Best motorcycle riding jeans: Single layer vs lined

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Do you trust your jeans to keep you safe?

 

Motorcycle riding jeans are now incredibly popular – as bikers move away from sportsbikes and focus instead on adventure, street, custom, naked and cruiser machines, denim is often the trouser of choice.

With the use of Kevlar and other materials like Armalith, Covec, Pekek and UHMWPE – not to mention brand names such as Dyneema, Spectra and Cordura – while they’re potentially not as safe as leathers can be, a good-quality pair of motorcycle riding jeans can offer very good protection, while still looking great off the bike.

Single layer, part-lined or fully-lined – here’s how to choose the best ones for you…

 

The best motorcycle riding jeans

The first thing to check when buying any motorcycle jeans is that they’re properly tested and certified.

Since 21 April 2018, all motorcycle kit has – by law – been required to have been certified as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). That means it should have a label inside that rates it as A, AA, or AAA. You can find out more about the ratings here, but it means your jeans will have been tested for abrasion and tear resistance, as well as seam strength, with AAA being the highest standard in the current legislation.

 

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Single layer or lined motorcycle jeans… Which are best?

While the A to AAA ratings are a real help in choosing the best motorcycle jeans, a pair of AAA-rated lined jeans are likely to be more abrasion-resistant than a pair of single-layer ones.

A bold statement, I know, and one that flies in the face of some YouTube videos and articles you might find online, but who should you trust?

Put simply, EN17092 tests to a standard, so looking at the top level – AAA – if a pair of jeans achieve that then great, but we don’t know how good they are compared to other AAA-rated jeans. Or more tellingly, we don’t even know how they’ll compare to some of the best one-piece leather race suits.

Think of helmets; every lid you buy in the UK has to meet an ECE standard, but you need to check the SHARP testing to get an idea of what performs best.

 

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The Darmstadt machine is used to test abrasion resistance under EN17092 and gives a pass or fail

 

Under EN17092, abrasion testing is carried out on a Darmstadt machine, which spins samples at an rpm specific to the performance classification being aimed for (A, AA or AAA), then drops them onto a concrete slab where they slow to a stop. If there’s no hole bigger than 5mm in any direction, it’s a pass.

It’s not a bad system, but like any lab test it shouldn’t be considered a guarantee that something that’s passed AAA will remain intact should you slide down the road at 70mph. Here’s why:

  • Besides the knees in all levels, the hips in AA and AAA, and the bum in AAA only, the rest of the jeans are tested with the rig spinning at much lower speeds, so potentially offer less protection. You can see all the info in this article.
  • This is a lab test on a calibrated concrete slab. Real-word crashes are far more chaotic, and you’ll encounter asphalt and the far-more abrasive surface-dressing (or chip-seal), that councils are using on local roads with much more frequency now.
  • The rig does not take into account the energy that’s transferred to the material as you fall; that initial impact can make a huge difference.
  • The Darmstadt machine’s initial speed is quoted in rpm to avoid confusion with road speeds, though some brands and retailers do still quote speeds. AAA’s key impact areas only are tested at 707.4rpm, which is the equivalent of about 75mph. At AA those zones are 46mph, and at A they’re 28mph. Stating this is risky as it leaves sellers open to potential litigation if someone has a crash at or below any of those road speeds and the jeans don’t perform as expected, because it’s a controlled and repeatable test that is not intended to directly compare with chaotic and random real-world crashes.

 

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The Cambridge machine is used to test abrasion resistance under EN13595, and gives a time to failure

 

EN17092 is great as it puts a stop to claims of protection without proof, but it’s important to not be misled by cunning marketing nonsense. The AAA-rating should give you confidence in what you’re buying, but it doesn’t provide a comparison of ultimate protective qualities. If you want to know more, you need only look at the EN13595 standard that uses the Cambridge machine to test abrasion. For jeans and jackets, that means a 60 grit belt running at about 18mph, onto which samples are dropped. When they hole, the test stops.

Like the Darmstadt machine, this is not intended to give a specific slide time or duration on a road – it provides what’s called a ‘relative abrasion time’ that allows you to compare products.

While proven to be a very accurate analogue for chip-seal, or surface-dressed roads, this coarse belt is too abrasive for many garments, but when we had a pair of AAA-rated lined jeans, a pair of AAA-rated single-layer jeans and a sample of quality leather tested by an independent notified body (testing company), the differences were clear. The lined jeans (and these were not the most abrasion-resistant on the market by any stretch), gave a relative abrasion time of more than double that of the single-layer. The leather gave slightly more than the lined jeans.

 

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Using the EN13595 industry standard Cambridge machine test, a pair of AAA-rated single-layer jeans lasted 2.03 seconds. A pair of AAA-rated lined jeans lasted 4.34 seconds. As a comparison, a single layer of quality 1.3mm-thick leather lasted 4.86 seconds. Some might try to promote these as ‘slide times’, but they’d be wrong. These are not ‘slide times’ – the figures provide a relevant comparison.

 

You might argue that this is just a sample of two, but MotoCAP has done a lot more. It’s an independent motorcycle clothing assessment program based in Australia that uses rigorous and proven testing to help riders around the world to choose the safest motorcycle kit.

In reply to a comment on our video (see below), PPE expert Paul Varnsverry took a snapshot of the abrasion resistance tests – which are carried out using a properly calibrated Cambridge machine with a 60 grit belt – and studied all the results to find that of 53 motorcycle jeans tested, only 23 had an abrasion resistance score of two or more out of ten. They were all lined jeans.

Product

Construction

Abrasion rating

using Cambridge machine

Draggin Holeshot

Lined

10

Draggin Next Gen

Lined

9

Draggin Twista

Lined

7

Draggin Urban Camo

Lined

6

Triumph Hero Riding

Lined

5

Bull-It Cargo Easy SR6

Lined

4

Draggin Minx Ladies

Lined

4

Bull-It Covert Blue Straight

Lined

3

Resurgence Women's Jeans

Lined

3

Resurgence Jet Black

Lined

3

Resurgence Sara Jane Ladies Leggings

Lined

3

Resurgence Indigo Sports

Lined

3

Rev'It Lombard 2 RF

Lined

3

Draggin Drift Ladies

Lined

3

Draggin Cargo

Lined

3

Resurgence Pekev Promodal Lite

Lined

3

Brixton Pioneer Kevlar

Lined

2

Triumph Pure Riding

Lined

2

Merlin Route One Hardy

Lined

2

PMJ Café Racer

Lined

2

Bull-It SP120 Lite Heritage Easy

Lined

2

Rev'It Westwood Ladies SF

Lined

2

Macna Porter Jeans

Lined

2

Triumph Brecon

Single layer

1

BMW Rider

Single layer

1

Triumph Malvern

Single layer

1

Saint Model 2

Single layer

1

Triumph Urban Jeans

Single layer

1

BMW Rider Ladies

Single layer

1

Resurgence New Wave

Single layer

1

BMW City Denim Trousers

Single layer

1

Oxford Original CE Armourlite

Single layer

1

BMW Waterproof Herren

Single layer

1

Bull-It Easy Tactical Cargo

Single layer

1

Saint Unbreakable Straight

Single layer

1

Macna Transfer

Lined*

1

Dri Rider Titan

Lined*

1

Dri Rider Xena Ladies

Lined*

1

Ixon Buckler

Lined*

1

Bull-It Easy Tactical Icon

Single layer

1

Macna Individi

Lined*

1

Rjays Reinforced Original Cut

Lined*

1

Bull-It Skinny Zero

Lined*

1

RST Skinny

Lined*

1

Bull-It Slim Tactical Eclipse Ladies

Single layer

1

Merlin Blake Jeans

Lined*

1

MotoGirl Ribbed Knee Leggings

Lined*

1

PMJ Rider Jeans

Lined*

1

RST Vintage II

Lined*

1

Bull-It Ladies Envy 17 Leggings

Lined*

1

Draggin Stealthz Leggings

Lined*

1

Bull-It Fury SP120 Lite Jeggings

Lined*

1

Oxford Super Leggings

Lined*

1

*MotoCAP’s testing takes into account the abrasion resistance of the entire garment. The details of the construction of these lined jeans has not been verified, but they could be part-lined with only localised areas of a protective fabric.

 

But what if a pair of jeans you want to buy haven’t been tested by MotoCAP yet?

There’s little reason for a good-quality pair of single-layer or lined motorcycle jeans – with knee and hip armour – to not be rated as AAA, so make that your first filter. You might hear some excuses for products not having the top rating, but the only way to know for sure is through testing, so be wary of bluster.

Of course, this also means that it’s not possible to say that all AAA-rated lined jeans are guaranteed to offer better abrasion resistance than all AAA-rated single layer jeans, but the evidence so far points to layering being beneficial. Dr Roderick Woods (the inventor of the Cambridge machine), Dr Chris Hurren (leader of the Motocap scheme) and Paul Varnsverry (an independent motorcycle PPE expert) all agree that the more layers of material that are built into a garment, the more protective it’s likely to be.

An additional, higher standard than AAA would help buyers, and it’s great to know that there is an official BSI work programme that’s well underway to provide one. It’ll be in addition to EN17092 and likely to be optional, but it’s very encouraging to know that several manufacturers are contributing, and that it’s supported by the National Police Chief’s Council.

 

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Road surfaces across the UK vary massively, but you’ll find more and more of the highly-abrasive surface dressing (or chip-seal) on country roads.

 

How abrasive are UK roads?

UK roads are often thought of simply as ‘asphalt’, which is about four times less abrasive than chip-seal, or surface-dressed roads. It’s the surface you’ll most likely find on the main arteries of our road network.

In England, these motorways and major A-roads are looked after by National Highways, who told me that while they generally use what’s called a thin surface course system (asphalt) that by its nature provides a smoother finish for road users, this government agency only looks after about 2-3% of the country’s roads.

I’ve contacted ADEPT (The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport) for some more information as National Highways points out that surface-dressing is more commonly used on local authority roads. Which is where motorcyclists tend to spend more of their time.

Councils throughout England increasingly use surface dressing because (and this is in the words of the councils):

  • It’s a cost effective way of restoring the road surface and sealing it in one process
  • It improves skidding resistance
  • It helps make the road waterproof
  • It protects the road against frost and water damage

How many times have you ridden down your favourite road to find it covered in loose chippings? That’s recently-applied surface dressing.

The road is first sprayed with a sticky bitumen binder, then the chippings are spread over it. This is then rolled to push the stones into the surface, and any remaining stones are pushed in by vehicles going over it. It has to be done in warm weather, so typically between May and August.

It’s these small, sharp stones that make for great grip, but also a highly abrasive surface that’s more akin to a 60 grit abrasive belt than a smooth concrete slab, and it’s why all testing should be calibrated, then used as a comparison, rather than a guarantee of real-world performance.

 

The Darmstadt machine’s concrete slab is a good analogue for asphalt roads, while the Cambridge machine’s 60 grit belt (which is what’s used for jeans and jacket testing under EN13595) is closer to surface dressing. Both provide valuable results, but the Cambridge machine can test to failure, which makes comparisons of the best riding kit more achievable.

 

The safest motorcycle jeans: finding the right balance

The most abrasion resistant jeans currently tested by MotoCAP are the Draggin Holeshots, with a very impressive 10/10. They’re actually certified to the truly toughest EN13595 Level 2, which means they ARE more abrasion resistant than some leathers. But like everything in life, the choice isn’t always that easy.

  • First I’d suggest you choose only AAA-rated jeans, then consider your budget.
  • After that, try some on. Lined jeans will be warmer than single-layer jeans, but there can be big differences; Draggin’s most abrasion-resistant jeans use a flannel-style aramid lining, which is bulkier and hotter than a standard knit. If you ride in very hot climates, that’s worth knowing. If you’re interested in the potential weight differences, as an example and with armour fitted a pair of AAA-rated Roadskin Taranis single-layer jeans weigh 1,360g, while a pair of AAA-rated Hood K7/AAA fully-lined jeans weigh 1,880g.
  • Then look at the details – do you like a button fly or a zip? If the jeans have rivets, are they smooth to avoid scratching the bike’s paintwork? How tough are the pockets (lining them with denim means they’ll last longer), are there extra belt loops at the rear to prevent the jeans gaping when on the bike?

Of course, abrasion resistance isn’t the only measure of safety – burst and tear strength is just as vital, which is why I think it’s important to go for AAA-rated jeans.

The choice between lined and single-layer jeans has to be yours, but until we see documented evidence proving otherwise, we’re confident that good quality lined jeans will exceed the abrasion-resistance of single-layer jeans.

 

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Don’t confuse a comfort liner with an abrasion-resistant liner – these are typically a light mesh that helps keep the jeans a little cooler in summer and warmer in winter, but can also reduce the chances of a potentially painful ‘skin-sheer’ injury. This wouldn’t tend to be debilitating, but internal delamination of the flesh can take up to three weeks to heal, and it can – in some cases – lead to complications.

 

What about part-lined jeans?

Part-lined jeans can offer the protection of fully-lined jeans in the key impact areas without the weight. Note that if a part-lining is sewn in, and the stitching is exposed on the outside, the threads could wear through quickly, leaving the lining to shift away in an accident if they’re not well made. Many part-lined protective layers will be loose at the bottom of the bum, but have a look how far this could pull up if the outer denim got torn open.

Some part-lined jeans will be pretty much plain denim, with some aramid lining at the knees, hips and bum, for instance.

I haven’t seen many that use an abrasion-resistant material throughout the denim as well as full reinforcing at key zones, and part-lined jeans are becoming less common.

Personally, I tend to go for the all-out style of a pair of single-layer AAA-rated jeans, or a fully-lined pair.

 

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The jeans on the left are considered ‘fully lined’, while the others are ‘part-lined’. Despite the lack of abrasion-resistant material at the crotch of the fully-lined pair – which has been omitted for comfort – as these are AAA-rated jeans, the protection in this area will be still have had to pass the same abrasion testing as a pair of single-layer jeans. However, it is fair to say that a pair of single layer jeans that meet the AAA-level will have the same protection throughout, despite this lower-risk area being tested to a lower level. That’s where the lack of a higher standard gets tricky, because the lined areas have the potential to be more abrasion resistant than the same areas on a single-layer pair of jeans, while any lower risk, unlined areas might not.

 

What about ‘B’ rated jeans?

Any garment that’s rated as Level B under EN17092 has no armour fitted. It also only needs to be tested to the equivalent of Level A for abrasion, burst and tear resistance. Some products will be the same as the AAA-rated gear from a brand but with the amour removed, because the buyer might have their own, or might not want to wear it.

Two points worth mentioning though…

  • You’re only guaranteed A-levels of abrasion, burst and tear as that’s all that’s been certified
  • Armour does not just protect you from an impact injury – it makes a huge difference to the abrasion-resistance of the material. Not just because it puts more stuff there to wear out; it absorbs a lot of the energy that would otherwise rip at the fabric.

I wouldn’t recommend wearing any motorcycle kit without properly certified armour.

 

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Armour comes in all shapes and sizes; make sure it’s comfortable and that it covers the right areas then stays there

 

Choosing the best armour

Knee and hip armour is tested for impact resistance under EN 1621-1:2012. Level 1 offers the lower protection, Level 2 gives the higher, but it tends to be thicker.

You’ll find relatively unknown armour brands like Smoothways and Keeptech, along with big players like D3O, Forcefield and Knox, as well as some own-brands like Dainese.

In jeans, to achieve an AA or AAA rating, armour must be fitted at the knees AND the hips, but as to which is best… well, in all claims of safety, testing should be the final arbiter, so Level 2 offers the best protection. Some brands of armour achieve that with thinner materials than others, but it’ll come down to what feels comfortable to you, and what looks good.

Most of the time I wear Level 1 armour, and in jeans I do like the D3O Ghost protectors as they’re extremely slim, flexible and breathable, but they’re best for me in tighter-fitting trousers.

What matters more than anything is that the armour is in the right place when you’re on the bike, and that it doesn’t move around.

Look for adjustment for the protectors’ position to suit your leg length, then check that they cover your knees – particular when on the bike – but don’t feel awkward when walking around.

 

Which motorcycle riding jeans fit the best?

Fit is very subjective, so it shouldn’t be something that decides your choice before you’ve tried something on for yourself. Consider where the armour sits, how high the waist is for comfort (and draughts) on and off the bike, and how long the legs are.

Many brands supply their jeans quite long, so this might not suit riders with a shorter leg, while others offer varying lengths and some will adjust the length of your jeans to suit you, free of charge. Personally, I don’t like turn-ups on a bike as I seem to keep getting the footpegs caught in them.

Different styles of jeans will suit different figures, and there’s a real variation in the quality of cut so shop around and you will find a pair of protective jeans that offer good protection while still looking great when you’re off the bike.

 

Single layer jeans (left) can be lighter and more form-fitting than lined jeans (right). Granted, I’m not the most stylish model. The knee armour is more prominent in this pair of single-layer jeans, but thinner armour is available such as D3O’s Ghost.

 

How safe are normal jeans?

Single layer motorcycle jeans tend to be made of denim (cotton) with a tougher material woven in, but there has been an increase in jeans that have a denim look, while being made entirely of man-made fibres.

Despite having the potential to pass a Darmstadt abrasion test, plain denim – or fashion jeans – can burst open the moment it hits a typical road surface in a real-world crash (ask me how I know). This is actually more of a problem at lower speeds as the rider isn’t as likely to be ‘skating’ over the surface, so much of the energy is transferred straight into the fabric, which rips apart leaving your skin exposed, especially with no armour behind to absorb it.

Wearing a helmet is the only legal requirement on a bike, but other than that it’s up to you what you wear. As a motorcycle insurance specialist, Bennetts doesn’t mind what its policy holders put on, but if you were involved in a collision with another vehicle and it was the other driver’s fault, if you didn’t have proper riding gear on their insurer (not yours) could – in theory – claim contributory negligence in an attempt to reduce the payout the third party has to make. You can read about contributory negligence and how it affects motorcyclists here

 

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You skipped to the end and want telling what brand of jeans to buy

Sorry, there’s no short answer here, and to be honest it’s a lack of understanding by buyers that’s allowing some to make unsubstantiated claims, and to attempt to discredit anyone who says otherwise.

What I will say is that I am a big fan of single-layer jeans, and you can read all our reviews on the product test pages here. When I’m commuting or popping into town I’ll regularly wear them as they’re light, some of them look pretty much like normal jeans, and they’re really comfortable. I always have hip and knee armour in.

I choose to only wear single-layer jeans with an AAA-rating and a thin comfort liner, but they’re available at a range of prices, so spend what you can afford on the kit you like the look and feel of.

When I’m riding faster and further, I tend to wear AAA-rated lined jeans. Not the heaviest-duty ones as I still want to be able to spend the day in them comfortably, and I’ve done that in the much hotter climates of Spain and the US. I wear these as I understand that layering of materials can significantly increase abrasion resistance. Again, I’ll always have full armour fitted.

What you choose to buy will depend on what and where you ride, but make those choices based on honest information and – where available – proven test reports.

Not all jeans are created equal, and it’s absolutely brilliant that there’s such a good range of quality gear available in single-layer and lined constructions now. I wear single layer jeans sometimes, lined jeans at others, but I’ll put my money where my mouth is… if we do ever see scientific evidence of single-layer AAA-rated jeans offering the same or greater abrasion resistance as decent leather throughout their construction, I’ll buy myself a pair and never bother with lined jeans again. Until then, I’ll choose which I wear depending on where I’m going.

 

 
 
Lined vs single-layer jeans

Watch our independent testing of motorcycle jeans