of bikes
Usually made with leather or high-quality synethic materials
Fewer pockets and storage compartments compared to touring jackets
Leather can be bulkier than textile/synthetic materials
Can be hotter and with less airflow due to both materials (leather) and design
Combing classic motorcycle jacket styles with modern materials and protection, the modern cafe racer jacket blurs the line between cruiser and sportbike styles. Cafe racer style often features distinctive features and toned-down colorways.
Good looking and compatible with a large variety of bike styles
Jacket cuts/shapes are usually a bit more fitted compared to traditional cruiser-style jackets
Usually made with leather
Often come with pre-integrated armor
Sometimes style gets in the way of substance
Generally have fewer pockets and storage areas than adventure/touring jackets
Sport & Street Jackets
Street-oriented sportbike jackets offer riders a racey look, performance-oriented materials, and a pre-formed shape in the arms (to aid comfort while in a sport riding position). Sportbike jackets often include removable liners, making them many of them suitable for three-season riding.
Variety of jacket materials and ample choice (leather, textile, mesh)
Pre-formed riding position can be helpful for sporty riding positions
Usually pre-equipped with CE-rated armor in the elbows and shoulders
Good airflow makes for comfortable riding
Sport fit isn't ideal for many riders
Short on pockets and storage spaces
Race jackets are the extremes of what you get in a sportbike jacket: durable abrasion-resistant materials, integrated armor (often CE level 2 or better), metal skid plates on elbow/shoulder joints, excellent airflow/venting, and an aggressive sport-oriented riding position.
Offers protection suitable for track days
The ultimate in abrasion resistance
Aggressive riding position
Often connect via zipper to racing pants
More expensive than street jackets
Not truly a "jacket", underlayers compliment the protection offered by your jacket by allowing you to add an additional layer of armor or skid protection. While underlayers can add protection to a rider's setup, they are not suitable protection on their own and are not a replacement for a quality riding jacket.
Add CE-rated protection to any clothing
Improve impact resistance for key areas
Doesn't add significant bulk
Supplements, not provides, your protection
Not suitable to wear on its own (minimal abrasion protection)
Finding the Right Style, Fit, & Material
(& at the right price)
Safety should always be a rider’s first consideration when evaluating motorcycle gear. An important part of the safety factor of motorcycle jackets is selecting the correct style for your ride. Comfort and fit will also have an impact on your selection but that fit will be dictated a lot by the bike that you are on and your riding position on the bike.
Another factor for many riders is versatility. A jacket that offers a removable liner or a waterproof liner can be a huge bonus. Many riders like to invest a little bit more in a single jacket that will meet all of their needs throughout the year. Price is also a concern as many riders have a strict budget for gear. Getting the best motorcycle jacket in your price range is always the main goal.
We recommend that all riders, whether you are just starting out or have been riding for years, place safety at the top of their list when looking at new jackets. Of course, there’s a lot of other important elements to consider, too: fit, comfort, price, and the type of the jacket are almost as important.
We’re operating under the assumption that you’re relatively new to motorcycles and riding gear; more advanced riders looking for information on the best gear should check out our recommendations for each motorcycle jacket type.
In the perfect world, price would not even be a consideration when selecting motorcycle gear. But that is not a realistic expectation for most of us. So when you are looking at purchasing a motorcycle jacket you should be looking for the best quality jacket within your price range.
The material and safety features will have a great deal of impact on the price of the jacket. Leather is traditionally a very expensive material for a jacket but some of the new safety textiles are equally as costly. It can be easy to get caught up in the cool looks of the different styles of jackets, the designs, and logos but none of that will help you when you are sliding across the asphalt or high siding over a car. Safety is the number one concern that riders should focus on. All of the other stuff is a nice added bonus once you have a safe jacket selected. Shop for the most safety you can afford and then see what color and design options are offered.
If you are just getting your first motorcycle jacket it is also a good idea to remain in the entry level to the middle of the pack price range. Never having worn a motorcycle jacket, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Get a reasonably priced jacket with plenty of safety features but understand that you might have much more information and a long list of must-haves for your next jacket after experiencing your first one for a few month.
And a final note about price, don’t blow your entire gear budget on your first jacket to get the most loaded or coolest looking one that you can find. It is also important to have functional gloves, boots, and a solid helmet. Get some seat time with all of your basic gear and then start to build out your perfect riding gear package as you can afford it and as you become more certain of your wants and needs.
Most motorcycle jackets are designed to fit into one of a few different specific use categories. These uses determine the features that are most important for each style of jacket. The most common types of motorcycle jackets are:
Sportbike Jackets – A sportbike jacket is designed to conform to a rider’s body when in a very aggressive forward position. This position requires the jacket fit close to the body but also provide the range of motion that the rider needs for arms and shoulders. This more fitted jacket also has a shorter back to accommodate when the rider is sitting in a more upright position. The final feature but also possibly the most important is that the sportbike jacket must integrate exceptional safety features for impact and abrasion protection.
Adventure/Touring Jackets -The adventure and touring style jackets are designed to be some of the most versatile motorcycle jackets available. These jackets can be called into action in just about any weather condition that you can imagine including wind, rain, snow or heat. In addition to handling any type of weather, these jackets must also adapt to a variety of terrain variables. Adventure riders could spend hours on the highway just to get to a great trail or dirt road to really begin the adventure. This demands that a single jacket provide the comfort and fit for a long paved road ride and its potential dangers and the off-road hazards of dirt, rocks and natural debris.
Cruiser/V-Twin Jackets – The cruiser or V-Twin jacket is what even non-riders picture when they hear the term motorcycle jacket. It is made of leather, looks pretty stylish and is super comfortable. These are great for a long ride or just about other time that you need to wear a jacket’ as proven by the popularity across the country with riders and non-riders alike. In addition to the prototypical leather version, riders also frequently choose this style of jacket but one made of a textile fabric. The newer materials provide protection that is equal to or better than leather but also offers better ventilation and less weight.
Cafe Jackets – The cafe jacket was created to meet the unique demands of riding the Cafe Racer bikes. The bike is compact and very minimalistic as is the jacket. The simple lines and retro look harken back the 1960’s as does the typical leather used for its construction. There are some textile choices on the market but most riders remain faithful to the shorter cut almost bomber style of the traditional leather cafe jacket.
Each type of jacket has its own purpose, features, and restrictions. The cut and style of each jacket dictate what it was designed for and how it can best benefit riders. Knowing this information helps riders to identify which jacket will best meet their needs, riding style and provide the level of protection that they are looking for in a “perfect” motorcycle jacket.
Fit & Comfort
Everyone has worn jackets before and all of that basic fit information carries over to motorcycle jackets. But, you also need to think about body position when you are riding and not just about how comfortable a jacket feels when you try it on in a store.
Remember the position of your back, arms, and shoulders as you are riding. A jacket that just fits when you put it on might be too short when you are reaching forward on your bike. If that’s the case, then you are leaving your lower back and wrists exposed which could mean extensive injuries if you are in an accident.
Another factor to consider for rider comfort is the material the jacket is made of. Leather can take some time to soften and break in whereas textile might be more flexible immediately. Heat can also be a factor for some riders. Be sure that the jacket you select offers good ventilation if you are riding in hot weather or a warm removable liner if you spend a lot of time riding in cold weather. Comfort is not really a safety feature but comfort allows you to focus on riding without being distracted which does make you a safer rider.
Safety is by far the most important feature for motorcycle jackets. It’s easy to get caught up in what looks cool because it is a jacket and it will be very visible but remember, you want to be able to walk away from a wreck or a slide and that’s it.
The safety features to look for in a quality motorcycle jacket are impact protection and abrasion protection. Padding, double and triple layers of material and armor are all going to absorb impact and keep you from suffering broken bones and internal injuries. Leather, Kevlar, Cordura and other man-made textiles are going to provide you with protection from abrasion injuries and loss of skin and muscle.
There is no such thing as too much protection for any rider. Look for internal pockets for flexible armor and padding as well as hard armor on the exterior of the elbows and shoulders. Protective pads or armor covering the spine and lower back are also critical safety features to look for. Not only will those provide protection on impact but back armor is also great protection in the event of a long slide.
New textiles are much lighter weight than leather and actually provide better protection.Look for features such asdouble or triple stitching, padded collar, padding in the arms and reliable closures to keep the jacket secured in the event of an accident.
What To Look For When Shopping Underlayers
Under layers are not really a necessity for your first set of motorcycle riding gear. It doesn’t offer any real impact or abrasion protection other than being another layer between you and another object. But it does offer riders the ability to customize their comfort level. And that can be important, especially for new riders. Let’s face it, there is a lot to think about and pay attention to when you are learning to ride and more importantly, learning to ride safely. So eliminating the distraction of being too cold or too hot can be helpful.
Take a few minutes and read about some of the options that WBW has reviewed to see if under layers might be a good investment for you.
You can spend less than $50 on a basic thermal underlayer or you can invest a few hundred to get the latest heated gear. The biggest factor is your budget and how often you will use the underlayer. If you occasionally ride for coffee on a cold morning then this might not be your best choice for fifty bucks. Think about allocating that money to a better helmet or upgraded jacket.
But if you are planning to commute every day on a motorcycle, then five days of use each week over the course of a few cold months is a great spend and you will get a great return on your modest investment. Only you know your tolerance for temperature change and what you can acclimate to and remain safe.
Fit & Comfort
Most base layer material is relatively thin and presents very little added bulk when worn. But that is all relative to how your motorcycle jacket fits. If you ride a sportbike then your sportbike jacket could have very slim sleeves. Be sure that any base layer that you purchase will not feel too bulky or restrict your range of motion when worn under your normal gear. Nothing is worse than feeling like you are about to split the seams of a jacket every time you move your arms.