It’s up there with the most important pieces of safety equipment you’ll need when riding a motorcycle on Australian roads or trails. A motorcycle jacket does many things: it stops you losing all of your skin if you hit the deck; it cushions the initial impact minimising the risk of injury in a crash, and it completes the look making you feel like a bit if a badass.
If you’ve ever crashed a motorcycle you’ll know just how stupid those guys wearing T-shirts cruising the beach are being. And if you haven’t, best try and keep it that way. But if it does happen and you're wearing the right gear, at least you know that you’ve done everything you can to protect yourself.
So with that in mind, let’s talk about all the things you need to consider when buying a motorcycle jacket in Australia. We’ll run you through the different types and materials before helping you when it comes to trying jackets on and making a choice between option A and option B.
Motorcycle jackets for different environments
The first thing to consider when shopping for a motorcycle jacket is where you intend to wear it. While it is possible to wear road protective gear while hitting the trails on your motocross bike, you’ll be you’re sweating buckets in minutes.
Jackets designed for on and off-road use vary greatly in construction, features, ventilation, and in the way they protect you when you fall.
Road motorcycle jackets
Falling off a motorcycle on the road or the track makes you’ll realise just how far you slide if you are wearing good motorcycle gear. Sliding is much preferable to a sudden stop; sliding slows you down gradually using the friction on the road reducing the force of the initial impact.
Road motorcycle jackets are made from leather or textiles that allow the rider to slide as soon as they hit the deck. In addition, they feature padding and body armour at major contact points, such as the knees, elbows, back, and chest. Road motorcyclists tend to get colder than dirt riders, so jackets feature a combination of warm linings and vents at hot spots across the torso.
Off-road motorcycle jackets
The needs of dirt bike riders are different for roadies. Chucking a trail bike down rocky terrain is much more exhausting than cruising to work so off-road jackets usually prioritise cooling and protection from hard collisions with rugged surfaces.
It’s important to note that different styles of off-road riding require different gear as well. Motocross racing requires you to wear full protective armour including chest and back protectors either under or over an abrasion-resistant breathable jersey.
Adventure motorcycle riders and tourers will opt for leather or textile jackets similar to road jackets that emphasise ventilation, body armour integration, and puncture resistance.
Leather vs. textile motorcycle jackets
There is an enormous range of different jackets available today, but they can be broken down into subcategories based on materials:
Leather motorcycle jackets
Textile jackets (sometimes called synthetic)
Leather / textile jackets (a combination of the two).
Leather jackets differ from textile models not only in the way that they look and feel, but in the way that they perform on and off the road – and more importantly when they come into direct contact with the road surface.
Let’s look at the positives and negatives of each type of jacket material in more detail.
Leather motorcycle jackets - pros and cons
It’s hard to look past the classic. Leather motorcycle jackets have been informing popular culture and making ordinary joes feel like badass movie stars since two-wheeled motor vehicles became mainstream. It's hard to find a material that outperforms leather on the track, that's why it's still the go-to material for motorcycle racers the world over.
Beyond the cool factor, leather jackets are very good at what they do: protecting your skin in the event of a crash.
Hard wearing: If looked after, a leather jacket can last a lifetime.
Easy to repair: Leather is much is easier to patch up than synthetic materials.
Abrasion resistant: Leather also performs better in a slide being much less likely to tear than textile jackets.
Warm and windproof: Being so thick, leather jackets are great at insulating in cold weather.
Integrated armour: You’ll find many high-end leather jackets feature padding and additional abrasion-resistance around the joints and road contact areas.
Cleanliness: It’s easy to keep leathers looking clean.
You can often get away with wearing a nice leather motorcycle jacket as regular clothing.
Can be expensive: An entry level leather jacket is typically more expensive than an entry-level textile jacket. However, some top end synthetics are more expensive than leather.
Wet weather: When it rains, you’ll need to throw on something waterproof. Given time, your leather jacket will start to soak up the rain and might even shrink a bit.
Colour: You might find the colour from your jacket bleeds into your clothing if it gets wet. It can sometimes be hard to find colours other than black.
Weight: Leather jackets are typically heavier than textile counterparts.
Textile motorcycle jackets - pros and cons
With every passing year, motorcycle gear manufacturers improve on the designs of the past and incorporate new and advanced materials into their jackets. While they’ve been around for a lot less time than leather (because cows) they have advanced dramatically with materials like kevlar and Cordura (ballistic nylon) proving to be superior to leather in a number of riding scenarios.
Water resistance: Synthetic fabrics are much better at repelling the rain and also breathing in hot weather. You’ll find it’s easier to control your temperature wearing a textile jacket.
Protection: Textile jackets offer good protection against abrasion (although not as good as leather in a slide) and punctures. By incorporating materials such as kevlar into contact areas, manufacturers have made textile jackets tougher than ever before.
Cheaper: an entry level textile jacket is usually much more affordable than leather.
Range: You’ll be able to find a huge range of colours and styles.
Removable linings: Many textile jackets have removable insulation layers making it easy to control the warmth of the jacket when conditions change.
Vents: Textile jackets often feature ventilation systems that can be opened and closed as you see fit.
Bulk: Textile jackets tend to be much bulkier than leather jackets. Bulkiness causes the material to bunch up meaning they don’t usually perform as well as leather in a slide.
Less resistant to abrasion.
Repair: It’s much harder to repair stiff materials like Cordura.
Stiffness: Because kevlar and Cordura are much less pliable, they are more prone to abrasion. However, this makes them more resistant to puncture.
Textiles tend to gather dirt more readily and are more difficult to clean than leather.
You’ll probably look a bit weird if you wear a textile jacket to the pub unless you arrive on a motorcycle.
Finding a jacket that fits
Once you’ve chosen the right type of jacket and your preferred material, it’s time to try a few on and make sure that one fits perfectly.
One thing you can do before heading to the store to try some jackets on is work out your chest circumference and sleeve length.
To do this, take a tape measure and wrap it around your chest at it’s widest point up under your arms. Record the measurement in centimetres and inches for later reference.
Then do the same starting at your neck bone on top of your shoulder. Measure down the outside of your arm, over your shoulder from your neck bone to your wrist on both sides.
Armed with these measurements you can jump online and compare them to different manufacturers' size charts to get a good idea of what size jacket is best for you.
However, the size you are on the charts may not be the size you eventually go with. You’ll need to try the jacket on and consider a few additional factors that affect fit before settling on a size.
Trying jackets on
Some riders prefer a snug fit, opting for speed and performance over comfort: other prefer a looser fit so that they can wear additional garments underneath. And it’s true: fit is to a degree about personal preference.
But, there are a couple of things that you need to check when trying on a motorcycle jacket.
Armour positioning: Body armour is designed to protect specific areas on your body. If a jacket doesn’t fit right, you might find your shoulder pads protecting your back and your elbow guards sliding down to make sure your forearms are okay. All body armour needs to be sitting on the joint it was made to protect. - Simple. If it’s not and you prefer a comfort fit, try a different model or brand.
Clothing: Are you going to be wearing a jumper underneath your jacket? If so, be sure to bring it with you to the store and try it on with each model to make sure that it's comfortable and still allows movement.
Bagginess: Watch out for loose spots on the garment. While you want to allow some breathing room and the ability to move around on the bike, if a garment is too big, it can undermine its ability to perform when you need it to most.
Vents: Just as it’s important to check the body armour is sitting right, ensure the ventilation systems are located at the appropriate places once the jacket is done up. With a garment underneath, is there enough room inside the jacket to allow air to pass through effectively?
Motorcycle jacket features worth considering
Picture this: you’ve gone into the store, found five different jackets that fit nicely and look great. Now what; how do you decide on a particular model?
At this point, it’s worth considering what each jacket offers in the way of additional features. Finding out more about each jacket will most likely help you settle on one.
Reflective strips: In our opinion, any jacket that is intended to be used on the road should feature some type of reflective material. The more you do to make yourself visible to other motorists, the less likely they are to take you out at a T-intersection.
Ventilation: Compare the ventilation systems featured on the different jackets. What about the construction? Vents are technically weak spots in the jackets material so placement and stitching are of vital importance to that jacket's performance.
Removable liner: Some jackets have inner linings to keep you warm; being able to remove them when the sun comes out is ideal.
Body armour: Not all jackets have solid body armour but the addition can make all the difference. Chest and back protectors are essential if you plan on racing or going hard off-road.
Waterproof breathable membranes: The inclusion of waterproof breathable membranes can be a real decision maker, especially if you plan on spending time off-road or in consistently wet conditions.
Accordion panels: Some leather jackets often make use of flexible accordion-like panels around the knees and elbows that allow for extra movement.
Pockets: Having somewhere to put your wallet and phone inside your jacket makes them quicker and easier to get to when needed.
Follow these steps and you're sure to find a motorcycle jacket that is perfect for your style of riding. Now that you know what to look for, check out the range of motorcycle jackets and protective gear available online at Outdoria.com.au.