Motorcycle riding jeans are becoming increasingly 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. For years, this meant riding around in plain, thick cotton, but with the introduction of Kevlar and other aramid linings, 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 – which are the best ones? How do you choose?
While we all call them ‘Kevlar jeans’, Kevlar is DuPont’s brand name for its para-aramid material. Used in everything from sea ropes to fire protection and bullet-proof vests, it’s a tough, abrasion-resistant material. There are other para-aramids available, as well as other materials (like liquid-crystal polymers), and sometimes aramids are mixed with different fibres, like Dyneema.
Some brands have in the past claimed that their material is better than Kevlar when it’s wet, but that’s slightly spurious as, while Kevlar could have a reduced effectiveness in stopping a 7.62 AK47 round when it’s soaking wet, the abrasion qualities when sliding down the reduced-friction tarmac of a rain-drenched road are less of a concern to you and me.
Each abrasion-resistant material will have its own benefits and disadvantages, but you don’t really need to worry about the material too much as since May 2018, all new motorcycle kit should have been tested and certified as Personal Protective Equipment.
That means that you can compare products for their safety by their rating, then by how they feel when they’re on. So the first step in choosing the best pair of motorcycle riding jeans is to look for a pair that are CE-certified.
You don’t have to wear CE-approved kit, but personally I’d recommend that you do protect yourself. I have friends who’ve crashed in plain jeans and been fine. On the other hand, I fell off at walking pace on a roundabout and tore my knee up in the same gear.
As a motorcycle insurance specialist, Bennetts doesn’t mind what its policy holders wear, but keep in mind that if you were involved in a collision with another vehicle and it was the other driver’s fault, if you didn’t have protective equipment 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.
CE-certified bike kit does NOT have to be more expensive than non-tested gear, as has been proven by manufacturers ranging from cottage industry to multinational.
If you’re buying motorcycle riding gear, why would you spend money on something like this that isn’t tested and proven to be protective?
Nothing is guaranteed to keep you safe – every crash is different – but you can significantly reduce your chances of being hurt by wearing kit that has been tested.
For many years the CE testing standard EN 13595 has been in place, but it’s only appeared on labels in the most heavy-duty of kit. The new certification – EN 17092 – is effectively easier to pass, but its ratings of A, AA and AAA (AAA being the highest) do give buyers a way of comparing products before they buy. You can fully understand the CE standards for motorcycle kit by clicking here.
A pair of jeans with a rating of A are designed for urban riding and have the least protection. AA is generally said to be for touring or similar, while AAA is typically seen in leathers. It’s not quite that simple though – a pair of jeans might have really thick abrasion-resistant material in them, capable of achieving AAA in itself, but if it doesn’t cover all of the tested areas, the garment might be rated to AA or A.
Part-lined jeans cover the key impact areas, while fully-lined jeans offer the most extensive protection
Jeans come as single layer, part-lined or fully-lined. Fully-lined will have a protective layer across most of the inside, while part-lined with have it only in the key impact areas – the bum and the knees. In this case, have a look how far down the rear and around the sides of the hips that the protective layer comes – turn the jeans inside out to see. Also keep in mind that if it’s sewn in, and the stitching is exposed on the outside, this could wear through quickly, leaving the material to shift away in an accident. 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.
Small panels stitched to the denim will easily pull away when the thread is abraded, leaving them free to move and expose your skin.
Single-layer jeans might have an aramid fibre woven in, but while these could pass the A-rating, or even AA, they’re unlikely to offer the same level of protection in critical areas like the bum and knees of many part-lined pairs with the same rating. In one test we carried out, a pair of single-layer jeans wore through more quickly than a pair of £5 Tesco jeans.
Keep in mind that a pair of good-quality AA-rated jeans that don’t have aramid lining covering 100% of the denim may well have very good abrasion protection in the key impact points, but you’ll only see AAA ratings on products that are completely covered. A single layer product is inherently protecting 100% of the denim area, so to be rated to A or AA means the abrasion resistance is what’s stopping it achieving AAA, not the level of coverage.
Single layer garments are less likely to offer the same protection against sheer forces as multi-layered products, and are more susceptible to normal wear and tear, which could reduce their effectiveness in a crash.
As AAA-rated single layer jeans start to appear, they’ll have had to achieve the set abrasion time requirement of the CE testing standard for that rating. How far they can go beyond that in a crash will be something you can find out – if they’ve been tested – at Australia’s MotoCAP website.
This pair of single-layer jeans were very easily worn through, and in testing performed worse than a pair of thick fashion jeans from Tesco. For the best protection, I’d recommend you look for part- or fully-lined trousers.
Don’t be distracted by products that are only claimed to have materials in them that have been tested to the CE standards – testing involves the construction too. Also watch out for labels advertising CE protectors (the armour) – this is tested to EN 1621, and relates only to the armour, not the build quality of the jeans themselves.
If the product doesn’t have a label in like the one below, it’s not CE approved.
Look for this label when buying any motorcycle kit
CE testing looks at the construction of the jeans, so expect to find double or triple stitching, especially in key areas like the bum, knees and sides. Don’t be afraid to pull at seams – better that they come apart in the shop than on your legs.
The quality of the denim also makes a huge difference, so it’s worth buying jeans that have a good, heavy denim, rather than a lightweight material, if you want to be safe. Remember that over time and washing, the denim will wear and get thinner (like the knees on your fashion jeans), so the best quality will stand up longer, potentially giving many years of use.
This pair of AlpineStars jeans are CE approved, but the label doesn’t mention EN 17902 or EN 13595 – the little picture of a book means you need to look at the booklet that must, by law, be supplied with the product. In there it explains that the ‘Plus’ rating equates to ‘A’, having been tested to prEN 17092, which was the provisional standard as it was developed (though still a legal requirement).
When buying your jeans, consider what you’ll be using them for – will you be riding fast back roads, commuting or even touring? And what will you do when you’re off the bike – will you be wearing them in an office all day, or will you be walking around in them for several miles?
If you’re doing city riding and wearing the jeans all day while off the bike, consider a lighter, perhaps part-lined pair, or a fully-lined pair that don’t feel too warm when you’re not riding.
Whether you’re on or off the bike, look at the thickness of the lining – an AAA-rated pair of jeans might (though not necessarily) be quite bulky, so could be quite hot to wear. Equally, some part-lined jeans have very thick protection areas that make them less comfortable than other fully-lined pairs. The weave of the aramid lining will also affect how hot they are – some manufacturers use a ‘loop-back’ or flannel weave (like towelling), which can get warmer than a standard knit (which looks flatter).
A flannel-style aramid fibre weave like that on the right can be bulkier and hotter. Check the tested CE ratings to decide which you want and consider how you’ll use the jeans.
It’s a balance, and you want to find the pair that feel good both on and off the bike. As a VERY rough guide, a pair of A-rated jeans are most likely to be best for city commuting and sitting in all day, while an AA-rated pair should strike a balance between protection, style and comfort. An AAA-rated pair might be the most protective, but they’re more likely to be hot to wear, and potentially less flattering. If you’re buying motorcycle riding jeans, what you look like when you’re off the bike is most likely going to be a consideration.
I’d recommend you buy jeans that have adjustable armour – the knee protector on the left here has a length of Velcro that allows you to position it just where it’s needed to suit your leg length.
Most jeans will have the option of knee and often hip armour; they’ll usually come with knee armour supplied. Whether you use it is up to you, but I would; D3O is a good example of armour that can add the minimum bulk to your jeans while still being protective.
Some jeans allow you to easily remove the armour from the outside, so they sit better on your legs and are more comfortable when you’re off the bike. Check though that this is actually possible when you’re wearing the jeans – it often isn’t.
It’s vital that the amour sits correctly on your leg when you’re riding
It’s important to check where the armour sits on your legs – it should be protecting the front and top of your knees when you’re sat on the bike, and still cover them with a straight leg – who knows what angle your leg could be at if you slid down the road? Squat down and walk around in them to make sure that the armour doesn’t feel uncomfortable or shift into a weird position.
Look for jeans that have adjustable armour positions, rather than a single fixed pocket. Some will use a Velcro strip that allows you to position the armour at the perfect point for your leg.
A more loose-fitting jean could allow the armour to move around in a crash, so keep this in mind when you buy. Personally, I aim for a decent size of comfortable armour, with enough slack in the leg that I can still walk and sit comfortably.
If you want the best impact protection, consider wearing the armour strapped directly to your knee, rather than in the jeans. This will add bulk and heat, but the protection won't be able to move around if you fall off. You can always drop your trousers and take the armour off when you're not riding, but if you're travelling, you'll need to find somewhere to store it.
Check what the jeans look like when you’re standing in them – these three have all fit quite differently with the armour fitted to the jeans. Remember – we’re not all shaped the same.
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 some companies will adjust the length of your jeans to suit you, free of charge.
Different styles of jeans will suit different figures, and there’s a real variation in the quality of cut – 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.
Check the build-quality of the pockets – not so much for safety, but for how well they’ll last with keys and other bike kit rattling around in them.
Watch for rivets, especially at the bottom of the fly. Most good-quality jeans won’t use rivets here as they’ll scratch your tank, but they are used elsewhere to strengthen various areas; make sure they’re flat or rounded, with no sharp protrusions to mark your paintwork.
While riding with things in your pockets represents its own risk in the event of a crash, we all do it, so check that the pockets are deep enough for your kit (some are too shallow to safely store my phone). It’s also worth looking at the linings – most fashion jeans have a lightweight linen pocket in the front, but some motorcycle jeans use denim throughout, which will last a lot longer when you’re shoving your keys in there.
Also check the belt loops – not just that they’re big enough to take your belt, but that there are plenty of them; some brands put two loops side by side at the rear, to help stop your belt riding above the jeans’ waistline while you’re riding.
Finally, and importantly, look for a mesh lining between your skin and the aramid – this will help to regulate your temperature, but it also offers protection from shear forces that can tear at your skin if you’re in a slide. Most CE-approved jeans will likely have it.
A mesh lining not only regulates your body temperature; it helps to reduce damage to your skin caused by the shear forces of a slide.
Yes, you can wash your jeans (and should, you stinky bugger). How much will depend on how often you use them and where, but simply follow the instructions on the garment. Some might call for more delicate detergents or a hand wash, but most washing instructions will be similar to other jeans – watch out for dye run.
You won’t ruin the Kevlar or aramid fibre inside your jeans by washing them – the CE test is carried out after several washes, and the materials will easily handle it.
I wear motorcycle riding jeans on most dry-weather rides
If it’s not raining (so textiles) or I’m not on track (full leathers), I almost always ride in a leather jacket and riding jeans. It’s the same whether I’m on local roads that I know and love, spending the day in London with my wife after travelling in on the bike, or riding as fast as I dare at an overseas press launch on unknown roads; I’ll only wear CE-approved jeans, and for the past few years, it’s always been a pair of Hoods.
I appreciate the fact that the armour’s adjustable, that the length of the leg is taken up to suit you when you buy them, that they’re excellent value and that they’re AA-rated, yet don’t get too hot, even when riding in Spain.
If I’m spending the day in the office at work, and only commuting through the city at lower speeds, I’ll sometimes wear the AlpineStars Copper Outs, but generally it’s the Hood K7 Infinity jeans that I’ve found suit me best.
Consider what you need, shop around and choose wisely; you’ll find some great kit out there that will give you the style and protection that works for you…