Jacket Design: The Ins and Outs

Motorcycle jackets aren’t just for good looks – they are primarily designed for comfort and safety. According to Canstar Blue’s recent survey of more than 400 motorbike riders, comfort/fit and degree of protection were the driving forces for the choice of jacket, accounting for 33% and 29% of respondents respectively. And those surveyed are prepared to pay for the right jacket, with an average spend of $355. You can read our motorcycle jacket survey results here.

So what are some of the safety features incorporated into the design of a jacket?

What is my jacket made of?

A good jacket will have thicker or tougher material on injury risk zones – the areas that are most vulnerable in the event of an accident. The safety of motorcycle clothing is often classified by how many seconds it takes to tear a hole in the material in the case you come off and find yourself sliding along the bitumen. The results are here:

Material Seconds
(To tear or form a hole)
Denim 0.2 – 0.5
Some race gloves (cotton/rubber) 0.6
Most leather gloves 1.0 – 1.8
Keprotec stretch material 0.9
Poor Kevlar 1.0
Two layers of waxed cotton 1.3
1.3mm thick cow hide 3.8
Two layers of 1.3mm thick cow hide 18
Three layers of 1.3mm thick cow hide 55
Two layers of Kevlar plain weave 5.6
Suede 18
Boot leather 2.2mm thick 20
Leather stretch panels 20.4

(Sourced from Motorcycleforum.com)

What are the impact zones?

The elbows, shoulders, and back of a jacket are the zones of highest risk on the upper body so jackets often have extra protection in these areas. The NSW Government defines four zones of rider safety gear. This ranges from Zone 1 being the highest risk area – the one that should be most reinforced and well-protected, to Zone 4 – the one that can be afforded some elasticity and flexible materials. The Zones are:

Zone/ Body Parts Requirements Minimum Abrasion Resistance
(As per EU Standards)
Zone 1: Shoulders, Knees, Hips, Elbows Impact protectors are required in all of these areas 4 Seconds
Zone 2: Thighs, Back of arms, buttocks These should be protected with extra layers of material 4 Seconds
Zone 3: Front of arms, upper back These areas are at moderate risk of abrasion 1.8 Seconds
Zone 4: Chest, lower legs, groin Material used in these areas can be used to provide ventilation and elasticity 1 Second

When you consider that many people you see on the roads ride around in denim, both jeans and jackets, you’ll realise that a lot of people will be worse off in a crash. The EU Standards stipulate that the minimum requirement is one second of abrasion resistance, and denim fares poorly with half the required resistance.

As well as being reinforced in the right areas, jackets are made of thick protective material that is stitched together in specific ways; a general rule when it comes to seams on a jacket is ‘the less, the better’.  Seams may pop open in the event of a fall, so it is better to have only as many as needed in order to keep the jacket together.

There are also requirements when it comes to the stitching. The seams need to have at least one row of concealed stitching to hold the seam together after the visible stitching has been worn away against the road surface.

Additionally, leather jackets should have 11-14 stitches every 5cm, while textiles need more, with 13-16 stitches in the same length.

All of these regulations are small things that make up larger safety measures to keep motorcyclists safe in their jackets.

Zips are another design element that needs to be carefully placed on a jacket.  Some zones on the jacket should not have zippers, as they have potential to increase injury to the wearer. The same goes for other decorations such as buckles – a piece of metal impaling your chest is the last thing you’d want in the event of an accident.

The design of a jacket also varies for men and women. Most commonly, women’s jackets are not only made in smaller sizes, but are made to be larger in the bust and smaller in the waist. This is to make them more form fitting, as a jacket should be for optimum protection.

Men’s jackets have a straighter cut, and the sleeves are longer and thinner; women’s jackets have shorter, wider sleeves.

Aesthetically, more patterns and colours can be seen on women’s jackets; by comparison, ranges of motorcycle jackets for men can be quite plain.

Not all gear is made differently for men and women though – helmets, gloves, and other accessories are not made specifically for men and women; or rather, they don’t need to be.

Assessing the jacket and gear you’re wearing, and investing in a quality kit can mean a life-saving difference should you come off your bike.

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