Union Garage NYC is Brooklyn based, but don't let the small retailer lull you into thinking it just sells motorcycle gear like everyone else. Owner Chris Lesser doesn't swing that way, and like most small business owners, he has bigger plans.

Union Garage V7 jacket
The Union Garage V7 jacket was three years in development.Henri Boulanger

Case in point is his V7 black leather motorcycle jacket, all 13 pounds of it. Designed by Lesser and made in Massachusetts by Vanson, it's a heavyweight jacket influenced by what Joseph Buegeleisen was producing in the '40s and '50s with his Buco brand in Detroit.

Where the $950 V7 deviates for modern times is the use of D3O CE Level 1 armor in the back, shoulders and elbows, an addition Lesser deftly engineered into the fit of the jacket. The cut and weight of the logo-free jacket is considerably different than the other three black leather jackets I’ve owned, and it freaked me out a bit at first, when I felt like a Belgian sausage after the first zip up.

But leather stretches over time, and a protective motorcycle jacket needs to be snug to hold all the protective armor in place in the event of a fall. After a month of riding, the V7 contoured itself to my torso. And after 5,000 miles it’s my go-to jacket for most rides lately.

Devil is in the details

Original leather motorcycle jackets were made of horsehide and originated from what World War II pilots wore when they returned home. The V7 uses what Lesser calls a “patented orbital armor positioning system” that makes the armor easy to adjust in place or remove altogether. He also spent the lion’s share of his development energy with Vanson on pattern revisions related to the rotation of the arms and balancing the elbow shape.

“We realized we had to choose between optimizing this jacket to fit and function with armor, or without it,” he said. “We opted for armor-in, sculpting the elbows ever so slightly so that there’s room for the armor without totally killing the jacket’s credibility as an everyday leather jacket.”

Likes

Two features I appreciate on the V7 are the raw-edge sleeve gussets that eliminate bulk at the cuff and seal out oncoming wind in colder weather, and the smart zip-down outer side pockets (with durable medium-gauge brass YKK zippers) that are roomy enough for a wallet on one side and keys on the other.

YKK zippers
Heavy-duty YKK zippers.Henri Boulanger

The heavy-gauge YKK main zipper and tab are easy to maneuver with gloves, and I never have a problem zipping up like I do with other jackets with inferior hardware. Jacket aficionados will appreciate the V7’s one-piece back for a smooth, uninterrupted look, compact bi-swing at the shoulders for ease of movement and drop-tail design to avoid crack attack. The sleeves are cut purposefully a little long so that they just cover the wrist while in a standard riding position.

Dislikes

The double-snap leather collar looks great but interferes with my helmet when I rotate my head on a sportier bike. While I appreciate the deep-reach inside pockets—with snazzy tartan fabric—I have to fish around to find my Samsung S6 Active smartphone. And weeks after the jacket arrived the left inner pocket liner tore, providing an unwanted gap for my phone to fall into. The pocket’s snap closure gives me secure peace of mind though.

Vanson made
Inspired by Buco, made by Vanson.Henri Boulanger

Verdict: 4.5/5

Is $950 a fair price to pay for a smartly designed, American-made leather motorcycle jacket that includes a complete five-piece D3O armor kit? Not many boutique brands are going the extra mile to provide gear that looks great, fits well, and is meant to protect if things go random. Union Garage knocked one out of the park with its V7, and the price point is spot-on. Los Angeles-based Stellar Moto Brand offers its American-made Voltage women’s leather jacket with CE Level 2 SAS-TEC armor for $825.

The Union Garage V7 comes in black or Oxblood, in sizes 38, 40, 42 (tested), 44, 46, and 48. According to Lesser, the V7 is offered in standard numeric grading—with a 2-inch chest circumference differential between sizes. It’s the same as suit sizing—if you’re a 42 suit (or 52 Euro), try a 42 like I did. Custom size inquiries are welcome, another benefit of American manufacturing.