You prioritize safety on your motorcycle, which means carefully considering the riding gear you select. Yes, you want to look cool, but your gear should also offer protection in the event of an accident. Which is the safer and better overall, leather or synthetic material?
While synthetic material can safeguard your body in an accident, experts agree leather is the superior material of the two. Leather motorcycle gear fits your body’s natural curves, offering protection from wind, some water, and other road dangers.
In this article, we’ll delve into the differences between leather and synthetic motorcycle gear. We’ll also give you some pointers and tips for buying your own riding jacket or pants no matter your budget. Let’s get started.
Why Do You Need Motorcycle Gear?
First, we wanted to touch on an important point. Motorcycle jackets and pants may look cool, but you’re not choosing them based on their looks alone.
You’ll want safe, durable motorcycle gear for many reasons. For instance, what if you get in an accident? You’re a safe driver, but you never know what can happen out there. An impact-resistant motorcycle jacket and pants can keep you safe from injuries. Also, if you were to slide along the road after an accident, abrasion-resistant wearable gear will save your skin and reduce injuries as well.
At the end of the day, you don’t get to decide when or if an accident happens. All you can do is continue driving safely and use the best gear possible. That’s why most motorcyclists abide by the AGATT rule. This acronym stands for “All Gear, All the Time.” Just like you wouldn’t ever ride without a motorcycle helmet, you shouldn’t skip your riding jacket and pants, either.
Designs and Materials
Now that you know you need motorcycle gear, you have two choices: leather or synthetic materials. In this section, we’ll discuss the aspects of both, including the pros and cons.
The first of your two options comes highly-recommended. Traditional leather has great windproofing qualities, as we mentioned earlier in this article. It’s not entirely waterproof, but it can slough off some water. That said, we don’t recommend you ride for too long in wet or rainy conditions in leather gear.
You get good abrasion resistance with leather, so if you fall off your bike, you can reduce your injury severity. However, you must have a thicker leather jacket to take full advantage of leather’s abrasion-resistant qualities. These heavier jackets often measure 3.5 ounces with a thickness of at least 1.4 millimeters.
Thicker leather gear has its downsides. For instance, in the summertime, you will get warm in leather jackets and pants quite quickly. That might incline you to take the jacket off, but you know that’s not safe.
Lighter-weight leather gear does exist. A jacket will have a thickness of 1 millimeter will weigh about 2.5 ounces. These are a good solution if you slide off your motorcycle in a relatively low-speed collision but still want protection. Lightweight leather will also provide more warmth than a fleece shirt or jacket, but you won’t get as toasty as you would in heavier-weight leather.
Another downside to leather is how you’ll have a tough time cleaning it. While it ages incredibly well if you get stains and messes on the material, these might not come off as easily as you’d hope.
Finally, we have to mention how leather jackets just look cool, especially when you ride a motorcycle. Combine the looks and durability of a motorcycle jacket and you have one great piece of outerwear.
Mesh Textile Composite
Then there’s your other option, mesh textile composite or synthetic material. This motorcycle gear combines woven fabrics or synthetic textiles with natural fabrics. They’re not made entirely without leather, but the jacket or pants aren’t covered with the stuff, only pieces.
For safety when riding your motorcycle, synthetic gear may include armored protective inserts. While these don’t have the superior abrasion resistance you get with a leather riding jacket or pants, the inserts offer protection. That makes this gear better than nothing every time.
One benefit mesh textile composite gear has over traditional leather is flexibility. These jackets and pants move and contort to your body. You only get that with lightweight leather, and even then, the flexibility lacks compared to synthetic materials.
If you happen to stain your jacket or pants, you can always toss them in the washing machine. Just check the tag to ensure you wash at the right settings. With leather, you have no such luck. You have to spot-clean the stain or mess, and even then, it doesn’t always necessarily come out all the way.
You won’t get sweaty and hot in a synthetic jacket or pants nearly as much, either. These come with mesh openings that provide their own ventilation system. As cool air passes through, you keep your body temperature down and sweat less. Other interesting features you’ll find in this gear include wind flaps, zip-in vests, and storage pockets.
Mesh textile composite motorcycle jackets and pants can handle rainy, cold weather somewhat better than leather, but you’d have to search for gear with weather protection specifically.
What Does Armored Mean?
Before, we mentioned that some synthetic or mesh textile composite motorcycle gear has armored protective inserts. What does this mean, exactly?
Good question! When a motorcycle jacket or pants have armored protection, they can absorb impacts better. These jackets should cradle the shoulders and elbows especially well. If you’re wearing riding pants with armored protection, then your hips and knees get extra protection.
Not all armored protection is the same. Sometimes manufacturers just add hard plastic and count that as armored protection. This cheap measure usually doesn’t last very long. It’s worth it to spend the extra money so you can get multi-layered protection with carbon fiber, plastic, or foam.
How do you know you’ve found a jacket or pants with good armored protection? It should almost resemble a motorcycle helmet with inner absorption layers and a tough outer shell.
Another way you can ensure you’re safe is by checking the CE certification number. The CE stands for European Conformity or Conformite Europeene. These European standards dictate how well motorcycle gear can absorb shocks and impacts.
Leather vs. Synthetic Materials: How to Choose
By this point, you’ve probably decided between leather or synthetic motorcycle jacket and pants. How do you choose specific riding gear that fits your needs and lifestyle? In this section, we’ll explain exactly that.
Motorcycle jackets and pants are often priced on one of three tiers: entry budget, mid-priced, and high-end.
The jackets in the entry budget category cost around $200 or less. If you get entry-budget motorcycle pants, you’d expect to pay about $150. You probably won’t get full leather garments at these lower prices, so prepare yourself for that. You could get a decent synthetic jacket for this price, though.
Mid-priced jackets may cost you $400 to $600. If you want riding pants at this pricing level, you could shell out $250 to $300. You get better protection with these garments compared to those in the entry-budget category. This gear will last because of the high-quality materials. While you’re spending a bit of money, you get a good return on your investment due to the durability of your garments.
If you’re ready to spend, you could always get a high-end riding jacket or pants. No matter which garment you choose, you’ll spend more than $1,000 easily. Beware gimmicky features, a premium-sounding name, and style features that drive the price up way too high. These don’t add anything to the longevity of your motorcycle gear in the long-run.
Sometimes all that money does get you something useful. For instance, some of the jackets and pants at this price level come with airbags or cooling systems. The airbags alone might cost $400, so that already explains the higher price for this gear. You can recharge some of the airbags using CO2 canisters. The airbags can then protect you even more efficiently if you crash or get in an accident.
Next, you have to think about the conditions you’ll ride in. Weather doesn’t always remain static. You could wake up to a cold, rainy morning that clears out and warms up by midafternoon. Your gear should have the capability to adapt to these weather changes. If your jacket weighs too much, you’ll stay warm in the cold but then start sweating in the hot weather, and you don’t want that.
You should also think about your motorcycle itself when choosing gear based on weather. If your motorcycle has lower fairing and a fuller windshield, it will protect you from rain. Your jacket and pants don’t necessarily have to offer great waterproofing, then.
If you do have to pay more attention to the weatherproofing of your gear, look for a jacket and pants with a ventilation system for hot weather. You also want neck and wrist zippers or Velcro so you can avoid exposed skin in rainy or windy conditions.
You’ll need to put the jacket or pants on before parting with your hard-earned money. As you wear the gear, keep a few things in mind. Will the jacket still fit if you’re wearing a thicker shirt like an electric vest, a fleece, or a sweater? Can you move around with all the flexibility you’d have if you weren’t wearing the jacket or pants?
You don’t want riding gear that’s too loose. Then, if an accident occurs, you risk exposing too much flesh. Ideally, you should get a jacket you can adjust at the neck, sleeves, wrists, and waist. This way, you can kind of customize the fit to your body type and size.
With so many brands stressing so many cool motorcycle gear features, you can kind of forget what’s important. When it comes to construction, focus on getting a jacket and pants that at least have double-stitching. These should hold the high-stress points together, especially during an impact.
If you can’t see any stitching or—worse yet—there’s fake stitching that’s molded in, keep looking.
With so many styles on the market, you should find one that suits you. Remember you want fully functional motorcycle gear first and something that looks good second. Darker colors can hide bike grease and road messes better than lighter ones. If you want reflective elements, get a synthetic jacket or pants instead of leather. However, you can always add reflective elements like a vest over top of a leather jacket.
Keep away from motorcycle jackets or pants with tons of zippers, pockets, and flaps. Zippers should have a pull stab and a slider. You want zippers made of metal with no binding. Look for the YKK brand if you can. Cheap zippers can come off, and excessive zippers will get in the way of riding.
The same is true of flaps. These can blow around, slapping against you. At worst, they can obstruct your vision, so be careful!
Pockets don’t cause any potential dangers, but having too many gets annoying fast. You can lose stuff in your pockets, especially if they’re hidden pockets.
Last but certainly not least, you have to take the material weight into consideration. We already talked about the difference between lightweight and heavyweight leather motorcycle jackets. Most synthetic jackets don’t weigh as much. You can determine a synthetics weight by the Denier number, this does not provide strength or abrasion resistance.
Avoid this Style…
Knitted cuffs or necks have no place in motorcycling. The wind and weather will enter and chill you. Even worse, the thin cuffs will let leather ride up your arm in a sliding-crash leaving skin exposed.
Should I buy my jacket or pants online?
Yes, you can buy a motorcycle jacket or pants online if you can find them for a low enough price. However, since it’s so paramount to try on this gear before you buy it, only shop from models and brands you’ve worn before. Otherwise, you have no idea how the gear will fit until it arrives on your doorstep. That’s sort of like playing a game of Russian roulette.
Make sure the company you buy the jacket or pants from has a good return policy. Even if you buy from a trusted brand online, you can’t always guarantee the fit.
Is it recommended you purchase a snug-fitting leather jacket?
Yes, you should try to get a snug-fitting jacket. We already mentioned that loose jackets can roll up and expose your skin. While a snug-fitting jacket might start tight, leather stretches and conforms to your shape.
Just make sure your jacket isn’t too small. If you can’t move your arms freely and fully, then the jacket doesn’t fit. Size up.
What is Cordura fabric?
Cordura fabric is a type of ballistic nylon synthetic material. DuPont created this fabric. It exceeds polyester and woven nylon in terms of quality and strength. That’s in part due to its higher melting point.
If you can’t find Cordura fabric, try Gortex. It’s like the next best thing. It has a synthetic fiber base that lets it breathe in hot weather while resisting rain. However, it will not do much for abrasions.
Are Blue Jeans OK to wear on a motorcycle?
Just because you know some bikers who wear leather jackets and jeans doesn’t mean you should do the same. Jeans provide minimal resistance to abrasions. Within seconds, your skin gets exposed to the road, leading to potentially severe injuries. Also, you get no absorption from impacts, again increasing your risk of injuries. Always wear motorcycle pants if you can.