FirstGear S-Pilot Jacket review

March 18, 2002
by Ian Johnston


I purchased a FirstGear S-Pilot leather jacket about a year and a half ago, I was looking for a better jacket to replace my Teknic textile jacket. The Teknic jacket was a good jacket, but took a long time to fasten up, and had no vents whatsoever. After suffering through a summer without any way to get air inside the jacket, I needed a change.

When I began my search, I had the following criteria:

  • Must have vents
  • Must be leather
  • Must have armor
  • Must be well-built
  • Should cost less than about $700
  • Should have sufficient pockets to carry sunglasses, bike papers, house keys, cellphone, and cardkey for work -- ideally in a wrist pocket
  • Should have a removable insulating liner

Fortunately, most of my criteria were easily met, and it was mostly a choice of which brand, style, etc. I preferred. I think I was looking at a Vanson semi-perforated jacket, the S-Pilot, and a few other common brands (Tour Master, Teknic, etc.)


I ended up deciding on the S-Pilot because it had huge zippable vents in front, back, and underarms; big pockets, including a pocket on top of each wrist; a warm snap-in liner; and felt comfortable and well-made. It doesn't use any velcro in the normal course of wear, which is a nice change -- velcro inevitably sticks to my helmet, my sweater, other bits of the jacket, etc. The liner includes a warm fleece neck scarf sort of thing, which tucks away behind the liner when not in use.

The fit on the jacket is quite good for me -- although obviously fit will be a very personal thing. The cut is designed for riding a motorcycle, so the jacket feels tight through the chest if it's zipped up and you're not leaned forward on a bike. The arms are also cut quite long, and are roomy around the elbows while off the bike. But while riding, it fits so well that I'm rarely aware of it.

Build quality on this jacket is excellent. The stitching hasn't come apart at all after a year and a half of nearly daily riding (I can count on one hand the number of times I've driven a car to work in the last 12 months).

The layout of the pockets and fasteners is generally well thought-out. I would prefer to have smaller internal pockets: the major internal pockets are nearly a foot deep, which makes reaching for keys at the bottom a difficult contortion. They do, however, make excellent pockets for documents, and could probably fit a liter bottle in a pinch. The wrist pockets are capacious enough to hold a sheet of paper folded in quarters, but anything that's not flat and flexible will have a hard time fitting in. There is a long pocket in the kidney belt (which is moveable to accommodate your expanding waistline), although I've never had occasion to use it. In total, there are 7 pockets: two internally on the chest, one at each wrist, one inside each front vent, and the kidney belt pocket.

The removable insulated liner is held in with a set of about 15 snaps around the inside of the jacket. This is a pretty good arrangement, but the snaps can come undone with little effort. I've never been worried about it falling out, though. The liner is, notably, only a vest. It doesn't cover the arms, which leads to chilly arms unless you're wearing warm layers underneath.

Fortunately, I haven't had occasion to test this jacket's abrasion resistance. However, it's survived a year and a half of riding in rain, wind, and sun with no visible wear, and a slight softening of the leather as it's become broken in. I imagine that, like all leather jackets, it will proect its wearer quite well in the event of a fall.

This jacket features a complete set of armor, covering the elbows, shoulders and spine. The armor is a dual-density foam which is formed into the correct shape for each location, and is secured in velcro-fastened pockets. Each of the "sided" pieces is marked with L or R to denote which side they go into. I have found that the right elbow armor will sometimes get into a weird position when I'm putting the jacket on, although it slips back into place fairly easily.


For the time that I've had it, I've found the S-Pilot to be a very good jacket. My only complaint is that I'm required to wear a separate rain jacket over the leather if I expect to arrive dry when it's raining more than a sprinkle out. This is, however, a problem with any leather jacket, and one of the big advantages of textiles.

The vents have helped keep me nice and cool in summer, and the liner has kept me acceptably warm down to about 50 degrees, at which point I have to start adding layers, if only to keep my arms warm. I have used this jacket in below-freezing temperatures, but even with a warm sweater on, it's not enough (adding the rain jacket to keep wind off made that ride bearable).

It should be noted that FirstGear also makes a women's version of this jacket, which is the same except for the tailoring. My girlfriend reports that it's comfortable, if a bit bulky due to the armor. Her jacket is also a year newer, and includes small reflective panels on the shoulders.

For $550, I think that it was an excellent investment in both safety and comfort. If I were to buy another leather jacket, I would certainly have this brand and model on my short list. (I see looking at the link to FirstGear's current page that the price has come down to $499 MSRP.)

Created by Ian Johnston. Questions? Please mail me.