Many new riders contact us looking for advice about what to buy for their first motorcycle jacket. There are many options in leather and textiles. The motorcycle jacket needs to provide both protection and comfort, and it should look good. After all, why do we take up riding motorcycles in the first place? Don't forget to also protect your legs and butt. In a low-side fall, your knees, hips and butt will be the first part of your body to grind on the pavement. You're going to need protective pants, too. The primary function of your motorcycle gear is protection in a crash. Make sure that it is tough and has padding in vulnerable areas like the shoulders, elbows and knees.
Without a doubt, leather will offer the best protection in a crash. Leather has the best abrasion resistance and is the least likely to tear when it hits the pavement. This is why racetracks require leather suits for recreational track-day events as well as for racing. Leather is also very durable and might last longer than you do so, you should pick out something that you won't get tired of after a couple of years. One of my first leather motorcycle jackets, which I bought nearly 25 years ago, got a bit snug around the middle but, was otherwise in excellent condition. This happens to a lot of guys my age. I handed it down to my 18 year old son and his friends admire it for the "classic" that it is! I'm glad now that I didn't jump on the red Michael Jackson "Thriller" jacket that was also available at the time.
As for weather protection, leather is great for most of the spring, summer, and fall, which is when people ride the most. While it's true that leather can get a bit warm in the summer, the textiles can get warm, too. If you live in an area with very hot summers, look for something with lots of zippered vents.
Leather can be treated with a waterproof leather dressing but, even if treated, it will withstand rain for only a short time. Hopefully, it will hold out the rain just long enough for you to get home from work. If leather is your preference, you can always carry a lightweight rain-suit in your tank-bag.
Textiles are usually lighter in weight and easier to wear. Many textile jackets are less expensive than leather. Textiles are usually made of strong synthetics such as nylon, polyester, Cordura, and Ballistics cloth. Textiles dry much faster than leather and many are waterproof. Gore-Tex is widely known as one of the very best waterproof and breathable materials. There are also other waterproof options such as Drystar, Rainguard, Rock Tex, D-Dry, Hypertex, H2Out, Hydratex, HYDRAGuard. Keep in mind that all waterproof materials are a compromise. The more waterproof any fabric is, the less breathable, and the more breathable it is, the less waterproof. Select something according to the climate you live in and will ride in.
Most dedicated year-round riders will own a textile winter jacket to complement their leather summer jacket. Many year-round jackets have removable insulated layers, waterproof layers, and the protective outer shell.
If your new jacket will be only for summer use, you should fit it over one or two lightweight shirts or t-shirts. If you'll wear it in colder temperatures, fit it loose enough to layer on a sweater, hoody, or a fleece jacket. Make sure that the sleeves are long enough to cover your wrists when your hands are stretched out to your bars and that the tail covers the waistband of your pants when sitting in your riding position.
You should select your first motorcycle jacket to suit the conditions you'll ride in most of the time. If you get hooked on the sport like the rest of us have, you can always get a specific jacket for extreme warm or extreme cold conditions later.