The Hi-viz Conundrum

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: Why wouldn’t you wear hi-viz? After I bought a Firstgear Mil. Spec. Hi-viz Vest for a friend as a Christmas present I got to thinking about hi-viz…..again.

I bought the Firstgear Mil. Spec. Hi-viz Vest because it is my favorite amongst our hi-viz vest options. My pal’s gear is pretty much all black and I thought It would be smart to help make him more visible on the road. He thanked me for the present and then made a self-deprecating joke about his reluctance to wear it not because of some sort of fashion choice but because its just too visible. Yeah, we both cracked up. This lead me to wonder about what keeps people from buying hi-viz gear. I see more and more folks kitted out in hi-viz every day especially bicycle riders. Whether on Motorcycle or bicycle I only wear hi-viz these days.

For a mere $60.00 you get an instant upgrade for your lo-viz jacket or suit. For me this is a no-brainer yet there are plenty of folks out there who do not see hi-viz as a viable option. I am sure that moto gear manufacturers take this into account when designing their new gear. How they go about this I do not know. I imagine gnomes in Alpen caves looking into vats of bubbling future-predicting goo to suss the trends for the latest Alpinestars lineup. Who knows? I guess they hire fashion consultants (who may or may not ride) in order to get input into the designs for the latest looks. If you read my stuff at all you know by now that I constantly rant about the cluelessness of gear manufacturers when it comes to both hi-viz and reflective tape use. This seasonal design thing quickly becomes an odd game of cat and mouse though: when does consumer desire tilt the scales for manufacturers and when do the fashion mavens wholly dictate product design? Mostly I suspect it is the latter.

The fashion bonzos are not asking questions like: “What percentage of cage drivers who strike motorcyclists say to investigators “Golly, I just didn’t see him.”  Instead I am convinced they are saying stuff like “if we add the farkle X graphic scheme to this helmet how much can we expect it to bump up our sales in the 18-24 demographic or ”Sure we have to put some reflective stuff on jacket Y but “If we only put a little bit of reflective tape on this jacket we can save an extra .02 cents per unit.”

Another way that might work in the effort to coax manufacturers toward the bright would be to have insurance companies offer riders a discount for wearing hi-viz clothing and helmets. It would certainly be to their advantage but I don’t know how you would enforce it.

I am convinced that unless the push comes from the consumer side my vision of a hi-viz option in every part of a manufacturer’s line is a very long way off. The next time you go shopping for riding gear think for a moment about that half-wit in a cage texting his way down the road – right toward you.

Gerde Applethwaite

Scorpion Passport Suit

 Scorpion Passport Suit

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: Scorpion comes out with it’s Passport Suit for 2014 and it has Sas-Tec armor and a hi-viz version.

In general Europeans like touring riders on their turf. There is something about the whole wanderlust thing that reaches deep into the Euro-soul. This means, generally, that you get treated reasonably well when you go to a hotel or a gasthuis. When you tour on a bike in Europe you see all manner of nicely set up riding gear being sported by your fellow riders. Scorpion is a German company and they have come up with their first offering of a touring/commute oversuit for the 2014 season. I have some quibbles with this suit but I think for its price point you get a lot. I ordered one up so that I could give it the closeup once over.

The Scorpion Passport Suit is a part of their XDR line (Extreme Distance Riding.) It comes in 2 flavors; you have your standard grey with black on grey and a semi hi-viz. I am only interested in the hi-viz. The hi-viz is really well thought out and it passes my hi-viz standard in spite of the fact that it has a section of black running down the middle of the suit. The non hi-viz panels are also where you would want them to be. You will find the butt area and the inner leg area where it might contact the bike to be made of black material and this will help keep the suit from looking dirty as time goes on.

The suit comes with reflective patches but they are sparse and they are of the sprayed on persuasion. The outer body of the Passport is a 600 denier nylon material that is standard in the business.  There is a mesh inner liner for airflow when you open the vents and the suit is billed as waterproof. It may well indeed be waterproof. They have installed a gator around and down the waist which is designed to eliminate the problem of water pooling up in the crotch area of the suit when you are riding in the rain (this is a persistent problem with riding suits and pants alike.) Scorpion also touts its “H2O Blok” engineering which is a series of layers designed to keep you separated from the storm outside. There are stretch accordion panels in the lower back and in the knee adjacent real estate.

In hot weather you are going to be a little too toasty in this suit but it should be a 3 season riding suit if you bulk up the layers in the really cold weather.

The main zipper on the suit runs from the neck down the body and across to mid-thigh. This is plenty deep enough to allow for booted entry and exit (although unbooted ingress and egress is the only thing that makes sense and helps calm fears of tearing anything up inside a suit and its so much easier.) Its always a bit of dance getting in and out of riding suits but Scorpion has placed zippers on the inner side of the legs as well so once you get the thing zipped open its merely a matter of artfully dumping yourself into the flexible origami you hold before you in your hands (pro-tip: once you have arrived at your destination for the evening I recommend taking the suit off before you start with the quaffing of the beers.) Where are my pink bunny slippers?

The main gator closure on the front comes with Scorpion’s signature neodymium magnet flap seal.  Obvious cautions apply for folks with pacemakers. The vents come in pairs: there are 2 chest vents, 2 back vents and 2 sleeve vents. These zippered vents are sufficient to flow air through the upper body and cool you down in all but the warmest weather but it seems odd to me that they placed the rear vents directly behind the back armor. Doh.  The suit also comes with adjustable sizing straps in the waist and the arms.

Sizing? I am 5’10” tall and weigh in at 150 pounds. My review suit was a medium and the fit without the liner in and while wearing a t-shirt, Duluth work pants and Sidi On-Road Goretex Boots was tight from crotch to the back of the shoulder when on the bike. It looks like I am a large. Bear this in mind when you try to figure out what suit will work for you. These suits come in bulk sizes (S,M,L,XL) and not in graded sizes. Scorpion has a sizing chart for this suit so look it up and make your best guess as to your size and of course call us at *888-343-5638* with any fitting questions.

One of the great advantages of this suit, at this price ($430-$445), is that it comes bolt stock out the door with level one Sas-Tec molecular armor. I am quite fond of Sas-Tec kit and to have it come stock in a suit was a smart move. I think we will find more and more manufacturers going with molecular armor in the future and the moves by Scorpion and Firstgear (D3O) really help this along. If I bought this suit I swap out all of the level 1 Sas-Tec with a Level 2 upgrade. That’s just me. The back protector is your standard place-holder perforated flat foam that cries out for replacement with something… like Sas-Tec’s new SCL line (the yellow colored stuff) that is rated at level 2. I am not sure whether or not it is a straight swap fit as I do not have any of the SCL to hand. Note: If you swap in armor that has no venting holes then it will only make the already poorly located rear vent strips even less viable.

What’s left? There is a boot gator to keep the water from creeping up your boot and into the suit in the rain. The bottom of the gator has a silicon band that really cinches the seal – nice touch. There are some wear/anti-slide patches where your butt bones (‘Ischial Tuberosities’ – for those in the house who ride bicycles with any regularity or those who are pre-med, or both) hit the seat. The zippers are YKK and none of them are rubberized except the zips on the inner leg..  The thermal liner is quilted and zips out. The suit has a mesh liner inside to keep you away from the walls of the suit itself and to help wick away internal moisture. I’m not sure how you plan to keep your suit protected from the hot bits on your bike as they do not appear to have installed any sort of canvas buffer material, or the like, on the inner leg. Is that possible? There are a few large Captain Kangaroo pockets for your cell phone and your trail mix and your eye drops. Atop the left thigh pocket is piggybacked a clear plastic outer pocket that is a befuddlement to me. It is designed to accept a Butler Map (you get the option for a free one when you buy the suit.) I like the Butler maps and we are seeing more and more of them these days but I really think this pocket is a mistake. When are you supposed to look at it? When you are riding? Heck, no! You have to take you eyes off the road and look too far down to get a bead on the map while you are riding. That just doesn’t seem like a savvy move to me. I’d rather have the map right up there on the tank bag. Also, this clear plastic outer cover is bound to dull out and go opaque in time with the unrelenting beating of the ultraviolet sunlight — in the manner that all of my old tank bag map holders have. Then what do you do?

If you are in the market for a moderately priced touring suit give this first time entry from Scorpion a look.

Gerde Applethwaite.

Firstgear Mil. Spec. Hi-Viz Vest On The Road

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: I bought the Firstgear Mil. Spec. Vest and took it out on the road to see and be seen.

I wrote recently about the wisdom of buying a hi-viz vest and just popped for the Firstgear version. Wait? What! More hi-viz chatter from Gerde? Yup. Hold on – this is a nifty sixty-some-odd dollar solution to your hi-viz needs. This time I flipped my hi-viz ride test scenario. Instead of riding around with it myself and asking folks how well they could see me on the road I reversed it. I loaned the vest to various riders on a few rides so that I could judge its visibility over that of conventional jackets. As predicted it makes a huge difference. I am now a big fan of the hi-viz vest for substantially increasing your visibility while wearing one of your no-viz jackets. Firstgear says that it provides you with visibility at a thousand yards away. This is not hyperbole, I tested it out and yup it’s true.

The design of this vest is the best I have seen to date as regards the placement of both the hi-viz fabric and the reflective material. The design is savvy all the way around – including the side area below the arm pit which is hi-viz, black and reflective. It is your standard CE EN-471 hi-viz color.

First gear makes this in three doubled sizes, I mean; extra small/ small, medium/large and large/2XL. I bought the medium/large and its a snug fit on my old medium Tourmaster jacket. They have sets of adjustment straps on the sides so you can easily snug it up to fit your jacket.

The vest is constructed mostly of a double layered mesh material so it will breathe air right through to the vents in your jacket. The mesh also gives it low wind resistance and I don’t get any annoying flapping at all – the vest zippers closed. They have placed an ID wallet on the chest (that’s required for the Mil.Spec. Part.) It is Velcro’d on and you can just pull it off if you do not need to have your id immediately available. If you have any particular medical needs in case of an accident I think its a good idea to leave the wallet in place and put that info in this chest wallet thing on a laminated card. I ironed a Flying Spaghetti Monster patch over the front of mine. Voila.

There is a long narrow pocket on the back and it just fits my empty helmet bag. It will instead fit a pair of gloves

Ask yourself this: how many times have you idled past drivers on a clotted freeway or at a stop light and looked over to see folks banging away on their cell phones? I see it every damned day! For something a bit over sixty dollars why wouldn’t you want to enhance your visibility in the face of the half-wits on phones in car cages across the land.

Gerde Applethwaite