Leather Motorcycle Jackets: the Best Protection a Rider Can Get

Leather motorcycle jackets are a very different, er, animal from your typical leather bomber jacket that’s just made to look good.

Top-grain leather is made from the outer portion of the hide (the one with the hair) and is the highest quality and most durable cut of leather. It's the leather used for real leather motorcycle jackets and should be at least 1 mm thick cow hide). They will have double thickness panels in abrasion areas such as the elbows, shoulder, kidneys, etc.

Leather motorcycle jackets have the advantage in certain areas. Well, I like leather better than fabric or textile jackets. It’s the classic material for motorcycle jackets, first of all. There’s some sort of historical connection there. Nothing's cooler (in the fashion sense), that’s for sure. Heat retention is an area where leather could be left wanting. Unless you have a jacket that is made from perforated leather, which lets the air flow through it, while offering the protection of, well, leather.

What’s so good about it? Leather is just tough. Sure, some synthetic fibers like Kevlar offer good abrasion resistance, give me some leather any day. Of course the object is that in a crash, the leather will wear away before your skin does.

If it’s not a full-on rainstorm, leather can be surprisingly moisture resistant.

Leather cuts the wind in cooler weather, so it keeps you from feeling the full extent of the wind chill as you ride.

What about hot weather? Leather, especially black leather motorcycle jackets, can be quite hot in the summertime. There are models that are tolerable during hot weather, however. Some jackets have perforated leather panels that allow the air to circulate through the front of the jacket as you ride.

Believe it or not, a jacket made out of competition weight leather can be made reasonably comfortable for a summer ride. But only if it moves air in the front of the jacket, past your skin and out the back. Some jackets have zip-down vents on the front and the rear of the jacket. This allows airflow between the leather shell and the inner liner, and that equals cooling. My personal jacket goes a step further since the front panel is made from perforated leather (it has a bunch of little holes in it) and the liner has zip-down panels on the inside that lets the air flow in the front and rear zippered vents let the air out the back.

Removable thermal liners or vests are available for many leather jackets for when the mercury goes south.

Top 10 Tips For Buying Your Next Leather Motorcycle Jacket:

1. For the best abrasion resistance, make sure your jacket is made from some form of “top grain” leather. This is the thickest and most abrasion resistant cut of leather you can get. Top grain leather can also be referred to as “competition weight” or “race quality” leather. Terms like “split grain” are lesser cuts of leather as far as we're concerned.

2. Following from #1, the top grain leather should be at least 1 mm thick, preferably 1.2-1.4 mm thick in order to provide the best abrasion protection. The possible exception is with Kangaroo leather (read: expensive), which has superior abrasion resistance even among leathers, and is typically about 0.8 mm thick. But, if you're in the market for a leather motorcycle jacket or full leathers made from it, you probably already know this and get your leathers for free.

3. For impact protection, consider a leather motorcycle jacket with armor in the shoulders, elbows and back/spine areas. CE and so-called “GP” (as in Grand Prix) or “race” armor give the most protection, but tends to be stiffer than foam armor pads (street armor).

4. Removable armor is preferable to sewn-in armor. You can adjust it better and replace it if something better comes along after a while.

5. Cheap motorcycle jackets, especially leather ones, is not the way to go. Top grain leather is the most expensive cut, so you should expect to pay a good buck to protect yourself.

6. Having said that, you don't need to go bankrupt to be protected. Sometimes paying more just for a brand name doesn't make sense. Do some research and learn what brands have been around and where their product is made. Good brands have good reputations among pro and amateur riders and racers.

7. Look for the features you need for where and how you ride. For hot days, front and rear vents are essential, if not perforated leather chest panels. For cooler days, some jackets have insulated vests and liners that attach inside. This can make your jacket suitable for year-round (or 3-season) riding instead of requiring separate jackets for hot and cool weather.

8. The jacket should conform to your body in the riding position of your bike. It may feel a bit strange when you're just walking around, but most good motorcycle jackets have arms that are “pre-bent” for the position you will be in while riding. This is more exaggerated on sport riding jackets than ones made for cruiser riders.

9. Stretch panels can make a jacket more comfortable by letting the jacket move with you rather than constraining you like a straight jacket.

10. Zippers and pockets. Zippers should be of high quality (read: strong metal teeth and slide) and the pockets should be where you need them, which depends on what kind of riding you do and the style of jacket.

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