Leather is often widely recommended for motorcycle clothing, and its cost reflects this. When it comes to motorcycle jackets, however, there is a rule of thumb to follow: the thicker the jacket, the better.
A decent motorcycle jacket will employ leather that is thicker than 1mm, with 1.2-1.4mm being the sweet spot. You want a jacket that fits like a glove – not a shoe – for balanced safety and flexibility.
But how does leather compare to other viable materials, including textile and cotton? Here is a detailed comparison table:
Now, let’s take a deeper look at these 3 main categories of Best Material for Motorcycle Jacket
The leather matures like excellent wine over time and with adequate care since it’s made entirely of natural materials rather than synthetics. A leather jacket is a stylish and versatile item that will learn and adapt to your movements and lifestyle, coming to life when you need it the most.
Discerning enthusiasts seeking an all-around exceptional performance motorcycle jacket that also doubles as a day-to-day fashion piece choose leather. It’s thin enough to move around in but guarantees road protection and durability.
What leather isn’t good for is hot and humid conditions, which cause all-natural materials, leather no exemption, to deteriorate. Yes, leather is water-resistant but that isn’t the same thing as waterproof! If anything, beyond a certain wetness level, leather builds up an appetite for the water and soaks in so much of it that it whither when drying, becoming bone dry and losing the supple texture that makes it desirable. It may begin to crack.
Of course, there are products that can maintain leather even with exposure to water. For instance, you can waterproof leather with commercial sprays or natural beeswax creams – and it’s very effective too. But if you’re buying for a mostly wet and humid climate, then you don’t want to ride around in it as it’s one of the least breathable materials on the catalog.
Leather is sensitive to extreme weather changes and can feel much warmer or rather chilly compared to actual riding conditions. So, again, if you’re looking for an all-weather motorcycle jacket, the leather may be tempting for style, but it might not be appropriate depending on where you live.
Needless to say, not all leather is created equal. Look away, Vegans!
Types of Leather
In general, skins from cows, bison, deer, goats, lambs, and calves are the most regularly utilized in leather clothing. But cowhide, kangaroo, and goatskin are common in the motorcycle industry.
Let’s look at some of the distinctions between the three most prevalent types of leather to properly appreciate why you would pick one over the others.
- Cowhide: Cowhide is the most popular type of leather used in motorcycle jackets – and just about every protective riding gear. It has a little performance drop, but it’s easily accessible and gives a fantastic “value for money” as compared to other types.
- Kangaroo: Kangaroo leather, often known as k-leather, is slimmer and weighs less than cowhide while yet exhibiting exceptional abrasion resistance. Kangaroo leather can be split in the same way as cowhide can – but the former retains more strength than the latter – the reason it’s utilized for MotoGP racing.
- Goat: Goatskin is extremely durable, soft, and delivers a wonderful tactile sensation to riders. The suppleness is thanks to the presence of lanolin in the goatskin leather. Lanolin is an oily or waxy material released by the sebaceous glands of wool-producing animals, which is supposedly present in goats but not as much in cows or kangaroos.
Grades of Leather
Of course, leather is more than its source animal. The quality of the leather and how it’s handled during the production process have a direct impact on its abrasion resistance, hand (how it feels on the skin and to wear), and overall durability.
Motorcycle gear brands have their own procedures for preparing and producing leathers to improve or modify the material. For example, the AGVSPORT’s Ascari Jacket is 1.3-1.4mm full-grain cowhide leather that also utilizes various resins and silicon waxes to improve the technical features of the leather itself.
It also aids in understanding the many sorts of leather created when natural hides are treated. The options are numerous – rectified or embossed grain, nubuck suede grain, suede – but we’ll focus on the following most popular grades.
- Full-Grain Leather: Full-grain leather is the strongest and most breathable leather. Because the full-grain remains intact, it has increased resilience and lifespan. As a result, it’s the most valuable and sought after, despite the fact that it may contain flaws and faults. Over time, it will develop a natural patina.
- Top-Grain Leather: This leather is thinner, less resilient, and less breathable than full-grain leather since it’s sanded and treated to eliminate any defects. The treatment gives the leather a uniform appearance and feel.
- Split Leather: The cheapest alternative, split leather is manufactured from the fibrous section of the skin. It’s fantastic for fashion but nearly worthless for falls – motorcycle riders should avoid it. When it comes to motorcycle gear, we’re more concerned about safety and durability.
The word “textile” is absolutely loaded – all kinds of synthetic fibers get lumped into this category.
Generally, textiles are less costly than leathers. They’re also less difficult to maintain, as many of them can be machine washed. In terms of breathability, waterproofing, weight, and drying time, textile gear trumps leather. The Stretch of the materials makes them quite flexible and comfortable – but this is a personal taste as they’re seen as less attractive than leather.
In practicality, textile jackets appear to surpass their leather counterparts, and they’re less expensive, but what gives? Textile gives way! As in, after a few seconds of slipping, it gives way. Leather jackets look cooler, wear better over time, and outperform textile when it comes to durability and abrasion resistance.
Luckily, we can do a lot better now with textile to virtually match the abrasion resistance of competitive leathers. But exactly how is this achieved? We find out below:
The Best Protective Motorcycle Jacket Fabrics
Top protective riding gear companies incorporate a variety of fabrics when creating their jackets. This makes the garments appear to be made of leather or textile fabrics, giving them an iconic look. However, the end result is more than just a jacket– it’s tough, military-grade, abrasion- and tear-resistant gear that will keep you safe even if you end up taking a fall.
The best approach to improving the strength properties of textile – and other wide range of fabrics, including cotton – is to blend it with the high-tenacity synthetic fibers: Kevlar, Dyneema, Cordura, and Keprotec (a combination of Kevlar and Cordura).
Cordura was initially designed for tactical military gear but, today, it’s used in everything and anything from trousers to motorcycle jackets. The fabric is produced by Invista, Inc. with qualifying nylon 6,6 fibers but can be a blend of nylon with cotton or other natural fibers.
The fiber technology (molecular composition) allows Cordura to cost and weigh less than the heavyweight Kevlar, offering amazing durability and abrasion resistance.
Cordura is the first choice for reinforcements of waterproof garments. It’s 100% waterproof, non-porous, and water beads up and rolls off. Invista, Inc grades this versatile fabric in several classes of which the most common are 500D and 1000D. Choose the heavier gauge for more protection.
Kevlar – an example of aromatic polyamide, or aramid, for short – is described as being, “five times stronger than steel (weight for weight basis).” It’s an incredibly durable and strong material that is widely used to protect against impact and penetration thanks to a strong, circular molecular construction that connects together to form long chains. It’s this molecular-level strength that gives Kevlar the durability that it’s famous for.
Dyneema (UHMWPE) is the world’s strongest fiber. You’ve probably heard of it, as it has a tensile strength 15 times that of steel and is up to 40% stronger than Kevlar and Cordura on an equal weight basis while being flexible enough to be woven into a variety of fabrics.
Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) is a kind of polyethylene with a very high molecular weight and modulus (resistance against deformation, UV, and chemicals). It’s one of the newest “space-age” materials on the market.
As well as its exceptional strength, Dyneema excels in cut and abrasion resistance and is light – so light that it floats on water. It’s also breathable and doesn’t absorb moisture the way Kevlar does. Kevlar tends to absorb 3.5% of its own weight in water while Dyneema absorbs no water. Furthermore, it’s available in a wide range of thicknesses (titers), from 50 to 6,600 Dtex.
Keprotec is an extremely protective material, created originally for motorcycle racing. Schoeller has developed special Keprotec production processes, such as special weaving techniques and core-spun aramid yarns, to ensure long-lasting protective properties. Keprotec is composed of 86% polyamide (Cordura), 8% aramid (Kevlar), and 6% polyurethane.
This results in a fabric that meets the most stringent requirements: abrasion-, tear-, wind-, and temperature-resistant. The fibrous structure is also waterproof while allowing for maximum breathability and a high level of wearing comfort. The AGVSPORT Torino Leather Jacket features Schoeller Keprotec® stretch panels for a comfortable fit.
What About Mesh?
Mesh comes in a variety of variations (polyester mesh & nylon mesh), but generally, this synthetic fiber is distinguished by its lightweight heaviness and porous texture. Unlike other fibers, which have tightly woven textures, the mesh is woven loosely, resulting in hundreds of small holes in each mesh garment.
For instance, The AGVSPORT’S Flex Tex and Imola jackets have a full moisture-wicking 100% polyester mesh lining to maintain its flexibility and ventilation while keeping you dry for the most comfortable ride.
Normally, holes in your jacket would be considered a bad thing, but in this case, they serve a purpose. They make the gear lighter and cooler at the sacrifice of some protection, much like a textile jacket is lighter and cooler than a leather jacket but provides less protection.
Because mesh-reinforced jackets will have more than one layer in both circumstances, wearing the garments is not the same as covering oneself in fishnet stockings! A mesh-reinforced jacket, while less protective than an aramid-reinforced jacket, doesn’t leave you fully exposed.
In fact, some mesh motorcycle textile jackets provide almost the same level of protection as leather jackets.
The level of protection, as you might guess, is directly proportional to how chilly or heavy the jacket is. More protection can’t be added without increasing the weight of the attire.
Types of Textiles
The list of textiles that we’ll discuss for motorcycle jacket application is best blended in this way as no material is 100% effective on its own. They include;
Nylon is created by pressing molten nylon (a silk-like polymer made from petroleum products) through extremely small pores in a spinneret. When nylon streams come into contact with air, they solidify into filament. After that, they are threaded onto bobbins. And after cooling, these fibers are pulled and stretched.
Usually, further treatment is applied to give it a distinct texture or bulk. Because polyurethane is beneficial for locking threads into place, most nylons are partly coated with it. However, it can impair ventilation, lengthen drying time, and – perhaps – burn into your skin following a crash.
High-quality clothing should have a modest polyurethane (usually less than 20%) coating.
Nylon is a flexible material that has high abrasion resistance and can withstand high temperatures. On the other hand, it lacks dimensional stability and isn’t completely waterproof until it’s covered with Gore-Tex or Aero-Tex. The former is a water-resistant membrane.
It’s lightweight and breathable while being watertight. As a result, Gore-Tex is widely sought after for all-weather usage. The latter is a membrane that is both waterproof and breathable. Even down to the name, it’s essentially a knockoff of Gore-Tex.
Polyester is an artificial fiber made from coal, air, water, and petroleum. Polyester fibers are created through the chemical reaction of acid and alcohol. In this reaction, two or more molecules combine to form a large molecule with a repeating structure along its length.
It’s stain-resistant, retains its shape, and doesn’t wrinkle. Polyester can be washed in a washing machine with either cold or warm water, and it can also be dried in a washing machine. On the other hand, it doesn’t absorb dyes, doesn’t feel as soft as cotton, and is highly shrinkable.
It’s composed of polyurethane, a long-chain polymer created by reacting a polyester with a diisocyanate. Using a dry spinning technique, the polymer is converted into fiber.
Spandex is a light and comfortable material to wear, is perspiration resistant, has high elasticity, and is both durable and strong. Warm water can be used to hand or machine wash spandex jackets – tumble dry on a low heat setting.
However, without the proper treatment and combination, this synthetic fiber sticks to your body, makes it difficult for your skin to breathe and is heat sensitive.
Number three is cotton. Cotton is a light, silky natural fabric that’s widely used as the world’s most popular cloth. Its producers may spin it into a wide range of strands for varied applications, including motorcycle gear. The fluffy fiber is removed from the cotton plant’s seeds through a process known as ginning. It’s spun into cloth, which can subsequently be woven or knitted.
Cotton is acclaimed for its comfort, adaptability, and longevity. Although it’s hypoallergenic and breathes nicely, it doesn’t dry rapidly. It can wrinkle and shrink.
Cotton yields so many types of additional fabrics, including chino, chintz, gingham, and muslin, but we’re only going to highlight the common ones used in making motorcycle jackets. Note that the list of cotton fabrics that we’ll discuss is reinforced with high-tenacity manmade fibers as no material is fully effective on its own.
- Waxed Cotton
Denim is a popular cotton fabric among fashion lovers. It always adds a youthful vigor and personality, as well as flair, to the rider, particularly the young people. Wearing motorcycle jackets made of the fabric allows you to express yourself freely. But not everyone may have a complete comprehension of this fabric.
Denim is made of hard cotton fibers with interlaced threads. Because the strands are frequently closely interlaced with great density, this fabric is quite robust and easy to form. To enhance its slightly wrinkled and shrinking qualities, use polyester or lycra.
Furthermore, denim absorbs sweat efficiently, providing the rider with a sensation of comfort. Today, top motorcycle apparel brands reinforce this simple, sturdy fabric with Kevlar to ensure heightened resilience against wear, creating that iconic look.
Rich denim fabric colors and a variety of patterns are available. Blue is the traditional color from the very beginning of denim fabric due to the use of indigo. If dyed with sulfur, there will be other colors such as red, purple, yellow…
Aside from these benefits, denim has significant drawbacks such as low elasticity. It’s thick and slightly stiff, making it difficult to wash and dry for an extended period of time.
Last but not least, there’s waxed cotton, which is one of the oldest materials listed here (apart from leather). It’s been tried and true since European sailors employed it to waterproof their garments and sails in the mid-nineteenth century.
It’ll keep you dry in the rain while also giving enough wind protection to keep you warm. Waxed cotton is the way to go when it comes to weather protection; it’s been tried and true for ages and always comes out on top!
Waxed cotton doesn’t breathe well, must be re-waxed annually, and is unlikely to be as effective in a downpour. On the other hand, it’s a tough and organic fabric that, unlike synthetics, looks and feels better with age and some moderate wear for a rugged appearance. The AGV Sport Compass Jacket is our recommended waxed cotton motorcycle jacket.
Oxford is usually woven from cotton, and one of its best features is its hardiness. It’s light and thin and feels soft, though! It has a natural luster and good air permeability.
The material is anti-scratch, abrasion-resistant, drop-resistant, pressure-resistant, and water-resistant – meaning it can withstand heavy downpours. Oxford also performs exceptionally against strong winds, which is essential when you’re motorcycling.
What’s more, the fabric is very durable. But durability here doesn’t imply drop resistance or wear resistance; rather, the Oxford cloth may retain its original beauty after frequent and long-term usage, and this tough material will not be bumped or scratched even with prolonged use.
When it does wear out, however, it’s also impossible to disguise the traces left by the years; even if a sticker is affixed, the deterioration and loss of the material can’t be avoided.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to riding gear, comfort and affordability are very important because if you can’t afford it or you don’t want to wear it because it is uncomfortable then the protective qualities become irrelevant.
You don’t have to choose between comfort and protection as there is most often no connection between price and performance. The price is more about branding and marketing than about materials and performance.
The bigger issue is between comfort and protection because a more protective jacket is often thicker, more rigid, and not as cool to wear in hot weather environments. Few people would wear the most protective clothing and equipment if it meant being uncomfortable when riding.
However, if you’re one of those few then you should continue to do it as you will be the most protected. For most riders, you must find a balance between comfort and protection so that you will wear your safety clothing and gear as much as possible.
We have created this guide to choosing the best motorcycle jacket materials that strike the right balance, allowing you to ride cool and tranquil all summer or winter long.
Never again will you be hard-pressed to choose comfort above protection. Ride safe!
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.