As long as I’ve been buying motorcycle magazines, I can remember seeing advertisements for motorcycle jeans. These wondrous garments are supposedly the best thing since sliced bread, guaranteeing their wearer an impervious barrier against road rash, while preserving the rider’s cool jacket-and-jeans look. After all, nothing kills your image down at the local biker hangout more than a pair of stinky leather riding pants.
In reality, I think the biggest selling point for most of these pants is that almost everybody likes to ride in jeans, but nobody likes crashing in them. Well, nobody likes crashing anyway — at least, nobody normal — but if you’re going down, smart riders know denim alone isn’t going to do much to save them from road rash.
Motorcycle specific jeans solve that problem by adding a bit of protection to that denim, either by lining them with Kevlar or a similar material, or even going so far as to weave it into the denim itself.
Last summer, we got three manufacturers to send us a sample pair of jeans. I wore all three pairs at any riding opportunity all summer long and here’s what I found:
Alpinestars Axiom jeans (around $165)
The first pair that showed up was a set from Alpinestars. It was fitting – I figured I could wear the Axiom jeans under my Alpinestars Erzberg rainproof enduro pants, giving me crash protection to go along with the waterproofing.
But actually, it wasn’t fitting. Or rather, the pants weren’t fitting.
I’m not the world’s slimmest guy, but when I order a pair of size 36 pants, I expect them to fit more or less the same as all my other size 36 pants.
Alas, such was not the case with these jeans. Like almost every other piece of Alpinestars gear I tried this year, the pants’ sizing was off – at least, they seemed tight for a size 36. Really tight. Really, really tight. So tight that when Editor ‘Arris tried his on (they sent us two pairs) the button popped apart …
That would be very disconcerting during the middle of a belly-down slide along the pavement, for sure. But thankfully my pants didn’t fall apart during usage, and they did stretch a bit with use – maybe not enough to become super comfortable, but certainly usable.
(In case you’re wondering why I just didn’t ask for bigger pants – apparently, size 36 waist is as large as these pants go, indicating that European motorcycle riders must be skinnier than their Canadian counterparts).
The legs are also longer than the inseam measurement indicates. That’s normal for riding jeans, though. It means the jeans cover your ankles when you’re aboard the bike, instead of riding up your lower legs.
It also means the pants’ cuffs are going to be dragging along the pavement when you dismount your motorcycle, unless you roll them up.
Despite this, these are actually a pretty sharp-looking pair of jeans. They’ve got a nice cut, if you care about that sort of thing; you could wear them on a night out and people wouldn’t look twice at you, unless you tripped over your pant cuffs and fell on your face.
The Alpinestars Axioms are made of denim fabric, with Kevlar reinforcement in the knees and seat. They aren’t lined elsewhere, so other parts of your body (shins, thighs, etc), could theoretically have some road rash, if you skidded on them.
The Axioms also have pockets in the knees for knee pads. Alpinestars sent us a pair of their Smart Guard knee armour, but you should be able to fit armour from other manufacturers in there as well, if you have a preference for something else.
The Smart Guard protectors should make a big difference if you had a crack-up – the idea of smashing an unpadded knee into the street doesn’t appeal to me, and it probably doesn’t appeal to you, and having the armour adds a lot of confidence on the street – while Kevlar stops road rash, it doesn’t do much for impact injuries.
There are a couple of disadvantages though;
Firstly it makes the pants unable to breath at the knees. That might sound funny, but tape a pair of plastic bags to the inside of your jeans at the knees, and see how you like it. The knee pads, despite some ventilation holes, eventually give a similar effect.
Secondly, the jeans can look pretty bulbous in the knees when you have the protectors in place – your friends might start to inquire if you’re suffering from swelling of the joints. That’s the price you pay for having the pants cut for a sharp fit.
But, you can’t have everything. If you want armour, you’re going to have to accept that it’s not going to breathe as well as denim and make your knees a little chunky looking in the process. In my eyes, it’s a fair trade-off and I’d recommend them to anyone buying these pants.
Joe Rocket Hardcore Canadian ($129)
These were the least expensive jeans we tried in this test.
The material and general construction didn’t seem to be as high-grade as the Alpinestars jeans, and they had nowhere near as much inner protective Kevlar as the Draggin’ Jeans (next). The Joe Rocket jeans also didn’t have any provision for knee or hip pads.
Also, I didn’t like the cut and fit as much and found that they were too baggy.
It’s not all bad, though. If you don’t want knee or hip armour, then it’s not a big deal if you can’t fit them into the pants.
And even if the pants aren’t as sharply styled as the competition, they’re also cheaper, and they still offer Kevlar protection.
At this price you could buy two pairs for one pair of Draggin’ Jeans. As well, the lighter weight due to less Kevlar means these pants are much cooler to walk around in. There’s also no Coolmax lining; that cuts weight even further, although some might want that breathability.
While both the other pairs of pants get warm during hot weather, the Joe Rocket pants feel pretty much the same as a regular pair of pants. Just don’t tuck them into a high pair of motorcycle boots, or you’ll end up looking like a Zouave.
As well, the stitching in the knees in these pants is much more prominent than it is on the Alpinestars pants (the Draggin’ Jeans have no stiching in the knees). Some might like that look, but I don’t.
If the Axioms are cut for skinny Euros and the Draggin Jeans are cut for average Canadians, you could say the Joe Rockets are cut for a skateboarder headed to his local half-pipe.
Draggin Jeans Next Gen (around $310)
Draggin Jeans was founded back in 1997, and claims they’re the “only casual motorcycle brand in the world to have ever passed the CE Tests for Abrasion, Burst and Tear resistance.” Owner Grant Mackintosh is well-known for putting his own butt on the line to test his claims.
Part of the company’s claim to success is their use of Dyneema, along with the standard Kevlar. Dyneema is a ultra-high molecular weight polnethylene, supposedly 15 times stronger than steel (you can read all about it here).
The Draggin Jeans had one big advantage over the Alpinestars jeans right out of the box – they fit. Both the waist and inseam fit on these pants was the best of all three pairs I tried. These pants didn’t require any breaking-in.
However, this is a valuable point – while everyone thinks they can save money by buying bike gear sight-unseen online, that’s not always the case. If you end up getting something that doesn’t fit, and send it back, any savings quickly disappear.
But I digress, back to the subject: The Next Gen jeans have a Coolmax Sports liner that ends below the knee, for breathability. They also have a bit more crash protection than the Alpinestars units – the thighs are also lined.
They definately need that Coolmax liner. While the Next Gen jeans feel like they’d offer a lot of protection in a crash, they’re also a fairly heavy pair of pants.
That can be nice if you’re riding in cooler weather. It’s not so nice if you decide to wear them for a blazing hot day of walking around the track at Shubenacadie, during the east coast CSBK round … hypothetically speaking, of course.
My point is, these jeans are great for sitting on your bike, and riding around. But when there’s no airflow, they aren’t quite so comfy, due to the heavy protective lining. They feel like you’re wearing flannel-lined jeans – perfect for deer hunting, but a little hot for a mid-July walkabout.
Like the Alpinestars Axiom pants, the Next Gen jeans have pockets for armour in the knees as well as pockets for hip armour.
Unfortunately, I forgot to ask them to send armour along with the pants (like the Alpinestars pants, the Draggin Jeans do not come with armour included). However, I managed to fit the Alpinestars armour into the Next Gen pants, and I assume other knee protectors will also fit.
To fully evaluate all these pants, you’d need a bunch of crash testing, or extensive lab work. Despite the CMG curse, I didn’t get a chance to test any of these pants in a scrape, and we don’t have a lab, so we’re going to have to skip that.
However, it’s worth noting the Draggin’ Jeans are the only ones with a safety rating. And, they’re the only ones I would spend my money on. Yes, they’re twice the money of the Joe Rocket, but also twice the quality, in my opinion
If they fit me better, I would probably seriously consider the Alpinestars jeans too. Anyone who was smaller than me would be able to fit into them, and they are much cheaper and cooler on hot days.
They also seem like they’d fare well in a crash, especially since you can put knee armour in them.
The Joe Rocket pants offer the least protection, but they’ve got the lightest construction of all these pants and that has some merit. They’re much better than an pair of off-the rack regular jeans at not much more money.
The other pants seem to offer more protection and certainly more style, but the Joe Rockets would definitely be the pair if you wanted a pair that offered the most off-the-bike comfort, as long as you can handle the baggy cut.
If the Alpinestars pants are cut for a skinny European teen headed out for a night on the town, the Joe Rockets wouldn’t look out of place on a skateboarder while the Next Gen jeans are cut for a mid-20s Canadian headed out to a local burger joint.
That’s about as succinctly as I can put it, without sounding like some fashionista wannabe.