THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO BUYING A PAIR OF PROTECTIVE MOTORCYCLE JEANS
These days, more and more people are wanting to ride their bikes in protective jeans and, as we will explain, there are many good reasons for wanting to do this. Of course, jeans and motorbikes kind of go hand in hand. Before the textile motorcycle pant as we know it today had even been invented, motorcyclists often rode either in denim jeans.
Think of a motorcycle icon of the second half of the 20th Century and, unless he was a professional racer, there's a good chance that he did most of his riding in a pair of Levis or some other brand of denim jean. Marlon Brando, James Dean, Steve McQueen, Peter Fonda, the Fonz, Eastwood, Schwarzenegger, Presley. And that’s before we can even get to the latest crop of stars of the new millennium: Pitt, Clooney, Reynolds, Reaves, McGregor, Gosling, Beckham and so on.
Bikes and jeans both give off the same kind of anti-establishment, slightly rebellious message. But it was only about 30 years ago that the aramid, or Kevlar®, jean as we know it today was born. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the earliest iterations came out of America. And, indeed, so excited was I when I first heard about this new concept that I put a fistful of dollars into an envelope and sent it to the US of A. I was thrilled when the jeans turned up. I thought they looked cool beyond belief which, by association, made me think I did too.
I was the only person I knew with a pair of bike jeans. I wore them whatever I was riding, wherever I was riding and whenever I was riding. Luckily, no photographs from that era survive, but with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I can see that I must have looked a picture! They were wider than anything a self-respecting Bay City Roller would have dared to don. Their design featured more stitching and panelling than an Amish mattress cover, and they were almost certainly heavier and less comfortable that the suits worn by deep sea divers.
I loved them; they were hideous but unique. I paid the price in ridicule that ‘early adopters’ often have to. I did eventually give them up when even I realised that thes pants brought absolutely none of the advantages of wearing a pair of 501s. I put them away in a drawer where I suspect they still sit today. Since then, jeans have come a long, long way. In the future, I feel sure that the jeans we rave about today will also come to be ridiculed, as advances in technology continue to improve the way they look and the way they wear.
Kevlar®, it has to be said, has always been the go-to lining material for most protective jeans. Even back then it was a known brand that could speak of its use in military vests and the like in order to justify its credentials. In fact, Kevlar® is actually just a brand name of a particular weave of aramid fibres. Sewn inside a jean, the Kevlar® offers abrasion, puncture and tear resistance. although very little by way of impact protection. Then, as now, impact protection comes by way of separate but integrated armour.
These days there are very few motorcycling clothing brands that cannot offer a protective jean from within their portfolio. But so popular did motorcycle jeans become that a number of companies set themselves up as specialists in jeans.
Draggin jeans was one of the major players in the early days. And to prove how strong their jeans where they invented a piece of theatre in which a rider was dragged along at speed by a car with only the jean coming between the road and the test dummy’s tiny whities. Today there are dozens of specialists: Hood, John Doe, Bullitt, E-Squad, Pando Moto, Ugly Bros, PMJ, Saint...., the list is extensive.
The good news is that today’s motorcycle jeans both look better and perform better than they used to. And whilst Kevlar® is still probably the most used aramid lining, there are many others; such as Bullitt’s Covec and Resurgence’s Pekev®, both of which claim to be lighter and more protective than Kevlar®.
But what you have to realise is that not all jeans are born equal. The problem is that, as a motorcyclist, it’s quite difficult to tell the good jeans from the not so good ones. You can’t always believe what you read on the internet. You certainly can’t rely on what some guy on a forum says. And even the man in the shop is not unknown to be creative when it come to describing a jean’s protective qualities.
Nor can you rely on price as an indicator of a jean’s safety qualities. There's one particular brand of jeans out there that produces jeans that look serious motorcycle pants. They have those concertina-stretch panels above the knees and in the back. They fit tight at the calves like a leather racing pant. They come with hip armour and knee armour. And they cost more than £300. But turn them inside out, and you'll discover that, from an abrasion perspective, you’d be buying nothing more protective than stretch denim. Which, honestly, is not very protective. You'd never know by merely looking at these jeans, and we suspect that many people are riding around in jeans like these thinking that, if it all goes pear-shaped, their skin is going to remain intact. Unfortunately, that won’t necessarily be the case.
The bottom line here is that if you want to buy a pair of properly protective jeans, you have to do your research, or at least ask the right questions. From our standpoint, a jean with armour but no abrasion, tear or puncture resistance is a waste of money. To be protected, you’re going to want a strong lining of some sort. Now we’re not going to get involved in a technical debate about the different types of linings. Kevlar®, as we've said, is the best known, but there are others. Read what you can on the Internet, then make your own determination.
What's easier to determine is just how much of a lining you want in your aramid jeans. Again, it’s important because, in some instances, we don’t think that so-called protective jeans have enough of a lining. At the most protective end of the spectrum are 100% lined jeans. These are, in some ways, the strongest and most protective jeans, but in other ways they are the the most unpleasant. A 100% lined jean means that, however you go down the road, you will enjoy the benefit of the lining. But, of course, the downside of a 100% lining, whatever it is made from, is that it can make a jean horribly warm to wear. It will drastically reduce the jean’s breathability, compromising the skin’s ability to naturally cool itself. It will also create a barrier to prevent incoming, cooler air reaching the body. As a result, fully lined jeans are, by and large, the least nice to wear.
Of course, not all jeans are 100% lined. Some jeans are 10% lined, some 20%, some 40%, some 60%. There's no right or wrong; no optimal level of lining. But when you get down to 10% or 20%, we take the view that jeans are going to be less protective than most people would expect them to be. A tiny slither in the rear and some extra material in the knees does not, in our book, deliver adequate levels of protection.
The way you ride may dictate the amount of protection you feel you need but, as far as we’re concerned, it’s only when you get to 60% or more that you can have confidence that a jean is going to protect you in the majority of crash situations.
We’ll talk about armour later, but it’s always going to be an important part of the equation; and it should always be CE approved. There’s Level 1 and Level 2 for armour. Level 2 is more protective, but it’s usually thicker, making it less comfortable and more obtrusive. Some armour is comfortable and pliable, but some armour isn’t. In most jeans, the positioning of the armour should be adjustable. But, with armour, the important thing is to make sure that it is in the right position when you sit on the bike. And what you need to understand is that, when it is in the right position on the bike, it will drop an inch or so when you get off the bike. This can make the armour less comfortable when you’re walking around although, to an extent, this depends on the kind of armour you are wearing.
Style-wise, the range of options when it comes to jeans is every bit as broad as it is on the high street. In fact, bike jeans probably come in a wider range of looks and fits. In the early days of motorcycling jeans, the jeans always had an assortment of stitch lines on the surface of the denim. Some people wanted it to be known that they were wearing a protective jean, and so this decorative feature became somewhat ‘de rigeur’ on a bike jean. That look is now a little less fashionable, and in fact what most bikers are now striving for is a look that conceals the fact that they arrived at their destination on a bike. Nirvana is a jean that looks just like the best from Levi, Edwin or Wrangler.
Obviously, there are stacks of different washes, fits and looks, but that’s all down to personal taste, and is not of great interest to us from a safety and functionality perspective. I suppose our only thought would be that if the legs of a jean are excessively wide, it can mean that the armour might not be where it’s meant to be when you want it to do its job. A narrower leg will serve to keep the armour in place. But the corollary is that a leg that is too tight can be uncomfortable on the bike, especially when the leg is bent.
SINGLE LAYER VERSUS LINED, PROTECTIVE JEANS
In recent years there has been a move away from lined jeans to what we would call ‘single-layer’ jeans. Now, with a single-layer jean a strong fibre, normally something much stronger than an aramid, will be woven into the denim to create a single material. In some jeans the strong, reinforcing fibre features only in the weave and not in the weft. In the best, strongest jeans, the cotton/denim thread is wrapped with the fibre in question, in both the weave and the weft.
Single-layer jeans are, in principle, nicer to wear. They are lighter. Without a bulky lining they are more flattering, and can fit closer to the body. By and large, they also flow air far better than a lined jean. Oncoming air passes through the material to cool the rider down and, of course, they are more breathable than a lined jean.
If there's a downside to a single-layer jean, it is that it can be too cool on a cold day. And that’s really just about the only significant weakness of a single-layer jean. Personally, this relative weakness doesn’t bother us that much because, to keep warm, all you have to do is put on a suitable base layer.
One other major upside of a single-layer jean is that, whatever level of protection it offers, it offers it across the entire jean; the bum, the hips, the thighs, the calves, the shin and so on. But just as with lined jeans, not all single-layer jeans are made equal. Some are more suited to urban riding. Some are as strong as leather. Some are way stronger than leather.
Most single-layer jeans are just as useless in the rain as a lined jean, but there is one that isn’t. Again, we’ll talk about that later.
At the less expensive end of the single-layer jean spectrum sit jeans that are woven with a mix of cotton and Cordura. Now these jeans are very light. They are pretty much as easy and as comfortable to wear as a lightweight pair of Levis. They flow air beautifully. You could wear them all day long, and not think you were wearing a technical motorcycle jean. But single-layer jeans made with Cordura are not particularly strong.
There are four areas of protection that apply to jeans: abrasion resistance, tear resistance, puncture resistance and impact. The one that bikers are usually most concerned about is abrasion. In the EN 13595 CE standard for motorcycle clothing, there was a test called the ‘Cambridge’ test.
Basically, this involves lowering a piece of fabric onto a revolving sand belt. It is designed to replicate falling off a bike at somewhere around 50 mph, and the relevant measure on this test is how long it takes for the material to wear through.
Leather normally records a time of between four and four and a half seconds. A cotton/ Cordura jean lasts a little over two seconds on the Cambridge machine. Now this might sound disappointing, but it’s a lot, lot better than a street jean, which will probably last less than half a second. In truth, a pair of Levis would usually burst on impact with the road.
We actually really like cotton/Cordura jeans. In our view, they're fine for gentle-paced riding. We couldn't want to hit the deck at 90 mph in such a jean, but if you ride a Harley or a Bonneville, or if most of your riding is pretty sedate then a cotton/Cordura jean may be exactly what you need. And they're relatively cheap. Spidi’s J-Tracker cotton/Cordura jeans currently cost just £150.
One of the materials that is often used in the construction of single-layer jeans is Dyneema. Now Dyneema is ten times stronger than carbon steel. It is what is known as a UHMWPE, ( ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene). A jean made with Dyneema will usually be much stronger than a Cordura-based jean. In fact, Dyneema is 40% stronger than Kevlar and 15 times stronger than steel. The percentage of Dyneema in the jean will have a bearing on the ‘slide’ time, but classically one would be looking at a time of around four seconds, so a slide time not dissimilar to leather. And in anybody’s book that’s strong enough. We’ve never seen anybody wear through a leather pant on the road, so if a jean is as strong as leather, it’s good enough, in our book.
Spidi produces a great Dyneema jean. We also really like a ladies’ single-layer jean from Pando Moto that is made from Dyneema. A Dyneema jean will usually be a little heavier than a Cordura jean, but given how much stronger they are this is perhaps not surprising. Dyneema jeans do, however, tend to be darker in colour because the material itself is white, and it tends to show up as flecks if the material is not heavily dyed. Despite the fact that they are a bit heavier, they still flow the air very nicely, and they are always going to be much nicer and cooler to wear than a lined jean.
As far as we know, there is only one single-layer jean that is made using genuine Kevlar. It is a jean called the Macan, and it is produced by Halvarssons. It is not the lightest, single-layer that we have come across, and whilst it is certainly lighter and easier to wear than a fully-lined jean, it won’t flow air as well as some single- layer jeans. It also has a slightly more relaxed fit than most of the single-layer jeans on the market. Some might even call it a ‘dad’ fit; nothing wrong with that, and for some people it will be the perfect riding pant. It is a relatively inexpensive pant, but it is still immensely strong. Under the latest EN 17092 regulations, it achieves the highest AAA rating; and we haven’t come across a single, textile-based garment that reaches this standard. In fact, it’s normally only leather that does. We reckon this means the Macans have a ‘slide’ time; therefore, of at least around four seconds.
But, without doubt, the best quality, most stylish, most comfortable and most wearable, single-layer jeans that money can buy are made by Swiss company Rokker. These guys don’t just make jeans, although it would not be untrue to say that denim sits at the heart of their proposition. The company is owned by two, super-cool, young Swiss guys: Michael and Kai. They are the real deal. They were messing about with custom bikes before most Shoreditch-based hipsters ever threw a leg over a motorcycle.
They left their proper jobs, and set out to make the world’s best motorcycle jeans. Few would not agree that they have succeeded. It was always important to the boys that they made jeans that delivered the highest levels of protection. But what they wanted to do was combine the highest level of safety with a look and feel that was similar to that of a Levi 501.
In their quest for the perfect material for their jeans, they came across an amazingly strong, yet soft and supple, material known as Armalith. It’s a horribly expensive fabric, but there is no material suitable for the manufacture of clothing that can match it for strength and abrasion resistance. There’s actually a short video on U-tube that shows a Hummer vehicle being hoisted by a pair of Armalith jeans. A party trick perhaps, but nonetheless impressive.
Rokker’s jeans that are made with Armalith are known as Rokkertech jeans. Despite their high price, we sell more Rokkertech jeans than any other. When somebody comes out of the changing rooms in our shop, their normal reaction is to claim that they feel just like a normal pair of jeans. And they do. They look like a normal pair of jeans. They’re no heavier than a normal pair of jeans. And they wear like a normal pair of jeans.
Yet they do this whilst delivering a level of abrasion resistance that is around 50% higher than leather. On the Cambridge test, the Rokkertechs record a slide time of 6.3 seconds. In our view, these are the perfect motorcycle jeans. You could live in a pair of Rokkertechs. They flow the air better than anything this side of a pair of mesh pants, yet in an accident they are stronger than a leather pant. What more could you ask for?
But still, they are still not for everybody. The truth is that they are expensive. In fact, they are probably amongst the most expensive jeans on the market. Some people are initially shocked when they learn of the price. At the heart of the jeans, of course, is the amazing Armalith material and, per square metre it’s more expensive than even the finest of leathers. But here is a pant that is so much nicer and easier to wear than a leather trouser, yet it’s much stronger. There is no basis on which you would expect such a jean to be anything other than expensive. Surely?
The Rokkertechs come in four different fits. There’s a raw, indigo jean with a straight leg, a slim fit that comes in either a light wash or a vintage wash, and a skinny fit that comes in black. Each jean comes in 10 waist sizes and four leg lengths. That means there are some 160 different SKUs, as we call them. There are also, before I forget, two great cuts for women, including one with a fabulous, high waist.
We love Rokker’s single-layer jeans, which is why we have invested so heavily in them. We’re the only company in the country to hold all the colourways and fits in every size. But it’s this huge array of styles and fits that make it so important to get them properly and professionally fitted, because some people are going to fit well in some jeans but not others. If you prefer a higher rise, you’ll want the straight leg. If you want to wear a Daytona-style boot, you’ll need to steer clear of the black jean.
But the main issue with the Rokkertechs is their fixed armour pockets. Now, in a Rokker jean, the position of the armour pocket is determined by the leg length of the trouser leg, so you need to get the leg length right. And the right length is at least one inch longer than you’d normally go for with a street jean; sometimes two inches. Frankly, the only way to get these jeans absolutely right is to visit us in Guildford. Once we’ve found a fit you like, we’ll fit the D30 armour, and get you to sit on our shop bike. There are times when the armour just doesn’t fit where it should. And when this happens we measure how out of position the armour is. We then unstitch and raise or lower the armour pocket. And we’ll do this for free within the price. We’ll also shorten and hem them jeans as required, again within the cost, as indeed we will do with any motorcycle jean. Technically, the price of the Rokkertech jeans does not include the armour, but visit us in Guildford and we’ll throw in the armour too.
The truth is that whilst the Spidi Cordura jeans are probably the nicest jeans of all to wear, if you want to access the highest levels of protection, the Rokkertechs are incredibly easy to live with. Most people love them. It’s only if you’re particularly stout of limb that you might have a problem with Rokker’s Rokkertech jeans.
For those who do need a wider leg, but who still want a single-layer jean, the best bet is almost certainly Resurgence’s New Wave jean. The New Wave also happens to be the world’s strongest motorcycle jean; there’s no jean, lined or unlined, that is as strong. They’ve got an official ‘slide’ time of 11 seconds, which makes them more than twice as abrasion resistant as a leather trouser. Our personal opinion is that the New Waves are not quite as comfortable as the Rokkertechs, but with their wider leg and more relaxed fit, for some they will be a better option.
Now we here at Motolegends are great fans of single-layer jeans. In five years’ time we don’t think anybody will be making aramid-lined jeans. Already, they’re starting to feel a bit old fashioned. Right now, however, there are still some great lined jeans out there. The brand that we rate above all others is the Canadian producer Resurgence, who also make the New Wave, single-layer jean. Resurgence use their own aramid lining that they call Pekev. It is used in all their lined jeans and, in those areas that are lined, it delivers leather-plus levels of abrasion resistance.
The most popular jean in the Resurgence range is their Café Racer model. The outer material is a beautiful, selvedge denim, so beloved of hipsters and the Bike Shed crowd. Normally worn with a turn up, they have a raw finish and a classic skinny fit. They are very sharp. Resurgence’s Ultralight jean is a lighter jean designed more for warmer weather. The Pekev lining is a bit lighter, although you can still expect leather-levels of abrasion resistance. But the fit is quite extreme. The outer denim material is incredibly stretchy, but we would term the fit as ‘boy band’. Some people can pull it off, but not everybody can. I suppose it’s aimed at the younger rider.
We do sell other riding jeans, but the ones we have spoken about in this communication are our favourites. But the market is moving fast. What everybody is waiting for is a lightweight, comfortable, single-layer jean that will deliver a ‘slide’ time of at least four seconds, and that will come in at a price in the region of £200. Right now, the more protective, single-layer jeans tend to cost north of £300. But the good news is that several manufacturers are working on jeans that will hit this sweet spot. We hope to see some of them in 2020 at some point.
At the beginning of this review, I did mention that just about all jeans, unlined or single-layer, are pretty much useless in the rain. And this is true. But for us this is not a problem. Personally, I’d always prefer to ride in a pair of (single-layer) jeans and carry with me a pair of Scott waterproofs. But if you want to ride in jeans and be totally protected from the rain, there is a jean out there that will deliver what you want. It is called the Revolution jean; it is single layer and, again, it is produced by Rokker.
The Revolution jean is a pretty amazing bit of kit. It is a jean that delivers a ‘slide’ time of a little over three seconds, which isn’t bad; not quite leather, but stronger than a Cordura jean. But what makes the Rokker Revolutions so special is that the on the inner side of the outer fabric there’s a laminated, waterproof membrane. That’s the same construction that is used on the top Rukka trousers. What it means is that in three, four, or even five, hours of rain you won’t get wet. There are jeans out there with a drop-liner, waterproof membrane, but frankly they don’t work, because the outer denim will soak up the rain like a sponge. The truth is that if you want a waterproof jean, a truly waterproof jean, this is the only one. Not that it is for everybody. And that’s because, even though it’s very lightweight, the membrane rubbing against the skin makes them uncomfortable in really hot weather. In temperatures up to the mid twenties they’re fine, but much above that and there’s a danger that the membrane won’t be able to cope with the levels of perspiration that you’re going to be generating. For some people, the Revolution is the ultimate jean, but there’s simply nothing that’s going to work for everybody in every circumstance. If you ride a lot in the cold and wet, these jeans might just be what you’re looking for.
Here at Motolegends, we clearly don’t sell every motorcycle jean brand. But jeans are one of our things. We take them seriously. We have tried, tested and ridden in them all. And if we’ve decided not to offer a particular brand there’s normally going to be a reason for it. The jeans that we sell are the ones we believe in. Yes, we like jeans that look like normal jeans; we’re less keen, we admit, on those with dart lines, stitching and separately-sewn panels, but we won’t touch those that don’t deliver acceptable levels of protection, and we have no time for jeans that aren’t nice to ride in. Moving forward, we’re pretty much focussed on single-layer because we simply think they’re better, and there’s no trade off in terms of protection. If you want to talk about what jeans are going to be best for you, you could always come and see us in Guildford.
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