Buying Motorcycle Jackets

When thinking about the ultimate road-going motorcycle jackets, three criteria come to mind: durability, versatility and affordability. Whether sport riding, cruising, or thrashing around the woods on an adventure bike, these three criteria trump all.

Distributed across those broad qualities are specific features that tend to bubble up as our top 10 features to look for in a riding jacket.

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We are assuming that the jacket considered will be available with sizing options that will allow it to fit just the way you want, whether that’s an aggressive-fit design (closely tailored) favored in the sport bike world, or a standard (more roomy) fit.

Also, we aren’t presenting the features in order of preference or priority, since each rider will tend to sort those out based on the kind of riding they plan to do.

Following are what we consider the top 10 features to look for in a motorcycle jacket:

1. Rugged Outer Material

Whether your preference is leather, textile or some combination of materials, the outer shell of the jacket is where the abrasion, weather and wind resistance is primarily located.

Leather is the traditional choice for abrasion resistance, but modern synthetic textiles and leather-like materials can also be tough as nails and lighter in weight. Some textile jackets include a breathable polyurethane membrane that allows water vapor to escape from the interior of the jacket to keep it comfy inside, while being impervious to liquid water from the exterior.

An excellent example of a perforated leather jacket with high level personal protection cred is the Icon Overlord Prime  and the Joe Rocket Speedway leather jackets.

2. Ventilation Options

The problem with a good, tough riding jacket is that the same jacket that is warm, waterproof, windproof and protective on a cool morning can be too warm later the same day as the afternoon gets hot.

Perforated leather or textile mesh with a good zip-out liner is one option, and zippered vents in solid leather or textile are another. A good example of zip-closure vents in solid leather is the Triumph Patrol Jacket we reviewed here: https://ultimatemotorcycling.com/2014/03/10/triumph-patrol-jacket-motorcycle-apparel-review/

An example of the full mesh jacket is the Harley-Davidson Gunnar Mesh riding jacket. Alpinestars also makes a waterproof breathable leather, such as the GORE-TEX 365.

3. Rugged Fasteners and Closures

Nothing is more aggravating than the main zipper in your jacket failing while out on a ride. In my experience, smaller non-metallic zippers tend to be at greater risk for failing, but that may not apply to all brands and models of zippers.

Where snaps are in use, look for good, heavy duty items. Hook and loop closures are also popular for pocket flaps and in some cases, storm flaps over the main zipper. They can work very well initially but may not hold up too long in hard use.

4. Pockets, Pockets and More Pockets

One of my favorite riding jackets has only two pockets — both internal chest pockets. It is one of my favorite jackets despite its poor pocket design only because it has nearly every other key feature you will see mentioned in this article.

Whenever possible, internal and external pockets galore are worth having, even if they don’t all get used routinely. An example of a riding jacket that meets the pocket criteria very well is the Viking Cycle Ironside jacket, which has a total of eight pockets.

5. Impact Protectors

Removable CE (Certification Europe) approved impact protectors at shoulders, elbows and back turn a jacket from a mere item of clothing to a piece of personal protective equipment. Of course, even if a jacket is fully equipped with impact protectors, there is no guarantee that injury will be prevented in any given incident.

That said, they do represent one more layer of protection with the possibility of reducing injury severity or preventing injuries altogether. Some jackets, such as the Klim Badlands, also include chest protectors, which are a great idea, as well.

6. High Visibility

Bright colors, including fluorescent colors that provide enhanced visibility to other drivers in low light or fog and reflective piping or stripes that shine in headlights after dark can help prevent accidents that result from the other guy failing to see the motorcyclist.

7. Internal or External Storm Flaps

A good storm flap over the jacket’s main zipper either inside or outside the shell can effectively stop cold air from blowing through the jacket’s main zipper. Some external storm flaps may close over the zipper with hook and loop stays, snaps or magnets sown into the material. These are the most effective in sealing out cold air.

A jacket that comes equipped with an excellent example of an internal storm flap along the zipper as well as waterproof but breathable external shell is the Alpinestars Waterproof T-Dyno jacket.

8. Soft Collar

A short stand-up collar that fits closely to seal out wind and not interfere with the edge of a helmet can aid in weather-tightness, but if it is of rough or too-rigid material, it can chafe the rider’s neck and make an otherwise great jacket a pain in the neck to wear—literally. A collar with a little give and topped or lined with soft velour or fleece material can greatly enhance rider comfort.

9. Zip-out Liner

A removable zip-out liner can take a well-ventilated, strictly warm weather jacket and make it suitable for three or even four-season use. A well-insulated full liner, meaning one with sleeves included is the best type for making the cold-weather switch, but a vest-style can also help out a great deal, particularly if the jacket’s sleeves are fairly stout.

It’s hard to find sportier jackets with a full-sleeve liner, but one that sticks out is the AXO Byway, a favorite of our online editor.

10. Knit or Adjustable Cuff Closures

Another way the wind and weather can get inside your jacket is at the end of the sleeves, which by itself can virtually defeat all the other weather-resistant features.

Knit cuffs or cuffs that can be closed by hook and loop tabs, snaps or zippers not only seal the deal around your wrists, they can reduce annoying wind flapping of the jacket, as well.

There are many other features available on modern riding jackets that may suit your needs, so the list of top features can go on and on, but the options today are better than ever.

For more inspiration, check out our coverage and review of motorcycle jackets.