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How to size and buy a motorcycle jacket

Jun 08, 2019

Other than helmets and race suits, motorcycle jackets are probably the toughest pieces of gear to size and buy. They’re also pretty important to your safety while you're on the bike. Motorcycle jackets protect against abrasion, impacts, and the elements, so you can ride more!

You’re probably reading this at the beginning of your journey to a new motorcycle jacket. Let’s start by breaking down the types of jackets out there. Moto jackets are split into two major categories: textile and leather. From there, it’s not hard to find the ideal jacket category for your riding style. 

Follow these steps to choose a jacket:

  1. Choose a jacket style that suits your riding style and protection needs.
  2. Choose a fit: American, European, or Race.
  3. Find your jacket size, preferably with a friend’s help.
  4. Order your jacket and check for proper fit.
  5. Feels like a good fit? You’ve found your new jacket!

Really, that’s all there is to it. Time to find your next motorcycle jacket.

1. Choose a jacket style that suits your riding style and protection needs.

Let’s start with textile. From a humble waxed-canvas jacket to a highly technical touring piece, with all the textiles available today, manufacturers can build a jacket for just about any purpose. One thing you won’t see, however, is a fully textile sport jacket for the race track. Some track day organizations may allow textiles in the beginner group, but it's leather only on the grid in competition. That’s not to say that textile jackets are somehow second-rate. In fact, they’re a fantastic choice for most riders. My own closet has more textile than leather, if that tells you anything. Textile jackets break down into three main varieties.

Motorcycle riding shirt
A riding shirt blends street style with moto essentials. RevZilla photo.

The motorcycle riding shirt is exactly what it sounds like: a shirt on steroids. Manufacturers take casual styling and hide moto features and protection inside. A riding shirt might look like a flannel, a work shirt, a hoodie, or a denim jacket on the outside. Inside, they could conceal armor, aramid fibers, or helpful liners. For riders who are frequently on and off the bike, these pieces are ideal for around-town riding. Riding shirts fit right in with street clothes, so you can just leave it on once you arrive at your destination. In exchange for their stealthy good looks, riding shirts are typically less capable of protecting a rider at high speeds, and they sometimes lack more technical features like waterproofing or liners. In addition, they often lack armor, though they might have pockets to carry it if the rider decides to upgrade.

Mesh motorcycle jacket
The massive mesh panels on this jacket flow air to the rider for warm-weather comfort. RevZilla photo.

Stepping up in protection, the mesh jacket brings greater slide and abrasion resistance than the riding shirt. The casual styling is traded off for a more riding-focused experience. Mesh jackets really shine in hot summer months, when their huge mesh panels can flow plenty of air to sweltering riders. Armor is commonly included in the shoulders and elbows of these jackets, along with at least a pocket for a back protector. Liners to protect against wind and rain might also be included. These features mean the mesh jacket will protect once the pace picks up, unlike the riding shirt. If staying cool is your goal, a mesh jacket will be very hard to beat.

Full textile motorcycle jacket
A full textile jacket is a seriously technical option, full of features to improve your ride. RevZilla photo.

But not all of us live and ride in high heat. For riders looking to conquer any weather with a versatile jacket, the full textile is the only way to fly, They also offer the best protection of any textile option. Full textile jackets rely on a range of materials to defend against abrasion, impacts, and the weather. They typically feature waterproofing, windproofing, and a thermal liner for cold rides. Most offer vents that can be opened in hot weather, though they do not flow as much air as a mesh jacket. Full textile jackets are the choice of adventurers, tourers, hardcore commuters, and riders who just want to get out there every day they can!

As good as textile jackets have become, in the minds of many, there’s just no substitute for a leather motorcycle jacket. For a long time, leather was the best choice available for motorcycle jackets, and it still commands respect today. Unlike textile, leather can often survive a crash or slide; you don’t have to replace it if you go down. The jacket just gains a little character! Leather has great slide resistance. Of course, there’s also that timeless style. Just don’t forget leather’s weaknesses. Leather jackets will need a waterproof outer layer for riding in heavy rain, and they can get very hot in the summer sun. Leather jackets come in two main varieties: casual and sport.

Casual leather motorcycle jacket
The classic leather motorcycle jacket is inimitable. RevZilla photo.

Casual leather jackets include the iconic “biker jacket” and many other styles. Like riding shirts, these jackets look good on and off the bike. However, leather will provide far more protection. Casual leather jackets fit the style of almost any motorcycle, and they might feature perforation for more comfort in warmer weather. That’s not to say they’ll be the best choice for extreme heat or cold. You’ll also want to avoid any rain beyond a light spritz.

Sport leather motorcycle jacket
This sport leather jacket is shown zipped to matching pants to make a suit that's ready for the track. RevZilla photo.

Sport leather jackets are designed for high-speed riding. In fact, they might not be comfortable at all on motorcycles with a laid-back riding position. The pre-curved sleeves are especially optimized for the aggressive riding positions of sport motorcycles. These jackets might feature protection elements right off the MotoGP grid, like metal shoulder plates or speed humps at the back. Their impressive protection scheme means sport leather is the only choice for a day on the race track. Sport leather might also feature perforation to keep you cooler on spirited summer rides. That said, a sport leather jacket is really best in mild weather. You’ll want to avoid deep cold, high heat, or rain. 

2. Choose a fit: American, European, or Race.

Types of motorcycle jacket fit
From left to right, American, European, and Race fits. RevZilla photo.

You’ll see three main types of jacket fitment while you’re looking through your options. The first is an American cut. These jackets will typically be more generous with their fit, offering more room at the waist, shoulders, and arms. American fit might also be called “regular” or “touring” fit. Jackets with a European cut will have a closer fit, with a more tapered profile. This fit might also be called “slim” or “sport cut.” Riders who don’t need much extra space will gravitate towards these jackets. Finally, the race fit is for the all-out sport rider. Race jackets will offer a snug fit with pre-curved arms for comfort and flexibility in a three-quarter to full-tuck riding position. By now, you've probably identified the fit that best suits you.

3. Find your jacket size, preferably with a friend’s help.

Measure for motorcycle jacket size
Measure across your chest, keeping the tape level across your back. RevZilla photo.

Grab that soft tape measure and ask a friend to give you a hand for the best results. With three numbers, you should be able to find a jacket that fits correctly. First, have your friend wrap the tape measure around your chest and around your back. Don’t take any deep breaths to upset the measurement. Just breathe casually. Also, don’t add any extra to this measurement to compensate for a back protector. They almost never affect the fit so much that you need to size up.

Measuring for motorcycle jacket size
You'll need to look at the size chart to know where to start measuring: the spine or the shoulder. RevZilla photo.

Next, take a quick look at the product page for the jacket you’d like to order. You should be referencing the size chart throughout this process, but you’ll want to pay close attention to the arm measurements. If they’re listed in the 20-inch range, that measurement is from the shoulder, past the elbow and ending at the wrist. Those numbers could also be in the 30-inch range, which means your friend should start measuring from your spine at the base of your neck instead. The tape should run out over your shoulder, then to end at the wrist via the elbow as before. These are simply two ways of measuring arm lengths, and they won’t trip you up now that you know the difference. Keep in mind that some race jackets are intended to be worn with long gauntlet gloves, so they may have shorter sleeves than a standard street jacket. 

Measuring waist for motorcycle jacket size
Measure an inch above your belly button. RevZilla photo.

For the last measurement, take your waist measurement by running the tape around your torso, about an inch above your belly button. Your waist measurement is not the same as your pants size, which can be confusing to some. Waist measurements are the least important of the three here, since they can really vary. Also, many jackets feature some adjustability at the waist, so you can usually get the fit where you want it.

Jackets can use alpha sizing (SM, MD, etc.) or numeric sizing (48, 50, etc.) Make sure to use the size chart for the specific jacket you’re considering. Also, pay attention to any fitment notes on a jacket’s product page. If a jacket has a funky fit, it’ll be notated so you can order the correct size.

4. Order your jacket and check for proper fit.

Armed with your jacket style, fitment preference, and measurements, you have everything you need to choose your jacket. When your jacket arrives, try it on around the house. (Don’t fire up the bike yet! We can’t accept returns on anything that’s been out for a ride.)

Motorcycle jacket fit
The big moment. Try it on! RevZilla photo.

Try sitting on your motorcycle in your usual position. Move around a bit to make sure the jacket is moving with you. It shouldn’t impede your ability to turn, lean, or reach the hand grips. The jacket should be snug. Too loose, and the jacket’s protective features may not stay in place if you take a tumble. Make sure that the armor actually sits over your elbows and shoulders. If not, see if it can be adjusted. A motorcycle jacket can only do its job if it can stay in place to protect you.

5. Feels like a good fit? You’ve found your new jacket!

When you’re 100 percent sure you’ve found a good fit, celebrate with a ride. Your motorcycle jacket is a valuable piece of safety gear that should serve you for many miles. Might as well get one that fits! As time goes on, you might upgrade the armor, add a back protector, or get some base layers, but none of that will be a problem if your jacket fits correctly. Enjoy your new gear, and be sure to thank your friend for helping you out with those measurements. It’s hard to put a price on the perfect fit.