Protective Motorcycle Jeans Explained
These days, just about every major brand has their take on motorcycle jeans. As the number of options on offer goes up, the marketplace becomes increasingly difficult to navigate – but luckily that is where we come in, cutting through the bullshit with Katana-like efficiency. This is the world of motorcycle jeans brought to heel.
Most biker jeans can be placed into one of three categories: casualwear with armour pockets, single-layer protective jeans, and lined protective jeans. As of now-ish, manufacturers selling into the EU will no longer be able to market that first category as “motorbike jeans” per se (check out our CE certification article here), however, there will always be a market for these among the more casual (read: reckless) riders, or those mucking about in fields and so on.
Single-layer protective motorbike jeans are about the closest to a high street pair of jeans as you’ll get – the key difference is that they not only feature pockets for armour and modern high-strength stitching techniques, but the fabric itself is abrasion resistant. This is achieved by subbing some of the cotton fibres in the weave for nylon, aramid or UHMWPE (Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene), creating a fabric that feels pretty indistinguishable from standard denim, but with dramatically increase abrasion resistance. Cordura Denim is a popular off-the-peg fabric using military grade nylon, offers 4x more abrasion resistance (in 13.75oz weight) than 100% cotton denim fabric and comfortably meets CE test requirements. Higher-end products often use aramid fibres (e.g. DuPont Kevlar), or the market leading UHMWPE brand, Dyneema. Dyneema is incredibly low bulk but offers an equivalent abrasion resistance of 15x the strength of carbon steel, so it is a pretty solid bet for anyone looking to make a tough pair of trousers.
Lined jeans are essentially a standard pair of jeans, but with additional layers of a protective fabric – often an aramid (Kevlar) type – in various positions to provide protection where it is most needed. Aramid fabric is not as lightweight as one woven from Dyneema, but Kevlar’s association with flak jackets should tell you all you need to know about its toughness (please note, aramid lined jeans are *not* bulletproof). The double-layered design of lined jeans does mean that the outer will probably only handle one crash before needing repair or replacement. They are also a little more insulating than a casual pair, but when riding at speed this is actually quite welcome. Creating a pair of lined jeans also comes at significantly lower manufacturing cost, so they tend to be a little easier on the wallet too.
Some brands have put some serious time into developing their own protective fabrics specifically for motorcycle clothing. For example, John Doe use their proprietary XTM fabric in almost all of their products. This is a blend of Kevlar and Coolmax fibres, to create a fabric with extreme abrasion resistance but also excellent moisture wicking properties and breathability. As a result, John Doe jeans are some of the easiest to wear all day despite being fully lined. Canadian company Resurgence Gear have developed their own strain of UHMWPE and woven themselves two fabric options: PEKEV, and PEKEV Lite. Although the standard PEKEV is already a lighter material than an equivalent aramid version, PEKEV Lite brings that weight down further and features a wicking mesh on the skin side. Slide time is reduced by 50%, but still exceeds 5 seconds – plenty for CE certification. Dutch moto leviathan REV’IT! bring PWR|Shield, their own lightweight nylon-based protective fabric, to the table. Often combined with Cordura Denim or similar materials, PWR|Shield offers better abrasion resistance than leather despite the fact you’d barely know it’s there.
Resurgence Gear Cafe Racer
The Cafe Racer jeans from Resurgence Gear take the quintessential 5-pocket jeans template and add protective elements. They are 60% lined with PEKEV and come supplied with D3O armour in the knees and hips. Available in both raw selvedge and black, Resurgence also offers the Cafe Racer jeans in two fits. If you’re after that classic 50s rockabilly stance, then head for the regular straight-cut: the extra room is just what you’ll need to take your pomade and comb along for the ride. The Skinny Cafe Racer jeans are not just for the Myspace generation though; we’d say they are a moderate slim-fit rather than spray-on.
John Doe Ironhead / Betty
No ordinary Kevlar jeans, John Doe Ironheads are 100% lined with XTM, but they feel just like a well-worn pair of jeans right out of the box – if a little more cosy than standard. The Coolmax fibres help airflow, and the Teflon coating provides enough water repellency to shrug off showers too. John Doe jeans have a 97% cotton, 3% lycra outer which gives them a little extra stretch. This is really handy on bikes with a slightly more tucked riding position. The Ironhead offers a tapered leg and a slim fit, but if you’d like something with a straight leg then look to the John Doe Original jeans: they’ll see you right.
John Doe are responsible for some of the most popular ladies motorcycle gear we carry, and the Betty jeans are no different. The team at John Doe have done their research in regards to the tailoring and consequently struck gold. Although they appear more or less identical to an ordinary pair of vintage-inspired high waisted jeans, they actually have a little extra height at the back – plus an accordion panel – providing a fit that works brilliantly in even the most aggressive riding positions. Of course, they also feature a full XTM lining.
Richa Original Slim
The Original Slim jeans from Richa are right up there with the best-fitting motorcycle jeans we’ve had through the shop. Using Cordura Denim for the outer, these are properly protective single-layer motorbike jeans, yet come in at under £150. Available in 3 colours, as well as the pre-existing straight-cut iteration.
The fairer rider is, on the whole, equal to or greater than their male counterparts in badassery, so they also require quality riding gear. Many brands make protective women’s motorbike jeans – as we’ve already touched on – but if denim isn’t your thing there are some alternatives.
John Doe Betty Jeggings
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s no way these are a protective piece of kit. You’d be wrong though, so listen up. The cotton/lycra blend outer may look casual AF, but it’s backed up by John Doe’s XTM Kevlar-based fabric to provide the same level of abrasion resistance as their denim jeans. A Teflon coating to shake off the showers is a neat touch – oh, and they have pockets too. Real pockets.
Resurgence Gear Sara Jane Leggings
The high-stretch denim outer of the Sara Jane leggings from Resurgence Gear is paired with their PEKEV Lite protective fabric to create a lightweight trouser that sits somewhere between jeans and leggings, with removable D3O armour provided in the knees. Comfortable and versatile, these proved our most popular women’s specific motorbike jeans at our last ladies gear event.
The 50/50 Tyre Club
Fuel Motorcycles Sergeant
Bringing in some style points from the enduro and scrambler scene, the Fuel Motorcycles Sergeant trousers are more clear about their moto intentions. Stretch denim is supported by accordion panels to provide maximum mobility, and the quilted panels give a nod to flat track and speedway race gear of old. On the safety side, the knees and seat are reinforced with Kevlar panels underneath the outer, and CE Level 2 armour is supplied for the knees and hips.
UglyBROS Motorpool-K / Motorpool-GK
In the past, UglyBROS products have been seen as somewhat overpriced casual jeans borrowing an enduro aesthetic – well, those days are long gone. The Motorpool-K features a Kevlar/polyester mix lining that is comfortable all day long, paired with an ergonomic bike-specific fit. 2019 has also [finally] seen the introduction of the Motorpool-GK: a women’s specific version. UglyBROS riding trousers come with a sizeable price tag, sure, but the levels of comfort, quality and practicality mean these fly off the shelves every time we receive a delivery. Perfect for cafe runs to full-scale touring.
REV’IT! Alpha Chino Trousers
If you need something a little smarter than a pair of blue jeans, chinos are often the first port of call. On the bike though? Why should it be any different – the REV’IT! Alpha trousers offer protection and technical features while dodging any scrutiny at the country club. Cordura Denim is reinforced with PWR|Shield in key areas, plus REV’IT supply SeeSmart armour in the knees and hips – easily the lowest profile armour available right now.
Resurgence Gear Dungarees
Workwear outfitting and motorcycles have long been pals, but your run-of-the-mill pair of overalls won’t really do much for you in a spill. These dungarees from Resurgence Gear though, are legit. They feature the same PEKEV lining and armour as the Cafe Racer jeans we mentioned earlier, but in a traditional 6-pocket dungaree template cut from raw Selvedge denim. Being the Good Ol’ Boys (and Girls) that Resurgence are, there is a women’s specific version too – and that one also comes in black! So strap in, saddle up and stay off the Happy Sally.