December 2001 Safety Thoughts

Jackets - Fashion or Function?

by Dave Hansen, Safety Officer

The holiday season brings thoughts of shopping & inspired this month’s subject. When shopping for a motorcycle jacket, what design features are safety features & what features are purely for style? While most of us will purchase a jacket based on style or looks, there are some elements of a jacket’s design that directly affect it’s performance as relates to safety and protection. I’ll try to focus on these elements & leave the style part to you.

Material selection is important. While a buttery soft leather may feel luxurious, it will not provide much as protection (if you end up on the pavement) as a stiffer, harder leather. While leather is an obvious choice, there are many abrasion resistant man-made materials available as well, most notably kevlar. Jackets made of these materials often incorporate special hard plastic armor in critical wear points as well, increasing their abrasion protection capabilities.

Proper fit is also important from a safety & protection standpoint. A jacket that fits too loosely can slide up, exposing skin & negate any potential protection. Sleeves need to be long, covering part of the hands when standing relaxed upright with arms by your side, to allow enough length to cover the wrists when the arms are stretched forward to reach the handlebars. The sleeves should also be zippered to provide a snug fit to the forearms to prevent them from riding up, exposing flesh during an encounter with pavement. Fitment at the neck is also important in keeping the jacket in place in a crash. A close-fitting, short stand-up collar is more effective than an open V-type lay-down collar for preventing unwanted jacket shifting.

Riding weather/season influences choices of features needed in a good jacket. Hot weather requires a jacket that can provide full protection while still preventing overheating (a safety issue for future Thoughts). This means a design that provides venting for airflow & evaporation moisture escape. Many jackets incorporate front & rear vents on the main body. Some even include vents in the arm design. Good designs will provide perforated leather inside these vents in order to maintain abrasion integrity when the vents are open.

Cold weather brings the need for capturing body heat in order to prevent hypothermia. A big factor here is wind chill & eliminating the airflow so desirable in a warm weather jacket. Flaps behind or over zippered vents can help extend the seasonal capabilities of well-vented jackets. Ultimately, a jacket dedicated to cooler weather riding may be right answer. It can be fitted slightly larger to allow more insulating layers beneath. Venting is not important for the dedicated cold weather jacket, but a good insulation or insulating liner is. I look for the Thinsulate tag.

Without getting too lengthy, jacket safety is influenced by:

Hope these tips influence a riding jacket choice biased for safety & protection.


Words of Safety