In this post I'm going to cover the pros and cons of the three major types of jacket and trousers it's possible to buy in 2018 - leather, textile and aramid fibre, or kevlar as it's sometimes branded.
Leather and textile gear has been around in various forms since motorcycles were first seen, however quite often it was repurposed gear from other applications, such as hiking or military kit. As time has gone by, more emphasis has been made on gear specifically made for bikes.
Nowadays jackets and trousers can be found for various types of riding, but there are still key strengths and weaknesses to be aware of, even though the gear has advanced a very long way from the old leather, or waxed cotton jackets of old.
For all-out crash protection there is still nothing that can hold a candle to a quality leather garment. The structure of leather allows it to slide with relatively low friction and maintain its integrity, and, providing the stitching is up to scratch, (which it usually is from the major manufacturers such as Dainese and Spidi for example) then the integrity of the garment will be maintained. For sportier jackets you'll commonly find high performance armour in the shoulders and elbows, with options for back and chest armour. This will reduce your risk of serious injury markedly if you end up hitting something than if you had none at all.
The main downside to leather is something that has yet to be fully countered - its weather protection. Most bikers will have a time when they're wearing leather gear and they end up getting soaked through to the bone because they didn't bring their waterproofs. Some gear comes with waterproofing treatment, but a sustained downpour will still get through this eventually. A good waterproof oversuit can counter this, but it is considerably less convenient. Leather garments also require some care too, otherwise they can dry out and begin the crack, weakening them, and they can also take some time to air out, especially as it's hard to wash them to remove any bad odours. The final downside is also something that few consider, the environmental impact - the amount of water used in the production and tanning is huge, as well as the CO2, especially compared to textiles.
Textile gear covers several different kinds of gear, but the major one is of the polyester kind. Different weaves, treatments and different polymer layers in addition to the polyester give various different properties, some of which leather finds it hard to match.
Textiles are much more capable of being waterproofed by the addition of membranes and treatments, but not all are created equal. You often get what you pay for, and it pays to check reviews of different jackets and trousers to see exactly which ones maintain their integrity when subject to a sustained downpour. Impact and abrasion resistance is often a point of contention, and it can vary considerably between different garments - this is a major part of the reason you need leathers for trackdays. Cordura is one of the major materials used for abrasion protection, or manufacturers' various versions of this. It can take a lot of sliding, but thanks to the often patchwork nature of textiles, the stitching can be the weakness on less well-designed items. That being said, a good textile garment should rival a leather garment at road speeds. Impact protection can use the same armour you'd use with leather jackets and trousers, so there is little difference there.
Textiles can be much more flexible than leathers thanks to their high-tech layers, and the addition of vents, however you'll still likely need a fully vented jacket for hot summer riding outside of the UK.
A newcomer on the scene is the invention of kevlar and aramid fibre jeans, and the occasional jacket. These allow denim jeans to be transformed into a truly protective garment. They will likely never be quite as capable as leather in terms of abrasion protection, but with the addition of impact protection there's little reason they aren't as capable on the road. Comfort is much improved, but weather protection is the biggest flaw, as they are commonly not windproof, nor waterproof. This makes them ideal in the summer, but useless in the rain, though Rokker, a Swedish manufacturer, thinks they've solved this with their high-end jeans.
Choosing motorcycle gear is often choosing compromises - I personally wear a leather jacket with kevlar jeans, and swap to a half mesh textile jacket when it gets really hot. For the weather protection I have to look at the forecast and bring a one-piece oversuit. Obviously this won't suit everyone, and that's how all three types of gear are popular for different riders, and ultimately it's down to you to work out what suits you best.
Here at Bike Stop we're happy to talk through what gear is going to be right for you, to ensure you make the right decision. Bike Stop has a large range of motorcycle gear, including aramid fibre jeans, leathers and textiles of course, both online and in the shop in Stevenage. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram and Twitter, subscribe to our mailing list to keep up to date on events happening at Bike Stop throughout the year, drop by to have a chat, have a delicious Lavazza coffee and a cake, or view our large motorcycle gear range.