2013 Buyers Guide: Riding Pants & Overpants
Blue jeans may be American motorcyclists’ riding pants of choice, but have you ever seen what happens to a pair of jeans when they hit the pavement at about 45 mph? Trust me, it’s not pretty. Nor are the bumps, scrapes and bruises that the rider experiences pretty either. Most riders will wear a helmet to protect their heads, gloves for their hands, boots and often armored jackets, but then leave their vulnerable legs hanging out there in the breeze with nothing but a thin layer of fabric between them, the pavement and the weather. Let’s do something positive about that.
In a world in which a significant number of drivers are distracted while they’re driving, it’s time to start taking care of ourselves, including those appendages that help us get around. In addition to protection from crashing, consider protecting your legs from the wind, cold and rain with some quality riding pants. Isn’t your comfort—which helps you remain alert and riding well—worth a great deal, too?
Over or Not?
For this article, we asked a number of companies to send a pair of motorcycle pants of their choosing for our evaluation, keeping in mind that our readers are heavily into touring, sport touring and cruisers. Our test includes both overpants (that are designed to be worn over other pants such as jeans) and riding pants (which usually are not). The difference when it comes to those just called “pants” is not always clear cut, but to qualify as overpants they should be cut roomier to wear over regular pants, and be easy to put on and to take off, with a sufficiently long side zipper or other wide leg opening so that you can get into and out of them without having to remove your boots. This also makes them easier to deal with if they have a rain and/or thermal liner you may want to add or remove during your riding day.
Most of these pants are made of a textile fabric, and a long slide on the pavement can potentially generate sufficient heat that this petroleum-based product can actually melt. However, these garments are usually lined and layered so the melting area will not likely contact the skin. They can also melt if allowed to touch a hot engine or exhaust system.
What’s in a Riding Pant?
What should you look for in a riding pant? Protection, of course, so it’s helpful if they have armored padding over the hips and knees. The abbreviation “CE” indicates that the padding has passed the standards of the European Community for impact resistance, and that is a plus.
Secondly, they should provide some versatility in terms of warmth and weather protection, so thermal insulation and waterproofing are also a plus. In addition to the outer layer, they may also offer a removable liner—or two—including an impermeable rain layer and a thermal insulation layer for the cold. Sometimes these layers are provided with a breathable membrane such as Gore-Tex or Reissa sandwiched in between. It’s important that the membrane be breathable to prevent the inside of the garment from becoming clammy. We did not actually test the weather-tightness of these pants, however.
The problem with liners is that if the rider has to remove and reinstall them, dealing with the various snaps and zippers can be frustrating and time consuming. You’ll need a place to stash them once removed.
Also, these layers can become bulky by the time you finally sit down on the bike.
For temperature versatility, it’s a plus if the pants have mesh panels for ventilation. Some pockets are a necessity, and some reflective material is useful for riding at night. Please note that many of these pants are offered as part of a full jacket/pant combo, so consider the jacket along with the pant. However, our thought in doing this article was that most riders already have a riding jacket, but relatively few wear quality, protective pants. Buy them as a set, and the pants will usually zip to the jacket.
Here is a quick review of each pant, along with a recommendation of the type of riding for which they would be most suitable. See each manufacturer’s website for complete sizing information.
(This Buyers Guide: Fancy Pants was published in the November 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)
Aerostich Darien Light Pants | $327
Aerostich in Minnesota has become well known for its made-in-USA riding gear that is high on function and quality, though it isn’t necessarily the latest in high style. Its Darien Lights are made of HT200 Denier Nylon Gore-Tex fabric, and they’re intended to be worn for dual-sport or street riding over regular pants, though it doesn’t call them overpants. They’re available in black, gray or tan.
With the Gore-Tex membrane sewn in, there are no liners to deal with, and the Lights come with thick Viscoelastic knee and hip pads that attach with hook-and-loop fasteners. Pockets include a pair of handwarmers and another pair on the thighs. The sides zip all the way up to your ears—or at least it seems that way as they reach up to the belt—so there’s no problem getting them on over boots and pants.
With their wide belt and leg openings, the Darien Light pants are extremely easy to get into, and with no removable liners to deal with they’re stone simple to use. Granted, they’re relatively expensive and have no insulation, but it has been our experience that they remain dry in the very worst rains. Consider them for wet, but not necessarily cold, climates.
AGV Sport Telluride Textile Pants | $149
On the plus side, the AGV Sport Telluride were the warmest pants in our test with their 600-denier polyester shell, removable waterproof and breathable Reissa liner, and removable quilted thermal liner over a permanent mesh lining. The downside is they were also the heaviest and most bulky here. For temperature versatility, there’s a zippered vent on the front and rear of each leg, which helps a bit when it’s hot and the liners are zipped out.
The lower leg zippers have a narrow opening so the rider must remove his or her boots to put on or take off the pants to change liners. The kneepads are CE approved, and there are also 10mm thick memory foam hip and lower back pads for protection. The pants are available in a standard 32-inch inseam or a short 30-inch version. Two front handwarmer pockets are the only storage, but they do provide zippered closures.
The AGV pants offer a lot of both impact protection and warmth, so if you live in a cooler area they’re worthy of consideration.
Alpinestars Oxygen Air Overpant | $199.95
Alpinestars tells us that the Oxygen Air are designed as overpants for summertime commuting, and they’re right. They are made of polyurethane-coated, 600-denier polyester fabric with mesh inserts on the thighs. The knee protectors are CE-certified, but the pads on the hips are very thin and barely there. Zippered gussets open far enough to allow boots to enter without removing the pants. There are two external pockets with zippered closures, but they lie behind the pants’ mesh fabric so whatever is enclosed will not be protected from the weather. Thin reflective piping runs up the backs of the legs.
Out on the road, the wind can move cleanly through the mesh fabric, which will be welcome on a hot day, but no rain liner is included; if a storm moves in you’re out of luck. As a result, the Oxygen must be considered solely a fair-weather friend. Basically the only protection offered is to the knees, and there is no option should the day become rainy or cold while you’re out. In short, I would recommend the Oxygen only for warm-weather commuting on a daily basis in a dry climate.
Bilt Explorer by Cycle Gear | $299.99
With its Explorer name, these pants are designed for adventure riders and commuters who may encounter all sorts of weather. They’re made of a 600-denier outer material with inset mesh panels for cooling, and 1200-denier, abrasion-resistant sections on the knees and seat, along with CE-approved armor at the knees but none at the hips. With both removable liners zipped out, the mesh panels in the outer layer move some air and will keep you comfy on a warmer day. The thermal layer is not super warm by itself, as with it I could still feel some breeze flowing. Add the waterproof/windproof liner, however, and it should be cozy down to a very cold day.
Both liners install easily with a zipper and a pair of tabs, and there’s a reflective strip on each pocket. The lower leg has a narrow zippered entry so I had to remove my boots to enter.
The Explorer rates high in temperature versatility and, despite its two removable layers, did not become overly bulky. I would have liked them better if they had some hip padding. Still, the Explorer is a very versatile garment without too much bulk.
Competition Accessories Shadow Zurich Waterproof Pants | $124.99
There’s a lot here to like in the Shadow Zurich, as the legs of both the outer shell and inner thermal liner zip high enough to allow them to be entered without removing your boots; and there’s no third liner to mess with. With that said, however, Competition Accessories cautions that despite what they call a “Waterproof Nylon Poly Outer Shell,” a rainsuit is still recommended for extended wet-weather riding or heavy rain.
Zip and snap out the thermal liner, and front and rear vents in each leg promote good airflow for more versatile temperature use. The armor in the knees is CE-approved, but the impact-absorbing foam that lives in the hips is not. They feature a removable thermal liner that is quite warm, reflective piping on the legs, and two waterproof zippered pockets. The adjustable waist and knee panels, and the hook-and-loop waist belts offer plenty of adjustment.
Granted, the Shadow Zurich is not fully waterproof, but when you consider the price and relative simplicity it is a winner certainly for the commuting rider if not for the full-on, long-distance tourer.
Classic Draggin’ Jeans by Fast Company | $109.95
OK, if you insist on riding in jeans, the Classic Draggin’ Jeans (other models are available) look just like regular ol’ blue jeans with a straight leg and traditional five-pocket design. What Draggin’ Jeans does differently with these 14.5-ounce denim pants is provide them with a sewn-in 13.5-ounce Kevlar lining that extends from just below the belt loops to cover the entire seat, and vertically from hip seam to hip seam. An additional Kevlar liner covers each knee and shin.
I compared the Draggin’ product with my own blue jeans and they were just marginally heavier, while the Kevlar liner felt like a somewhat stiffer version of terrycloth. Once I had them on the fit was true, and other than being slightly warmer I quickly forgot they were any different from my customary pants.
The idea is that they won’t wear through and the seams won’t tear if you go sliding down the pavement, and their ads show a rider being dragged on the road behind a pickup truck. Note that the Kevlar liners provide no impact absorption, but Draggin’ Jeans offers knee and hip armor for an additional $26.95 a set. Finally, they’re made in the USA, and present a very simplified approach to rider protection.
Drayko Men’s Cargo Pants | $179.95
Let’s say that you’ve been called in for an informal meeting or casual lunch date, but you don’t want to wear blue jeans, overpants or bulky riding pants. In that case, you might consider Drayko’s Cargo Pant. Its cotton shell has the look of a casual black pant, but inside it’s lined with Kevlar all across the back to below the pockets, and also in the knees. The concept is similar to that of the Draggin’ Jeans on the previous page, and the company also offers jean-style pants.
They have traditional belt loops and the four usual pockets, but down on each leg is a cargo pocket with hook-and-loop flap. They were also marginally heavier than my standard blue jeans, and the large Kevlar patches have some insulating qualities and thus are slightly warmer, but they’re definitely for summer riding only.
Again, the Kevlar is for abrasion resistance so the pants are less likely to shred if the rider goes sliding down the road, but it has no impact absorption. They’re certainly preferable to standard jeans or dress pants for protection, but standard riding or overpants with CE-approved armor would offer more impact and weather protection.
Firstgear H/T Air Overpant | $249.95
These mesh overpants are made of 600-denier poly and 250-denier mesh, with a zip-out waterproof/breathable liner. There’s CE armor in the knees, but the hip padding is quite narrow and is likely to be of little benefit should you go rolling down the road.
The two front pockets are sealed against the rain, and there are also two pass-through openings for access to your inner pants or the liner pants, which also have pockets. The long zippers make getting into and out of them easy, even with boots on, and they cinch up with adjustable waist tabs. The side reflective panels provide some nighttime visibility. They’re a bit on the heavy/bulky side with the liners installed, but work well in terms of warmth.
Firstgear claims that the liner is breathable, and after wearing them while walking around and sitting at my desk I can verify that they have not become clammy. On a hot day that mesh body will provide good air movement, and while the waterproof liner blunts the wind it offers no thermal insulation. As a result, these pants should be considered primarily for warm-weather use, though they’re functional in both a wet and dry environment.
Icon Compound Mesh Overpant Stealth | $245
The idea behind these overpants is to blend the abrasion resistance of cowhide with the breathability of mesh. The mesh panels extend from below the adjustable waist straps and ratchet waist closure on the front to the knees. The fronts of the legs are leather, as are the sides and seat, with additional mesh panels behind the legs. Dual full-length side zippers allow for easy on/off, and CE-approved armor lives in the knees. They’re also cut plenty long enough, allowing the owner to trim the legs to length.
Out on the road the air moves freely through the front, and they feel airy yet protective. And yes, leather is not only more abrasion-resistant than textile, but it won’t melt. The pair of pockets enters into the mesh area, and the long side opening has a two-way zipper so the top part can be zipped down to allow access to your pants pockets underneath.
With its fully open mesh panels, the Stealth (which refers to its black color; it’s also available in white) is obviously intended for day rides and commuting in warm weather. In my estimation they’re a nice compromise, much lighter and cooler than leather pants, yet more protective than chaps.
Joe Rocket Ballistic 7.0 Pants | $149.99-$169.99
The Ballistic’s shell is made of heavy 630 Hitena twill nylon, and it includes a removable, waterproof liner. The CE-approved kneepads are adjustable for height, and the pants also include removable, high-density hip padding. On each lower leg is a melt-resistant material to save them should they contact the pipes or hot engine. The two-way leg zippers in both the liner and shell make them easy to get on over boots. They’re the only pant here with no reflective material, and have just the two conventional handwarmer pockets.
The Ballistic pants are relatively thick and heavy, and though they do not include an insulated thermal liner as such, I found the rain liner to be quite warm, but it does not breathe well. Because there are no mesh panels for ventilation, I would recommend these pants for use primarily in cooler riding weather. However, the two-way leg zippers do allow the sides of the legs to be partially opened for ventilation, which increases airflow and comfort. With the liner snapped and zipped out and the side zippers opened, these pants will also be usable in warmer weather.
Klim USA Latitude Pants | $499.99-$519.99
The Klim (pronounced “climb”) Latitude is a reminder that while most of these pants come only in black, a few are available in other colors. Also, the Latitude is one of the few pants that claim to be complete without having to deal with removable liners. When you consider the price here you’ll likely think they had better perform well, and they did. The Cordura laminate shell is lined with a Gore-Tex membrane and is “Guaranteed to keep you dry.” Also, both the knee and hip protectors are CE-approved, which is unusual.
The Latitude kept me warm on a cool evening ride, and when the weather warmed the next day, I merely opened the front and rear vents in the hips and the wind blew through the mesh lining. A couple pockets are located in the sides, and there’s a larger pocket on the left thigh.
Though expensive, the Klim Latitude has CE armor everywhere, the Gore-Tex breathable membrane, functional venting, reflective material and no liners to mess with. The side zippers were not long enough to allow them to fit over boots, but since there were no liners to deal with that was not a major issue here.
Olympia X-Moto All-Season Transition Pants | $299.99
Beneath the Cordura nylon shell with 2,000-denier Cordura reinforcements is a removable waterproof/breathable liner. The full-length leg zippers on both the outer shell and liner allow for easy entry with boots. The outer shell has two front zipper pockets and two rear snap pockets for carrying your stash. For protection, there’s adjustable CE knee armor with EVA compression foam in the hips. The reflective piping runs from the waist to the cuffs.
The X-Moto is quite warm with its liner in place, but zip and snap it out and discover a unique feature. The two front thigh panels zip down along the sides and then can be rolled down and stowed in a lower pocket to open a full mesh vent underneath. I found this feature to really add to the versatility and comfort of the pants in warm weather. In addition to the color shown, the X-Moto is also available in black.
Washable leather reinforcement panels extend from inside the thighs to the bottom, which will make them easier to keep clean. I found the X-Moto to be not only handsome, but also very effective and functional, despite having to deal with the removable liner.
Rev-it Tornado Silver Pants | $289.99
If you’re looking for a summer-weight protector that offers high style and features, the Tornado wants to ride with you. It’s made of 500-denier Lorica polyester and includes full mesh ventilation areas in the front and back of each leg. Inside is a zip-in liner that is both thermal and waterproof. The knee protectors are CE approved, there’s foam in the hips and reflective striping lines the legs at various heights. The pockets reach into the mesh areas, so the contents are not protected from the elements.
Once underway, the air moves freely through the mesh, but the thermal/rain liner blocks it. Even with the liner, the Tornado is not nearly as warm as a non-mesh pant would be. The long side zippers allow the Tornado pants to be removed without having to take off your boots, at which point the liner can be zipped out for hot days. Now it becomes a full mesh pant and gives the impression you’re wearing barely more than your blue jeans. If the silver color is too light for your tastes, the Tornado is also available in black.
The Tornado is a good choice for warm-weather riding while offering some impact protection and style.
Richa Spirit C-Change Pants | $579.99
According to Richa, at higher temperatures or during higher activity levels, pores in the C-Change membrane in its Spirit pants open to become heat and moisture permeable in an outward direction. At lower temperatures or activity levels the membrane's pores contract, retaining body heat. It’s a great idea, but in all honesty I was not able to test these pants under sufficient varied conditions during a Southern California summer to comment. I can say, however, that they utilize CE-approved armor in the knees along with high-density, energy-absorbing hip pads. And they offer a pair of waterproof pockets for basic storage, with a couple reflective stripes on each leg.
A unique feature is removable, adjustable suspenders that attach with hook-and-loop in the front and can be zipped off at the back if you wish. The removable quilted liner zips in at the waist and snaps in at the calves, and provides a good deal of warmth. I had to remove my boots to get into and out of the pants and deal with the liner.
With its weather-resistant nylon outer layer and very warm thermal layer, the Richa Spirit is definitely going to see you through bad weather, and the suspenders are a nice touch.
Scorpion Sports Monroe Pants | $169.95
The shell of Scorpion’s Monroe pants is made from 600-denier nylon with ballistic nylon panels for abrasion resistance. The knees are protected by CE-approved, ventilated armor, and the hips with polyurethane foam pads. Thanks to the long zippered entries in the shell and liner legs, the Monroe is easy to slip into with your boots on. Cinch up those dual waist adjustment belts, slip your hands into the zippered pockets and also appreciate the reflective trim.
And now for something a bit lighter, the Scorpion Monroe has an outer nylon layer—as does every other pant here—but its inner layer is essentially windproof and waterproof without having thermal insulation, so it’s much lighter and thinner than those utilized in most other pants. And when you pull out the liner and open the vents near the knees for a little additional cooling, it’s lighter still.
Scorpion’s Monroe pants are for the rider who spends most of his or her time riding in warm weather, and who will appreciate the product’s lightness and lack of bulk. Otherwise, it has all the usual features of pockets, armor, padding, those long and convenient side zippers, and you won’t have to hide when it rains.
Tour Master Caliber Pants | $179.99
Inside the 600-denier Carbolex shell of the Caliber is sewn a waterproof liner, which breathes well and which you won’t have to fuss with because it’s sewn in. If you’re going to be out in the cold, however, zip and snap in the thermal liner; both it and the main shell are equipped with long leg zippers to accommodate your boots. There’s even a 600-denier Ballistic Polyester seat pad to minimize slipping around when riding. What I especially appreciated were the CE-approved knee pads, along with soft hip armor; there is also padding sewn to the outside of the hips for that bit of extra impact protection.
The two hand pockets have zipper closures and a waterproof lining. Reflective piping runs up each leg for nighttime visibility and stretch fabric abounds so they’ll flex well.
The Caliber pants were especially warm, even with the thermal liner removed, which means they keep the windblast at bay. For this reason—and because there are no vents—I would recommend them primarily for riding in cooler weather as they could become uncomfortable in the heat.
Twisted Throttle/Macna All-Season Waterproof Bedoine Pants | $319.99
Macna’s Bedoine pants are made of Durylon, which is described as a polyamide with polyester that offers a high abrasion resistance. It also features a RaintexPlus waterproof and breathable membrane. It offers not only the traditional handwarmer pockets, but also a small change pocket and large cargo pocket with a key keeper. CE-approved armor lives in the knees, and there are foam pads in the hips. Each knee also carries a small reflective patch. A pair of buckles with hook-and-loop adjusters helps keep them from slipping down.
The thermal layer is quite light but warm, and the zip-in rain liner breathes well. A zippered vent lives in each leg above the knee, and with the liners removed (take off your boots first) they add a comfortable amount of moving air. There’s a mesh layer inside the main shell for all-around ventilation when the liners are removed.
The Bedoine is bulky but warm and breathes well, so it covers a wide range of temperatures.