The classic 1970’s television show “Happy Days” prominently featured biker the “Fonz” in his leather jacket. In fact, his jacket is part of the Smithsonian collection in Washington, D.C. Did you know he wasn’t allowed to wear it unless he was on his bike in the first season? The Fonz wore a windbreaker! The iconic black leather motorcycle jacket has earned its rightful place in fashion and biker culture.
Your leather motorcycle jacket is not only a fashion classic but a necessary part of your safety gear. Like your helmet, there’s no reason you can’t look great while riding safely.
Some motorcycle brands are now turning out jackets and other pieces, but many of these branded items are merely for fashion, not safety. They don’t have the technical details that designate them for riding safely. It’s critical that you know what’s important in a leather jacket so you can make sure you are buying something that will keep you safe while riding your motorcycle.
Let’s take a look at just how to choose the right jacket.
Leather Motorcycle Jacket for Safety
In Australia and Europe, a leather motorcycle jacket is subject to specific types of testing for safety. Clothing bearing the CE (Europe) or AS (Australia) mark are tested for abrasion strength, impact resistance, and burst strength. American jackets are not subject to regulation, but you should look for certain characteristics.
A CE2 marked garment can withstand twice as much force as a CE1 item. American garments without marks should be competition weight leather or a minimum of 1.4mm thick. The jacket should have doubled seams to prevent bursting and Kevlar or carbon fiber armor.
Armor should cover back, spine, shoulder, elbow, and forearm. The purpose of armor is to absorb the shock of impact and prevent abrasion injury. Armor should be sewn in and stay in place when worn.
Zippers should be covered. Vents should also have coverage. At no point should skin be exposed to the road.
Solid black might be the classic color for a leather motorcycle jacket, but it is terrible for visibility. Bright color detailing and reflective patches are a better choice.
Vegan Leather Options?
Motorcycle jackets for those who object to leather are made of ballistic nylon fiber, Kevlar or similar synthetics. There is a waxed cotton canvas that is also permissible. These alternatives do not offer the same protection against friction, heat, and abrasion. They also tend to wear out quicker.
Do not confuse these types of leather alternatives for “fake” leather or vinyl. Synthetic leather motorcycle jackets are fashion items only. They aren’t heat or abrasion resistant at all. Fashion biker jackets are not safety gear.
Choose the Right Size
In addition to choosing a leather motorcycle jacket style, you should also select the right size. It’s essential for the safe protection of your delicate skin during an accident. If your jacket is too small, you may restrict your movement on a motorcycle. Too large and the excess fabric is a liability.
Excess fabric can get hung up on the bike or surroundings in case of an accident. For both comfort and safety, choose a leather jacket with no more than an inch or so of room between the jacket and your body. Don’t size up for layers. The jacket should already be sized for an additional quilted or shearling liner.
Leather jackets are different lengths. Mid-waist is the most common and popular length for a leather motorcycle jacket. Too long and the jacket will bunch up in your lap while riding. Too short and you can leave skin exposed. Check your sleeve and shoulder length too.
Armor should fit comfortably and not pinch or dig. There should be no gap at the wrist.
Put the jacket on and move around in it. Wear the normal riding clothing that you will wear under your jacket. If your bike is at the shop, ask to get on your motorcycle while wearing the jacket.
Make sure your selection is comfortable and that the armor stays in place even when you move.
Properly fitted leather feels better with wearing and offers unmatched protection against the elements and accidents.
Choose Quality Leather and Construction
A good quality leather motorcycle jacket is heavy (3.5 oz and upwards), full-grain leather. Full grain leather is made from the whole hide and is strong and supple.
Seeing “genuine leather” stamped on your jacket may sound great, but it’s actually a lower grade of leather. Both top grain and genuine leather products are inferior quality and not as long wearing. Corrected grain or bonded leathers are even worse. These leather grades do not offer the protection that a heavyweight full grain hide will.
Full grain leather may have imperfections and scars due to the animal’s injuries, most manufacturers avoid those hides. Look for minimal panels and pieces.
Each seam, even if triple stitched increases the chance of bursting on impact. Look at the jacket construction. 22-28 stitches to the inch are the minimum you want. Pull on the seams and stitching. If the holes stretch, that indicates a poor quality leather. If the seams give, the stitching or thread quality is poor.
Pull on the zipper. It should be firmly stitched and finished on both ends. Zip the zippers to check for smooth movement and any crooked stitches. A jacket that comes apart at the seams on impact is not a safety device.
Zip the zipper right up to the top. Does it move smoothly and securely? Does it snag on anything? Check the fastenings on the waist zipper, cuffs, and pockets. Is the jacket properly vented? Your jacket should be appropriate in all but the hottest and coldest weather.
No leather is fully waterproof, it is a natural, breathable product. However, many modern products are water resistant. A high-quality piece should last a lifetime and should improve with age.
Choose the Appropriate Style
No, this is not a question for Project Runway. Some leather motorcycle jackets are designed for certain types of bikes. There are racing jackets with curved arms and seams made for riding in the crouched position. These are obviously unsuitable for Harley riders who ride upright.
Check the zipper placement. Most motorcycle jackets have a half or full circumference zipper at the waist meant to zip into riding leathers. Make sure your zippers are compatible. Also, check that the waist falls comfortably where it is supposed to.
The classic “Marlon Brando” type leather motorcycle jacket has been a fashion staple since the late 1920’s but newer models include carbon fiber armor, reflective seam tape, and sleeker fits. Just beware of jackets that seem too cheap to be good. A decent jacket is now a $500+ purchase.
Cold weather riders should look for decent jacket liners. There are shearling, quilted and even heated vests and liners available. They plug into the motorcycle or use D batteries
Plan on Maintaining Your Jacket
As a potential once in a lifetime purchase, your motorcycle jacket requires some care. To retain the suppleness and protective characteristics of your leather you will need to maintain it regularly. Clean your jacket liner frequently. Sweat and dirt can stain your leather prematurely. Most of the time, a damp cloth wipe is all your jacket needs to remove bugs and road dirt.
Regularly wipe your jacket with a damp cloth inside and out using an appropriately diluted soap. Allow your jacket to dry naturally before applying a leather feeding lotion. Work in small sections.
After the lotion is worked in, follow with two applications of leather waterproofing, carefully paying attention to seams and zippers. Buff with a soft cloth. If this is too much maintenance for you, consider your other jacket choices. Some leather finishes and colors are less susceptible to dirt and staining.
Find the Right Jacket For You
The best advice on choosing a leather motorcycle jacket is to take your time and consider your specific safety needs. A jacket can be a lifetime purchase and will not be inexpensive.
Prioritize safety. After all, the primary job of your motorcycle jacket is to get between you and the road in an emergency. Look for the CE or AS mark as assurance you have a jacket meant for riding and not for fashion. Check that the armor covers your back, shoulder, elbow, forearm, and spine.
Leather is still the superior material, but other textiles are available. Just make sure the jacket is meant for riding, not for looks only. Choose only the best quality leather and construction. Leathers can’t protect you if the seams burst on impact.
Consider visibility. While all black is a classic, it is safer to choose something with reflective materials or colors.
Make sure the jacket fits correctly. Don’t be afraid to try it on several times. Check the length, your ability to move around and overall comfort. There should be no gaps that show skin, no bunching or riding up.
Once you find your perfect leather motorcycle jacket, maintain it and you will have it forever.