Alternatives To Leather Motorcycle Jackets

Whether you are a beginner or experienced rider, motorcycle jacket selection is critical for optimizing both safety and comfort. There are multiple variables involved in this decision, and riders must decide what is most important to them and what they are willing to sacrifice.

When I started my motorcycle riding journey, I was so excited about the prospect of experiencing the open road that my gear was an afterthought at best. My first ride in jeans and a hoodie was exhilarating but also opened my eyes to how vulnerable I was in the instance of an accident.

I started with a leather jacket with questionable fitment and limited breathability. This left me searching for a quality alternative that provided both protection and maneuverability.

As an alternative to a leather riding jacket, a quality textile jacket combined with accessory armor and proper clothing layers proved to be the best option. Under extreme circumstances with regulations like track riding, a leather jacket combined with pants is required.

How To Select The Correct Motorcycle Jacket

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to riding gear. Riders experience a variety of weather conditions and risk factors. Some would rather maximize safety in exchange for comfort and others are all about looks.

With some exceptions, most riders will experience hot and cold, wet and dry, and casual and competitive riding scenarios.

When considering which path to take, the price is near the top of most riders’ lists. If money is not a factor, I would argue getting multiple jackets would best serve you to have the ideal option under varying conditions.

If you are like most folks trying to efficiently fund your motorcycling journey, there are some variables to consider when shopping.

What Are The Alternatives To Leather Riding Jackets

Let’s go through a few options since you have decided leather is not for you.

  1. Cotton
    • This would be your standard hoodie or even just a t-shirt. Please do not wear a cotton article of clothing on your torso when operating a motorcycle. During a crash, the material will last a millisecond before vaporizing and provide zero protection.
  2. Jean
    • Hardly a step up from cotton. This will last two milliseconds before the asphalt starts eating away at your skin.
  3. Textile
    • By itself, textile material will wear through quickly in the instance of a low-side sliding crash. However, in combination with reinforcement panels, double stitching, and armor, your chances of injury decrease dramatically.
  4. Kevlar
    • Super strong material that is arguably a step up from leather in terms of protection. High abrasion resistance, however, very limited flexibility and mobility which may hinder rider maneuverability.

Do Leather Jacket Alternatives Compromise Safety

One may ask at this point if a non-leather jacket would create a safety concern.

Modern jacket technology has evolved strategically to provide protection and comfort in one package by means of reinforced stitching, thicker material in typical crash zones, and pockets for add-on armor.

While it cannot be questioned that textile material wears through faster than leather when sliding against the pavement, certain features allow for added safety in a more flexible garment.

When a rider goes down, certain areas are much more exposed and in different ways. For instance, the elbow and shoulder areas are very vulnerable when sliding in a low-side crash. As a result, jackets may have reinforced stitching and stronger materials in those specific spots which allow for mobility.

Other areas like the chest and back are more exposed to impact damage rather than abrasion. This is important to understand because instead of reinforcing those areas with stitching, the better option is to use armor.

Many textile jackets have pockets that allow for accessory armor to be installed and stay in place while riding. This also ensures proper fitment to keep the rider in a good position while providing added protection.

How Should A Motorcycle Jacket Fit

Fitment is a critical component of both safety and comfort on a motorcycle. Regardless of material, poor fit will result in poor function.

Below is a list of parameters that identify a jacket that fits properly:

  • Sleeves that end mid-palm with arms fully extended
  • Sleeves should cover the wrist when fully extended
  • Shoulders should not extend beyond the outside of your arms
  • The bottom of the jacket should not ride up above your waist
  • No baggy or loose material anywhere

Ideally, your jacket will have adjustment straps around the waist and arms to allow for tightening or loosening if wearing more or fewer layers underneath the jacket. It is vital that the chest measurement is proper as most jackets don’t have an adjustment in this area.

These are indicators of a loose jacket:

  • Loose material especially in the chest and midsection
  • Arms extending down to your fingers
  • Elbow armor moves around excessively
  • Bottom of the jacket far below belt line

A loose jacket presents two main dangers. Loose material will flap around violently in the wind and be very distracting. Also, with a loose jacket, the protective armor will flop around and in the instance of a crash likely not be in the correct position.

These are indicators of a tight jacket:

  • Cannot comfortably cross arms across your chest
  • Sleeves ride up above your wrists
  • Bottom of the jacket rides above the waistline
  • Cannot potentially fit layers under the jacket

A tight jacket will not allow for proper flexibility and prove to be dangerous. If it gets cold and you want to add a layer, the jacket should be able to support the added thickness. This is where some adjustability comes into play to be able to loosen certain spots while remaining tight in others.

Cons Of The Traditional Leather Motorcycle Jacket

Most riders would agree that the limitations of a leather jacket include but are not limited to poor flexibility, temperature control, and convenience.

The ability to effectively maneuver on a motorcycle is a critical skill for all riders, but especially for beginners trying to stay off the ground. A stiff leather jacket works against a rider when trying to move quickly and precisely.

Leather does break in over time and allow for better freedom of movement, but never quite gets to the point of full mobility due to the bulky nature of the material. Cowhide is a common option in the industry as it is readily available and relatively cheap. However, it is a very thick material which results in binding when trying to move.

Anyone who has been on a motorcycle on a hot day in a leather jacket understands how uncomfortable this can get. There is no relief outside of unzipping and opening the jacket up which deems it virtually useless anyway.

Some leather jackets come equipped with removable liners designed to allow for flexibility in varying weather conditions. While this is a good idea on paper, you can’t remove the leather from a leather jacket and when the sun is baking you while you sit in traffic you’re going to wish you could.

A leather jacket is very bulky and allows for limited options once you are off the motorcycle. If you are riding somewhere and want to take the jacket off, you can’t pack it into a backpack or carry it comfortably.

Wearing a leather riding jacket is not practical for many destinations you may want to ride to which can be very inconvenient. Some riders may opt for locking their jacket to their bike using a cable, but this leaves you vulnerable to potential vandalism or sudden shifts in the weather.

This leads me to my final point of lack of waterproofing. Most jackets under $1000 aren’t going to be waterproof which limits most all-season riders who don’t want to ruin their jacket. The rain will leave spots on the jacket and leak through to your base layer leaving you uncomfortable.

Waterproofing a jacket can prove to be tedious and expensive. It is a process that must be kept up with regularly if you don’t want the effectiveness to wane.

Benefits Of A Leather Riding Jacket

This article isn’t all hate for leather riding jackets. I personally own several leather motorcycle jackets and find great utility in them under the right circumstances.

The biggest upside to a leather jacket presents itself in the instance of a crash. Leather can withstand high levels of abrasion when sliding against the asphalt compared to thinner textile material.

When riding in a race-oriented scenario like a track day, a leather riding suit is required to participate. Whether you opt for a two-piece or full suit variety, leather is mandated on a track because of its resistance to abrasion when a crash inevitably occurs.

Safety trumps comfort in a setting where crashing is spoken of as an event that will happen, not if it will happen.

Leather can also be repaired in the instance of a crash. This can be done through a patch or additional reinforcement in an area that was compromised. Repairing and reusing a crashed leather jacket saves money compared to replacement.

Which Motorcycle Option Is Best For You

Take the information above and process it to make the best choice for your situation. I personally have an armored textile jacket with a waterproof shell and a leather jacket. This accounts for all riding circumstances I might encounter.

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