Monday, September 24, 2012


Third in a series…

My nurse friend wants to ensure that her son on a new-to-him Honda 750 Shadow is properly outfitted for safety.  Posts one and two regarded helmets and gloves.

As a guy who has ridden for the better part of forty years, I cringe when I see riders in T-shirts – or riders in gear with their girlfriends aft in tank tops or less – batting through suburban traffic or racing between lanes on the freeway.  Perhaps it is because I have daughters, both of whom are married and well past that stage.  Or maybe I’ve just seen a bit too much.

Today I own five motorcycle jackets: three textile, two leather.  (Yikes! I have no idea how I’ve acquired so many.)  Each jacket has a specific purpose and is worn on specific riding occasions, although there is much overlap in their use.   

Each of the jackets has some type of reinforcement at probable impact points like shoulders and elbows.  In some cases the reinforcement is thick foam padding, in others a less pliant more armor-like material.  

Each jacket has zippers that open vents allowing air to course through and cool the rider. 

Some of the jackets have an interior zipper in the lower back area that matches the zipper at the top of riding pants.  When connected, this lessens the calamity of pants and jacket separating to expose bare back to chip-seal at 55 miles per hour.   

Closures at the neck and cuffs may be snaps or hook-n-loop like Velcro®. 

Synthetic jackets come in a variety of colors.  Black is a favorite but bright or “Hi-Viz” colors are far more see-able by others on the road and, therefore, a good safety choice.  Many jackets come with reflective piping making them more visible at night.  Many come with removable liners making the garment useful in both cooler and warmer riding conditions. 

Jacket fit is incredibly important.  The jacket should be snug enough to protect you in a fall but not so uncomfortably tight that you are tempted to leave it on a hanger at home.  It should shield the rider from such diverse elements as rain, cold, and heat.  It might help if it were stylish, but trading safety for style, something I’ve admittedly done, is always a bad bargain.  It should be kept clean and dry and inspected for signs of wear – a cause for replacement – before it is called upon to sacrifice itself for you.

Textile jackets’ exterior material is engineered out of synthetic fabric.  It is strong, light, breathable and will experience less abrasion when sliding along the pavement.

On a steamy summer day in the Sacramento Valley, a t-shirt covered by a textile jacket feels much like having only the t-shirt on in terms of ventilation and coolness.  The function of the jacket then is to provide a layer of protection between the skin and the tarmac and to hold those impact pads in place. 

One of the textile jackets is a three-season coat.  It is three-quarter length, belted, padded, and brightly colored. It is my ultimate go-to on road trips.  There is plenty of room for gloves, maps, notebooks, telephones and small kitchen sinks in the various pockets.  Slipping a Gore-Tex rain parka underneath this puppy, I find I have really good protection from rain and even hail.  Adding a layer or two of turtleneck or sweatshirt or wool allows me to retain enough warmth to ride nearly twelve months out of the year. 

The leather jackets are dissimilar.  One cuts the winter chill.  The other is strictly a late spring to early fall garment.  The heavier of the two has a shell of much thicker leather prompting me to believe I would fare better in a crash if wearing it.  The removable lightly quilted liner, I have recently found, makes the unit extremely tight around my midsection – but keeps me incredibly warm on short mid-winter trips.  Interior pockets hold a checkbook or datebook; exterior pockets accommodate light gloves or a small camera.

The other leather jacket, which I like a lot, I’m embarrassed to say, I purchased because of its cool Guzzi logo.  Styled and built in Europe, it was on the sale rack, so I snared it.  The leather appears to be much thinner and the padding much more “foamy.”  I’m not sure I’d like hitting the pavement in this one although I’m sure it would spare me from abrasion.  But it certainly looks groovy.

One of the great things about adopting a hobby or a sport – be it woodworking or waterskiing – is the plethora of tools and equipment one must acquire in order to fully enjoy the endeavor.  Motorcycling is no different.  Good equipment makes the experience much safer and more satisfying.  


As twelve and ten-year-olds, my brother and I (with permission of our folks) launched the family’s classic Old Town wood and canvas canoe in a rain swollen Chico Creek one October Saturday.  Chico Creek bisects beautiful Bidwell Park, heading westerly toward the Sacramento River.  Our five acres lay west of town.  That would be our point of disembarkation.

Sans life jackets and clad in Army surplus fatigue jackets – the look of the day [mid-60s] for kids our age – to insulate us from the foggy 40 degree cold, we put in.   The swift autumn current would carry us the six miles home.  The first five-and-a-half miles were trouble free.  However, only a few hundred yards upstream from the house, an ancient sycamore tree had collapsed the night before, much of it landing across Chico Creek.  The venerable Old Town, speeding downstream, rounded a swirling bend and immediately lodged its bow in the windfall.  The boat lifted, cracked, twisted and pitched us into the drink.  Our fatigue jackets filled with heavy frigid water as the current dragged us away from the canoe.  Somehow we clambered out, hiked home and spent about forty-five minutes in a hot shower thawing.

A few years later, that Army fatigue jacket – I’d now almost grown into it – served as my insulator from scrapes and bruises as I puttered around town and into the woods on my first motorcycle.  It was the wrong tool for that application as well. 

How we survive our youth is one of life’s great mysteries.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Lots of good jackets out there, I have a closet full of them. Best reviews are on Revzilla and

  2. Not cheap but very functional are the jackets from Aerostich. You can get the jackets with or without the liner. Jackets themselves are Gore-Tex and hold up well in the rain. When riding in very hot temps, I wear under armor under the jacket and just wet myself down , then put the jacket on. These jackets have good armor in the shoulders and in the elbows with plenty of pockets to store things. There are plenty of great jackets out there, but I love my Darian from Aerostich.

  3. I am with you .. too many years and seen too many things happen to those not dressed right. We have been riding about the same length of time, remember when engineering boots, Levi's and a leather jacket (preferable NOT from Wilsons) was THE way to dress? Pretty much the only way unless you got some of those exotic "yer 'O pean" leathers. I preach, show damaged gear and helmets I have kept around, but getting the message across is tough sometimes.

    BTW, I got my first Hi Viz jacket recently and I will not do another one and this one will not stay around long ... maybe 5,000 miles on it so far and it already has rub marks and dirt all over it (2,000 miles in 33 hours did not help) - back to black with some reflective areas for me next year.

  4. I believe Aerostich has a guaranteed fitment policy now, check it out!

  5. Good gear is so important. Thanks for the review.