When choosing motorcycle riding gear you have myriad of choices but all made with less than a handful of material options.
The more common choice for motorcycle riders include textile and leather with textile comprising several variations like mesh, Gore-Tex, other polyester type fabrics and sometimes all of the above interwoven to address specific rider needs.
When choosing riding gear - both pants and jacket - the rider must make it a personal choice based on their riding style, the time of year and where they ride. Long summer excursions in the Southwest likely calls for a different style of riding gear than winter commuting in the Northwest. However, personal comfort rules thus when deciding, choose the gear that keeps you well protected from the elements and in the event of a crash and doesn't hinder your ability to effectively pilot the motorcycle.
We fully understand the need to make the right choice the first time. Many new riders and even veteran riders call us with questions regarding this leather jacket vs. that textile jacket and what they should buy. Therefore, to help we have come up with some of the pros and cons of leather vs. textile riding gear to help you make an informed choice.
Leather Motorcycle Riding Gear
Leather harkens back to the good ole days of riding. In the opening sequence of the famed movie Easy Rider, Pete Fonda wears, but what else, leather pants and leather jacket. Leather continues to rule the road today - the only choice for many riders. Today's leather also boasts all sorts of features built into it for ventilation like perforated panels, zippered mesh-lined vents and strategically placed breathable textile materials. Some designs incorporate flex panels for a better fit and movement for the rider and most designs have pockets for upgraded armor packages if an armor kit was not included. Leather jacket design and overall construction has come a long way since the hot, tight fitting wear commonly worn decades ago.
Leather rates highest for impact and abrasion resistance and overall durability. It also comes more fitted and not as relaxed as other materials therefore it takes a while to break in similar to a baseball glove that molds with your hand over time. Expect leather pants and jackets to feel better each time out but until then you have to work with any stiffness until it stretches and conforms to your body.
Most leather gear needs treatment for wet weather but don't expect to come home dry in a downpour. In rainy areas or other wet weather, leather riding gear usually doesn't make much sense.
Pros for Leather Riding Gear
- Highest impact/abrasion resistance
- Generally more "tailor" fitted
- Most include back, elbow and/or shoulder armor
Cons for Leather Riding Gear
- Heavy and can be hot
- Needs conditioning and treatment after exposure to elements
- Requires break-in time
- Higher-end jackets with features come with high-end price
- Not the best choice for heavy rain riding
Textile Motorcycle Riding Gear
Textile gear has been around for a while but relatively new on the scene when compared to leather or denim. Textile is a synthetic fiber that refers to pretty much anything other than leather and denim. You can do a lot more with textile jackets including breathability, room for armor and waterproofing. Nothing matches textile for waterproof performance (laminate coating from the manufacturer works best followed by a zip-in liner) and unlike leather you can slip textile jacket or pants over your everyday wear including a leather jacket.
Additionally, textile ranks highest in ventilation and you can easily find gear that works all year round regardless of climate or weather. Additionally, most textile riding gear offers additional pockets and storage areas for safe keeping of your personal effects.
Textile does not match leather in abrasion or impact performance and more or less requires the use of CE-approved armor for elbows, shoulders, and the back pad for jackets and hips and knee plates for pants. Most textile jackets and pants include an integrated armor system while others feature extra padding with available armor placement, meaning you have to buy the extra reinforcements. One thing to note, however, more and more manufactures have incorporated new materials giving today's textile gear the best abrasion resistance in its class but it still doesn't match leather.
Pros for Textile Riding Gear
- High impact/abrasion resistance
- Versatile offering more freedom and room
- Wide range in pricing
- Waterproof options
- Comfortable out of the box
Cons for Textile Riding Gear
- Abrasion/impact resistance doesn't match leather
- Some garments include armor some do not
By and large, think of leather as a bit needy and a little more high-maintenance and when cared for you just might get a soul mate. Textile on the other hand gets pretty much up for anything and helps out in a pinch but easily replaceable when necessary.
Most riders have more than one set of riding gear with a favorite used most often and a back-up jacket and pants or two for weather or other anticipated riding conditions. Whether you go for leather, textile or a combination of both, wear what makes you feel protected against the worst of scenarios and comfortable in the best of conditions.