Having a good jacket is essential when hitting the open road on a motorcycle, not just because you want to look as good as you feel while out and about, but also for comfort and, of course, safety.
Choosing the right jacket is often a process of trial and error, since no two bikers are the same, and what one person considers the height of riding comfort may be considerably less so for another. Still, you must start somewhere.
Leather is, of course, the most associated material with motorcycle wear, but it is not the only option. In this post, we are going to look at the differences between motorcycle mesh jackets and motorcycle textile jackets, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each. So, let us get into it!
Why Not Leather?
Leather is not just the jacket of choice for many motorcyclists because it looks cool, it is also a very rugged material that offers a good deal of protection in the unfortunate event that you have an accident.
So why choose a material other than leather?
Well, as strong as leather is, it is also very heavy, and very warm. The heat factor may be good for those cold winter rides, but it is not ideal when you’re out enjoying the sunshine on warm days, or even days that are a little cool.
Fortunately, many advances have been made in the quality, strength, and thermal properties of your average textile and mesh jacket, so these are far more viable options for the conscientious motorcyclist.
Mesh and Textile: What’s the Difference?
There are several differences between mesh and textile jackets from a practical user standpoint, but from a more fundamental perspective, the mesh is just a textile that is full of holes. Lots and lots of exceedingly small holes, granted, but full of holes.
Ordinarily, you would consider holes in your jacket to be a bad thing, but in this case, they are there for a reason. They make the jacket lighter, and cooler at the expense of some protection, in much the same way that a textile jacket is lighter and cooler than a leather jacket, but again, offers less protection.
In both cases, the jacket will have more than one layer, so wearing a mesh jacket is not like covering yourself in fishnet stockings!
Our bodies are not exactly designed for the way we use them in modern society. Sure, they are a marvel of evolution, resilient and able to survive some remarkably extreme conditions, but they evolved from upright apes running around the plains. In short, clothes were never part of the evolutionary roadmap.
When you are dealing with cold weather, clothes give us an advantage, allowing us to tolerate colder temperatures than we would otherwise be able to, but what about hotter temperatures? It is not exactly acceptable to ride around with no clothes on.
Our body’s primary mechanism for shedding heat is to sweat. The liquid forms on your skin and then evaporates, and with that evaporation, a little of your body heat is taken away.
When you are wearing something like a leather jacket, however, there is nowhere for the sweat to go, and you end with the worst of all worlds-being hot and damp and slowly broiling under your jacket.
Breathable textiles-with mesh being kind of the ultimate in breathable textiles-allows your body to not only cool itself more effectively when you need to sweat, but it also reduces the need for your body to engage those sweat glands, because there will be a constant play of cooling air over your skin, keeping your body from getting too warm in the first place.
Mesh and textile jackets, while typically offering less protection than a leather jacket, are not leaving you completely exposed. In fact, some textile jackets offer almost as much protection as leather jackets.
Mesh jackets do not, of course, but they still have reinforcement in key areas-like the outsides of the arm so that you have some protection in the event of an accident.
Regarding the amount of protection, as you might expect, this has a direct correlation with how cool or heavy the jacket is. It is impossible to get more protection in there without adding to the weight of the jacket.
Motorcycle Textile Jackets
Textile jackets are, for all intents and purposes, a leather jacket alternative. You can find textile jackets with remarkably similar properties to leather jackets when it comes to protection, both from the elements and from impact on accidents.
And, like leather jackets, the extra protection comes at the cost of more weight and less breathability. It is simply a tradeoff that we do not currently have the technology to avoid. Let us look at the pros and cons.
- More Protection – Whether you are talking about protection from heavy downpours or protection from the unforgiving tarmac should you come off your bike, textile motorcycle jackets offer more of it than your average mesh jacket.
- Warmer – They may not be the best in hot weather, but textile jackets offer excellent protection from the cold when the seasons start getting darker.
- Variation – While mesh jackets still have a lot of style and variation to choose from, textile jackets can offer much more variation due to the nature of the materials being used, and the fact that the designers do not have to worry about obstructing that all-important airflow.
- Can be Too Warm – The other side to textile jackets being nice and warm in cold weather is that they often tend to be too warm for nicer weather. And the fact that they are heavier than their mesh counterparts only exacerbates the problem.
- Poor Abrasion Resistance – This is more of a downside when compared to leather jackets rather than mesh jackets, but many of the materials used for textile motorcycle jackets are not the most abrasion-resistant materials, which can cause accelerated wear and tear, especially if you do take a spill.
Motorcycle Mesh Jackets
Mesh jackets are lighter and more breathable, which comes at the cost of protection in all areas. As mentioned above, this tradeoff is essentially unavoidable. Let us look at the pros and cons.
- Comfortable – If the weather is not too cold, mesh jackets are lighter, more comfortable on your body, and keep you cooler than any of the alternatives, save for not wearing a jacket at all. Which we would not recommend for safety reasons.
- Less Obstruction – With the lighter, thinner materials comes the advantage of fewer jackets to feel cumbersome when you are riding. Granted, textile jackets are not exactly overbearing, but the less material you have wrapped around you, the more pleasant your ride tends to be.
- Much Less Protection – From everything. Whether it’s rain, cold, abrasion, or impact, mesh jackets give you less protection against it all. Now, we know you never intend to come off your bike, but if you are planning to ride a little faster than normal, you might want to consider going with something a little more robust.
- Less Variation – One of the problems with mesh is that there is only so much you can do to it without affecting its ability to let air through, which results in a more limited selection when it comes to style. Of course, there are still plenty to choose from, just not nearly as much as textile jackets.
Other Things to Consider
Choosing between mesh and textile jackets is not the be-all and end-all of motorcycle wear. If you factor in everything, you may find that what seemed like the obvious choice at first is not the best option after all.
Color is not just a matter of style and preference; it makes a big difference to how your jacket handles the heat. Darker materials absorb light and heat and get hotter, while lighter materials reflect the heat, staying cooler.
If you are getting too warm in your textile jacket on those hot summer days, but you are not thrilled about having less protection, you might find that a light textile jacket will be more than enough to keep you cool.
The heavier the jacket, the more difficult it will be to wear and the warmer it will be on you. Simply switching to a lighter (lighter weight, not color) jacket may be enough to cool you down.
If you came to this post looking for a clear answer to which of these jacket styles is best, unfortunately, we cannot help, because there is no single universal answer to that question.
As with many things in life, the best option for you is dependent on your personal preferences, circumstances, and when you intend to use the jacket.
If you are in a particularly cold and wet part of the world and often find yourself riding in the rain, a mesh jacket is not going to be the jacket for you. It is all about factoring in the pros and cons of each and deciding which suits your situation the best.
About the author: Michael Parrotte was the Vice President of AGV Helmets America, and a consultant for KBC Helmets, Vemar Helmets, Suomy Helmets, Marushin Helmets, KYT Helmets, Sparx Helmets. In addition, he is the founder and owner of AGV Sports Group.