Every motorcycle rider should own five pieces of riding kit: a helmet, a jacket, boots, gloves, and riding trousers. Each one of these items plays a crucial role to keep you safe when you’re on the bike.
A motorcycle jacket is so much more than just a heavy-duty jacket or a fashion statement. Its purpose is to protect a huge portion of your body in an accident, from both the impact and the abrasion of a slide.
With that said, choosing a jacket isn’t easy. There are just too many different types, styles, materials, and features to choose from.
To keep you focused on what will truly enhance your motorcycle riding experience, we have put together this ultimate motorcycle jacket buying guide.
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As the jacket’s main purpose is to protect you, you should always prioritise safety above anything else. It protects you in two different ways: against impact and against abrasion. Several factors contribute to how a motorcycle jacket will perform in these two areas.
To get an idea of how protective a motorcycle jacket is, start by looking at its CE rating. Motorcycle jackets are considered personal protective equipment by the European Union, so they must meet the EN 17092:2020 standard (this still applies post-Brexit).
Jackets are given a CE rating that is built from a series of letters: C, B, A, AA, AAA. C is the worst and AAA the best, the higher the rating the more protective the garment.
Generally, you should always look for jackets with A, AA, or AAA ratings.
- A: Jackets with A-grade certification are most suitable for urban riding. They are usually lighter and have less bulk.
- AA: Jackets graded AA have been tested more extensively for typical riding encounters. CE AA-graded jackets are for everyday riders who face a wide variety of roads and conditions.
- AAA: This is the highest grade. All the key impact areas must be covered by appropriate armour. Clothing with AAA certification is ideal for sports riding, where high-speed impacts are more likely.
Motorcycle jackets will always have the CE rating on the label, or sometimes adhered to the jacket under any liners inside the jacket. Usually, you will also find this information on any advertisements or spec information when shopping online.
On top of the jacket’s overall CE rating, you also have a CE rating for the armour it is equipped with.
Pick a jacket with a CE rating that is best suited to your needs. If you’re a track-day enthusiast, an AAA-rated leather jacket is the way forward. Alternatively, if you’re an everyday rider in all weather, then an AA-rated textile jacket will suit your needs just fine.
Motorcycle armour has a CE rating of either Level 1 or Level 2.
CE Level 1 applies to armour that transmits a maximum force of 18kN in an impact and CE Level 2 armour only allows transmission of a maximum force of 9kN. CE Level 2 is, therefore, the most protective option.
However, you need to keep an eye out for the wording on the CE label:
- CE-tested armour means the manufacturer has tested the armour in-house to CE standards and states it meets or exceeds the requirements.
- CE-certified armour means a sample of the armour was tested in a CE testing facility.
- CE-approved armour means that most or all of the product’s parts were tested in a certified facility and achieved CE accreditation.
Any impact on a motorcycle, even at slow speeds, can be traumatic for the body, resulting in serious injury. A good jacket should be equipped with high-quality, protective armour and padding to keep you safe in an impact.
Look for armour at the elbows, shoulders, and back — at a minimum. Some motorcycle jackets even offer chest protection. As a general rule, the more armour, the better, but this does often come at increased cost.
Motorcycle armour is constructed from various materials, including memory foam, silicone, plastic, and viscoelastic, or a combination of all three.
D30, a polymer-type substance, is one of the most popular choices for motorcycle armour. It moulds to the body as it heats up, staying soft and supple as you ride, but on impact it hardens up to absorb the energy. I have D30 armour in all my riding gear because it is the least invasive while still being high-performance.
You’ll often find soft armour on the inside and hard armour on the exterior of the jacket, particularly with sports jackets, which can have internal soft memory-foam pads and external TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) armour for added durability in a slide.
Unfortunately, I see many jackets without a back protector or equipped with just a simple foam pad, which does little more than keep the shape of the jacket.
Be sure the jacket is equipped with actual protective armour, and, if it’s not, make sure you pick up a quality back protector at the same time you buy the jacket.
You can also usually upgrade the armour in your jacket to a higher CE level so you can improve the protection you get out of your jacket.
For everything you need to know about body armour in more detail check out our Body Armour Guide.
Material and Abrasion Resistance
While you can usually upgrade your jacket’s protective armour to improve how good it performs in an impact, the material of the jacket cannot be changed, and that is mostly what determines how good it is at protecting you from abrasion.
One of the biggest recent debates has been whether leather or textile offers the best protection, specifically in relation to abrasion resistance. The debate is about more than just how protective a jacket is, but also how practical it is to meet your needs and riding style.
Leather has long been considered the most protective material for a motorcycle jacket, extremely durable and protective. Only leather can be worn on the track for this reason. You will not see a professional racer in a textile two-piece.
Read more: Best Leather Jackets
However, leather has its downsides. It’s heavy, not waterproof, often uncomfortable, and hot in the summer.
Meanwhile, textile jackets — Cordura, for example — are now of extremely high quality, considered to be very durable, if not more durable than some leather options, and have the benefit of being more versatile.
As a result, there’s been a surge in Cordura-type jackets, as well as jackets lined with Aramid fibres and Kevlar, and even traditional flannel shirts are now considered to be usable as a riding jacket.
Featuring various layers, textile jackets can be built for winter, summer, or all-year riding. They can be waterproof or have mesh inserts for maximum ventilation. They are also usually more adjustable.
Read more: Best Textile Jackets
The difference between leather jackets and textile jackets has slowly begun to shrink as manufacturers are putting the same features typically found in a textile jacket into a leather one, such as removable waterproof/thermal liners.
The truth is there are pros and cons to both materials and it will come down to personal choice, but from a protection perspective, just pick a durable jacket that will serve it’s main true purpose — to protect you.
Be sure to look for double/triple stitching and reinforced areas at the impact zones, and make sure any stretch/mesh panels are correctly stitched so there is no weak area. All these things will help make sure you buy a durable jacket regardless of material.
Aside from the impact protection and jacket material, some motorcycle jackets have elevated their protective abilities even further. You can now find jackets equipped with airbags that deploy in an accident to create an even better level of impact protection.
Some airbags come equipped with specific jackets and others are bought separately for a selection of jackets from a manufacturer. You can also get airbag vests, which are built to work with most regular riding jackets.
Read more: Best Airbag Jackets
Without getting too technical, there are several types of airbag system. Some clip on to the bike, and if you get removed from the bike in a crash, a sensor goes off and they instantly deploy. Others use AI to sense your body position, speed, etc., then deploy.
An airbag jacket or airbag system does not come cheap, but it is the latest and most technologically advanced system currently available for motorcycle riders to protect their chest, shoulders, and back.
Types and Styles of Motorcycle Jackets
Now that you know what to look for in terms of protection, the next step is to look at the types of motorcycle jacket available, but brace yourself — there are quite a few!
The good news is that the wide array of jackets means there is one for every purpose and some that serve like a multi-tool — one jacket for every need.
The main types of motorcycle jackets include:
- Summer: Lightweight, ventilated, textile and leather options (read more: Best Summer Jackets)
- Mesh: A summer jacket with large textile mesh panels for maximum ventilation (read more: Best Mesh Jackets)
- Winter: Heavyweight, textile, or leather, with a thermal liner and/or waterproof liner
- Waterproof: Can be lightweight or heavyweight, but equipped with a waterproof liner which can be removable (read more: Best Waterproof Jackets)
- Four season: The most versatile option, usually textile, ventilated with thermal and waterproof liners
- Women’s: Available in all the same types and styles but with a female cut (read more: Best Women’s Jackets)
Some basic questions will help you figure out what you need out of a jacket and what type to go for:
- What is your style of riding? Sports? Commuting? Cruising?
- Consider the main climate you will be riding in. Are the summers super hot? Do you ride all year, including in the rain?
- Do you need lots of storage for your everyday items?
Once you have narrowed down the type of jacket, you can start to look at styles, which include sports, track, adventure, touring, and casual motorcycle jackets.
Sports jackets come in both leather and textile, but track jackets are only produced in leather.
Sports jackets can be equipped with thermal and/or waterproof liners for the winter or be stripped back with mesh panelling for the summer. Track jackets at best will have some perforation in the leather for ventilation.
A sports/track jacket tends to be the most protective style of jacket. They’re built with high-speed riding in mind, so they will have the most armour or pockets to accommodate it.
Track-focused jackets step things up slightly. They will usually be equipped with CE Level 2 armour, a connection zip for matching trousers to form a two-piece, and, occasionally, they have a speed hump for improved aerodynamics.
The Alpinestars Missile V2 is an example of a AAA-rated sports jacket ready for the streets or the track.
- Quality construction and materials
- Usually equipped with CE-rated armour
- External armour, such as shoulder protectors
- Pretty good airflow on track jackets
- Short-cut can leave lower back exposed
- Lack of storage pockets
- Expensive, especially track-orientated jackets
Adventure jackets and touring jackets share many of the same features. They tend to be long textile jackets with multiple pockets, waterproofing, removable thermal liners, and lots of ventilation.
These jackets make up most of the four-season jackets since they are versatile for all weather and riding situations.
The Klim Badlands A3 Jacket is another AAA-rated jacket but in an adventure/touring style. It’s a phenomenal product with all the features expected in a premium touring jacket and much more.
Adventure/touring jackets are usually well-equipped on the armour front, too, since riding in all weather, but especially the wet, poses its own risks.
- Suitable all-year jackets
- Practical storage with plenty of pockets
- Long-length jackets for maximum coverage
- Fitted with quality CE armour
- Quite bulky with lots of layers
- Mostly textile jackets
- Can lack style
Casual jackets come in both leather and textile and include armoured hoodies and riding shirts. Usually prioritising style, casual motorcycle jackets can fit into the cafe racer vibe or look awesome on a roaring V-twin cruiser. Think of these as the traditional-style leather jackets of the 70s and 80s.
Today, riding shirts and hoodies are also common. They are usually lined with something like Kevlar and good ones will have armour. However, comfort and manoeuvrability will be the overriding features of shirts and hoodies.
Remember, even if you’re after the perfect leather Marlon Brando-style jacket, you can always upgrade the armour to get better impact protection! What you can’t do is improve the construction or material, so be sure to choose a well-built, durable jacket regardless of the style.
- Comfortable on and off the bike
- Lighter weight than most leather and textile jackets
- Leather ones can be hot due to lack of ventilation
- Hoodies and shirts are arguably less protective than jackets
- Often not the most practical option, i.e., lack of pockets, features
Comfort and Fit
A comfortable, well-fitting jacket is key to it meeting your needs and lasting a long time. There are a few simple things you can check to make sure you get the right fit:
- Make sure that when you’re in the riding position, the jacket provides full coverage. Be sure the sleeves cover your arms all the way to your gloves and the jacket covers your back.
- Make sure the armour sits in the right place on your shoulders and elbows and the back protector is seated properly.
- Ignore what the size says on the label. Motorcycle clothing is not very accurate when it comes to sizing, so be sure to base your choice on what fits properly.
In terms of comfort, there are some key things to note:
- Leather jackets usually need a breaking-in period; they can take a while to soften up and get comfortable.
- Look for neoprene collars and wrist cuffs for added comfort on the neck and wrists.
- If airflow is a priority, look for intake and exhaust vents so cool air can come in and hot air can go out.
- Some thermal liners only cover the trunk of the body as a vest, whereas others are fully sleeved. So, if warmth is important, make sure the liner is full-length.
A jacket’s features can aid a rider’s comfort significantly. The main features people look for in a motorcycle jacket include waterproofing, ventilation, pockets, and layers.
Some waterproof motorcycle jackets come with removable waterproof liners, which may keep you dry but will also allow water into the jacket and soak the external layer, making your jacket heavier in the rain.
Others have a waterproof membrane laminated to the outer shell of the jacket. The result is that the water doesn’t penetrate the jacket, instead rolling off.
We back Gore-Tex as the best material for waterproofing because it keeps you dry while allowing you to breathe.
Read more: Best Gore-Tex Jackets
The absolute best option for a waterproof jacket is one with a Gore-Tex laminated shell, such as the Klim Carlsbad Jacket.
The various types of airflow ventilation in motorcycle jackets includes zippered vents at strategic places like the chest and arms, with or without rear exhaust vents. Ventilation can also come in the form of mesh panels inserted into the jacket, usually found in summer jackets.
Mesh jackets are a type of textile jacket that are mostly made of mesh panels formed from tough Cordura-type fabrics. These make excellent summer riding jackets. You can stay protected with armour and abrasion resistance but also stay cool.
Leather jackets tend to be perforated, which is how they let air in and out to cool you down. The perforation is better than nothing but not as effective as the mesh panels or vents found in textile jackets.
Pockets are essential for storing your everyday carry items. Sports jackets tend to have the least storage and adventure jackets tend to have the most.
If you carry a lot of stuff, then an adventure/touring jacket is your best bet so you can carry your stuff without bulking out your jacket. Some jackets have an extra cargo pocket in the rear for carrying items like maps.
As we’ve mentioned, some jackets come with removable liners, including waterproof and thermal liners. These can bulk out a jacket but equally provide a level of functionality that you might appreciate. It all depends on the weather you ride in.
Motorcycle jackets are available to suit a wide range of budgets, and prices vary widely based on the brand name and features of the jacket.
At the lower end of the budget, you will usually find uncertified armour, foam pads in place of an actual back protector, and cheaper materials. At the top end you will find the best quality materials, high-end armour, and available upgrades, like an airbag system.
Without a doubt, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a protective motorcycle jacket, but you might sacrifice a certain feature or style to save money.
I have an expensive sports-riding jacket for track days, but I also have my mid-range everyday riding jacket that sees me through the rest of the time. Having more than one jacket also helps them last longer.
The chances are, like me, you’ll end up with more than one jacket, and given they’re available at all budgets for all styles, it isn’t the end of the world!