Thank you to everyone who is participating in our Endless Summer Shoei Giveaway! The contest ends tonight at midnight. If you haven’t entered yet, you can enter here.
We are excited about the grand prize: The choice of any Shoei helmet from the internal sunshield family!
It may be an easy decision. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try the flexibility of a modular helmet so the Neotec would be an obvious choice. Or maybe you’re ready to upgrade the coverage and go full face. The GT-Air is one of our best full face helmets and has a streamlined aerodynamic design; if full-face helmets are your thing, you won’t be disappointed. Or if you want to freedom of less coverage, the J-Cruise might be the best style for you,
Let’s take a closer look at the features so you can make a more informed decision about which one you would add to your collection. It will be up to you to pick the best looking color on that model.
These three models round out Shoei’s “advanced integrated sunshield” family by providing a full face, open face and modular style all with the same state-of-the-art technology. The integration of this sunshield was done without any compromise. They didn’t thin out the shell or the liner to accommodate the retractable shade. It’s perfectly seamless with the design of the helmet.
The built-in dark smoke visor provides instant relief from sun glare in one quick motion with an easy to reach switch. It’s operated with a steel cable which was built to withstand heavy use. This drop down visor is the only one on the market that meets the ANSI standard for non-prescription eyeglasses. It’s distortion-free & blocks 99% of harmful UV rays.
All these helmets were developed in Japan using Shoei’s in-house Wind Tunnel to maximize aerodynamic performance. They all use Shoei’s Advanced Integrated Matrix - a high performance fiberglass/ organic fiber blend that creates an ultra-lightweight, rigid and resilient shell structure. The ventilation system on these helmets is exceptional. The front and rear vents work together by scooping the fresh air in from the front and creating a vortex to move the air out of the back of the helmet for maximum cooling. There’s also an exhaust port in the neck roll.
Each helmet uses the 3-D Max-Dry liner which is antibacterial and wicks 2 times more moisture than standard nylon liners on the market today. The foam cheek pads provide a secure fit, which means less road noise, and are eyeglass compatible. They also feature removable ear pockets to accommodate a communication system, if needed.
Now some specifics.
The chin bar of the Shoei Neotec is held in place with an easy-open lock release button. It feels solid, as do all of the moving parts. It truly has a full face feel when the chin bar is down. It feels very secure. The Neotec comes in all the Shoei solids: White, black, anthracite, light silver, wine red, and matte black. It also comes in one “hi-viz” accented graphic, the Borealis TC-3.
The shell of the full face GT-Air was sculpted specifically for the US market with a focus on aerodynamics, stability and ventilation. The GT-Air comes with a chin curtain, breath deflector, the CNS-1 pinlock ready shield AND includes a clear pinlock lens. The base plates on the shield are self adjusting and draw in the gasket when the shield closes for a better seal than we’ve ever seen. The dual ridge, rubber beaded eyeport seal is exceptionally airtight. The GT-Air comes in Shoei’s solids but it’s also offered in 3 Journey graphics and 2 Wanderer designs. (We personally are drawn to the stunning good looks of the Shoei GT-Air Journey TC-2, but don’t let that influence you.)
The Shoei J-Cruise “leaves absolutely nothing to be desired,” according to one reviewer. He goes on the say:
“The aerodynamic design and thick padding deaden wind noise and make the inside this helmet far quieter that with any other helmet I have owned. The aerodynamic windscreen design really does redirect air down from the rider’s neck and also helps provide a quiet ride. The optically correct screen and sun shield really do seem to render a clearer picture of the surroundings. The sun screen mechanism is extremely smooth and the shade itself does not hit my eyeglasses which is a very annoying aspect of many built in sun screen helmets. Everything about this helmet says “quality”, from design to fit/finish to performance. It is the most expensive helmet I’ve ever owned and well worth the extra bucks. The J-Cruise comes in all the standard solid colors offered by Shoei: black, white, wine red , anthracite, brilliant yellow, matte black and matte deep grey.
That’s a very high recommendation from a serious long distance rider.
If you are torn, don’t hesitate to call us and discuss the features of these three models: 888-343-5638. We hope that even if you don’t win, you will consider adding one of these quality helmets to your collection.
Good luck and ride safe.
By Gerde Applethwaite
Shorter: The CE rated Scorpion EXO-900 is really a Swiss Army knife sort of helmet with a variety of features and plenty of versatility. The price seems more than reasonable to me too.
I took note of the Scorpion EXO-900 when it came out but I didn’t focus on it because I wasn’t interested in a modular unit. Now that I am an eyeglass wearer (see my previous post entitled Eyeglass Update) I have taken a closer look at the whole modular helmet scenario. I like the Scorpion because it is versatile, well thought out, CE rated and (absolutely mandatory for me) comes in a hi-viz flavor.
My head girth rings in at 60 cm. This usually puts me right on the cusp of the medium and large dome sizes. Scorpion’s size chart steers me to the large. I popped it on and found, voila, the best fitting helmet I have ever had. The EXO-900 fits my head perfectly. I am what is known as a medium oval and this helmet feels as though it was custom crafted for my skull bone.
Ok, let’s start going through the features. The EXO-900 has a drop-down, fighter pilot, style of sunvisor. You work it with a modest push or pull on a left side lever and its easy with a gloved hand. The action is quick and smooth. When the visor drops down it pops gently off of your nose and then back up a little. Your nose may vary but for me it was just a gentle tap and then it was resting without contact. It retracts pretty easily too. The visor never got in the way of my eyeglasses. The visor is not polarized but it is dark enough to cut down on bright sunlight and its a neutral grey color. I would have preferred a nice brown lens but that’s me.
The whole modular unit hinges up and down by pulling outward on a red button on the chinbar. This too is easily done with a gloved hand. The chinbar moves up and rests on the top of the helmet. The motion is easy and sure. Scorpion goes you one better and once you have positioned the chinbar in the right place and pulled back on the 2 safety catches you can remove the chinbar unit in its entirety thereby leaving you with an open-faced helmet (with the drop-down sun visor.) That’s a neat trick. The mounting points are two bayonet style tabs in the chinbar. The tabs work in combination with the spring loaded safety catches that open up the receiving holes a bit so that you can insert the tabs. This whole operation is a bit tricky at first…and second … but by the fifth time I had it knocked. Please note that I have a bit of a hard time with shield swap outs and I have always found my Arai shields a bit of a test so I am clearly not the standard by which this process should be judged.
When you have finished removing the chinbar its time to install what Scorpion calls the “3/4 Peak Visor.” This is a plastic crescent that sits atop the upper ridge of the helmet’s face opening and snaps down along the sides of the face opening of the helmet. This makes the helmet look more like an open-faced helmet with a mini-bill, like the Shoei RJ Platinum-R. The Peak Visor uses the same bayonet and latch points that the chinbar utilizes. Once you suss the lineup, and with some practice, it also pops on and off pretty quickly. Make sure its all fully seated before you put the helmet on.
There are only two vents on the helmet and that makes sense – if you want more air take the chinbar off. Both vents open and close easily with a gloved hand: a top vent and a rear vent. I rode with the chinbar down and both vents open on a 78° day and it wasn’t stuffy inside the helmet.
The helmet has Scorpion’s air pump “Airfit” system that inflates segments of the padding around the lower part of your chin. There is a rubberized, red, circular button on the rear helmet padding: push the button – inflate the air bag. Press a small button next to the big button and release the air, hey presto. You do this with the helmet on your head and you stop when it feels right. The action on my test helmet was pretty minor so I took another Scorpion off the shelf to check it out. Apparently the inflated bag isn’t huge and the effects are subtle. I assume it will work to keep the helmet in place when you land and I can’t find any reason not to like it as long as it holds up. This is yet another clever idea from Scorpion. I have been an Arai person for years and years but I am starting to like these guys. I recently reviewed one of the Scorpion jackets and I liked the way that was put together too.
Having said that I must note that because the helmet is a modular it is necessarily heavier than my Arai. Because the Scorpion EXO-900 is a modular it is also noisier than my Arai full-face. I wear custom molded ear plugs and I also have tinnitus (life takes it tolls) so I may not be the most critical evaluator of wind noise. My testing equipment has been repeatedly and foolishly placed next to too many mega-concert speakers and has been hung out in the wind on too many unhelmeted motorcycle rides. Ahh, that’s all behind me now – sorry, what did you say?
I have two bikes, one has a moderate sized windscreen (bigger than a sport bike thumbnail but smaller than, say, a Vetter) and the other has no screen at all. The wind coming off of my screen at freeway speeds hit the helmet at an angle that seemed to catch under the ¾ Peak Visor and push my head back more than I am accustomed to. I am going to go for a ride without the chinbar and Peak Visor just to see what the wind does to the helmet on both bikes. The wind thing is tricky and you really have to match the helmet to your bike as well as to your head.
The padding material is wicking, removable and washable and feels like flannel pj’s. against your delicate skin. No, really. As I said at the top the helmet’s interior fit me perfectly and yeah, way comfy.
The visor is billed as super strong and optically correct. From what I hear Scorpion has the visor thing down. It is also equipped with an anti-fog treatment called “EverClear” (no, not the same stuff) that they guarantee for a year. I have just gotten used to my Arai Pinlock system and fog is a thing of the past for me but riding around with EXO-900 I noticed no fogging either with the sun visor up or down. There is a chin curtain that snaps into place as well.
There are a variety of colors but quite frankly all I care about is hi-viz. They have it – I like it.
Oh – lest I forget, there are also external ports built into the helmet for a communication system. Just pop out the cover plates and install the comm.system. Scorpion does not make its own proprietary system but a host of manufacturer’s have designed adapter plates for this helmet. If you want a comm. system this should be a straightforward alteration.
All in all this is a dandy helmet and it is another of those products that I find to be well made and feature packed. Helmets keep getting better every year. If you are already a modular wearer this one is a fine replacement and if you wear glasses this is a strong candidate for your next helmet.
By Gerde Applethwaite
Shorter: How long should you hold onto that old helmet before you let it go?
My assignment this week was to write an honest blog piece about when it is the right time to ditch your helmet and re-up for a new one. There are some obvious answers and then there are some that seem not so much.
Before I started working on this post I had to bicycle over to the store to get some more apple juice. The ride took me onto a bridge over an estuary. I walk the bike over that bridge because I like the water. I find it enjoyable to stroll the bridge’s length and watch the world go by. There was a seagull flying slowly about 30 feet over the drink: it tilted one wing toward the water and the other straight up into the sky. In that moment she had dumped the air from her wings, lost most of her air speed, did one cartwheel and pitched straight down toward the water head first. in the descent she pulled her wings in about two thirds. When she was only a few feet off of the water she snapped her wings out full in a braking and gliding maneuver and then bobbed her head underwater to grab a small redish fish. With but two big flaps of her wings she avoided crashing into the drink and was back up in the air again. Its an astonishing feat of skill and grace to witness. There was a short stuttering motion as she flew off: she had just slid the small fish down her gullet. Done and done, the fish never knew what hit it.
One of the campfire rituals with riders is the exchange of harrowing accident or near accident stories. These stories run the gamut from hitting the headlight frozen deer on the back country road to being struck by some #%@ing texting teen making a left turn. Most of the time riders say stuff like “he/it came out of nowhere.” These accidents happen so quickly and there is often no time to react. We’re not the bird – we’re the fish. If they were very lucky there were no, or minimal, injuries and the gear took the brunt of it. You may not need to get rid of your jacket or riding pants but if your helmet had an accident impact it has to go. No no – it has to go. The combination of stress fractures in the shell combined with compression of the inner EPS liner foam render the helmet useless for anything other than a planter* or a bird house. The liner is incapable of protecting you from impact injury after it has suffered one impact. There is a nice video shot at the Nolan factory that shows the helmet testing procedure and the most interesting part for me was the moment when they restruck a helmet and looked at the dent in the surface. After one impact the helmet loses its ability to adequately distribute the force of the blow over the surface of the helmet. It really brought home the idea that you cannot reuse your helmet after you have had an accident with it. Even a small impact is enough. Not a ding like dropping it off of the cocktail table or the seat of your bike but certainly when you have a get-off and strike your helmet. How small a get-off? Good lord man just get a new helmet! How much is your brain worth? Replacing your helmet after an accident is a pretty clear choice for most riders but the rest of it is not so clear.
You can find lots of advice from people who want to sell you a helmet (yeah – like us) about when a helmet ages out. It becomes difficult to get the straight dope. The most widely accepted idea is that you replace your motorcycle helmet every 5 years. Why? Well uh… because it wears out, that’s why. Well, what wears out? The uhhh, EPS liner foam interacts with your sweat and that diminishes it structural reliability – yeah, that’s the ticket. Really? Can’t they make a liner that doesn’t interact with your body oils or sweat? Well, yes, in fact the whole thing is a canard. The liner isn’t affected by your sweat or scalp oils. Your helmet may stink but the EPS liner isn’t necessarily diminished.
Many of the helmet manufacturers will talk about liner degradation from body oils or sweat but this information is the subject of some serious question. There is a nice article by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute and among other things it addresses this issue. The bicycle helmet liner is made of the same EPS foam material that is used in motorcycle helmets.
Can your EPS liner be diminished by solvents or cleaning agents. Yes, it appears so. If five years isn’t the standard for degradation what is? There is no hard and fast rule here. Other sources are as generous as eight years. If you notice that your helmet seems to fit more loosely on your head than it used to it is more likely due to abrasion of the liner and/or reduction of the liner by cleaning agents and not because your head is shrinking. In either case its time for a new helmet.
Your helmet’s integrity is indeed reduced by the ultraviolet rays of sunlight. The helmet is plastic and plastic does not play well with UV. How long does it take to render your helmet unsafe? It depends upon the materials as some of the composites resist UVA and UVB better than others. What are those composites? I do not have a danged clue. I have read that many manufacturers are putting UV inhibitors into their shell plastics to slow this decay. This reinforces the notion that your helmet has a use-by date regardless of its impact history.
Alright let’s sling some product.
Helmet quality gets better every year and the prices are remarkably low for a helmet that offers more than reasonable protection for your brain case. You can get a perfectly nice Scorpion EXO-400 for a mere $110.00. I like that helmet. Too much for you? You can get an HJC-5N Open Face (solid) for an astonishing $68.00. A Bell Arrow (either solid or graphic) for one Benjamin. How about a an HJC CL-16 (solid), a workhorse of a helmet, for only $117.00. I don’t often go into sales pitch mode but the point I am truly trying to make here is that you do not have to spend a lot of money to be allowed the opportunity to convert your old helmet into a bird house. Why risk a concussion or more serious damage for a mere hundred dollars?
Step up another hundred bucks or so and you can get higher quality shells, more comfortable wicking liners, more durable face shields or in some even drop down sun visors.
Look into the Shark S700 (solid) for $210.00 or the Nolan N-90 N-Comm (solid) for $220.00. They are both very good helmets. Lots of choices – one brain to protect.
I recently demo’d a Scorpion EXO-900 Transformer [ed. that review will be posted soon] helmet because after my last eye exam, came the mandate that I wear glasses when I drive/ride. Modular helmets have now become more interesting to me. I liked that helmet. It has an amazing assortment of bells and whistles and it is CE rated. It fit my head perfectly too. Switching to a modular for my next purchase is definitely in the cards. It makes the whole eyeglass thing so much easier.
For years I rode with Shoei helmets. I wore out two RF200′s and had no complaints about either those helmets or any later Shoei head buckets I wore. I respect the Shoei name because they held me in good stead for many years. Shoei has my attention once again because of their modular Neotec and also their full-face GT Air. When its time for me to go helmet shopping again they are high on my list.
I currently ride with an Arai RX-Q. The RX-Q is a replacement for my then five year old Arai Corsair. I followed the five year rule. I might not have had to but I figured I needed to do what I could to protect what few brain cells I have left.
Helmet integrity is reduced by an impact, by ultraviolet radiation and by abrasion of the interior liner and/or the liner’s contact with some solvents or cleaning agents. The decision to replace your helmet is, so to speak, a no-brainer. The decision to replace due to insults other than impact are a bit less straightforward. I would err on the side of caution. Take a gander at our helmet offerings and take another look at your helmet. Yeah, sure you can replace your helmet because you want something matching your gas tank color and we’d be tickled sideways to have your money but more importantly if your helmet is compromised surrender it to the finches or the orchids and get a new one.
* There are some wild and wondrous planters made from old motorcycle helmets (they will lend your garden something of the je ne sais quoi magic of a hubcap farm) and a quick tour of the interwebz will provide many ideas for other substantial and neighbor confounding things to do with your old helmet. Don’t throw it away, re-appropriate it. ‘No Madge – I’m re-appropriating it.’
By Gerde Applethwaite
Shorter: I took a couple of helmets with me to the optician and wound up with conventional frames anyway.
This is just a quick note about my visit to the Costco opticians. They were great and really friendly. They didn’t giggle when I came in with the helmets, instead the woman who helped me was nonchalant and said that they get motorcyclists in there every once in awhile and they often bring helmets with them. Bring your helmet/s.
Bottom line for me is that I wound up with a rather conventional frame. I looked at the prices and I went with something inexpensive and traditional in shape because I know I am going to be rough on these frames and I’ll be back soon enough for a replacement. Why replace an expensive frame just to bang it up again? My approach to the selection process is utilitarian and not fashion oriented. Mind you, its not that I am not tempted by a vintage pair of rhinestone encrusted Auntie Mame sunglasses but that’s for the Playa and its just not the done thing under one’s helmet.
How do they fit into my helmets? I took my Arai RX-Q and I grabbed a Scorpion EXO-900 modular helmet too. The Modular is clearly easier to work with when it comes to getting glasses off and on. No question.
I have been wearing straight templed Smith sunglasses with my Arai RX-Q for some time but since I got myself set up with the Pinlock shields on the Arai RX-Q I haven’t worn sunglasses. The eyeglasses fit in the helmet more awkwardly than the sunglasses did because the ear end of the temple arm is curved (like a regular pair of glasses.) Its a snug fit and bending the glasses up and into that area between my head, my hair and the thick foam padding is a bit of a challenge.
On the other hand the modular helmet makes this task much easier. On the Scorpion EXO-900 I press the red button on the chin bar, flip up the front piece and I am now afforded much more room to wrangle the glasses onto my head. Its true what the eyeglass wearers say about flip-ups. This still mandates the dance of wedging the frame in beside the padding and my head but it is made all so much easier with the additional room afforded by the flip-up. I have never worn a modular helmet before but I could get used to this pretty quickly. I cannot envision riding with the modular unit in the open position but the combination of being able to pop it open when stopped and then quickly dealing with the glasses or talking to toll takers and gas station attendants makes a flip-up tempting. On the other hand if I wanted to ride with the helmet in open-face style I could because Scorpion has designed the EXO-900 Transformer helmet so that the entire modular front end can be removed (while it retains its CE rating.) My next post will be a rider’s review of the Scorpion EXO-900 Transformer.
There is a Shark modular helmet, the Evoline 3 ST, I want to look into because it too is rated CE 22.05. More about this helmet in the not too far distant future.
Get on out there.
OK … I’m not a big fan of wearing a motorcycle jacket, especially when the temperature is 90 degrees and the humidity has you feeling like you’re in a sauna. I’m a big fan of T-shirts when it gets hot (I also like to show off my ink). Remember, I’m a motorcycle “libertarian” … I think adults should evaluate a risk and make their own decision as to accepting that risk. That said, there’s no arguing that a leather or Kevlar type jacket with armor in the right places can save you from some serious pain and disfigurement. But, even though the first thing riders think of when considering these jackets is usually safety and/or looks, there is also a strong case to be made for comfort.
On a recent journey, I rode through rain and temperatures that ranged from the low 50’s in the Rockies to 105 in the Texas panhandle. For this trip, I selected a Tourmaster Intake Air Series 3 Jacket. While there are a lot of brands to choose from out there, if you’re looking for comfort, you should ensure that whichever one you choose has similar features that will make your ride more comfortable.
This jacket has a mesh shell that is very well ventilated and that means it remains relatively cool on a hot day (when you’re moving). When the temperature gets cool, you have a choice of two liners that can be inserted separately or in combination for maximum insulation. The lightweight liner provides great wind resistance and is also rain resistant (not at the level of a quality rain suit, but it does keep you dry in light or moderate rain). The lightweight padded liner provides insulation and when these two are used together, the jacket provides comfort at temperatures as low as 45 degrees (for me). Stick a thermal T-shirt under it and your good to go down to about 40. For hot desert weather in the 90’s or higher, you can wear the mesh outer jacket over a wet T-shirt to keep cool and hydrated. This jacket provides the advantages of three different pieces of clothing resulting in less required storage room and lighter weight, both premium requirements for long road trips. Both liners can be rolled up tightly and take up very little room. During my trip, I actually wore the jacket in extremely high dessert heat and at 12,500 feet in the Rockies, where I went from the high 70’s in Ft. Collins, CO to the low 50’s at 12,500 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park and then back down, all in less than three hours. I was able to adjust my clothing for comfort in just a few minutes and then easily readjust as I descended. Very convenient, very compact and far less expensive than multiple jackets.
For those of you who also value the protective aspect of outerwear more than me, this particular jacket offers construction of Armor Link, 600 Denier Carbolex and 1680 Denier ballistic polyester with CE approved armor at all the strategic locations. Hell, I don’t have a clue what all that means, other than it offers you some great protection from impact and road rash.
Comfortable long trips on a motorcycle don’t take any luck at all … they take careful planning. The correct choice of equipment is critical. You must pack lightly, compactly and efficiently, meaning that everything you bring along should preferably have more than one use and leather doesn’t fit this description. This premium jacket certainly fits the bill (all right … leather looks a little cooler, but even without the liner and with the vents open, it is still hot as hell on a warm day).
Pants are a whole other subject …
I’m a believer in voluntary helmet use – I live in New York State where the law demands helmet usage but I believe that adult riders are capable of deciding for themselves. While I often times don’t wear a helmet outside of NY (because I do love the wind in my face and through my hair), I strongly suggest that you determine how much risk you are willing to accept, because regardless of what type of accident you may become involved in (hopefully none), your chances of survival are increased by helmet usage.
During a recent trip, I passed through 14 states that don’t require motorcycle helmets. Some mandate them for the passenger. At times, I wore my helmet and chose not to wear it at other times. Why? Well, for me, helmet usage is determined by how I will be riding that day. For instance, whenever I’m on the highway for extended periods of time, I wear a helmet. I do it more for comfort than safety, but I also believe that wearing it increases my chances for survival in an accident. While it may look “cool” to cruise down the interstate at 75 mph with your hair blowing in the breeze, what’s not cool is the wind blasting your face for extended periods. This causes your eyes to water (even with a windshield and/or sunglasses) and after a while, they dry out and get itchy, which in turn is very distracting. You dehydrate more quickly because wind is blasting your eyes as well as your nasal and oral passages. Another consideration is the noise level, even with earplugs. When you wear a helmet, it is much quieter and the chance for long-term hearing loss is reduced. Wind noise is also just plain annoying after many hours on the road.
Although I have several helmets, I knew that the 6,000 mile trip I was planning would need a special one. I wanted something that would fit perfectly, give me a great view of my surroundings (eliminating a full face or modular helmet), had a built-in sun visor so I wouldn’t need to fool with sunglasses and regular glasses, give me excellent hearing protection (meaning a thicker internal padding system) and protect me from wind buffeting. After a lot of research, I decided on the new Shoei J Cruise because it has everything I wanted and more.
It’s an open face helmet that has an optically correct face shield, giving me a full picture of my surroundings (unlike a full face or modular helmet) while still protecting my face, eyes and ears from wind and other elements. For those of you who get a little claustrophobic inside a full face or modular helmet, this wide face shield really opens things up. Another great feature is the retractable, optically correct sunscreen, allowing use of prescription glasses while offering full protection from glare. The Shoei sunscreen is special because it doesn’t smack into my glasses when I lower it like most full helmets with this feature. Shoei designed the shell around it … they didn’t just add a sunscreen to an existing shell. Thick padding provides excellent protection and the best noise reduction of any helmet I have owned. It has outstanding ventilation even on the hottest days (I wore it on a 104 degree day in Oklahoma).
Whether you are a fan of helmets or not, there are times when it makes very good sense to wear one. Whatever brand you choose, make sure it offers everything you’re looking for, regardless of price.
In all different weather conditions and climates, riding a motorcycle is a beautiful experience. Windy riding conditions can be tricky and that’s why it’s important to pause to consider technique. It can be precarious on two wheels when gusts of wind begin to pick up.
Here are some suggestions for windy conditions:
1. Make sure to relax. Tensing up while being buffeted by the wind does you no favors.
2. Lean into the wind while understanding that the wind may die down suddenly.
3. Stay on the throttle during a strong gust.
4. Lean forward letting your arms do more of the work. This will improve your ability to react.
Remember that these are merely suggestions and it varies from rider to rider what works best. Let us know what works best for you from your experience.
And make sure you have the latest in motorcycle helmets too as reduced wind noise can help keep your focus. We recommend the new Shoei GT-Air helmet. Shoei created a nice aerodynamic shell shape on their latest creation and you will feel the benefit on the road. The GT-Air graphics are now back in stock so check out a Shoei GT-Air Wanderer or Shoei GT-Air Journey helmet today!
Ride safe and have fun,
Dave at Helmet City
By Gerde Applethwaite
Shorter: When buying armor purchase the CE – En1621-(1 and 2), level 2 gear and you will get the highest level of protection currently available.
The main goal in doing the research for this blogicle was to sort through the data and info about armor in order to find the best (most impact resistant) padding to insert into my new motorcycle jacket. I didn’t look into the separate, strap-on, back pad units that you see racers or dirt bikers running (like the Knox or Forcefield types) – I wanted armor to swap into the pouches of my jacket. I am not going off road – at least not intentionally. It gets a bit confusing but I hope to sort it out here and now.
My objective is pretty straightforward – I need to be as visible as possible to distracted drivers by wearing hi-viz clothing and I also want to protect myself by wearing good impact and abrasion resistant toggery. ATGATT. I am pretty well covered with a hi-viz Arai RX-Q helmet and a hi-viz textile jacket. The next thing is to dial in the armor.
The armor that comes with nearly all jackets is not the most highly rated you can get. The cost is kept down this way and if you’re really interested you can swap in better kit. In relative terms this replacement armor is not all that expensive. Compared to a hospital visit the armor is ridiculously cheap. This means pulling out the factory armor (with back armor it is often just a slice of place-holding foam with some holes in it) and replacing it with something designed to fit the pocket in your gear. This can be limiting because your pockets may not reasonably fit your replacement armor: it boils down to either doing some sewing work to change the pocket or cutting the armor to fit the pocket. The former is the smartest way to go but its also the most work and will of course void your warranty. Online you will find riders who talk about taking a knife to their new high end armor in order to make it fit the existing pocket. I am reticent to do this. This means, for me, buying a jacket that has pockets designed to fit the form factor of the armor I choose. Now all of a sudden moto gear shopping becomes a matter of firstly finding the armor I want and then finding moto apparel makers that make clothing designed to fit that armor. This is a little backwards from the manner in which most of us shop for motorcycle clothing but it guarantees that I won’t be sitting at the kitchen table with a Sharpie and an electric carving knife.
The Europeans generally do the consumer protection stuff substantially better than do their stateside counterparts. They have come up with a European Union standard for motorcycle armor called CE: EN 1261-1,2 etc. The CE standard is used worldwide now to judge armor’s ability to withstand impact. Be advised though that there are various levels of CE rated armor and just because some guy on the interwebz tells you that some manufacturer’s gear is “CE rated” doesn’t mean that it is the most highly rated. “CE” is now used as part of the product hype and you should look a little deeper to find out what actual CE rating the gear you’re interested in actually conforms to. Bear with me, I will try to make it as un-boring as possible.
In their labs the Euro tech gremlins (The EU fonctionnaires hire independent labs to do their testing) place the armor to be tested upon a round dome for hip, knee shoulder and elbow armor and upon a sort of rounded prism for back armor*. This anvil is loaded with sensors that detect the impact and the results are rated in Kilonewtons – earlier measurements were in Joules/metre (1 newton = .001KN or 1 Joule/metre.) The armor is whacked with a hammerlike device and the results of the impact are measured. With this technology all motorcycle armor can be rated by its ability to withstand the transmission of the impact force from the impact hammer side to the anvil/sensor side. This is precisely what you want to know when you are out shopping for good armor. You are the anvil – asphalt be the hammer.
The human rib cage can withstand 4 kilo-newtons of force before ribs start to break. The only back armor that comes anywhere close to that is the stuff that passes the CE-EN1621-2, Level 2 test. That’s the stuff I want. For an additional $15 or $20 over the cost of the CE Level 1 armor why would you bother with Level 1?
CE has two broad categories for armor: the back armor is in one group and the hip, shoulder, knee and elbow are in the other. The testing scheme is a bit different and the expectations are different. Teh back armor regime is called CE-EN1621-2 (2003) and all of the other armor is categorized under CE-EN1621-1 (1997) [note too: there is a new provisional standard as of 2011, with 2 levels within that standard.] We’re not done yet. As armor improved the CE added Levels to (now) both categories. There are Level 1 and Level 2 to tack onto the aforementioned number sets. The strongest armor in both groups is Level 2. Its not easy to get a Level 2 and one way that you get there is with the so-called molecular armor. From wikipedia comes this:
Level 1 protectors: The average peak force recorded below the anvil in the tests shall be below 18 kN, and no single value shall exceed 24 kN.
Level 2 protectors: The average peak force recorded below the anvil in the tests shall be below 9 kN, and no single value shall exceed 12 kN.”
Again, let me state for the purposes of clarity that the EN-1621-1 (1997) (2011) rating is for hip, knee, shoulder and elbow armor and the EN-1621-2(2003) rating is only for back armor. Then on top of that there are the 2 levels applied to both the 2003 and the 2011 standards. The higher the level the greater the protection. Some folks on the interwebz seem confused by this. If you want the strongest gear you need to look not only for 2011 provisional standard for the joint gear and the 2003 standard for the back gear BUT ALSO the level 2 rated stuff as well.
D3O and Sas-Tec are the primary manufacturers of molecular (viscoelastic) armor and they are not owned by any of the gear makers. D3O is designed and made in the UK and the Sas-Tec stuff is made in Germany. Molecular armor works in an intriguing way** and the cornstarch and water impact demos on youtube are worth a look. The armor is soft and pliable to the touch (making it more comfortable to ride with than hard puck type armor) but upon impact it hardens briefly and then returns to its original state. This property distributes and reduces the force of the impact dramatically. Old style hard armor has now been bested by this armor – but only when you go for the Level 2 viscoelastic armor.
Which is better the D3O or the Sas-Tec? Sas-Tec has a more competently laid out and informative website than do the folks at D3O. It was easier to get concrete information from Sas-Tec. I cannot clearly say at this point which one has the better high end armor than the other and my ultimate choice was also made by other factors, like different features on the jacket that I opted for. At one time D3O was the only kid on the block. When Sas-Tec came along it is alleged that German miltiary bomb defusers used it on the soles of their shoes. The D3O is now being used as joint padding in some of the British miltary’s combat uniforms. As innovations continued apace. D3O came out with a generation of stronger armor and then another. D3O armor now comes in T5 (lightweight, lower protection), T6 (with a hard plastic shield on one side to help limit penetrations) and Xergo (thicker, Level 2 kit that gets you nearer to that 4 KN goal) flavors – each offering a bit more protection. Sas-Tec certainly has leading design innovation as well.
Sas-Tec’s high end joint armor is labeled Prestige SC-1/42 and when I squint at their chart (note: their charts are much more readable than are D3O’s) they indicate that the armor transmits a mere 6 KN to the body. Their SC and SK level 2 back armor rings in at about the same: 6 KN.
At this point I can tell you this. If you buy armor that is rated to CE-EN1621- 1 and 2, Level 2 you will be getting the highest rated armor currently available. The Scorpion Commander 2 jacket that I recently tested has Level 1 Sas-Tec armor in it when you buy it. The Firstgear Kilimanjaro jacket that I just tested comes stock with Level 1 D3O armor. With either of these jackets if you wanted the top end armor you would be able to swap out the scorpion with Sas-Tec Level 2 and the Firstgear with D3O Level 2 – they will swap straight out. Of course you cannot do a straight swap for the Sas-tec in a jacket that was designed for D3O and vice versa. You can also upgrade your old jacket to Molecular but it will require some time on the blogowebz to figure out the fitting constraints. You must also factor in your willingness to go at your older jacket with a scissors, needle and thread or alternatively your new armor with the electric turkey carver.
Here’s what I did: I researched jackets within my budget that had either D3O or Sas-Tec armor and then, after some waffling between the Firstgear Kilimanjaro (D3O) and the Scorpion Commander 2 (Sas-Tec), I popped for the Kilimanjaro. I then bought the D3O Viper Stealth Pro back armor (the “Pro” series is level 2 rated). Next up I will be ordering the D3O Xergo hip, knee shoulder and elbow inserts and they will all swap into my Firstgear clothing. Whoop-La, done and done.
I ordered my back armor insert from Klim because they actually had it in stock. Klim is one of the maker’s of gear that lays D3O armor into their motorcycle clothing and it is not surprising that they do so. D3O, in its its early day was often seen on the ski slopes and boarding half-pipes. Klim is a big maker of snow wear and Klim’s adoption of D3O into their motorcycle clothing was a natural one. Other makers are following as riders demand the best in protection. Demand the best in protection.
* It is important to note that during my poking around on the webz I found documentation and commentary to indicate that the relative value of back armor to prevent or substantially reduce the possibility of spinal injury is, surprisingly, quite low. The majority of the damage to the spinal column is initiated by severe torquing of the head and neck and/or the hip. Back armor aids more in limiting injury to the ribs and also helps in both lowering bruising and organ damage. It is not as substantial a contributor to the prevention of spinal injury as most folks think. [NB.: Cambridge Standard For motorcyclists Clothing, Roderick Woods.]
** I don’t want to make this post any more unwieldy than it already is so if you are interested in learning more about the unique property of the molecular armor take a look at wikipedia’s entry for “dilatant.”
By Gerde Applethwaite
There was a time when I used to regularly commute to work on a motorcycle. I had an old Honda 305 Scrambler that I now really wish I hadn’t sold. A friend loaned me a surplus Air Force flight suit to wear. It was actually nice and comfy although not at all waterproof. The suit was a sort of shiny/dull satin bronze looking thing that made me look like a space alien version of the Pillsbury Doughboy. It was difficult to get in and out of and required (after doffing footwear) a series of ritual convulsive writhings on the floor. I took that as part of the morning regimen on a workday and, yes, getting the suit off at work was a bit attention-getting and the subject of a series of predictable jokes.
My budget does not extend to the world of the ‘Stitch. I looked at the Tourmaster Centurion offering and rejected it right away because they had no hi-viz color scheme. If you are not interested in hi-viz you should look at the Centurion.too. This season Joe Rocket came out with a new version of their Survivor Suit with (altogether too little – IMO) hi-viz accent panels. I ordered it up nonetheless. Herein my first impressions of the Joe Rocket Survivor Suit.
Firstly, let me briefly spew yet another version of my ongoing complaint about manufacturers and their tardy and hesitant adoption of hi-viz. I am surprised that it is taking so long for all manufacturers to readily and fully embrace the hi-viz color option. Joe Rocket did so (partially) with this suit and for that I praise them but this suit has hi-viz panels sort of thrown on as an afterthought. Manufacturers please take note: The purpose of hi-viz color and the Scotchlite type reflective panels is not that of a fashion design choice but a safety feature whose object is to alert the zombies on cell phones (for one) that I am here and would very much not like to be hit by you and your your 3000 pound steel cage. Joe Rocket has taken their earlier black suit and added the hi-viz panels onto the sides below the armpit and onto the shoulders. There is nothing on the back panel or the chest panel by way of hi-viz but they they did put in some really dandy reflective strips along both sides of the back, running vertically. Nicely done. This effectively means that you have a reasonably decent chance of being seen from behind by car headlights but during the day there is no hi-viz color back there and very little to the front that will alert drivers. Oh, there is also is a little patch over each knee. While these panels are helpful they are not nearly enough. As a rider you need to be seen fore and aft and side to side and this suit does not do enough to accommodate that. Alas. More Hi-viz and more Scotchlite please.
Materials and durability: The main suit fabric is constructed from something that Joe rocket calls RockTex 600 and they have it trademarked. They also indicate that RockTex is waterproof. Is it nylon? Is it polyester? Is it 600 denier? I assume the “600” means 600 denier but i’m not sure. They have a treated canvas material on the inner part of the lower leg to help prevent exhaust systems from from melting your new suit. There is an accordion stretch panel on the lower back that makes that forward lean non-binding.
Getting in and out……..zipppppers: The Survivor Suit has a long diagonal zipper that runs from one shoulder to the opposite hip. There are also long leg zippers that run up to mid-thigh. This is easily sufficient to allow you to get in and out of the suit while seated (no unseemly rolling around on the floor.) The zippers are sturdy YKK zips and are plenty durable. I like YKK zips: the externally exposed zippers are of the rubber (rubber-like material) coated type. Very nice. The RockTex material extends over the zippers as a flap and serves as another layer of water resistance – that’s pretty standard too. The flaps are locked in place by snaps.
I am not too fond of the sleeve treatment. It is next to impossible to remove your arms from the suit without sucking ½ the thermal liner along with it. The liner is secured with TPR (Velcro-like) and it just pops right off as soon as you pull your arms back. Most other jackets have a loop and snap setup on the cuff that prevents this but not this suit. This suit has a snap and loop setup but its part way up the arm. The cuffs are zippered though and that’s good.
Armor: I read a report recently while doing the research for my “Traversing the Molecular Armor Maze” post that focused, in part, on back injuries and the effectiveness of back armor for motorcycle riders. It states that the majority of spinal injuries come from impacts that torque the shoulders, hip and/or neck. The body twists radically under impact and the spine is damaged. He argues that strong back armor while recommended for protection of the ribs and internal organs is not as effective as riders think it is for protecting their spines. He recommends high level shoulder and hip armor. This suit has the typical place holder, thin (not CE) foam pad for back armor and you can buy and insert your own armor as you see fit. All of the armor in the suit is “CE” rated, except the back, but like most manufacturers they do not tell you what grade of CE they are using. If you have to ask then you can assume it is level 1. I am a fan of armor and I like either the D3O or the Sas-Tec gear. This is my first Joe Rocket purchase so I have yet to figure out what type of molecular armor I might be able to fit into the suit. Joe Rocket does make an armor upgrade but they do not make a viscoelastic armor for their gear. Nor do they have their armor pockets fitted for D3O or Sas-Tec. I have to research this further: more later when I have this sorted. Shoulder, elbow and knee armor are CE rated so I assume this is level 1 kit. I am only interested in level 2 CE armor and will see if I can fit the D3O Xergo in there. They doubled up the suit material on the shoulders, elbows and knees.
Weather seal….waterproof and/or resistant. On a ride last year I got to chatting with a woman who was wearing a ‘Stitch suit. I asked her what she thought about it and I discovered that while initially pleased she said she wouldn’t do it again. Her main complaint was that the suit was not waterproof and that for all of the money spent she fully expected it to keep her dry (I didn’t ask her whether or not she Nikwaxed it.) I would expect the same for that money. The Joe Rocket suit is substantially less expensive than a ‘Stitch and while I would really like it to keep me completely dry I have limited expectations that it will do so. Online I have read a couple of reviews from folks who have ridden in the rain with their Survivor suits and claim complete non-wetness. Amazing. It remains to be seen. My suit has only just arrived and while I might have the neighbor kids turn a garden hose on me I just haven’t found the time. So, a waterproofing review will likely have to wait until our next rain storm. I assume though that I will have to go after the new suit with the Nikwax treatment if I want to make an effort at waterproofing.
I should say on their behalf that Joe Rocket has taped all of the seams and they use the rubber-like coated YKK zippers. The pockets have an inner pocket of some rubbery material and I have every expectation that the pockets are waterproof.
Pockets: The Survivor Suit has 2 waterproof cargo pockets on the left thigh and one small waterproof chest pocket with a small zipper. The thigh pockets are reasonably easy to get into when you are on the bike. Phone, wallet, passport and change can go in there. The external pockets have triple closures. I generally do not put any hard items (cell phones) into my bike wear pockets because I don’t want to land on them. Inboard of the Big Air vent is a chest slash pocket.
Neck seal: The neck seal is comfy around its inner perimeter, with that soft material, mmmm. I actually like the way that Tourmaster handles the neck closures on their Defender suits more than I like the Survivor set up. Tourmaster has a big flap, a gator, that you can swing out across your neck to block the elements from getting in. This is a great idea and obviates the need for a scarf or a neck-lacava on cool or wet days. With the Survivor suit you will need to do the standard neckerchief thing the way you do with most jackets. The closure is a snap and all the big snaps are rubber coated on the facing side. There is a nice little elastic band, a small loop that the tongue of the collar snap folds into in order to double it over out of your way when you are riding with the jacket at all unzipped which you will do often when you are using the Big Air vent.
Venting: More about the “Big Air” vent: it is the name for Joe Rocket’s proprietary venting system and on this suit. It consists of a zippered mesh panel right underneath the main zipper in the front of the chest. Zip the main zipper down to your navel and (after you have snapped the weather flaps out of the way [pro-tip: try to do this with suit off if possible] then zip up the mesh panel underneath with the hi-viz colored zipper — you have the thing half done. Unzip the 2 slash vents on the back and Bob’s yer uncle, lots of air flow. The suit is mostly black and on a hot day it is going to absorb a lot of heat. So, this venting scheme is the thing that will give this suit 3-season (in some climes 4-season) service. I cannot comment yet about the suit’s ability to keep you warm in the cold weather because its nice and toasty outside these days.
Warmth and liners: The liner is removable. It consists of a lightweight satiny quilted material. Don’t ride with the liner in on a warm day if you can help it. If you leave the liner out and zip open that Big ole Big Air vent in front and also zip open the 2 slash vents in the back then you will be pretty comfy despite the fact that the suit is black and absorbs the sun’s heat. The liner isn’t overly thick but it definitely makes thing toasty when you are in and zipped up.
Heat Shield matter on inner leg: The inner, lower leg heat shield is made of a type of canvas that is treated. It will keep you from burning through your RockTex but if you have a scrambler I would check the alignment before you fire up the bike and your pipes get hot.
Cleaning: When it is time to clean your suit just go with the Nikwax system. Clean it with the Nikwax cleaner and then re-waterproof (or water resist – I haven’t done it yet, just got it.
I am pleased with the Joe Rocket Survivor Suit and my quibbles are small ones. I am still more than a little surprised that they can make a suit this nice for this price.