You don’t have to be a professional motorcyclist to know that the first thing to consider before hopping on your bike is wearable protection. Sure, some riders will still ride unprotected amid the inherent, ever-looming possibility of an accident, but most know the importance of quality riding apparel. Most notably, a rider needs a jacket that will fit his or her particular riding style and needs.
The problem is that there is an enormous sea of different jacket styles, armor, liners and — most importantly — the actual material. Leather vs. textile is one of the more heated debates that is discussed within the realm of motorcycle safety. As new advancements are made, textile and mesh jackets have become increasingly more versatile and worthy of a purchase. But to myself and many other riders, leather will always be king.
Style is usually the first thing many consider, and to each their own. But there are also concrete advantages and disadvantages of each material that make the final decision a little bit harder.
Abrasion and Overall Protection
The most significant advantage of leather motorcycle jackets is their resistance to abrasion. At essentially any speed, road rash is a concern for any type of on-road motorcycle accident. With high-quality leather, riders can stay confident that their skin will be protected against prolonged contact with pavement via this soft, natural padding.
This isn’t to say a riders won’t come out of accidents unscathed, but the damage will most likely be significantly less than with other textiles, especially mesh.
The addition of armor and padding has been one of the biggest advancements in motorcycle gear over the years, and more and more leather jackets are being produced to allow for this enhanced protection as armor technology improves and becomes less intrusive. Generally, they have built-in pockets for optional armor at the shoulders, elbows and back. Adding additional armor can do a number in a vital situation by protecting more vulnerable areas of the body like the shoulders, back, elbows, etc.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Leather is not the optimal material for summer riding. Unless you want to be a sweaty, sticky mess, textile and mesh material with a greater breathability are much better for warm riding conditions. This is the one major tradeoff of leather jackets; better protection comes with a greater weight and thickness, which in turn allows for less air-flow.
Despite this, I would always choose to wear what is most protective over what is most comfortable. In fact, there are lighter and slimmer leather jackets made for summer wear. Other precautions, such as wearing a thin undershirt, can also be taken to mitigate heat.
What a leather jacket does do incredibly well is mitigate the cold. They are the go-to in the colder months from September to around April. The inherently thick quality of leather also makes it great for windy days that are much more likely to blow through textile and mesh materials that have greater breathability.
Good leather is also resistant to rainy conditions if it is well-kept and maintained; however, a raincoat pullover is recommended if a rider is going to be fighting the elements all day or over an extended period.
After a short break-in period to give the jacket its proper fit, an organic leather jacket can live for years through constant use if it is maintained properly. All it takes is a quick scrub-down with a damp cloth every few weeks to keep it clean as well as an occasional condition and polish to prevent the outer layer from cracking.
Leather jackets are generally more expensive than textiles if you want a high-quality one, but the money is worth it in the long run. Also, many leather motorcycle jackets are styled so that they can be worn as streetwear, giving the style even more versatility and use. There will always be an argument for textile jackets, but currently, leather is still the go-to for most motorcyclists.