When it comes to protective motorcycle apparel, leather has had its place since the motorcycle was invented. In the modern world, however, more and more synthetic and textile types of riding gear have taken leather's place. Or have they?
Depending on who you ask, most motorcycle riders will swear by one type over the other. While each type of motorcycle apparel has its benefits, they each have their drawbacks as well.
Leather is known the world over for its durability, form-fitting flexibility, and sexy appeal. Think James Dean in a leather jacket. Iconic and tough, leather has been a favorite among motorcyclists for decades. With the proper leather, you will be well protected from abrasions, as well as having a custom fit the more you wear your gear. You'll look hot while wearing it, too.
And while you will look hot, you'll be hot. Leather is infamous for being hot. The construction of leather doesn't enable much breathing--that is, air flow throughout the material--even if it's lightweight. And if it's lightweight, it can be less protective than heavier leather.
Leather motorcycle gear is also inherently more expensive than its textile counterparts. If you're actively riding at higher speeds and more often, the cost of replacing any scuffed up gear can be higher than what you may pay for synthetic.
Synthetics and Textile Gear
Synthetic riding gear has slowly started taking its place in the sport riding scene with racers and motocross riders. Many everyday riders as well as racers still choose leathers over synthetics, but ultimately synthetics cost less. This is especially attractive to racers because of the need to replace motorcycle apparel more frequently, as it gets worn out faster with aggressive riding.
Synthetic reinforced materials like nylon, carbon fibers, and para-aramid fiber-panel inserts are pretty tough, and will protect the body not only from abrasions, but from the actual impacts and jolts the body will suffer during a crash.
Textiles can also be customized to body shape, joint placement (each person's elbows, knees, etc.), and even to the way the rider sits on the bike. These customizable materials also breathe better. You won't look as hot in synthetics, but you'll be less hot if you're ever riding in traffic on a sweltering day.
Though synthetics are less pricey, less hot, and sometimes offer more protection from impacts, they are not as form-fitting as leather. Some of the materials on this type of gear can actually melt or burn away during a skid or from the heat of the bike's engine or other running parts. Quicker wear and tear means more replacement gear.
While both materials have their places among motorcycle apparel, it is ultimately dependent on the type and speed of riding you do. Visit a local motorcycle apparel and gear shop, like American Biker Apparel, and talk about what kind of riding you do, how often, and how fast, and they should be more than able to help you figure out the best fit.