While spending the big bucks on a helmet is typically the first priority for new riders or those who are upgrading their gear, we must not forget the importance of a quality jacket when it comes to rider safety.
Your helmet protects your brain – arguably the most important part of your body – but your jacket needs to be up-to-par to ensure the safety of the other vital organs that keep your body functioning.
With such a huge range of leather jackets available, there is one major issue when selecting a jacket that’s right for you: they all look way too similar. How can we judge which leather jackets are better than others when they all feature leather construction and look about the same? What does a $600 jacket have that my current $300 jacket is missing?
Today, I present you a list of what I have found to be the best leather jackets and split them up into three very important categories: Casual, Sport, and Women’s jackets. I have included options for all pricing categories so riders of all budgets can make sure they are making the right choice when buying a new leather motorcycle jacket in 2020.
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Made of 100% aniline treated cowhide, the Merlin Hixon is a beautiful and durable jacket. Designed to be comfortable from near the freezing point all the way into a California summer, the Hixon features a removable thermal liner, and vents on the chest and upper back to keep air flowing freely through the jacket.
CE level 1 armor protects your elbows and shoulders, with a back pocket for an optional spine protector. All fasteners are double redundant, often with zips under clasps to ensure that should you take a tumble, the jacket will not open accidentally.
The jacket is also microperforated without losing any water resistance. It definitely carries the look of a ruggedized old school adventure jacket, but with modern 21st century touches.
Best Casual Leather Jackets
When it comes to leather motorcycle jackets, you really only get to pick from one of two options… Understated casual jackets for cruising through town or riding to a business meeting, or logo-blasted MotoGP-inspired race jackets designed for maximum protection at high speeds. Here’s what we think are the two best options for casual riders:
The Raider Leather jacket by First Manufacturing is the perfect casual option for riders seeking a stylish jacket that checks both boxes off for protection and style while maintaining features to keep your daily commute pain-free. What makes this such a ‘daily driver’ jacket? There are 16 pockets for functional storage. Anything you could need to stash away on-the-go can be placed into any of the 16 pockets provided. Just make sure you keep track of where things are going, of course.
The jacket features a Diamond cowhide construction for great durability and safety. Leather isn’t typically the most breathable fabric, so for those who naturally run-hot or live in warmer climates you’ll be pleased to hear that there is a removable zip-out liner and ventilation so you can stay comfortable no matter the season.
This jacket may not come with armor pads installed from the get-go, but have no fear, there are pockets in the shoulders, elbows, and back for armor pieces that can be purchased separately. A simply fantastic jacket given the features and price point.
Coming in at just more than double the price of the First Manufacturing Raider jacket listed above, we have the Roland Sands Design Ronin Leather Jacket. Roland Sands is known for great-looking, high-quality jackets with all the features we have come to expect from a high-end jacket manufacturer. The RSD Ronin looks like a cafe-race-style motorcycle was turned into a jacket. You can find 1mm thick cowhide construction around the entire jacket that has been finished and waxed for maximum comfort.
The arms are pre-curved which is a great feature knowing that you will be posted-up on your motorcycle the majority of the time while you’re wearing this garment. Unfortunately, taking into account the cost of the jacket it is slightly disappointing to see that it also doesn’t come with armor, but RSD has partnered with Forcefield and has spots for all kinds of D30 armor goodness that can be purchased separately.
The Joe Rocket Classic ‘92 is, quite simply, a jacket that from 1992 that has been updated to 2021 standards. Made of 1 to 1.2 mm drum dyed cowhide, the jacket is bare bones, just enough to be retro without overstating it.
Armor is not included, unfortunately, but there are zips that will allow for shoulder, elbow, and back armor to be inserted. There is a zip in liner that is quilted to be extra warm on those cold days, but can be removed on the warm ones. A tight fitting but comfortable mandarin-style collar helps keep your neck out of the wind as much as possible.
Ventilation is mostly through the upper chest zips, although there are no rear exhaust vents. As stated, this is a leather jacket for those that want the best retro style protection without going overboard.
Street & Steel Dakota and Madison
Price: Mens (Dakota) $249.99 Womens (Madison) $249.99
We have to admit here at BadAss that we’ve been impressed with the gear that has been coming out of Street & Steel, and the Dakota is no exception. Definitely a cruiser’s jacket, it is pure aniline cowhide, 1.2 to 1.4 mm thick. All the zippers are true YKK, and provide access to ventilation, pockets, and concealed pockets as well.
The lapels can be worn multiple ways, such as snapped down as in the picture. They can also be worn with the zip fully up, in which case the upper lapels become the primary lapels. There are two hidden zippered vents in the vertical shoulder seams on the back. As well, there is a jeans loop built into the jacket, and the belt on the waist is fully removable.
However, and this is the best official description for the Dakota at least, it is designed to have a “generous American fit.” Definitely a cruiser jacket!
If the saying “looks can be deceiving” could ever be applied to a riding jacket, the Scorpion EXO 1909 is that jacket. A simple, retro exterior, which is distressed to look worn in and used, hides a technological marvel of a motorcycle jacket.
First up is Scorpions inner liner, which will keep you warm even if the weather is determined to chill you to the bone. With the liner out, microperforations allow just enough ventilation through to wick away heat without cooling you too much. Those arms and shoulders hide full Sas-Tec CE level 2 armour, with a pouch for an optional CE level 2 back protector to slip into.
All the seams are double stitched with the stitches folded over each other for extreme durability. There are rib and underarm flex panels that allow for much more natural movement than many other motorcycle jackets. And should you be wearing armored jeans with the jacket, it has a full 8 inch pants-to-jacket zipper and rear belt loop attachment tab so that if you do come off your bike, your jacket won’t slide up your body.
Best Sport Leather Jackets
If you’re a certified ‘Street Rossi’ or spend most of your time on the saddle at a speed faster than 150mph, a casual leather jacket just isn’t going to cut it regarding your safety when spending a day at the track or heading to the mountains to shred up some twisties. Here are some of the top sport-oriented leather jackets available in 2020:
The Alpinestars GP Pro V2 is bar-none the safest jacket on this list. The jacket was fully designed with Alpinestars’ Tech Air Airbag systems in mind, providing riders with the option to integrate the Tech Air system straight into the jacket making it the perfect option for riders who like to race on the edge.
The construction features full-grain 1.3mm premium leather, Alpinestars’ Dynamic Friction Shield protectors in the elbows and shoulders, and a snap system for an additional CE level 2-certified Nucleon Back and Chest Protectors to be added on the fly.
If you’ve ever watched a MotoGP race, I’m sure you have seen ‘the hump’. This hump functions as a guide for the air passing off your helmet to seamlessly meet your back for maximum aerodynamic streamlining. The jacket comes in both black/white and another colorway with some red accents thrown into the mix.
$1300 for your protection only. Dainese is the Ferrari of the racing-gear world and has been manufacturing awesome gear for years. Nobody complains about the cost of a Ferrari, because typically with high-end stuff you’re getting what you pay for. The Dainese Racing 3 D-Air Perforated Leather Jacket is the pinnacle of performance racewear. Much like the Alpinestars GP Pro V2, this jacket has the option for a full airbag safety system. Technically, it’s not an option because the system is seamlessly integrated into the jacket, hence the hefty price tag.
The D-Air airbag system requires a full maintenance overhaul every 5 years (the cost is on the owner, not Dainese) to ensure that it’s armed and ready to save your life on the racetrack. The jacket is jam-packed with sensors and features a GPS to gather data in the event of a crash, which will inflate the airbag to protect your neck and chest area.
Beyond the safety system, you can find EN 1621.1 Level 2 standard body armor on the shoulders and elbows. The jacket breaths well and has a few pockets; but probably isn’t your best option if you’re looking for a jacket suited for daily commuting.
The Dainese Racing 3 Perforated jacket is one of the best jackets, flat out, that you can get as a sport rider. Race-grade Tutu Leather (a special type leather that is perforated but also has a specific water repellent treatment) makes up 95% of the jacket, with strategically placed elastic inserts and variable air vents that are controlled via zips and what you wear under the jacket.
The biggest thing that makes this a superb value for the sport rider are the composite CE certified protectors that go from elbow to wrist on each arm, as well as the thermoformed aluminum insert shoulders which are then covered in Tutu Leather. The entire jacket is certified to CE category II, which qualifies the jacket as track and race capable.
You can also severely armor up the jacket, with available chest protectors, a G1 or G2 grade back protector, and it can pair with pretty much any racing leather pants that have a zip connector.
This jacket is a bit of an odd recommendation, as while it is a superb jacket on it’s own, it goes into an entirely different orbit when combined with an Alpinestars Tech Air Race Vest. However, without the airbag system onboard, you will still have premium protection for any track or street situation.
1.3mm genuine cow leather throughout is treated to increase abrasion resistance. The shoulders, elbows and forearms all get Alpinestars GP-R protectors, which are the same system used in Alpinestars MotoGP and World SBK race suits. The chest and ribs have strategically placed stretch panels that allow the jacket to move and breathe with you, ensuring a snug but comfortable fit.
The jacket also has a variable venting system, that allows enough air in to cool you down, but not freeze you. When you’re pushing hard, going after that next corner, trying to hit the apex, having all the sweat and heat wicked away almost instantly while not sacrificing any protection is vital. As well, this jacket is one of the few that has a racing hump on the upper back, under which sits a back protector pocket inside the jacket. It is, quite literally, the top half of a summer race suit.
Best Women’s Leather Jackets
Many manufacturers today are finally providing women’s options for their best selling motorcycle jackets. We have a few picks here, but see our sister site webBikeWorld for a much more expansive list of ladies motorcycle jackets.
Here are the best low and high priced leather jackets for our formidable lady-riders in 2020:
The Street & Steel Athena Women’s Jacket is a great entry-level option for women looking for a classy riding jacket that can be worn both on and off the motorcycle. The natural drum dried leather core makes this jacket robust and Street & Steel takes it a step further with the introduction of CE rated armor protectors on the shoulders and elbows. This jacket won’t come with a back protector off the rack though, but there is a pocket that allows for users to add their own armor sold separately.
The torso has perforated panels for increased airflow (not a strong suit of leather), and a mesh lining to keep this jacket breathing in the wind.
Are you a motorcycle-riding, gun-wielding badass chick? Well, this jacket features a pocket to keep your concealed weapon and ammo close to you at all times. BAM. You read it correctly; this jacket actually has a dedicated pocket for riders who require firearms storage while on the go. That, and granola bars.
This is essentially the women’s version of the RSD Ronin we covered in the men’s casual section of this list. It comes in both Black and Oxblood colors and is built with Blackstone supper top grain cowhide ranging from 0.8mm to 0.9mm thicknesses for a quality feel that cannot be topped. Just like the Ronon, the armor is sold separately but the jacket still has shoulder, elbow, and back pockets ready for D30 to be dropped in for extra protection.