Definitions of Motorcycle Apparel Terms

Gore-TexWHAT DO ALL THOSE LABELS MEAN ON MOTORCYCLE GEAR? Ever wonder what all those different motorcycle textiles are about? What are the definitions of the myriad terms printed on the tags of motorcycle jackets, pants and gloves? What’s good? What’s better? Is textile as good as leather? Is there any textile better than leather? What the heck are you actually paying for!?

Here’s a list of some of the more common terms and their definitions, familiar to any motorcycle rider looking for protective clothing and apparel. (Much of this info is complements of Cycleport).

Aero-Tex: A thin, light weight membrane, mounted between the face fabric and the lining. It is Waterproof, Windproof, and Breathable.

Ballistic Nylon: A specific nylon developed by Dupont for the U.S. Department of Defense for use in flak jackets. Later it was replaced by Kevlar. The basket-weave construction helps add abrasion resistance as opposed to a plain weave. The name is used as a marketing tool with “ballistic” sounding like something “bulletproof” and therefore really tough. Many motorcycle apparel companies use the word “Ballistic” when describing material. In many cases the materials tear and abrasion strength does not meet a minimum standard for motorcycle apparel and the word is used only as a sales gimmick.

Breath-ability: Humans control body warmth by perspiring and thus prevent the body from overheating. When riding it is necessary to transport at least two pints of perspiration (water vapor) through clothes every hour. When apparel does not breathe, water vapor turns into sweat and in cold weather wet heat loss is 23 times greater than dry heat loss. Suits that do not breathe and use vents will only be somewhat comfortable in perfect weather.

CE Armor: A European system of grading motorcycle protective armor that encompasses both energy absorption capability as well as pad shape and size. The armor or pads are designed to offer added protection to a rider going down on a motorcycle, particularly in the event of sliding or lesser impacts. CE armor is made of hard foam pieces encapsulated in softer foam which compresses on impact. In other words, it’s like a helmet: if you land on it, you must replace it.

Cordura: A high tenacity, air textured nylon fiber, made exclusively by Dupont. Superior abrasion resistance over any other fabric in a head to head comparison. Hundreds of nylon materials exist but 500 Denier Cordura is the industry minimum standard for apparel material abrasion and tear strength. (Be cautious when motorcycle clothing manufacturers do not use Cordura in nylon apparel or use less than 500 Denier).

Denier: a unit of measurement used to describe the strength of a material like nylon. Simply speaking, the bigger the number the bigger the thread.

Gore-Tex: Thin, lightweight membrane mounted between the face fabric and the lining. It is Waterproof, Windproof and Breathable. This membrane has nine billion microscopic pores per square inch. These pores are much smaller than a droplet of liquid water, but much larger than a molecule of water vapor. Water in a liquid form cannot penetrate the membrane, but both moisture vapor from perspiration and heat can easily escape. The membrane works when the outside temperature is colder than your body temperature. the membrane actually sucks the heat out of the apparel as long as the outside temperature is lower than 98F.

Insulation: The other Motorcycle apparel companies usually don’t tell you what the insulation is or they make up a name. A few of the more expensive jackets use Thinsulate. Thinsulate was an improvement of Down insulation because it performed two times better and it didn’t separate and breakdown as easily. Thinsulate can lose up to 20% of its insulation capability with each wash. Cycleport uses either Thermolite or Thermoloft. Theremolite performs four times better that Thinsulate and can only loose up to 2% when washed. Thermoloft performs two times better than Thermolite, six times better than Thinsulate and no breakdown of insulation occurs when washed.

Kevlar: The strongest fiber known to man. Kevlar is made by Dupont and for apparel use comes in a thread form. In a pure weave Kevlar does not stretch and is not suitable for use in motorcycle apparel where abrasion is important. In order to give it the proper motorcycle abrasion strength Kevlar must be woven together with Cordura and Lycra. These are the only suits approved for road racing other than leather. Some gear manufacturers use small portions of pure Kevlar as a gimmick. Quality full suits of it can be found. This gear is lighter, offers greater protection and it breathes. It slides on pavement the same way as leather and dissipates friction heat better than leather. Due to its innate toughness during construction and the fabrics limited availability it is not widely marketed so it will take a bit of looking to get one.

Leather: Long been a good protective fabric. However, many variables can effect its quality including, the type, age and diet of the animal it came from. Different methods used to clean, tan and dye the leather effect it as well. Unfortunately the best way to tell if the garment is made of good leather is to look at the price tag. Good leather costs more and that cost is passed on to the consumer. Leather should be worn snug because when leather folds its tear strength lowers considerably. As an organic material leather dries out and looses its flexibility over time. In fact each time leather gets wet and dries it can loose up to 20% of its tear and abrasion strength. If you purchase leather, get the best you can and care for it habitually, even if it’s just hanging in the closet.

Polyurethane: A coating that has a rubber texture. This is applied to the inside shell of most nylon. It is used primarily to seal nylon threads when woven into fabric. The majority of all nylon motorcycle apparel is 100% polyurethane-coated and does not breathe properly. Polyurethane can also melt into your skin during abrasion. Polyurethane can also trap water after a rain for hours. Even the most expensive apparel has 20% or more Polyurethane coating. If you are looking for greater performance avoid apparel that has more than a 20% polyurethane coating.

PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride): Nylon alone is not waterproof. In rain suit and waterproof garment descriptions you will notice the acronym PVC. This is a rubberized coating that is laminated to the nylon to make it waterproof.

Scotchlite Reflective Material: Material made by the 3M company. It is constructed of millions of tiny glass beads affixed to the surface. Each glass bead is covered with a metallic reflective layer on half of its surface (the “back” half) and this, combined with the spherical nature of the glass beads gives the materials their reflective properties.

Seam Sealed: When garments are sewn the needle creates holes that will allow water to pass through. Seam sealing tape is applied to a stitched seam using heat to bond the tape to the material making the seam waterproof.

Taffeta: Strong, lightweight, breathable nylon that is used primarily for suit linings. Taffeta linings offer the wearer a greater level of comfort. Taffeta also allows the suit to be put on and then off with greater ease.

Taslan: Another Dupont invention. A means of bulking the fiber to give it better abrasion resistance.

Tri-Armor: Armor comprised of a plastic membrane sandwiched between dual-density, closed-cell, memory armor. Tri-Armor was developed from the results of a four year crash study in Germany. The goal of this study was to develop the most protective motorcycle suit. Construction and placement of the Tri-Armor was designed to provide the best impact and abrasion resistance. Tri-Armor exceeds the current “CE” approved standards.

Ultra Cordura 1000 Denier: The strongest nylon material ever used in a motorcycle suit. It has greater abrasion and tear strength than 1050 Ballistic Cordura. Made by Dupont this is the first nylon material used in motorcycle apparel made without a polyurethane coating.

Shopping Tip: The most versatile motorcycle apparel is made with Nylon or Nylon/Lycra/Kevlar woven material. The minimum standard for tear and abrasion strength is 500 Denier Cordura Nylon. Hundreds of nylon materials exist. In a single layer outer shell, less than 500 Denier Cordura will not offer enough protection in a tumble. Stay away from apparel where the material is not described.

30 thoughts on “Definitions of Motorcycle Apparel Terms

  • Great article on the various options for motorcycle “safety” clothing. I just watched the TV show, “Sunday Morning”…with a segment about Keanu Reeves’ motorcycle manufacturing venture…..and this article has at least one “comparable” touchpoint.

    Reeves’ bikes cost about $78,000…….which suggests that in this world of “super-richness”…..there’s SOME size of market (he’s only delivered about a dozen) for everything. For MOST of us, however, we “make do” with a compromise.

    Some of us ride only for pleasure……some of us (not many reading THIS website) out of pure necessity.
    All of us can almost always adjust WHERE we go and HOW WE RIDE to make up for any shortcomings in WHAT WE WEAR…..especially if the budget and the weather aren’t cooperating.

    I guess what I’m saying is, somewhere between the ultimate safety of riding naked, alone, at 5 MPH in the dessert on a 125cc dirtbike……..and riding in full Kevlar, Nylon, Silk, “Poly-Carbon-Nanotube” race gear at 230KPH on a Guzzi or Hyabusa on Ontario, Canada’s HWY 401……..during rush-hour……..there’s a riding environment, style and purpose that is JUST RIGHT for everyone.

  • I bought a CYCLEPORT suit about ten years ago. It has the heavy-duty armor–the best I have seen. I have crashed and slid on pavement. The suit material doesn’t melt and holds together. In high summer heat it breathes. I have a thermal liner and another for rain. I was in a two-day rainstorm in Indiana and Illinois. I remained totally dry.

    In really cold weather I use an electric jacket and electric gloves.

    I had CYCLEPORT add suspenders to the pants and zippered pockets to the forearms for cards, toll cash, and ear plugs. Also, CYCLEPORT added loops for my heated gear contoller.

    The pants and long jacket or coat have ample pockets–very convenient.

    I do a lot of long distance touring across the nation am very satisfied with the quality and service of CYCLEPORT and its staff. The gear is made in California and is far superior to all the other stuff I have tried over the years.

    Jim from Madera, California

  • Got Leather? Lexol is your friend. Bought a jacket at a consignment store that was stiff and scuffed, looks like new and is supple now. A little Lexol after a rain soaking really helps to keep your leathers strong and live long.

  • Follow-up to my post on 11/22/08:
    March 2010 I went down on my right side and slid over 20 feet. My Cycleport (elbow and hip) armor cushioned my fall, the (Kelvar and Cordura) suit took the road rash, and the pants took the engine heat on my left leg. No injuries – no ambulance.
    I calmed my nerves and rode for six hours (it was a beautiful day to ride), then calmed my nerves again and told my wife about it. (Ha!)
    I still wear that suit as a reminder of that day, and as a testament of the product.
    Thanks MC-G and -Brian in VA

  • Kevlar is… ONE…. of the strongest…..

    The strongest synthetic fiber is carbon nanotubes.
    The strongest organic fiber is spider silk. Both are stronger than silk, but I don’t know if the nanotubes or spider silk is stronger.
    Zylon®, the world’s strongest fiber, contradicts almost everything we know about fibers and fabrics. Zylon is made by mixing a polymer called PBO (para-phenylene benzobisoxazole), while forcing it through a spinning machine.
    The World’s Strongest Fiber
    Toyobo Co., Ltd.
    Zylon®, the world’s strongest fiber, contradicts almost everything we know about fibers and fabrics. Zylon is made by mixing a polymer called PBO (para-phenylene benzobisoxazole), while forcing it through a spinning machine. PBO has a chemical structure that is difficult to process, but a major manufacturer of fibers, Toyobo Co., Ltd., has succeeded in producing this “super fiber.” Zylon’s tensile strength is about 10 times that of steel—a Zylon thread only 1 mm thick can hold an object weighing 450 kg! Zylon has excellent flame resistance, withstanding temperatures up to 650°C, and is more impact-resistant than even steel or carbon.
    Zylon’s superlative properties are put to good use in protective clothing like firefighters’ uniforms, heat-resistant clothing and bulletproof vests. Zylon is also used as a heat-resistant industrial material, and in the manufacture of optical fiber cables. In 2001, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States used it as a reinforcing material for a space observation balloon.
    Saito Masakazu of Toyobo says, “The principles on which Zylon is based were discovered in the United States more than 20 years ago, but it’s not easy to make commercial products using it. We were able to do so only after applying Japan’s fiber technologies and manufacturing techniques.”

  • I find the definitions of the textile materials the riding jackets are made of to be very confusing.

    I actually wrote to two gear makers….Tourmaster, and Olympia…and ask specifically what material their jackets were made of….of particular interest to me was the Tourmaster Flex 2 jacket, and the inner mesh material known as “Armor Link”…for wearing when it is very warm outside….the Olympia jacket I asked about was the Air Glide 3, and it’s breathable panels that make up almost 75 percent of the front of the jacket.

    In each case, I was only told that the material is “very tough, and much stronger than our competitors”….which tells me exactly NOTHING!

    I was concerned about abrasion resistance in a slide along the asphalt, and told these people of my concerns.

    Still, no real, complete, actual explanation of what exactly the material was made of, nor of it’s abrasion or tear resistance, when compared to kevlar, or Cordura…or leather.

    I found this most disturbing, and, as of right now, am still looking for a riding jacket.

  • I think that is a question throughout the seasons, I am wearing leather during the Summer but beware of the very hot weather. My jacket for the Winter is Gortex with layers underneath. I find leather comfortable if it is a good fit, and to stop leather going hard use a good leather treatment a couple of times a year.

  • great article. simple and easy to read. i will keep it safe on my laptop and share with friends.

  • I appreciate the article and giving out these terms. The world of synthetic materials is always innovating and evolving. New materials and labels come up all the time. It is good to know what you are buying and I like certain brands because of the quality of the materials they use. Alpinestar leather stuff is excellent (do I need to explain why?) and stands up very well. I like their gloves (own 3 pair) & how they fit. I also like the brand Rev”It, its not too well known here as it is in Europe but they have a very good online catalogue with technical information that is first rate, best I’ve ever seen. The gear ranges from casual to MotoGP quality level. Urban motorcycle gear seems to be in vogue and its pretty stylish too. I prefer the utilitarian bike look and the jackets I have from then (4) all work amazingly well. I also recommend checking out jackets for fit at a cycle shop. Cycle gear had a perfect Leather jacked marked down by 40% that I just had to have.

  • I have recently purchased a complete motorcyle jacket and pants with ce armor. After looking strongly at the Cycleport and others I found that Cycleport and of all companies Gerbing Heated were the only 2 that could provide me with a custom sized (I am a big guy) sized set of motorcyle protective gear. I suppose that since the Cycleport is designed to be a year round outfit that it might have been a better choice in some ways. I however did have Gerbing make my 3 season set as I am well equipped for summer with what I already had. I do believe that in the area of textile riding gear Cycleport \ Motoport has the best protection but lacks in some stylling features such as the finich of the pockets on the pants and jacket. All those I spoke to have told me that they are comfortable in the Cycleport in the coldest of weather.

  • Great info. I have always believed in quality riding gear but have taken chances with cotton pants, t-shirts and running shoes on hot summer days.
    I have had good luck but after killing a deer close to home while riding and no damage to myself and little to my machine I will all ways dress for a possible mishap.
    No matter when you ride think that you are naked and be prepared.
    Slow down and keep your distance is how I read it. Be Safe !

  • Finally, I get to know the meaning of all those labels. Thanks.
    I’m yet to find the ultimate gear for tropical weather. I live and ride daily in Africa. and the weather here is hot! hot!! hot!!! I’m always sweating in my PRO WARRIOR JACKET.
    I’m really looking out for something breathable that offers adequate protection.

  • Thanks for the information and all the great tips from M-I. I laid my h-d over some time ago and found that my leather jacket didn’t fit tight enough around the wrist. As a result, I got some road rash on my left elbow.

    Thanks again,

    Troy form West Texas

  • Nice post GAVNO.. I guess I am old school too. I wear cowboy boots with a rubber stick-on- sole to give me a fighting chance of getting a decent grip, and a Belstaff ‘Trialmaster’ Wax Jacket.. which I think is just the business. My view is that it is the way you ride, not what you wear, that gets you through.

  • Thank you for this information,this help me a lot when I decide to buy a Jacket.I have few already, but I like to have more,this is very important for diferent weather.Thank you again.Jose

  • Be very carefull with any clothing with the CE inserts. The jacket must be snug fitting and the inserts not loose and able to move around when you hit the deck. The suspension sytem for the inserts must be strong and keep the inserts from moving around between your body and the jacket (or strides). Common sense but amazing how many fellas I see wearing el cheapo gear, which, I guess is better than nothing.
    You also need to consider the type of protection you require. For instance if you are commuting in the city you are more likely to need impact protection more like motocross armour as accidents will be low speed with more obstacles to hit, lamp posts, parked cars etc. High speed riding will more likely require higher abrasion resistance in the event of a tumble which is where Kevlar is by far the most superior material.
    I guess we all would like to be able to afford to ride around in a $10,000 racing suit like Rossi wears but at the end of the day it comes down to practicalities and what we can afford and most importantly, common sense.
    Mike from W.Aust.

  • For Andy, and all those who want to wash their textiles: look for the inner label, there will be instructions for the washing, even though they are often rather cryptic. In any case NEVER use hot water NOR solvents for textiles: they are basically “plastics” and heat will tend to melt them into a compact useless mess. Ever touched your “imitation leather” gloves to a hot exhaust? Well, then you know what I mean. Only use mild detergents in lukewarm water and plenty of time to dry (hanging). They’ll be just fine.
    PS I still find leather best.

  • I go Old School all the way… a Schott “One Star Perfecto” leather jacket, and 18″ high Wesco “Engineer” boots. That’s backed up by leather chaps (sometimes), or leather jeans (sometimes), topped off with a Bell 3/4 helmet, and generic leather gloves.

    Leather ain’t intended as a fashion statement, tho sometimes it works out that way… ;o)

    I just prefer it to the Star Wars stuff that the teenage crotch rocket riders wear.

    Besides… wearing all that leather REALLY pisses off the local PETA folks, and that’s ALWAYS a good thing! :o) And as a general rule they’re too chickenshit to even think about calling me on it.

    Gavno the Ugly

  • How does one clean a non-leather motorcyle jacket made by Fieldsheer. The coat is very functional;however, everyone asks me, “How come your coat is always dirty?”

  • I researched riding clothes online for months and bought a Cycleport (Kevlar) Mesh suit, with weather liners. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, my suit has performed above expectations. I feel comfortable and protected on my bike, and I’m worth it. Thanks MC-G and -Brian in VA

  • All the above information are correct except one correction I would like to mention.

    ***Scotchlite Reflective Material: A thin, light weight membrane, mounted between the face fabric and the lining. It is Waterproof, Windproof, and Breathable.***

    Scotchlite is not a linner water proof, breathable etc. Rather its a material to be used to reflective the light in night and provide better visibility in night. it can be used in form of taps/piping (some riders might have observed reflective piping across the seams of leather suits) or it might be used as a seperate panel in cordura/textile clothing. same as used on workforce or police night jakets. The best durable band is 3M schotchlite

  • As you posted, most of this info comes from a motorcycle gear manufacturer – clearly with a vested interest. Perhaps the information presented is all correct, but personally I would like to see third party information / verification. At the very least, this article has a definite bias that makes it difficult for first time shoppers to make informed purchases.

  • Hi I just purchased a suit from cycleport the one with the nylon/lycra/kevlar blended suit, having owned textile suits I got use to the lightness and flexablility of textiles but needed something better,

    I asked the drag racing manager what was acceptable for the track and was told leather or Kevlar and went on a search for it and found cycleports website, so far I have ridden in 90 degree heat and was comfortable on the highway, I got the optional waterproof liner but have not been rained on yet,

    I was expecting something rougher but was surprised at the softness of the suite,

    I was looking for a do it all suit that would look good and be able to use year round in any temperature, so far passed the heat test and will buy there liner for the suit when it is close to getting cold again,

    I ride a sportbike that I am tuning into a sport tourer so space is important and can not carry much gear so depending on the season and weather this suit should do the trick,

    I just ordered a undersuit for it and have a heated suite for winter riding in New England weather which can change at any time and think this suit will do everything I want and more and hope I do not find out the more, (( wipe out )) to test the suits ability to keep me safe, and I hope it last me at the very least five years they say seven, that breaks down to over 200 a year or less than 60 cents a day for the best protection if it last five years, now if it last seven which is the warranty for the suite that breaks down to 40 cents a day or 146 dollars a year.

    also the suite can be sent in to be repaired and if they can not do it then they will give you a new one, and if I lose or gain weight I can send it in to be modified another thing you can not do with a leather suite.

    So if everything I read is true I have the best suite for me, I can use it for sport riding, touring, drag racing, and track days and be comfortable and safe.

    Mike from Boston Massachusetts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *