Retro practicality: Best waxed cotton motorcycle jackets

There was a time that there were only a couple of ways to keep water out of your riding jacket. One was to make it from leather (cows are, after all, waterproof) and the second was to make it from waxed cotton. Let’s face it – generations of fishermen can’t be wrong.

Nowadays, it’s easy to get a motorcycle jacket that keeps water out – just about every style of jacket, from casual to touring, can be found in a waterproof version, which is great news for motorcyclists. However, for the purists among us, there is still something of a draw when it comes to waxed cotton. And there are still plenty of options available.

Modern waxed cotton is nothing like the sticky, stiff garments of old. They can be as flexible, as supple and as technical as textiles, using modern technology and materials to achieve the same protective qualities as textile clothing, from both the elements and the roads, while maintaining that old-school, charming look and feel.

Price: £196.97

This short retro-styled jacket from British kit giant Oxford Products is formed in waxed cotton from British Millerain, a six-generation producer of the material. It uses Oxford's Dry2Dry breathable and waterproof membrane as well as the company's WarmDry thermal liner to keep the rider warm as well as dry.


The collar has a neoprene edge for comfort and the chest pockets are designed to sit flat when empty but expand when in use. It is CE rated A and comes with Level-1 armour in the shoulders and elbows and has a pocket for a back protector.

Pros

  • Authentic brass fasteners
  • Shorts, classic design
  • Modern protection

Cons

  • Only A rated

The Isle of Man TT Classic from RST is just that - a classic that conjures images of TT races in decades gone by. It's a full-length jacket with a belt at the waist and four pockets on the front, all adding to the authentic look and feel. It features a mesh lining with a removable thermal liner for chilly rides and uses brass-finish zips all round.


It is CE A rated and comes with approved armour in the shoulders and elbows with a pocket for a back protector.

Pros

  • Authentic long style
  • Great value
  • Official IOM product

Cons

  • May be too long for some

Frank Thomas have been manufacturing riding gear for decades and this classic waxed cotton jacket is one of the later garments in the range. It is a full-length, 'Hunter' style with a wide brass-fastener belt included to prevent it gaping.


The four front pockets are all fastened with brass poppers, as are the cuffs and the collar also has a buckled fastening. There is a check lining though it is not removable so it may get warm on hotter rides and you may need a mid-layer on cold ones.

Pros

  • Great value
  • Well-respected name
  • Classic styling

Cons

  • No mention of protective abilities

Another jacket using British Millerain waxed cotton, the classic short-cut retro Scrambler from Richa would look perfect on exactly that kind of bike; something like a Triumph Scrambler or perhaps a Bonneville.


It uses a fixed waterproof but breathable membrane with a removable thermal liner to allow the rider to stay warm or cool depending on the conditions. It comes with CE-approved armour in the shoulders and elbows with a pocket for a back protector.

Pros

  • Classic short cut
  • Waterproof and breathable membrane
  • Available in two colours – black or green

Cons

  • No back protector included

This jacket from emerging bike clothing manufacturers Merlin uses waxed cotton produced by Halley Stevensons, another British specialist that have been working with the material for 150-odd years.


It’s a ¾-length jacket that doesn’t use a belt for a cleaner look and feel but features a Reissa breathable and waterproof membrane inside the waxed cotton outer and there is a removable thermal liner as well. There are also vents to allow air in for warmer rides and it is A rated with Level-1 D3O armour supplied, with a pocket for a back protector.

Pros

  • Styling 3/4 length cut
  • Authentic brass fasteners and zips
  • Reissa membrane for comfort

Cons

  • Only A rated

One for the mods this one - a definite parka design which would look good on a scooter, for example. Its full-length design includes a removable hood and an outer formed in dry-waxed twill.


It also has a fixed polyester lining with a removable quilted thermal liner and there is also a waterproof and breathable membrane for protection from the elements. It has a storm flap covering the zip and several pockets, as well as a fish-tail on the rear to allow for comfortable use on the bike.

Pros

  • Long classic design
  • Waterproof membrane
  • Tektoform body armour including back protector

Cons

  • Style not for all

Alternative Retailers
Belstaff
$695.00

Belstaff are one of the oldest and most respected brands when it comes to waxed cotton motorcycle products, the company's clothing having been used for generations and nowadays, supported by riders such as multiple world-trial champion Dougie Lampkin.


The Brooklands is a short-length jacket formed in all-year cotton, a full waxed cotton outer with the company’s own membrane and a fixed lining. It has two chest pockets and two zipped hand-warmer pockets with brass fittings all round and buckles at the waist and collar. It comes with CE-approved armour in the shoulders and elbows and a pocket for an optional back protector.

Pros

  • Classis style
  • Well-respected name
  • Waterproof membrane

Cons

  • Eye-watering price

This jacket from Held is cut specifically for ladies and features an outer in waxed cotton and has a fixed polyester lining for comfort. There are four external and two internal pockets, including one waterproof example for mobile phones.


There are vents at the front for cooling airflow and plenty of adjustment in the arms, the waist and the neck for a perfect fit. It is compatible with Held’s clip-in In&motion-powered airbag vest and it comes with CE approved armour with an optional back protector and chest armour available.

Pros

  • Stylish cut
  • Airbag compatible
  • Vents for cooling airflow

Cons

  • No thermal liner

What to look for in a waxed cotton jacket

Like any other form of motorcycle jacket, you should still consider the overall CE rating, from B to A, AA and AAA, the latter indicating the highest levels of abrasion resistance and construction strength. You should also look at the included armour – at least shoulder and elbow and ideally, a back protector though you may find this is an optional extra.

As with other jackets, Level-2 armour is more impact-absorbent than Level-1 and hence, more protective.

One drawback with waxed cotton jackets is that they may require more in the way of maintenance and cleaning. If you find that one is no longer beading water on the outer surface, it may need re-treating, either using products specified by the manufacturer or something generic, such as Nikwax Wax Cotton Proof. However, when done properly, they should be virtually as water-resistant as decent textiles.

Here are some of our favourite waxed cotton jackets around at the moment.

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