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What to Look For in Motorcycle Jackets

Black is the first color you think of when you think of motorcycle jackets. But long gone are the days when motorcycles covered anybody nearby with oil, lube and dirt. Motorcyclists today are free to wear every color imaginable but the standard is still good olí black. Oranges and whites will be most visible at night, but there are other things that can improve visibility without making you look like a road worker. Retro-reflective patches, piping and stitching helps to make your jacket ďlight upĒ when hit with headlights while remaining subtle or ruining the style of the jacket.

Collar Style
There are two main styles of collars on motorcycle jackets. The first is the traditional collar that you will find on most non-motorcycle jackets. The traditional style jackets have some drawbacks. The collar flaps must be secured with either snaps or thread so that they donít flap at speed. They also do not fit as snugly as collar-less jackets. When leaning forward some of these traditional jackets can allow air in around your spine and rob you of body heat on cool rides. The second style of jacket has no collar. These jackets should be cut so when leaning forward it maintains a snug fit and keeps wind out. Make sure the fabric around the neck is soft. If the material is a little rough, checking blind spots after an hour of riding can chafe and irritate your neck.

Armor in a motorcycle jacket is like a lifejacket on a boat; 99% of the time is bulky and unnecessary, but it can save your life. Street jackets with armor usually have it in the elbows and shoulders, with more expensive jackets including spine protection. There are two kinds of armor, flexible and rigid. The flexible type is more like padding, designed to cushion the impact on your vital joints. Flexible armor can feel more comfortable and less restrictive but it can be a less protective than rigid armor. Rigid armor has a hard shell with padding underneath. After a couple of rides you will hardly notice the armor is there.

There are alternatives to traditional leather when it comes to jackets. Cordura is a popular material especially with the foul weather crowd. It can be wind and waterproof, but you will need additional layers of insulation to keep you warm since it is relatively thin and transmits heat and cold easily.

Most people donít need a waterproof jacket. Getting caught in an occasional rain is annoying and uncomfortable but hardly worth the extra expense. If you are touring or commuting, you may have no choice to ride in the rain and being uncomfortable is not an option. Fortunately there are a few systems that can keep you dry in the heaviest of downpours. First, look for jackets that go past your waist. This will ensure that rain will not get in between your jacket and rain pants. A good cinching mechanism or elastic around the waist will help keep wind from blowing rain up towards your chest. Also make sure that you are able to adjust the jacketís neck. This is another point where water tends to get in. Throw style out the window when looking at rain jackets. No one cares what you look like when riding in the rain, so choose a jacket that is brightly colored and has retro-reflective material incorporated into it. This will increase otherís awareness of you when visibility is poor. Standard rain jackets and parkas are good for walking around in the rain, but at speeds above 45mph they can start to let air in, and can flap because they are cut to fit differently than waterproof motorcycle rain jackets.

  • Sleeves
    Make sure that the sleeves are a little long when trying on the jacket. When you raise your arms into riding position, the bends at the shoulder and elbows will shorten the sleeve length. Make sure you can make the sleeves fit snugly around your wrist, either with elastic, Velcro or zippers, so that wind doesnít get in.

  • Waist
    The waist should fit snugly so it does not allow wind to enter the jacket. Take into consideration your riding style when purchasing a jacket, the front should be cut a little higher so that the front does not bulge out when riding. The rear should be cut a little lower, so when riding it covers your back down to your pants when in your riding position.

  • Collar
    The collar should be snug, but not restrictive so that you canít check your blind spot. The material should be soft so that it does not chafe.

    The good thing about leather jackets is that they are low maintenance. Unfinished leather and suede jackets should be cleaned professionally, water will stain them. Fortunately most motorcycle jackets are treated to repel water and can be cleaned with a moist sponge, wiping away excess water with a towel. If that doesnít do it, try saddle soap and a little water. If your jacket gets wet, hang it up or lay it flat to air dry. Stay away from heat sources, it can ruin the jacket.

    Conforming with conventional wisdom, layers are the best way to stay warm while riding. So when choosing a jacket, especially one you will wear during cold weather riding, you want to buy a jacket that is a little larger so that you can fit a fleece, sweater or both underneath. Make sure the sleeves, neck and waist fit snugly so air doesnít get in. A jacket with a zip-in liner is great, but be ready to pay a little extra for the convenience of it.

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