It's a choice that all riders have to make at some point. Do you go with the classic, old-school look of a leather riding jacket, or is the modern feel of a textile jacket more your style?
A motorcycle jacket is so much more than a piece of clothing. It's your second skin, an expression of your style and personality, and a statement to the world that you live on the edge.
Your riding gear should absolutely reflect this, but you should also know what you're getting into when you ride with different fabrics. We've put together a guide on the fundamental differences between textile gear and leather, so you can make the right call and feel as comfortable as possible on the bike.
Your own taste and style will play a huge part in what you wear, but you need to consider other things like weight, weather conditions, comfort and versatility when deciding on motorcycle gear. You'll probably be spending hundreds of hours with the jacket you end up with, so choose wisely.
WHAT TO EXPECT WITH LEATHER MOTORCYCLE JACKETS
When you think of motorcycles you think of leather. Leather jackets are timeless fashion pieces that will always carry style and swagger. Ever since the likes of Marlon Brando and James Dean wore them in the 1950s, this classic jacket has been forever linked to the image of motorcycling.
The biggest strength of leather is superior abrasion resistance. Leather is such a naturally strong material that it will give your skin better protection than pretty much any textile garment. You're protecting your own skin with an animal's skin, after all, which is generally pretty damn tough.
Leather jackets tend to last much longer than textile garments, which is especially great if you're a brand new rider and still getting over the shock of how expensive riding gear can get. The downside to this is that leather is more expensive, but if you look at a leather jacket as a long term investment, it might actually end up being the cheaper option.
One good thing about leather is that it forms over time to fit the wearer. While it won't be perfect right off the bat, some riders find that eventually they love the snug and tailored fit. It just depends on how you like your clothes to feel.
While leather delivers in the style department, it's fairly limited in dealing with varying weather conditions. The weight and close fit of leather jackets can be punishing in hot weather, and most aren't waterproof or water-resistant. If your leather jacket does get wet, it's going to need treatment and conditioning. Failing to do so will dramatically decrease the life of the jacket.
THE PROS AND CONS OF TEXTILE MOTORCYCLE JACKETS
Are you looking for a comfortable riding jacket with a casual everyday look? Textile jackets have you covered. They look and feel like casual jackets, but can still pack a ton of strength and provide excellent abrasion resistance.
The biggest strength of textile gear is versatility. You'll have far more freedom in terms of jacket styles, so whether you're mainly a weekend rider or your commute to work, you shouldn't have an issue finding suitable gear. There are some killer textile jackets that look great but have an understated look, which is perfect if you plan to still wear your riding clothes once you're off the bike.
Textile jackets are generally better at dealing with the weather than leather gear. Some will include a removable thermal liner or waterproof layer, which is perfect if you're looking for a four-season jacket. Textile gear is also generally lighter and more breathable than leather.
If you're an adventure rider then a textile suit or jacket is what you need. Unless you feel like cleaning your nice leather jacket after every outing on the dirt, just stick to the textile stuff.
Leather is still the king when it comes to abrasion resistance, but that doesn't mean textile gear can't keep you safe. Modern fabrics like Kevlar and Cordura still give plenty of protection, but for our money, Dyneema blows them all away. It's a lightweight, ultra-strong fiber that's used to make bulletproof armor, crane ropes and gear for adventure sports, and Sa1nt has chosen it to line all of our textile gear.
5 FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING BETWEEN LEATHER AND TEXTILE JACKETS
1: Comfort and Fit
This is your biggest factor. Motorcycle gear is worn for protection, sure, but you can find plenty of jackets that do that. What matters is what feels good. You'll spend hundreds of hours on the road so be damn sure that your clothes are comfortable. So how do you do that? Simple. If you're interested in a jacket, go to the store and try it on. Your other option is to find a website that offers free returns so you can purchase risk-free online. A good test of riding jackets is to ask yourself if you'll find them comfortable to wear for one hour of non-stop riding. That will tell you all you need to know. Get into a riding position so you get an accurate sense of how the jacket will feel on the road. Keep in mind that leather needs to break in overtime and will probably feel stiff at first. This makes things tricky because you obviously can't wear your jacket until it breaks in and decide you want to return it, so you'll just have to go with your gut.
It's the whole point of riding gear after all. A good motorcycle jacket will also give you maximum safety. Most websites describe the level of abrasion protection for their jackets, which will be things like slide time and the type of fabric used.
Only buy a motorcycle jacket if it accommodates body armor. We have plenty of content written about buying motorcycle armor, but just know that if a jacket doesn't include armor or armor pockets, don't buy it. It's that simple. You'll need the impact protection when things go sideways on the road, and trust me, they probably will.
Body armor should fit on the shoulders and elbows. You can buy shoulder and elbow protectors that can be worn separately, but you're better off just slipping the armor into your jacket, for the sake of simplicity. Back protection is important as well, so make sure your jacket has room for armor along your spine.
Extra features probably won't make or break a jacket, but it's handy to know what's out there. There's not much to say here if you plan on wearing leather which often has minimal add-ons, but textile motorcycle gear will give you plenty of options.
Most extra features have to do with the weather and comfort. Zippered cuffs will keep chaffing away, and mesh panels are designed for maximum airflow. It's true that some leather jackets do have perforated panels in strategic areas to increase airflow, but really, it will never be as breathable as a textile jacket.
If you're really keen on optimal airflow then you might want to check out some mesh jackets. A mesh textile jacket is made with 'mesh' panels (clusters of tiny holes) that increase airflow and breathability. The downsides are that they aren't seasonal and won't provide the same protection as most other jackets. Your standard mesh jacket also has a kind of 'race driver' look that isn't for everyone.
Let's face it, every rider wants to flaunt their own unique style. I mean, with riding gear looking so damn good, how could you not want to show off? We all want to find the gear that matches our personality, but only you can say what that is.
Some riders love the traditional look of a slick leather jacket, while others like a modern textile jacket. To each their own. Think about where and when you'll be doing your riding, and whether you plan on keeping your jacket on once you get off the bike as well because the right jacket will look good just about anywhere.
This can be a tricky issue. Everyone has a different budget, and it can be hard to know whether you'll be getting your money's worth. What's important is to never, ever compromise your safety for the sake of saving some cash.
Both leather and textile jackets have so many variables, so it's impossible to say which has the better value. A textile jacket is cheaper, but a leather jacket will probably last longer. Shop smart. Don't cheap out on an average jacket that needs replacement in six months. This is a long term investment.
WHAT MATERIAL SHOULD A MOTORCYCLE JACKET BE?
There's no one standout material for riding gear, but there are definitely a few contenders. Leather is the best at abrasion resistance, but that doesn't matter too much if you find it uncomfortable.
Kevlar is probably the most widely used textile fabric. It's a synthetic thread that's woven with other fabrics to increase its strength and abrasion resistance. Kevlar is highly resistant to heat. Firefighters use it because it can withstand roughly 420 degrees Celsius of heat, and it's used in motorcycle gear to deal with heat from the friction of sliding on the road.
Cordura is also fairly common. Like Kevlar, it's heat resistant and strong, but with a few extra benefits. Cordura is cheap, light and breathable. It's often used to make motorcycle suits for racetracks because of its breathability, but this great airflow comes at the cost of optimal protection. It doesn't compare to something like leather.
For our money, the king of textile fabrics is Dyneema. It's a synthetic fiber like Kevlar, but this is newer, bolder and better. Dyneema has a strength to weight ratio that's seriously impressive - 15x stronger than steel but still light enough to float on water. It's no wonder that motorcycle clothing companies are increasingly adopting it.
We use Dyneema for our textile gear because it's seriously tough. We took a knife to our Dyneema gear, pulled it with two motorcycles and used it to lift a 2.4-ton container. The stuff holds up. Your gear is the only thing between you and the road in a crash, so choose something that's got you covered
LEATHER VS TEXTILE MOTORCYCLE JACKETS HEAD TO HEAD
Superior abrasion resistance
A more tailor-fitted
Not suitable year-round
The weight might be uncomfortable
Needs time to be broken in
Requires conditioning if it gets wet
Versatility and choice of styles
Better at dealing with weather conditions
Lighter and more breathable
Suitable for adventure riding
Less abrasion resistance than leather
Won't always include armor
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
ARE TEXTILE AND LEATHER THE SAME?
There's a significant difference between leather and textile. Leather is a heavy material that can be used to make things like furniture, handbags and footballs. Textile is light and is used for everyday clothing. Silk, wool and linen are all examples of textiles.
ARE LEATHER JACKETS WARMER THAN TEXTILE?
Leather suits and jackets are almost always warmer than textile gear. It's true that some textile jackets have removable layers and thermal liners, but generally speaking, leather will keep you warmer because of its weight.
IS A TEXTILE JACKET WATERPROOF?
You can certainly find a textile jacket with waterproof qualities. Some will come with a removable waterproof liner, and others might just have a water-resistant outer shell. Look, no jacket is 100%waterproof but plenty of them will do the job.
Maybe you're shopping for four-season jackets but still want some sort of water resistance. A Water-Resistant Anorak can always be thrown on top of your riding jacket on rainy days. This gives you some flexibility when you choose a jacket.
HOW LONG DO TEXTILE MOTORCYCLE JACKETS LAST?
There's no exact answer to this question because there are a ton of variables. How often you use a jacket, the material it's made of and how well you take care of it will impact its life.
Roughly speaking, a textile motorcycle jacket will give you 5 to 10 years of use. This is highlydependant on your riding style and your individual riding conditions, but that should give you an idea.
Leather is a different story. If taken care of, a leather jacket can last you over 20 years. But let's face it, most of us will get lazy at some point and start to let things slide. We're only human.
DOES LEATHER KEEP YOU WARM ON A MOTORCYCLE?
Leather is great for keeping you nice and toasty on the road. The weight of the material and slim fit will keep you warm and insulated from the wind. An obvious downside of this is riding in warm weather. Your nice, hot riding jacket will start to feel like a sweatbox.
THE FINAL VERDICT: LEATHER OR TEXTILE?
You've probably guessed by now that there's no clear answer here. The perfect jacket is the one that suits you and meets all of your individual needs. Everyone is different. Some riders love the feel and vintage look of leather, others rock a modern textile jacket.
The right jacket may just call out to you, or it could take some time and effort. If you're looking for versatility and everyday style then Sa1nt's Unbreakable Jacket is a solid choice. If you love an old school look and the powerful feel of leather, a leather jacket may be a better choice.
A riding jacket should keep you protected and looking like a rock star. So read up and make a smart choice, and if need be, just follow your gut.