The Protection of Leather and the Breathability of Mesh
FFinding a quality leather jacket to handle the most intense heat summer months can offer is not as easy as you would think. There are plethoras of mesh/nylon jackets that offer amazing breathability but offer a minimum of protection. If you feel better wearing the most protective gear you can get your hands on, mesh doesn’t quite cut it. Perforated leather jackets are out there, but they seem to be almost impossible to find in a fully-perforated form.
Most only offer perforations in smaller panels that run along the arms. Fine for a jacket that needs to work in cooler weather as well, but not quite up to the task of triple digit heat.
Alpinestars offers an interesting compromise; a high dollar, high quality leather coat using the best armor and leather available for top-shelf protective qualities, but liberal use of nylon mesh in non-impact areas. But would such a coat be worth its salt? To find out we took possession of the very high-end, $699 MSRP, S-MX Air-Flo leather jacket.
In the garage
Going over the jacket, the quality of the leather is impressive. It’s important to mention that barbed wire is not common in Europe. That means the bovine (from whence the leather comes) does not lean up against the sharp barbs and does not end up with the resulting scratches and scrapes in the skin. All these scrapes and scratches eventually become scars which turn into blemishes and weaknesses in the grain. To hide these blemishes/weaknesses the majority of manufacturers have the leather sanded down then polished and finally rolled with a drum to give the leather a natural looking, but synthesized, grain. As you would imagine, this actually compromises the longevity, strength and natural patina of the leather. On the high-end, manufactured in Europe S-MX Air-Flo, the leather is stunning and we could not find anything that we could call a blemish while the inconsistent and natural grain could be clearly picked out.
Mesh panels cover the majority of the ‘belly” of the jacket as well as around the sides, while the arms, shoulders and most of the back are full-grain leather. This makes a jacket that has the ability to move a lot of air while still providing the level of protection that can only come from leather by putting the more robust material in the areas where you are most likely to come into impact with and slide across the ground.
When it comes to impacting the ground, external armor is used around the shoulders. This is a common Alpinestars technique and is nothing new as it can seen on pretty much every top-tier Alpinestars suit the MotoGP, Moto2 and WSBK pro’s are wearing. Full CE, dual density GP-style armor protects the elbows and forearms and instead of residing in cloth envelopes sewn into the jacket’s liner, the armor is attached to the inside of the leather shell. We think this is how all armor should be attached. It prevents the armor from moving about or sliding out of the way in the event of a crash.
Additionally, the S-MX Air-Flo has soft dual density armor in the back, around the outside the the upper arm and across the chest. There are few jackets we’ve encountered that are as fully armored as this one. Despite the mesh panels on the front of the jacket, the top grade leather and extensive impact protecting armor and padding provide a great deal of reassurance as to the ability of the jacket to do it’s ultimate job.
Typically, jackets with lots of armor can become uncomfortable, but not this one. The cut of the jacket is absolutely incredible. The pre-curved arms and articulated shoulders are amazing, allowing for full range of motion, regardless of how conservative or aggressive the seating position of your bike is. The aero-hump on the back, designed to provide a bridge between your back and the back of your helmet, is perforated across the top to allow even more air-flow to enter the jacket when you are in motion.
Neoprene around the neck and wrists are a wonderful touch providing for exemplary comfort wherever skin would traditionally come into contact with abrasive leather edges. Since the SMX-Air is intended as a hot-weather jacket, these neoprene details are even more appreciated when sweat can make leather really dig into softer, moist skin.
Finally, the jacket comes equipped with a water-proof/breathable liner that can be installed if you anticipate precipitation. Playing with this jacket in the garage, it’s very easy to be impressed with all the attention to detail and comfort considerations. But with so many jackets we’ve tested over the years, what appears to be perfect while in the garage doesn’t always show through when you’re on the bike.
On the Road
We’ve probably all ridden in a cheap jacket, or a jacket that isn’t quite up to the task. Binding at the shoulders, a collar that flaps against your neck or arms that billow in the wind can become excessively distracting – robbing your attention from the critical task of riding the motorcycle. Once underway the S-MX Air-Flo jacket virtually disappears and you soon forget all about it. This may sound strange, but this is the highest possible praise we could ever give any riding gear.
When the weather is hot, the massive mesh panels across the belly and lower chest allow air to flow into the coat. The Kevlar cloth across the front of the arms works to facilitate additional air entering the jacket. The perforations across the top of the aero-hump work like a giant air scoop dumping outside air between the shoulder blades. In simplest terms, we’ve never ridden in any kind of leather jacket that was this comfortable during hot weather.
The athletic fit and excellent cut of the leather makes this jacket feel like a second skin, even the most aggressive seating position was no match for the cut of this coat. Never once did we feel like this jacket hampered our ability or our willingness to move around on the bike or even look over our shoulder to check a blind spot. A warmer base layer and even installing the jackets wet-liner make it work surprisingly well even when the temperatures are a little bit cooler outside. But be warned this jacket will continue to flow massive amounts of air around your core; great in hot weather, potentially detrimental when it’s cold. The S-MX Air-Flo works so well it quickly become the first jacket we reach for when the temperatures are anywhere above 65-degrees.
Is it worth it?
If you are anything like us, you have probably been in a life-long quest for that perfect jacket. The one that can do anything; vent when it’s hot, be warm when it’s cold, fit correctly when you are on a dedicated sport bike, be comfortable enough for all day riding… You may have even bought several riding jackets in your quest and if you are anything like us, you’ve never been totally satisfied with any of them. So, if you are like us, you try selling and/or adding to your collection.
We’ve long given up on the idea or hope of ever finding that one-perfect coat and given into the idea that we’ll probably always have a couple of different coats to handle differing conditions. And so it is, when it comes to warm weather, we’ve never met a coat that performs as well as the S-MX Air-Flo. At the end of the day, buying the right coat the first time, despite the additional cost can actually be a cost savings in the long run. Buy right, or buy twice. Buying this top-tier Alpinestars hybrid leather jacket, despite its higher-than-average price tag, is definitely the right-buy. If you are anything like us, you’ll be supremely happy with its function, fit and its ability to make riding in hot weather more enjoyable.
For more information, visit Alpinestars.com.