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1. Retro to the bone, the Star from Vanson Leathers is the most unique of the jackets we sampled. Made of the heavy-duty, race-strength leather Vanson is famous for, the story of how the Star came to be is simple: In the 1970s, Vanson offered a road-racing suit in this style, and one of those suits is in the company’s museum. When someone asked if Vanson could make them a “street” version, the company obliged, and the Star was born. The jacket features double leather at the shoulders and elbows/forearms, a full wind flap, zip-down sleeves, rear vents, a rayon lining, solid brass hardware — and a racing license pocket for good measure. As an added bonus, Vanson will happily make you one in whatever color scheme you like. Stiff when new, it will take some riding to break in, but it’s exactly the kind of high-quality piece you’d expect from Vanson. Price: Starting at $729. More info: www.vansonleathers.com
2. Firstgear’s Earl Jacket has the kind of classic styling we love. Complete with horizontal stripes and available in Black/Orange or Gray/Black, this vintage-cut jacket provides a tight and secure old-school fit. Made of 1.1mm leather, the jacket features a removable vest liner, an adjustable waist, two inside pockets, armor in the shoulders and elbows, and a foam back pad that is perforated for added airflow. Zippered flow-through air vents on the chest combine with exhaust vents on the back to let the jacket breathe when it’s hot out. Price: Starting at $299.95. More info: www.firstgear-usa.com
3. Fox Creek Leathers makes some serious gear, and the Reflector Jacket is no exception. Crafted from 1.6mm leather, the jacket is heavy, but so well built you don’t want to take it off. It features reflective piping across the front and back to make you visible at night, along with two inside pockets, dual front and rear zippered vents, an adjustable waist, a removable full-sleeve liner and a hide-away fleece neck warmer. This one is cut longer in the torso than any of the other jackets here, which is nice for comfort when not on the bike, but can lead to the bottom edge of the jacket digging into your thighs a bit when sitting astride your ride, an issue we’d expect to lessen as the jacket breaks in. Price: $412. More info: www.foxcreekleather.com
4. Easily the most comfortable jacket of the bunch right from the get-go, the Montana Jacket from British Motorcycle Gear has already become a favorite here at the office. Although made of heavy-duty 1.4mm cowhide, this jacket smells, feels and wears like nice leather should. And even though it’s a good piece of riding gear, it’s one of the few here that’s subtle enough to pass as a “regular” jacket. It features removable armor in the shoulders and elbows, along with a removable thermal liner for when it’s cold, plus dual vents in the front and back of the jacket for when it’s hot. There’s also a pocket for adding back armor if you choose. Available in both a “British” and an “American” cut, the American cut is roomier and a better fit for those with a thicker build.
Price: $399. More info: www.britishmotorcyclegear.com
5. Tourmasters’ Coaster II Leather Jacket is available in black with black, brown, white or gray accents and looks even better in person than it does in photos, its trim cut and Mandarin-style collar making it a real stand out. Made of top grain 1.3mm leather, the Coaster II features removable shoulder, back and elbow armor along with a removable insulated liner that’s great for those chilly spring and fall mornings. The jacket also has vents on the chest, sleeves and back to help provide flow-through ventilation. The waist has an adjustable belt for a personalized fit, along with a zipper to attach your favorite set of riding pants. Price: $239. More info: www.tourmaster.com
6. The Fast Lane canvas jacket from Bates Leathers is, well, canvas, and that might be its greatest asset. Lightweight yet safe thanks to extra material in the back, shoulders and elbows, plus removable back padding, the jacket has long vents in the front, rear and on the upper arms to help keep you cool out when it’s hot. This was the coolest of the bunch during a week of 90 F-plus temps. The collar snaps down to prevent flapping (or up if you like the 20-something attitude look), and the adjustable waist belts help the jacket fit just right. Comfy, sharp and great when it’s warm out, this is a nice summer alternative to leather. Price: 189.95. More info: www.batesleathers.com
Top Pick: Montana Jacket from British Motorcycle GearFrom the moment we opened the box, took a whiff of the lovely aroma pouring forth and ran our hands over the Montana’s creamy-smooth leather, we were taken. A few hundred miles later, we’d discovered even more to crow about. With its liner out, the Montana is surprisingly cool on hot days, as the four front pockets double as vents thanks to their mesh liners. The brown finish is a nice contrast to the normal black you see everyone else wearing, and the soft finish of the leather will inevitably lead to the jacket “weathering” nicely and developing a character all its own within a few thousand miles. It’s comfortable. It’s well-made. It feels secure. It’s something different, and it has that vintage feel. What more could you ask for? — Landon Hall
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