Motorcycle jackets for hot weather riding

By: On: May 30th, 20100 Comments »Updated: August 22, 2015

Frank Thomas Air Rider motorcycle jacket Shopping for a motorcycle jacket for hot weather riding?  There’s certainly a lot to choose from.  It took me about a year before I finally found the right one for me. I ended up buying it at Cycle Gear, but only after visiting several motorcycle dealers and a few motorcycle gear stores.

Because I have personally studied a huge variety of motorcycle jackets and tried on countless numbers of jackets myself over the past year or more, I felt I should share this experience to help others in their search of the best jacket for the money.

Important things to pay attention to when trying on motorcycle jackets are:

Padding If the jacket has built-in or removable padding, such as the CE-approved type, the pads should sit nicely on your shoulders and should stay at your elbows.  Some jackets have adjustable straps at the elbows to take up extra slack, and that can help keep the elbow pads located properly.  If the pads are so ill-fitting that they are falling off your shoulders and are not staying at your elbows, then you have the wrong size or the jacket is not made well.
Zippers Pay attention to the zipper quality and zipper pulls.  Can you zip and unzip with gloves on?
Cuffs and collars Almost every kind of jacket I tried on had a completely different design in these areas.  Some were quite irritating and others were very comfortable.  I looked for a jacket that I could close the collar and cuffs to comfortably block wind or rain.  Many I looked at didn’t really have a collar, like several Icon jackets and Joe Rocket jackets.
Hook-and-loop Velcro (or other brand) closures are common on textile motorcycle jackets – its a convenient feature and it works great, but I personally am not a big fan of this.  I don’t like to walk into work making a lot of noise as I tear-off my jacket.  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I mostly prefer buckles and snaps, and am a minimalist when it comes to hook and loop.
Riding position fit If possible, sit down after you put on the jacket that you are interested in.  A lot of motorcycle jackets fit great in the store when your standing up, but then when you ride, they don’t conform well to your riding position.  An all too common complaint about motorcycle jackets is when a jacket bunches up in the chest area.  Street bikes often make you ride hunched over.
Vents on the back Some mesh or vented motorcycle jackets only have vents on the front.  When you allow air into your jacket, you also need a way for the air to get out.  If there is no vent on the back, the jacket will balloon up like a parachute while you’re riding, especially at highway speeds.

Many of the motorcycle dealers that I visited had very limited brands and styles in stock.  Several did have a small selection of low-cost motorcycle jackets, but some of the lighter weight types were so flimsy that their low cost didn’t really matter.  The higher-end motorcycle gear brands are very nice, but didn’t fit my $150 maximum budget.

Motorcycle jackets are generally divided into two main categories: textile and leather.  Textile is just a fancy word for fabric.  Some of the modern textile motorcycle jackets actually approach the wear resistance that leather offers, but with so many different trade names for materials, it’s hard to know what quality your really getting (aside from the materials on the tag), and also how durable it will actually be over the long run, or on the pavement.

mesh and leather motorcycle jacket with rear ventsMesh motorcycle jackets have become extremely popular because they keep you cool by allowing air to flow freely through them.  Before buying any mesh motorcycle jacket, beware they mostly work as designed – they really let a lot of air though.  If you want to wear a mesh motorcycle jacket for more than just the hottest riding conditions, then make sure it has a removable liner or removable wind blocking exterior panels.

As motorcycle racers know,  not much else matches the level of skin protection that leather offers.  At least nothing as simple as a layer of leather.  While durability and abrasion resistance is great, many leather motorcycle jackets can make you sweat like crazy on hot summer days – especially when you’re stuck in stop-and-go traffic!   I always wore leather, but in the summer, I usually had to take it off by mid-day since it had no ventilation.

Brooks Leather Sportswear motorcycle jacketsThanks to low-cost manufacturing in places like China, off-brand leather motorcycle jackets can be found in the $100 range, and name brands can be found in the $200 range.  Top names like Vanson leathers go for much more.

My first motorcycle jacket was leather and was a Brooks, made in USA.  Quality was, and still is, top-notch. This Brooks leather jacket has outlasted me because outgrew it after 30+ years of owning it.  Unfortunately, I finally broke the original C&C metal zipper after squeezing myself into my old jacket for several rides.  Thankfully, Brooks was able to repair it at their factory in Massachusetts with a new heavy duty YKK metal zipper, same as they use for their modern family of American made leather jackets.  Now I can hand this classic jacket down to my sons.

As in any other type of clothing, motorcycle jacket styles come and go. This is especially true with textile motorcycle jackets. Just about every year, jacket manufacturers, and motorcycle gear manufacturers in general, make adjustments to the styles they offer, often as incremental improvements or sometimes just new gimmicks.

For riding hotter and more humid conditions, there are many textiles to choose from, leather/textile combination, and also perforated leather motorcycle jackets. The perforated leathers are nice, but they are normally quite expensive and therefore we will leave those out for now.

The motorcycle jacket I finally selected was one I actually had never seen before, even though I looked at hundreds online and in stores.  It was actually the first, relatively reasonably priced jacket that met all of my criteria.  I got it at my local Cycle Gear store in Matthews NC, where it was the last one they had leftover from the prior year’s styles.

I was looking for a combination of leather and textile, especially because I didn’t forget how hot my old leather jacket was.  I wanted leather on the elbows, shoulders and waste for protection and strength, and breathable material on the main body, but was not looking for traditional mesh.  I wanted the modern CE approved, flexible protection, and wanted them to be removable (not that I would remove them, but it’s nice to have the option).  Also, I was looking for removable and perhaps upgradeable back protector pad.

For additional vents, I wanted a few uncomplicated zippered vents on the front and back for more air flow when riding around the sunny southeastern US in the summertime.

And lastly, and maybe most important to me was for the jacket to be low-key, no big logos, no bold brand name advertising, nothing loud, nothing crazy.  I totally agree with the can you see me now way of thinking, but my personal preference is to be more subtle.

Frank Thomas baseball player not motorcycle jacketWhile I came very close to buying a Tour Master jacket, the jacket that met every single item on my list, including being on clearance sale, is a Frank Thomas Air Ride (FTL284).  Frank Thomas is a UK motorcycle apparel brand, sold in the USA exclusively at Cycle Gear, but is commonly available in the UK at various dealers.  The Frank Thomas Air Ride jacket has apparently been replaced by the Air Fusion, which is also a leather/mesh hybrid motorcycle jacket.

My guess is that in the UK, they probably don’t realize that most Americans know Frank Thomas as the big home run hitting baseball player, not the motorcycle apparel company.  I doubt Frank could ever fit into the motorcycle jackets and other gear that bears his name!  They didn’t call him the “Big Hurt” for nothing.  In fact, I’m hoping my new Frank Thomas jacket will help protect me from a big hurt!

About John Clay

John Clay is the author of MotorcycleInfo.Org. He and his family reside in North Carolina in the United States. A graduate of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced Rider Course, he enjoys riding his Moto Guzzi in charity rides and serves as a volunteer motorcycle marshal for an annual bicycle charity event in the Carolinas.

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