Affordable Motorcycle Jackets Buyers Guide
We’re all aware that the economy has been in the tank for several years, and the result is that many of us are being much more careful with our money. We want to stretch it, to get good value for every precious dollar, and of course we want to take advantage of the fuel economy available from our motorcycles by riding when we can. We need protection not only in terms of weather, but also should we go tumbling from our bikes. And we want protection from high prices.
In consideration of the above, we at Rider asked these various motorcycle apparel companies to send us what they consider an affordable jacket from their line, one that delivers a lot of features for the money. The term “affordable” is, of course, relative, so rather than setting a price range we allowed the manufacturers to choose the product that filled the bill. As a result, the price points range from about $100 to more than $400. As for what you can afford personally, we’ll leave that decision in your capable hands.
In keeping with the concept of affordability, each of these jackets is made of a textile fabric, and most have very similar features. For temperature control, most offer a removable liner that zips or snaps into the shell; a full-sleeve liner has the potential to be warmer than a vest liner. Of course, if you remove that liner you’re going to need a place to stow it. There are usually multiple, controllable vents in both the front and rear for flow-through ventilation, and often vents on the sleeves. A good number of pockets will accommodate your cell phone or iPhone and wallet…earplugs…pocket change…garage remote…you get the idea.
These jackets have “armor” that is composed of high-density pads usually on the elbows and shoulders and sometimes the back, protecting the areas most likely to contact the asphalt should you take a tumble. The European Community (CE) issues standards for approved impact-absorbing materials, and those jackets that are said to have met or exceeded these standards are indicated as having CE-approved armor. Of course, this material cannot do its job if it rotates off your elbows and such during a get-off. Those straps on the sleeves are there not only to improve the fit when the liner is removed, but also to take up the slack so that the armor can stay in place. Please note that in the story I differentiate between the liner, which refers to an insulated section that zips or snaps out, as opposed to the lining, which is a permanent part of the jacket. Most of these jackets have a lining or liner that the manufacturer claims is both breathable and waterproof; we did not test the latter claim. Each jacket breathed well enough that it did not become clammy.
The manufacturers were asked to send an example of their jacket that they feel would photograph best. Nearly all of these jackets are available in a variety of colors, so if you like a particular jacket but not its hue, see the website for full color and sizing information. It’s also a plus that these jackets have some reflective striping so that the rider can be more visible in low-light conditions.
For our test, I wore each jacket on an unfaired motorcycle on which I noted and tested how well it sealed for wind protection and temperature control. Then I removed the liner, opened the vents and noted the effectiveness of its air flow. I utilized the pockets and got an overall “feel” for them, and any other features of the jacket.
What do I look for in an affordable jacket beyond price? Versatility. I want a jacket that can be functional over a wide range of temperatures and uses. If you already have a jacket for cold weather, you may wish to select one with a mesh lining and body for hot weather. That may well suit your particular needs, but will not likely prove versatile for overall riding. I comment upon the temperature versatility of each jacket here. As for which to choose, that’s up to you.
Aerostich Darien Light
This made-in-America product has been around for years, and though not as stylish as some, it excels in ruggedness and functionality.
The Darien Light is Aerostich’s least expensive jacket. It differs from its heavier brother in that the Light’s shell is made of a 200-denier Cordura Gore-Tex fabric, while the shell of the regular Darien ($457) is made of a 500 denier. The Light offers the same suede collar, underarm and back vents, two huge front pockets and a sleeve pocket in addition to a pair of handwarmers. The reflective patches are huge, and there’s CE armor in the shoulders and elbows.
Close the shell and the Light is very wind tight, thus warmer than expected. Open the two underarm vents, back vent and the collar and things lighten up a lot, though not nearly as much as jackets that have front vents. Its Gore-Tex shell breathes well and never becomes clammy. Another optional feature of both Darien jackets is that Aerostich offers a heavy fleece liner, air liner, electric liner and electric vest that can be worn independently.
Men’s sizes 36-54.
Alpinestars Lucerne Drystar
Made of polyamide with 600-denier polyester fabric reinforcements, the Lucerne Drystar features two removable liners, one a thermal and the other composed of a breathable and waterproof Drystar fabric. Both can be left in for maximum warmth and dryness, or can be removed for maximum airflow—note that the removal and installation process can take some time. There’s removable CE armor over the elbows and shoulders, and chest and back compartments with PE foam padding; a back protector insert and chest pad are available as accessory upgrades. And of course there’s effective reflective striping.
With the liners removed and the front and rear vents opened, the jacket moves a bit of air. With the hook-and-loop arm straps, rotate the zippered air intakes along the arms to face forward and they’ll provide good airflow. There’s a pair of zippered handwarmer pockets, along with a chest pocket and internal storage.
The entire jacket closes securely and the Drystar liner is not clammy, so the Lucerne is relatively comfortable. It provides a good range of temperature comfort, though not as much at the high or low end as some others here.
Men’s sizes 32-54.
Cycle Gear Bilt Storm
Here’s an attractive jacket with something different. Not only is its removable liner made of warm fleece, but when removed that liner can also be worn independently as a light garment that zips up and includes handwarmers and two interior pockets. The outer jacket’s shell is made of 600-denier Pro-Flex with reflective piping on the sleeves, chest and back. It includes two cargo pockets and a pair of handwarmers, with a larger rear pocket.
p>CE-approved armor inhabits the shoulders and elbows, with a thin foam pad in the back. Within the shell is a waterproof lining, with an interior mesh lining closest to the rider for breathability.
The jacket shell offers pairs of vents in the chest, inner sleeves and shoulders, but when you ride with them open something very strange happens—air pressure inflates the inner waterproof lining which expands and intrudes against the rider. Closing the sleeve and shoulder vents solves the inflation problem, but also essentially eliminates the venting effect.
The Storm is strong on style and pockets, excels in its multi-function fleece liner and works well in cool weather, but the lack of functional venting limits its use in warm weather.
Men’s sizes S-4XL.
Go take a jaunt in the Jaunt with its Hypertex waterproof, breathable, 600-denier polyester liner, protected by CE-rated armor in the shoulders and elbows, along with an EVA foam back pad.
In cooler weather ,leave the insulated, fully sleeved liner in place but note that its edges do not overlap so it leaves a cool four-inch-wide strip in the center felt especially in the chest.
When the weather warms, zip and snap out the thermal liner and transfer the items in its cell phone and map pockets to the identical pockets in the Jaunt’s lining. Open the two front eight-inch air intakes and the two 10-inch rear vents and you’ll feel the coolness especially in your shoulders. Exterior storage is provided by four large pockets with hook-and-loop and snap closures. Reflective panels are mounted on the front, the sides of the arms and the back of the jacket.
The Jaunt’s temperature range will be moderate as it does not insulate the chest area well, and its venting is concentrated in the shoulders and chest. Despite this it’s still a good value with its practical pockets and handsome style.
Men’s S-3XL, Tall L-2XL.
Gerbing’s eXtreme Element Jacket
Here’s a jacket with something extra, as Gerbing’s prides itself on creating the “world’s warmest clothing.” The eXtreme Element is lined with a system of micro-wires that, when plugged into a receptacle you install on your bike’s battery, provide soothing, oozing electric heat to keep you warm under most riding conditions. It also has a non-removable thermal liner, and a shell made of seam-sealed, waterproof Cordura nylon.
The jacket has CE-rated, removable Knox armor in the shoulders, elbows and spine, and offers four large front pockets, a pair of handwarmers and reflective piping and strips. The battery harness is included, but the temperature controller ($69.95) is optional. It is highly recommended as the jacket puts out so much heat.
The microwires go all the way down the sleeves and up into the collar for maximum comfort. Hookups for Gerbing’s electric gloves and pants are included, and Gerbing’s is moving both its production and material sourcing back to the USA.
Though not inexpensive (especially if you get the temp controller), the Gerbing XE is the choice here for riding in cold, inclement weather. However, with neither vents nor removable liner it’s not a good choice for warmer weather.
Olympia Moto Sports Switchback Mesh Tech
Intended for hot-weather riding, Olympia’s Switchback Mesh Tech has a shell made of 500-denier Cordura nylon, while inside is a zip-out, waterproof nylon liner with a polyester mesh backing that prevents it from becoming clammy on warm days. The liner zips entirely closed in the front to prevent any wind or rain from coming through.
Removable CE-approved armor at the elbows and shoulders, along with a removable articulated back protector, offer good protection, and Scotchlite piping makes it more visible. Its two lower pockets team with an interior cell phone pocket for a minimal amount of storage, and an eight-inch zipper allows it to connect to pants.
Among the jackets here, the stylish Switchback is particularly suited for hot weather. It moves a lot of air while still providing impressive impact protection.
Keep in mind that while it’s a windbreaker and should keep you dry, its liner offers no thermal insulation and its mesh shell is—like a 24-hour gas station—always open so it will not be suitable for cooler riding and therefore will not likely be your all-around bit of couture. Still, within its tightly focused intent it functions very well.
Men’s S-4XL, women’s XS-3XL.
Roadgear Tierra del Fuego
Named for the tip of South America to where the hardiest adventurers travel, the Tierra del Fuego jacket (or TDF) offers full features. Its Maxtex outer shell has Ballistic-nylon reinforced shoulders, elbows and upper back, and a waterproof, breathable Reissa membrane inside. In addition to the CE-approved armor in the shoulders and elbows, it includes a Tempurfoam spine guard. Storage areas include a wallet pocket, a second inside zippered pocket and a pair of zippered/snapped pockets on the outside.
There’s Scotchlite reflective piping on the front, back and sides, then when the day warms, zip and snap out the DuPont ThermoLite full-sleeve liner and open the large zippered chest, sleeve and rear vents. You’ll receive a blast of air with the vents open, though not as much of a rush as would be available with a true mesh liner. The TDF’s liner is a tight-weave nylon, which causes it to be oriented more toward the cool weather side of the equation rather than including the full heat and humidity of summer.
Men’s sizes 38-52, women’s S-L.
Scorpion Sports Torque
Designed for warm-weather use, the Torque features a 600-denier outer shell with a polyurethane coating and mesh lining. Its zip-in, vest-style liner is made of polyester “Kwikwick” moisture-absorbent material, and is likewise light in weight. CE-approved armor resides in the shoulders and elbows, and there’s also a foam back pad. Just riding around zipped up it allows some breeze to pass through, so once the liner is removed and the front and rear vents are opened the breeze moves through freely—a relief on a hot day.
Handwarmer pockets live in the shell, with a wallet pocket in the lining, but those are the only storage areas in the Torque. There’s a five-inch strip of reflective material below the collar in the back.
The Torque jacket is handsome and attractive, but its shell is not wind-tight. With a vest-only liner it’s going to be cool and breezy, and not a good choice except on a warm day. While it may not be very versatile, the Torque is very good at what it does.
Men’s XS-2XL. *In sizes small through XL it’s priced at $149.95, but the 2XL size will cost you $15 extra.
The Napoli by Sedici’s outer shell is made of a 600-denier textile material that is covered by a 1200 denier at abrasion points for additional protection. It incorporates a vest-style rather than a fully sleeved liner, yet the body blocks the breeze quite well. With the liner removed I could really feel the difference in heat as its wrist, shoulder, underarm and back vents are very effective. In addition to CE-approved armor in the shoulders and elbows, it also has a rather thick, stiff back pad. Though it was marked as a size medium, this jacket was a very tight fit for me, which made the back pad intrusive. Check with the manufacturer for sizing information.
There are pockets for your electronic devices in the liner, but none in the lining. When the liner is removed that leaves only an internal wallet pocket and a pair of handwarmer-style pockets in the shell for all your carrying needs.
Overall, the Sedici Napoli is functional in terms of temperature control though it’s light on pockets and storage. The sizing is also a concern, so you might head on over to your local Cycle Gear store to try one on.
Sliders Quest 3
This ¾-length touring-style jacket offers a waterproof shell with an attached rain hood that can be worn under the helmet. There’s a fully sleeved thermal liner for cold weather; for hot weather remove it and sink yourself into the mesh lining. The Quest 3 offers a wide selection of zippered vents on the chest, shoulders, underarms and sleeves, along with two horizontal exhaust vents on the back.
The Quest 3 features DuPont Kevlar in the impact areas over the arms and shoulders, along with CE-approved armor there and on the back.
For storage utilize the large zippered pockets on the chest and at the waist—the latter are nicely lined and have handwarmers behind them—plus two internal organizer pockets and a small one on the left sleeve. On the lower back is a 13-inch-wide storage pouch for larger items.
The Quest 3 does an admirable job of keeping you warm or cool, has plenty of pockets and the price is right. Unfortunately, there’s a price to be paid as it’s also the bulkiest and heaviest jacket here. The jacket is available primarily at Competition Accessories stores, and I suggest you try it in person to get a feel for it.
Men’s S-3XL, Tall M-3XL.
Tour Master Saber Series 3
With a shell made of 600-denier Carbolex outer fabric, a Rainguard breathable liner, reflective strips and patches, and CE-approved protectors, the Saber 3 is one of the least expensive fully featured jackets in our test. The fully sleeved thermal liner is welcome and warm, but the collar sits low and has a wide opening so it tends to leak air around the neck. Storage areas include a pair of shallow breast pockets, large cargo pockets backed by handwarmers, device pockets inside both the liner and lining, and across the rear is a 13-inch-wide fanny pack-style pocket.
With the thermal liner zipped and snapped out, open the vents in the arms and shoulders along with the rear vents, and—oops—the inrushing air inflates the lining, which then intrudes upon the rider. I was able to minimize this effect by closing the arm vents and opening the collar to enjoy some venting action.
The Saber Series 3 is among the most affordable and versatile jackets here, and a good all-rounder, though its cold-weather function is compromised by its loose collar and its hot-weather function is compromised by the inflating lining. Consider it if your budget is light and you need a good middle-range jacket.
Twisted Throttle Macna Oasis
Pull the Oasis from the box and you’ll likely be as impressed as we were with its features and style. It offers a nice tri-color design with attractive color and reflective panels, and soft logos on the sleeves. Most jacket liner sleeves attach to cuffs loosely with snaps or hook-and-loop that can snag on your watch or wrist. The Oasis cuffs, however, zip cleanly around its perimeter so there’s nothing left to snag. This attention to detail is impressive.
Inside are two liners, a waterproof and a thermal, either of which may be used separately. Again, two liners double the time it takes to remove or replace them.
Note the CE-approved protectors in the shoulders and elbows, with a pad on the back. With the liners removed, opening a panel on each side of the chest and one across the back exposes a mesh panel for moderate airflow. Another pair of vents on the forearms completes the airflow. The Oasis abounds in storage with an interior pocket, one on the chest, a pair on the front and another pair on the sleeves; there’s even one on the back.
With its attractive style, functionality and practicality the Oasis is one of the more desirable jackets here.
Vega Mercury Mesh Jacket
When it comes to affordability, the Mercury by Vega is the least expensive in our test. However, it is also very tightly and narrowly focused. This sport-length jacket is designed to keep one cool, comfortable and protected during hot-weather riding. It features a light 150-denier mesh shell for maximum airflow, and a foam back pad along with removable, CE-certified armor in the shoulders and elbows. Handwarmer-style pockets grace the front, and there’s a wallet pocket with hook-and-loop closures inside. Reflective material in the form of patches and piping lives on the front and back of the jacket. It can also be paired with the Mercury Mesh Pants for a total look.
What distinguishes the Mercury from the other mesh jacket in our test is that its body is fully mesh, front and rear, and it offers no removable liner or controllable vents to block the wind. Because nothing impedes the airflow, it is suitable only for hot days and good weather. For that reason you might want to save it for day rides or commuting, as it is one of the least versatile jackets here.
Men’s S-4XL, women’s S-XL, 1W and 2W.
(This Low-Cost Coats: Affordable Jackets for the Open Road Buyers Guide was published in the October 2012 issue of Rider.)