Types of Motorcycle Jackets and Pants
Sportbike and Racing
Aggressive street riders require the utmost in safety features. This implies a leather or high-end textile garment with plenty of armour.
Sporty apparel should have a tight fit, which facilitates aerodynamics and safety. It should be close-fitting around the ankles and wrists too, so your gloves and boots can be secured over top. You’ll also want the jacket and pants to mate very well, possibly strapping together. Buying a matching set is one way to ensure a seamless interface. If you choose a one-piece suit, this obviously isn't an issue.
Sport bike jackets may have a speed hump (the kind on your back, not on the road). Speed humps improve aerodynamics and decrease neck fatigue. However, they also make it difficult or impossible to wear a backpack. Your call.
Cruisers will often blend fashion and function. On top, a form-fitting leather jacket is the most popular choice. However, some textile jackets look equally cool on a cruiser. This is especially true in the heat of summer, when textiles have a distinct advantage in terms of wicking and ventilation.
For pants, cruisers have a wide range of choices. Leather pants, textile pants, chaps and armoured jeans will all do the trick. Your individual safety and style preferences will be the best guiding force.
Touring apparel tends to have a loose fit. Designed for long rides in variable climates, it must be concerned with comfort as well as safety. A good touring jacket or pant will have plenty of special features that add to functionality.
Some key things to look for are waterproofing and removable liners. This keeps you dry and allows for the addition or removal of layers. Touring jackets will have lots of adjustable straps, so the jacket can be cinched in as underlayers are removed.
Some advanced models will come with built-in hydration and heating systems. You may also find special pockets for your traveler’s kit: cell phones, communication devices, GPS systems, maps – that kind of thing.
Adventure riding normally involves long days on mixed terrain. This requires very technical apparel, which must be breathable, waterproof and protective. For these reasons, adventure riders normally choose textile jackets and pants.
Like touring riders, adventurers often employ a looser fit. This will give you more comfort, pocket space and the ability to add or remove underlayers. ADV jackets and pants should have a tough external shell – normally some type of high-denier nylon. This will protect against the inevitable bumps and scrapes.
Off-road and Motocross
Dirt riders have very different needs. Abrasion resistance becomes less of an issue, while impact absorption is highly important. You should look for jackets and pants with good interior armour and a durable outer shell. The former will ensure your safety for bumps and falls in gnarly terrain. The latter is crucial for protecting yourself – and the garment – from scraping tree branches and roost. Depending on where and when you ride, waterproofing may or may not be an issue. Regardless, textile gear is the way to go.
Off-roaders complicate the issue a bit, as many don’t wear armour-integrated apparel at all. Instead, they will use separate chest protectors, roost deflectors, shin pads, etc. These can be worn with a jersey and riding pants, which provides exceptional airflow. Piece-wise armour is excellent for summer rides and racing, while a jacket and pant is preferable in colder weather.
This is a toughie. You’re a motorcyclist for a few hours a day and a regular office worker for the rest. Or something like that.
The problem is, very few people want to walk around the office looking like a leathered-up biker. And nobody wants to hit the pavement at 100 km/h dressed like an office worker.
Crossover pieces solve this dilemma. For pants, armoured jeans are a great choice. They look normal, but are reinforced with things like Kevlar and Aramid fibres. Alternately, you could use an overpant. These are a lot like regular motorcycle pants: waterproof, armoured and abrasion resistant. However, they are designed to be worn on top of your work or casual wear. Chaps play a similar role.
Jackets are less of an issue. Anything reasonably loose-fitting should get the job done without crumpling your dress shirt.
It’s rare for an all-weather rider to get away with only one jacket and pant. Normally, you will need a few options in the closet. For hot weather, mesh jackets and pants can’t be beat. For wet weather, something with a waterproof membrane is obviously a good idea. Alternately, you could buy a rain shell that is worn over your existing jacket and pant.
For colder weather, something with a removable insulated liner is the best choice. This will allow you to customize your layering. You could even add a heated liner when the weather goes all Canadian on you.