There are times when you want a little bit of informality in your riding gear. Perhaps you’re heading out for a short, fun ride and when you arrive at your destination, you don’t want to look like a mid-winter commuter. In this case, a pair of riding jeans could be for you.
Riding jeans differ from regular jeans in two key areas. Firstly, the material they are made from is resistant to abrasion so that, if you come off the bike and slide down the road, they will offer some resistance to sliding and won’t immediately wear through or split at the seams, exposing your skin to the road surface (you really don’t want to know what happens then).
A quick rundown on motorcycle jeans
Generally, riding jeans can either be single layer, where the abrasion-resistant material is woven directly into the outer layer; or they can be formed in a regular cotton denim outer with a separate inner lining formed in the abrasion-resistant material, usually aramid fibres or material like Kevlar, for example.
The second area is in their impact protection. Just like regular riding trousers, denim jeans should include at least knee armour and ideally, hip armour as well, these being the most common parts of the lower body that suffer from impact injuries. As with other forms of armour, this can be either Level-1 or the more impact-absorbent and protective Level-2 and should be specified on the sales material.
The abrasion resistance and construction strength for any garments is highlighted by the CE rating that they will have been awarded and riding jeans are no different. For all motorcycle clothing, a CE label should be present and will indicate a rating based on letters; B, A, AA or AAA, in increasing levels of protection.
MCN's favourite riding jeans:
Spidi J & Dyneema Jeans
Tested by Richard Newland for 3 months, 3000 miles
"These Spidis are single layer 13oz construction denim and Dyneema mix jeans, and fit the bill perfectly. They’re light enough to wear all day, serious enough to offer CE AA standard protection, and stylish enough to stand in for regular jeans down the pub.
"There’s removable protection at the hips and knees, plus they’re soft and pliable. After 3000 miles and three washes, they still look new, are flexible without going baggy, and there’s just enough stretch in the ankles to slide them over a pair of Supertechs. I like them a lot."
Oxford Original Approved Denim Jeans
Tested by Mike Armitage for 6 months over 1000 miles - Quality 4/5, Value 4/5
"My beef with riding jeans is that all the linings and reinforcements make them heavy and cumbersome. They become something you put on for riding and so you might as well put leathers on. Enter Oxford’s Original Approved."
"They use a denim they call Armourlite, woven using a fibre originally used for parachutes. It’s robust enough for an AA rating in CE tests, meaning the main impact points survive for at least two seconds when thrust into the abrasion testing machine at 45mph or so."
"Knee armour is level 2 (hurrah), hip armour is level 1 (boo). While obviously not as good as AAA rated (or leather), it means Oxford have a single-layer jean safe enough for urban riding and touring. And being a single layer means light – and, crucially, something you genuinely can wear at work all day."
RST X Kevlar Single Layer CE Denim Jeans - Industrial Blue
Tested by Dan Sutherland for five months, 1000 miles - Value 4/5, Quality 4/5
"These RST jeans are a great blend of practical safety and casual looks, offering a slim fit design alongside an AA CE rating and Level 1 hip and knee armour. Featuring five external pockets and room for adjustment for the hard protectors.
"I’ve made countless journeys on a range of motorcycles and always remained comfortable – with the protection remaining exactly where it needs to be at all times. This is due to RST’s ‘Infinite Adjustment Armour System’, which holds the knee armour in place via a set of hook and loop fasteners – allowing you to position the protection exactly where it needs to be.
"Elsewhere, they still look as good as the day they arrived and there’s been no fraying, or discolouration. They don’t feel heavy on your legs like some other riding jeans either, but I’ve managed to continue to wear them on single-digit winter days with the addition of a thin set of base layers.
"My only real critique would be with the lack of stretch in the material, as it can make popping larger items in your pockets difficult, as well as fishing them back out again. It also means I’ve been unable to tuck a traditional pair of long boots underneath them – reducing their usage to trips I feel comfortable wearing short boots for."
Bull-It Mens Vintage SR6 Easy
Tested by Dan Sutherland, one year, 5000 miles
"Achieving a AAA rating for abrasion resistance up to 120kmh (around 75mph), these 12.5oz denim jeans have found a home as my go-to motorcycle trousers for summertime commutes and shorter jaunts into town.
"A shower-resistant finish works well in light rain while the mesh keeps your legs warm in cooler conditions. The straight-cut design means I can slip a pair of bulky race boots underneath them, for greater protection than a pair of shorty boots."
Bull-it Covert Evo Riding Jeans
The best waterproof jeans
Tested by Michael Neeves for 5 months over 2500 miles - Quality 5/5, Value 4/5
"Bull-it’s latest Covert Evo riding jeans have new pockets to keep knee armour more snugly in place and denim that retains its stretchiness for longer through wash cycles. They still offer the highest level of abrasion protection (AAA) as the old model Coverts I’ve worn extensively and come with CE level knee and hip armour, so I always feel like I’m riding in more than ‘just’ jeans. These long versions fit my lanky legs perfectly and they’re reassuringly thick, warm, robust and although they don’t feel hugely different to the old ones, that’s no bad thing because they’re comfy, easy to wear and showerproof."
Bull-it Ladies Eclipse Slim Covec Jeans
MCN Rated: Best ladies jeans
Tested by Saffron Wilson, 2,468 miles and 4 months - Quality 5/5, Value 5/5
"Protective riding denim for ladies that actually look like a pair of fashion jeans. They look great on the bike as well as in the pub, which is somewhat a novelty with ladies biking jeans.
"They also fit well (after a bit of breaking in and a wash) with the recovery yarns for stretch retention, and they also have AA-rated abrasion protection, lower thermal conductivity against friction burns, and Level 2 hip and knee protection as standard - although the slim design means squeezing the armour into the internal pockets is a little difficult.
"That said, the cut means they’re up to date with trend on and off the bike, and I could easily fit a pair of waterproofs over the top (as long as I took the linings out) but the shower resistant finish will get you through a few drops of rain easily."
Draggin Ladies Twista Aramid Jeans
Tested by Emma Franklin, 12 months
"These are my go-to jeans simply because they look good and don’t feel bulky. There’s Kevlar from the waist to just below the knee at the front and sides of the legs, as well as a panel across the bum. The interior lining is really comfortable, meaning you don’t have to wear a base layer beneath them.
"The slim leg stretch fit is excellent and people often comment on how nice they look. The slim legs claim to fit over riding boots but I find it difficult to pull them over boots with shin armour so tend to wear them with ankle boots only. The only real downside is the fact that they don’t come with armour."
Resurgence Pekev Heritage Ladies Jeans
Tested by Emma Franklin, two years, 7000 miles
"You can have these protective jeans in any colour you like, as long as it’s black. They are extremely lightweight, despite having a 60% Pekev abrasion resistant lining from the waist right down to the mid-shin.
"The 13oz denim with its soft finish makes them feel and look more like smart trousers than riding jeans, although I must admit to wearing them without the included D30 soft knee and hip armour in order to preserve their ‘normal, everyday trouser’ look.
"The high waist cut with a 2.5inch rise at the rear is handy to prevent my lower back from becoming exposed when canted forward, which does happen with other riding jeans."
Hood K7-AA Jeans
Tested by Ben Clarke, three months, 1200 miles
"These are the top-spec model from British brand Hood, and feature thick Level-2 ‘Pro’ D30 armour, and carry a higher ‘AA’ CE rating. While this is reassuring, they are noticeably chunkier than normal jeans. Hood also offer lower spec versions of the K7 featuring Level-1 armour, which both lowers the bulkiness and the price (but also the protection).
"In terms of Quality:, the K7s are great. They are really sturdy and I don’t feel vulnerable on the bike like I would if I wore normal jeans, but I don’t feel quite as safe as I do in my leathers because the extra room in the jeans allows the knee armour to move around a bit.
"I had hoped that I would be able to wear them off the bike if I had ridden somewhere and look like I was wearing normal jeans unless someone really looked. The first time I tried this out, my brother-in-law immediately asked what was going on with my jeans. They also get pretty warm in the sun or when you’re walking around, but then so do leathers."
Other options to consider:
Bull-it Tactical Stone Straight Covec Jeans
From the same stable as the highly rated Bull-it Covert Evo jeans, these classic five pocket straight cut jeans should be easier on the wallet for the more budget conscious. Protection comes in the way of a single layer Covec construction, rated AA for abrasion resistance, with CE Level 2 armour at the hip and knee. On the exterior there's a water repellent coating to keep the damp at bay through a light shower and the front closure features Bull-it logo buttons with a YKK zip.
Roadskin Paranoid Jeans
These aptly-named jeans are for those serious about protection; they are CE AAA-rated with a full para-aramid lining and come with Level-2 armour in the knees and the hips. The inner lining is also waterproof, meaning they offer protection from the elements as well as slides and falls. They feature a straight cut and are finished in dark blue, with a range of leg-length options. Originally priced at £169, they are available for £149 as of mid-February.
Resurgence Gear Cafe Racer Jeans
These retro-style jeans from Resurgence are the brand's flagship and formed in Pekev, a reinforced denim that the company says is twice as strong as Kevlar. This no doubt helps them to achieve an impressive CE AAA rating and they are paired with Level-1 D3O Ghost armour at the knees and hips. They also feature Selvedge denim so the leg-bottoms can be turned up with a smooth and fray-free edge, come in a straight-cut fit and are available with two leg-length options.