Although making a fashion statement should not be the number one concern when purchasing a motorcycle jacket (unless of course you don’t ride), human nature dictates that we all want to be comfortable in our own skin. Style matters will inevitably play a part in any decision, hopefully only after careful consideration of the protection factors involved in such an important part of your overall motorcycle safety gear.
Motorcycle jackets are generally thought of as being made of leather, and for good reason: most of them are. Leather has proven over time to provide the best protection from the elements and the road for the all too exposed motorcyclist.
Black leather motorcycle jackets have become the norm, but that is by no means the only choice available, and arguably not the wisest choice from a safety perspective. Bright, eye catching color combinations of leather and synthetics are widely available, and many styles come with reflective piping to improve visibility on the road.
Leather motorcycle fashions break down into basically three styles of jackets, each with their own unique flair.
The Traditional Motorcycle Jacket is the best known. Often called the classic style, it was originally intended to keep out the wind, and provide plenty of secure storage in the form of pockets that zip or snap shut.
The Scooter Jacket is defined by its Euro style collar, and in fact has its roots in the UK and Eastern Europe with the advent of the Italian made Vespa scooter and its wide adoption across the continent.
The third style of motorcycle jacket is kind of a hybrid that for lack of a better name, I like to call a Cruising Jacket. The defining characteristic here is a shirt type collar that will usually snap down to prevent it from flapping in the wind.
Each of these styles will borrow characteristics from one another and variations are limited only by the imagination. For the rider, style matters in the type of riding you do, and the type of lifestyle you lead.
Let us examine these styles of motorcycle jackets in a little more detail.
The Traditional Motorcycle Jacket
This is the style that jumps into everybody’s mind when the term motorcycle jacket is mentioned. Necessity being the mother of invention, this style was first introduced in 1928 by apparel manufacturer Schott NYC. The Perfecto, as it was called, was the first leather jacket made that had an off center zipper that when closed, would create a seal through which no air would pass.
Other distinct characteristics of the horsehide Perfecto include zippered pockets and cuffs, a belt in the front, and the decorative epaulets on the shoulders.
The traditional “classic” style motorcycle jacket is built to protect the rider from the road and the wind, and to provide multiple secure storage compartments in the form of pockets that zip or snap shut. Snaps, zippers, belts, and various side adjustments are designed to provide for a snug fit, and to keep things from flapping around in the wind at high speeds.
The modern day traditional motorcycle jacket can include many variations on these themes, all as a means to the same end. Some jackets will loose the epaulets (not that functional anyway), utilize spandex, laces or buckles for side adjustments, feature a full or half belt, or none at all. Air venting systems are often included for the riders comfort, and some models include removable CE approved body armor for added protection.
The Scooter Jacket
As bikers all over the world were cruising around on their Harleys and Ducattis, a new class of two wheelers emerged in the 1960’s that would spur a culture of its own. Introduced to the world by the Italian company Vespa, the lighter, less powerful Scooter was designed simply to transport the rider from one place to another economically. As the price of gasoline began its meteoric rise in the 70’s, the European community was hit especially hard, and the Scooter Phenomenon spread like wild fire across the continent and into the UK. As is often the case in the fashion world, the trendy scooterists soon had their own distinct line of apparel and accessories, separate of that in the already well established Biker culture.
The Scooter Jacket style is exemplified by the so called Euro Collar, a stand up band of material wrapping around the neck and usually fastening with a snap or a button to keep the wind out.
Although originating from the scooter culture, today’s modern scooter jacket is by no means limited to 150 cc’s. The safety concerns of scooterists are not unlike those of the motorcyclist, and as such, functional scooter jackets are made from the same protective materials found in the traditional motorcycle jacket, rendering them suitable for any size vehicle from a safety perspective.
Scooter jackets made from riding grade leather share many characteristics of the traditional jacket, including zip out liners for warmth, and intricate venting systems for optimal air flow. Heavy duty hardware used for zipper pockets and snaps, strategic placement of stretch materials, and the classic zipper cuffs are all common properties.
Normally you would not find a belt buckling in the front of a scooter jacket, and you would also be hard pressed to find one with side laces. The scooter jacket has a cleaner, less cluttered look than the classic style, but you will find decorative braiding, multi colored panels, or reflective materials jazzing things up some.
Today’s well made scooter jacket has become equal to the traditional classic style in functionality and protection, and can be found on the backs of riders of Harley’s and Honda’s on the street and the dirt.
Motorcycle racing jackets tend to follow the scooter model, perhaps for its sleekness and aerodynamic qualities. As is the case with any style motorcycle jacket today, options for body armor are prevalent in the cruising market too.
In recent years, the U.S. has seen a resurgence of scootering with scooter dealerships popping up all over the place as a result of gas prices reaching the $4 per gallon mark. Commuters, especially in metropolitan areas, are going green by producing fewer emissions, and saving green by getting up to 100 miles to a gallon of gas.
You may remember back in the 60’s of hearing about a clash of cultures between the Mods and the Rockers in the UK. Bikers and Scooterists rioting at the beach, as portrayed in The Who’s film Quadraphenia.
Today’s modern scooterist is much more main stream, with women comprising as much of 40% of new scooter sales. For the stock broker or banker commuting to work on a scooter or bike on a cold New York morning, the Scooter Jacket offers a warm and safe alternative to a possibly inappropriate bad boy biker look of the traditional classic style motorcycle jacket.
The Cruising Motorcycle Jacket
The cruising jacket implies a more casual style of motorcycle fashion, something one would wear for a slow ride to nowhere on a big, fat Hog. Cruising down a country road on a lazy day still requires attention to the road, and a good leather cruising jacket promises to provide all the comfort and protection typical of any motorcycle safety gear.
The defining aspect of a cruiser jacket is once again found in the collar. Somewhere in between the large, folded snap down collar of the classic style, and the rigid wrap around Euro or Mandarin collar, the cruisers collar resembles that of an Oxford shirt.
Cruisers run the gamut from the simplistic no frills jacket, to intricate decorative braid, form fitting stretch panels, and full or half belt options. Many of the embroidered and leather fringe jackets you will find are made in the cruising style.
Not as common on the road as the classic or scooter jacket, a cruising jacket may be just the thing for the person that doesn’t want the biker look, and finds the scooter jacket a bit too stifling.
With the many variations of the cruising style offered on the market today, it should not be hard to find an excellent quality leather jacket with a casual flair that will compliment, indeed enhance your own unique look.