Exercise your right to bare arms. Vests got a bum rap in motorcycle culture for years due to the stigma of club affiliation, but not anymore. These days, there are different style vests for riders of every stripe, purpose-built with utility extending beyond flying colors. There are stylish vests and functional vests, vests designed to go under motorcycle jackets, over jackets or in lieu of jackets, vests that keep you warm and ones that keep you cool, offer protection or visibility, store cargo or simply sport all the patches and buttons you’ve picked up in your travels. Depending on your specific needs and riding conditions, less really can be more! Sleeves are overrated.
Leather Vests- There is nothing like a black leather cut-off to maintain the cool of your leather jacket and also beat the heat in summer weather. If modern mesh jackets really aren’t your style, a traditional leather motorcycle vest may be just what you need.
The strong construction and thick cowhide make leather vests ideal for concealed carry, or just carrying your phone and wallet securely and comfortably instead of in your jean pockets. Although leather jackets naturally give you more coverage, when it is too hot for sleeves, leather provides the best resistance to abrasion for your torso of any vest material.
In cooler weather, leather cuts through the wind better than denim and other textiles and can be worn over a jacket to enhance cold weather performance and help retain your core heat. In summer, the sleeveless nature of a leather vest keeps it from being stifling hot, but still offers some road protection if you catch a rock or monster bug at highway speeds.
If you are a rider with classic tastes looking for some torso protection, a few pockets for essentials and a timeless look, a leather motorcycle vest may be the right option for you.
Denim Vests- You’re a rider, not a seamstress. Denim is much easier to sew, iron, or pin on any badges or patches from your motorcycle travels. It is also lightweight and breathable, while still channeling the same biker heritage as leather.
A patched up denim vest used to be synonymous with motorcycle gang rags, but these days you’ll see denim on the backs of non-violent riding clubs, solo riders and average Joes - modern motorcycle riders don traditional denim vests in spades for various reasons.
Ironbutt riders and long distance touring bike riders wear patches from all over to commemorate the good times they’ve had on 2 wheels. Guys and gals on Electra Glides, Goldwings and everything else under the sun may collect patches from rallies or get a 48 state US map on the back so they can mark each state they’ve ridden to.
A plain denim vest is stylish all on its own, with a classic American look that goes well with just about everything. If you just want some pockets to carry your phone, wallet and shades while you bomb around town on your bike in nice weather, it doesn’t get much simpler.
Heated Vests - A heated vest may be the only piece of heated motorcycle gear you need - why? If your hands or feet get cold, your core is already cold. Your body limits warm bloodflow to your extremities to protect your vital organs.
Many riders go for heated gloves first because your hands are first to fall victim to the cold and go numb, and they are most exposed to the wind. Gloves certainly help, but may not be enough to keep up - heated gloves or grips fix a symptom of the problem, not the cause.
A heated vest can be more effective than heated gloves alone at keeping you comfortable, and, believe it or not, keeping your hands warm. For some riders it may take both to achieve comfort, but the heated vest is the most often overlooked piece of heated gear, and arguably the most critical.
Depending on your bike, riding climate, your circulation and personal threshold for comfort in cold temperatures, a heated vest with adjustable temperature controller may be all it takes to extend your riding season comfortably into the colder months.
Cooling Vests - Your body sweats because evaporating moisture pulls a ton of heat with it. Motorcycle cooling vests operate on the same principle, but save you the discomfort of actually getting your body overheated enough to really sweat.
It may sound counterintuitive to actually add another layer when it’s hot out, but modern material science can do some pretty remarkable things. Motorcycle cooling vests are designed to be worn under a summer jacket (vented, perforated or mesh) to enhance the cooling effects of the airflow your jacket allows through. Some have a thin material that simply uses your own moisture more effectively, and others use a thicker layer to hold more liquid - you soak these type vests in water before your ride, and they allow regulated evaporation for hours of consistent cooling.
Whether you ride street or off-road, a cooling vest helps prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion, keeping your head fresh and focus so you can ride your best.
PROTECTION / SAFETY
Armored Vests - Armored motorcycle vests come in two main flavors - the soft, flexible, base layer type you wear under a jacket and the hard shell exoskeleton variety that uses thermoplastics for both impact and slide protection.
If you are dissatisfied with your jacket’s back or chest protection (many jackets don’t have pockets for chest protection, or sometimes any armor at all), a soft armored base layer vest may be the best solution to add impact protection beneath your abrasion-resistant outer shell.
Exoskeleton type armored vests are typically worn in place of a jacket, and are especially popular among stunt riders because these rigs offer considerable impact protection as well as modest low speed slide resistance without limiting mobility or airflow like a leather jacket would. City riders who seldom hit highway speeds enjoy the same features - not to mention the side benefit that hard shell armor vests look incredibly badass on all types of motorcycles.
Hi Viz Vests - Hi viz gear tends to get our shoulder angels going - “C’mon, be safe” in one ear, and “go ahead - get the cool black jacket” in the other. If you don’t want a dedicated hi-viz jacket, a reflective vest is key when conditions get dangerous.
Although it may seem like it at times, people driving cars aren’t actively trying to run us down. Ask any highway patrolmen what causes most motorcycle accidents involving another vehicle, and they’ll tell you 9/10 the driver of the car “just didn’t see” the bike.
Low visibility situations can arise at any time - a sudden thunderstorm in the summer, a fog at dusk, or a blinding sunset glare on the westbound rush hour commute home. You may not need to rock the fluorescent yellow and huge areas of retroreflective material at all times, but having a compact vest stowed away can make all the difference when visibility drops.
One thing you may be interested to look for as you shop for a hi-viz vest is the “Mil Spec” designation. This is a standard mandated by military regulation for a certain amount of visibility (measured by several factors, mainly the area of retro-reflective material front and back) to make a garment legal for riding on a US military base.