Firstgear TPG Expedition Suit – Up Close

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: NFL games in the snow and freezing rain – yup, its time for another riding suit review. In my ongoing quest for the best touring/commute suit I got my hands on the 2014 version of Firstgear’s Expedition Suit. Here is what I found.

This iteration of the Firstgear TPG Expedition Riding Suit is not perfect but it certainly is one of the better choices out there. My notion of the right suit is a hybrid combination of the various suits we offer. If one of the manufacturers came to me (hah) and said “Gerde, please tell us what we should include in our suit for this season and what we should leave out” I would be tickled sideways. As it turns out no suit that I have run across so far is quite right – some more so than others.

I want a suit that is; hi-viz, is made of a quality textile cloth, has inner leg protection material against hot exhaust pipes and hot bike parts, has large (2” wide or more) patches of quality sewn-in reflective material across the back, sides and front, has rubberized YKK zippers in all areas where rain might infiltrate, a thermal inner suit that zips out, a fold-up rain hood under the collar, enough zippered venting that the suit can truly be used as a 4 season riding coverall, a gator section at the gut/crotch level that will really keep rainwater infiltration out, an interior gator at the cuff that cinches up against your boot to keep out the wind and water, a pullback loop at the top of the front zipper to keep the suit from flapping against your neck when you ride on warm days with the zip partially opened, Level 2 CE armor in ALL of the armor pockets (including the back), doubled material in the likely impact areas, full main zipper that extends from neck to knee, an accordion pleated stretch panel in the lower back, and more. These are the basics and comprise the bulk of my checklist when I get a suit for review. Its pretty simple, I look at the suit for fit and feel and I go through the checklist: some suits do much better than others. Another consideration for me is price. My budget isn’t very high but I still want a respectable suit.  As a suit approaches ‘stich prices it better have ‘stich-like features – otherwise what’s the point?

The Firstgear TPG Expedition Suit was initially and recently re-introduced into the market place at a price point that brought it entirely too close to a ‘stich offering. They have since whittled a chunk off of the price as I suspect they came to a better understanding of the market place and their place in the market. This now makes the suit worth a genuine look-see.

Let’s get out of the way the 4 things that I dislike the most about this suit and then I can stretch out and spend the rest of the time talking about what I like. Firstly, (and this is the most egregious thing by my way of thinking) there is no hi-viz offering. The only color available is your typical no-viz grey with grey on grey. I really don’t want any riding gear that is not hi-viz. My days of riding with no-viz or lo-viz gear are done. Many of you may not care about this and if that is the case then this suit is a candidate for you. Second, Firstgear has once again designed some riding clothing that skimps on the reflective materials. There are tiny, thin patches on this suit but they are absurdly small and they really seem like an afterthought. I don’t know why Firstgear continually has such a hard time with this – for the money you are paying on this suit you should expect wide reflective panels in the appropriate areas. Third, I will sing Firstgear’s praises down a couple of paragraphs or so when I talk about the armor in this suit because it comes stock out of the box with Level 2 CE D30 armor except in the back where it is only level 1. Again, for this money I would expect them to upgrade the back to level 2 as well. [For more about molecular armor see Gerde’s earlier post entitled “Traversing the Molecular Armor Maze.”] Finally, I think a four season riding suit on the moderately pricey end of the spectrum should come stock with a zip-out thermal liner (My $360.00 Joe Rocket Survivor Suit has one and its also has hi-viz panels.)

Having said all this let’s move on to the stuff that makes this suit a reasonably good buy. I have a bunch of Firstgear gear and I respect their attention to detail for the most part. Firstgear has also always been in that middle ground when it comes to price. This suit is now priced out at $552.xx.

The main zipper runs on a slant from neck to the top of the right thigh. Ingress is not too difficult when you unzip the main and leg zippers and dance your way in. The normal cautions apply about wearing your boots when you try to get in – don’t do it. You really need to get into any suit wearing your socks and not your boots. This just keeps you from snagging stuff inside the suit. I tuck my pant’s cuffs into my socks first and then its easy going sliding into a suit. The zippers are your traditional, durable YKK type and are rubber coated where it counts. The leg zippers are really nice because they run the full length of the leg. The leg zippers also have an internal panel that runs the length: it is designed as yet another barrier to the wind and rain. The panel closes up with intermittent Velcro. The waist cinches to adjustment with the standard Velcro’d belt on each hip. Firstgear has not included an accordion stretch panel at the lower back.

There is plenty of venting on this suit. Its pretty clear that you can wear this suit in the warm summer weather too. If you are touring in a climate where there are big changes between daytime and evening temps this suit will not disappoint.  As mentioned above the suit does not come with a thermal liner, alas. So layer up.

Oddly, at the time of this post, there is no suit box in the sizing chart from Firstgear. Wha? I am 5’10” and 150 pounds (more since thanksgiving, thank you) and I threw myself upon the wisdom of the distributor to send me the right sized review suit. They sent me a large. My standard riding toggery is usually a t-shirt (or more depending upon weather), a pair of Duluth work pants and my Sidi On-Road Goretex boots. The large Expedition suit seems a little swimmy for me but when, for cold weather, I add: a sweat shirt, a vest and sweat pants I start to fill up the room inside the suit. I wish Firstgear would make our jobs over here a little easier by supplying a sizing chart for their suit – come on guys.

The suit is made of “Hypertex” (a proprietary name) nylon 420 denier material which is touted as waterproof and breathable. It is down from 600 denier in the previous model. I have to do some research on this because I would like to resist the simple-minded temptation to make this a numbers game: 600 is better than 420 denier because it is more. This topic is worthy of a separate post and I am surprised that I haven’t done one yet. The suit also has material on the sides of the legs just below the knee that resists heat burn and melting from hot bike parts. This is good and cannot be taken for granted anymore because some suit makers have foolishly left it out. I wish Firstgear had actually made it larger than they had but at least they have it.  Firstgear has included a very small note on the tags that warns you if you burn the suit its on you. Obviously they are thinking about it and covering their liability here but if so you’d think they would make the safety/heat panel longer. The suit material is not doubled in impact areas like the shoulders, elbows and knees – too bad. The suit fabric is bonded to a waterproof internal layer and this seems to be the way that everyone is going these day. The age of a separate waterproofing layer are being cut out as the industry figures that a single layer makes the suit more waterproof while simultaneously reducing bulk and weight. Of course there is an internal mesh layer to keep the bugs out when you are riding with the vents open.

The cuff end of the legs have an internal rain skirt that is cinched up with a snap and Velcro to give you a good seal against your boot. In addition the gator has an elasticized bottom that is coated on the inside with a few, thin, running beads of silicone. The exterior cuffs of the Expedition suit have a Velcro cinch to further help in snugging the pants leg up against your boot. You don’t ride with boots? Don’t be ridiculous – of course you do.

One of the things that I really like about this suit is that they do not go nuts with the Captain Kangaroo pockets. I don’t want to land on the stuff in my pockets if I have a get-off. I really just need room for some keys, some cash, a thin wallet (and/or passport), and my eye drops. There are, thankfully, no pockets on the legs and just 2 pockets on the chest. These pockets are closed with a velcro’d overflap and a waterproof zipper – they are plenty roomy enough. There is a safe pocket inside the main zipper on the left chest. This is generally where I keep stuff like ID, credit cards and emergency contact info. There is also a cell phone sized flap pocket on the deep inside of the suit on the right chest. I never use those.

The neck has a great rain hood that rolls up under the collar.  I really like those things – you can find one on the Tourmaster Centurion suit but not much elsewhere. It is superb at keeping the rain from crawling down the back of your neck in a downpour and its out of the way when you don’t need it. The centurion suit also has a nice addition that you don’t see elsewhere – a removable neck gator that bridges across the top of the neck line and acts as a wind/weather break. I wish more suits had them but I seem to be doing ok with my necklacava. The collar also has an elasticized loop that hooks onto a catch further back to open up the neck when you are riding in warm weather and to keep the collar from flapping. The interior neck line is the standard soft flannel-like material that your skin will really appreciate after four hours of riding.

Finally, the armor. Firstgear was an earl adopter of the molecular armor tech. They have jumped the game with this suit because ALL of the armor (except, sadly, the back armor) is CE-LEVEL 2 D30. This is great! Gear manufacturers are slowly heading in the right direction and at some point I speculate that all armor will be be CE-Level 2 as standard. It is a combination of consumer awareness and demand in tandem with economies of scale that will lower the wholesale prices of molecular armor. This in turn will insure the ready availability of decent armor in the gear made by reputable manufacturers. Firstgear is leading the way.  Having said this I would not hesitate to ditch the D30 level 1 armor in the back and replace it with a D30 level 2 slab.  The armor adjustment in riding gear can be a nuisance. If you do not get your armor lined up properly it does you little good when you find yourself on the descent side of your involuntary air borne launch. The Expedition suit has the armor in pouches with Velcro on the front side. They have slathered the inside of the suit with enough mating Velcro that you can really align the armor precisely where you need it. Another suit that I recently reviewed was pretty lazy about this and it was nigh on impossible to get the armor lined up on my knees. Kudos to Firstgear.

This a well made suit. It is not by any means my ideal suit but I live in hope. The price adjustments have made this a good buy and as I edit this on a Sunday morning I have the NFL games on in the background. Snow is coming down in a serious way on the field and there is no better time to write about a good riding suit.

If you have questions about the fit of this suit just call us up and we will get you into the right size.

Gerde Applethwaite

Nelson-Rigg Tank Bag Review

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter:  I bought a tank bag to replace my tired old unit.

I thought I could get through one more season with my aged tank bag but It was to not to be. I have had the old one for many years and the plastic see-through map cover turned a nice opaque mustard color somewhere circa pre I-phone (I know! was there a pre I-phone?) The zipper did not zip so much as it rammed to a halt mid-way one day and decided to stay there.

Shopping for a replacement bag was sorta fun. I only really look at tank bags out in the wild when we go on a ride and find ourselves up at Alice’s Restaurant or at a campground somewhere with other riders. Then I take some notice of what folks are using. My old bag is not very large and it does not have the potential to accordion out to make itself bigger. My personal preference is not to carry a lot of stuff up front on the tank and although folks with a more forward riding position will rest on their tank bags when they ride that just doesn’t work for me: my riding position is more upright.  So, a smaller non-accordion bag was in order.

My 3 mandates were: 1) I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a tank bag, 2) I wanted something compact and 3) I wanted to be able to unsnap the bag from the tank and sling it over my shoulder with a carry strap when I walked away from my unattended bike. I’m really sold on the notion of hands-free gear and if the option exists I weight that heavily. My experience as a beast of burden has taught me to put it on my shoulders whenever possible.

The Nelson-Rigg Mini Tank Bag (CL-1010) was tempting but too small for me and I didn’t need the Expandable Tank/Tail Bag  (CL-903) so the porridge I chose was the Nelson-Rigg (CL-904) Standard Tank/Tail Bag. It’s just right at 12”x 8.5” x 4.5” and is advertized as capable of squirreling away 7.52 liters of maps, trail mix, zombie DVD’s and sunscreen.  One of the little blurb cards that comes with the bag mentions that it is capable of holding up to 10 pounds.

The bag itself is only $50.00 (well within my range) but the mounting kits are extra. When you buy the bag you have to specify which mounting system you want: magnetic, strap or suction cup (oh, and they even have a tail bag strap option – nice.)  One of my bikes has a steel tank and the other is aluminum. I didn’t want the bag to be a dedicated unit for the steel tanked bike so the magnetic option was out. My old tank bag was a standard strap mount type and I do not mind having the small straps and connectors hanging out a bit when the bag is not hooked up so I went with the strap mount kit.  Nelson-Rigg was smart to set it up this way. Why spend extra money getting a bag that has all of the mounting options included as standard when you know you will only be using one style of mount? I ordered up the bag with strap kits (it is a pull-down option window on our website) but when the bag came there were no mounting kits. Wha? I didn’t think that was possible. So, we had to go in and adjust the order and order up the strap kits separately. The prices all worked out the same but the time delay was a nuisance. Make sure when you place your order that you confirm your mounting kits.

The exterior is made of something Nelson-Rigg calls “UV-treated Tri-Max® ballistic polyester with reflective piping” and it seems like your standard durable, black, woven poly material that has been designed to help resist the ravages of UV sunlight. The zipper seems sound as well but it is not rubberized and there is no flap that covers it over to help shed water. The assumption is that you will use the supplied rain cover (comes with drawstring) when things get sloshy.  On the two long side walls of the bag there are 2 lines each of a reflective piping. That piping, along with the circumferential black piping on the bottom of the bag, serve to give the bag some rigidity as the walls are soft. The top of the bag is the traditional clear plastic map cover. The map cover measures 7-1/4” x 10-1/2” and can fit one folded standard road map easily and about 1/3 of another one. The map pocket has a Velcro(-like) closure.

The interior of the CL-904 is lined with a thin tight weave polyester material and it looks like it will take well to a cleaning with soap and water and a garden hose.

The bag has an anti-scratch base to help protect your gas tank and it appears to be a rubberized version of the inner bag material  but I bought a sheet of Snider’s Paintguard to protect the tank on one of the bikes. I put a lot of pazzoozas into the paint work on that bike and the Paintguard sheet will let me worry less.  Paintguard is just a plastic sheet that is held down by static electricity and it is designed to eliminate the possibility of those rubbing scratches.

At the front of the bag (toward the headlight) is a pouch that looks big enough for a cell phone  but more likely is an ideal place for any of those stray wires from your GPS, bar mounted phone or camera setup. It is also the ideal location for a supplemental Li-on battery and most of its feed wires. The opposite side of the bag has a carry handle so if you really want to lug it around by hand you can. More importantly the bag has a shoulder strap that snaps on and that makes so much sense to me. Finally, Nelson-Rigg offers a “lifetime no-hassle warranty.” Can’t beat that.

Gerde Applethwaite

Gerde’s To-Do List

By Gerde Applethwaite

When I am the only the one who finds it necessary in my cohort to get there on time I am referred to as “kkkkair-duh.” The key is to get a really good rolling ‘chuh’ sound from the back of the throat at the beginning. When I am the one who really would rather wear sweats and stay home watching Game of Thrones repeats I am called “Gertie.” Gertie needs a good to-do list. Here is part of it.

1.) I have to get the scratch out of my old Arai Corsair face shield because it is in my field of vision and it bugs me. TAP plastics has a scratch remover kit. I really have to get over there and pick one up. If that doesn’t do the trick I just need to replace the shield with a new one.

2.) My Sidi boots are due for some treatment. They have held me in good stead and I need to care for them soon. If you go to one of the touring blogs and search out the posts for boot care you will get chit-chat that hottens up nearly as much as an oil thread. I am not sure what to use. If anyone has the true ticket please drop a note here.

3.) Some of the stitches are coming undone on the side of the right knee of my main riding pants (textile.) I need to get in there and do a little sewing. then I need to test them to see if their water resisting capability is still there. There is a way to treat the threads with some goop to water proof the area. I may need to get some of that.

4.) I also want to try out a pair of suspenders on another pair of pants because i think they will stay up better that way – especially when they get wet. If I recall Duluth Trading has some good old red suspenders. Gotta go look that up. I will then be an honorary member of the red suspender crowd. All I will need then will be the traditional corn cob pipe.

5.) The taillight lens is getting dull on one of my bikes. I need to use some of that TAP plastic stuff on it. Someone told me to use toothpaste on the lens. I guess I’ll try that first because at least I have the toothpaste.

6.) I need a new bicycle helmet because mine now has a crack in the plastic. I want a helmet with a bill on the front like a baseball cap. I like that because it really helps to keep the sun out of your eyes when you are riding right into the light. I always have trouble finding a bike helmet I like. Some of the helmets that have a lot of holes in them also have a sort of forward projection that works like a ball cap bill. I just don’t like the helmets with all of the holes in them. I have to find a new helmet.

7.) My small portable air compressor, the one that fits under the bike’s seat, has crapped out. I need to find another one, a better one.

8.) I’m thinking about getting a small winch to fit into the head of the bed of the pickup truck to make it easier to get a bike into the truck. I need to design a sturdy mount for the winch out of angle iron.

9.) It would be good to have more visibility at the back of the bike at night. Texting clown car drivers have almost driven into me a couple of times while I’m sitting at a light waiting for it to change. Those license plate light setups seem to be a popular idea. I need to look into that and find one I like.

The New Year is around the corner. For many it is time to put the bike up for the winter and there are a series of tasks related to that; gasoline additives, bike stands, bike covers, etc. I am fortunate enough to live in California and we have a 12 month riding season so I can forgo those chores.

Another year nearly done – where does it go?

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

This I’d Like to See: Thoughts on Motorcycle Gear

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: A random collection of things I’d like to see in the world of motorcycle gear.

1) I’d like to see all manufacturers offer a full (solid) hi-viz version of each of the helmets in their line.

2) Isn’t it about time that helmet design technology advanced beyond the simple EPS liner?

I’d like to see manufacturers come up with a helmet that replaces the conventional EPS liner with Sas-Tec or D3O viscoelastic material. I know D30 makes a helmet liner – let’s see it in some motorcycle helmets. Also, there must be new energy absorption technologies on the horizon that can be mass produced. Let’s have them.

3) I’d like to see the manufacturers of cameras that are designed to be used on helmets come up with standardized universal mount that helmet manufacturers can then universally embrace and make a space for on their helmets.

4) I’d like to see a federal standard and standardized testing for helmet wind noise so that we can evaluate a motorcycle helmet more objectively.

5) I’d like to see replaceable, drop-down helmet sun shields that come with swappable dark and light brown polarized lenses.

6) I’d like to see more Scotchlite type reflective material on the back and sides of most jackets.

7) I’d like to see an inexpensive but durable solar charger panel (about the size of an ipad) that I can mount onto the tail of the bike that will allow me to charge my phone and/or GPS while I ride or while I am parked at the camp site.

8)  I’d like to see a major manufacturer of motorcycle gear come out with an LED hi-viz vest with wireless brake light and turn signal capabilities. Do they have those already?

Aye, now that we have that all sorted next up will be my list on motorcycles and then pastry. Mmmmm, pastry.

Gerde Applethwaite

Answers and Updates

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: A collection of updated information to recent posts and answers to questions from readers.

1) Joe Rocket Survivor Suit

I am surprised by the number of questions about the Joe Rocket Survivor Suit. They seem to be coming from both touring riders and commuters alike. No, I haven’t really done a water/leak test as yet. Summer will be over all too soon and I will get that drenching test done then. I like this suit more than I thought I would. Its actually really easy to get in an out of once you get the routine down. I had thought that because its a suit I would wear it less often than my jacket and overpants combo, but no. The Survivor suit has been subjected to temps in the mid-eighties and even though it is black for the most part I am well ventilated with all of the flaps and the “Big Air Vent.” I have been wearing it much of the time with the thermal liner out but have on a few occasions worn it in the evening with the liner in. Its plenty warm.

The reflective panels seem adequate to give you decent visibility in traffic although I haven’t changed my mind about wanting more. I am just a big hi-viz freak.

2) Firstgear Kilimanjaro Jacket

I have done some rudimentary field tests on the visibility of this jacket in traffic. It involves friends loitering on a corner in a busy part of town and then waiting to see how long it takes to catch sight of the jacket as I come toward them on the busy road in both day and night tests. It is as you suspect. The jacket is a real winner in the vision tests. The only downside is that the black reflective tape is nowhere near as bright as the silver tape you see on so many other jackets. I would like to see Firstgear move to a higher visibility reflective tape in the future.

Ventilation is good and I haven’t had any trouble on warm days with the vent zippers open. On warm days, of course,  I just zip out the thermal liner. The jacket seems a bit bulky (its a full ¾ length touring jacket) until you are up and riding and then you really don’t notice it.

3) Pinlock Shield setup for my Arai RX-Q helmet

Yup, I still like my Pinlock setup and I do wind up changing them out on long day rides. Recently, I have done a few rides up and over Mt. Tamalpais of late and I started out with the light grey replacement visor on but when I got to Marin the weather was foggy. I stopped and swapped in the yellow visor and it changed the whole ride. Online you will find folks who pop Arai SAI shields in and out like buttah but it is still a bit of a cumbersome project for me. I am getting better at it though – practice.

Now that I have the Tourmaster Select Lid Pack helmet bag I just leave my two most used shields in the bag – being careful how I fold and store the bag.

4) Sas-Tec VS. D3O

This is another one where people have written in quite a bit for further clarification. I suspect this is an indication of the level of confusing info out on the interwebz regarding the stat’s for both Sas-Tec and D3O. Here is the bottom line:

Some of the high end Sas-Tec armor (according to their own ratings) affords more protection than does the high end D3O armor (according to their own ratings.) The Sas-Tec Prestige SC-1/42 joint armor gear comes in at an impressive 6KN (the lower the number here the better.) It has a universal-fit design and it can be used for shoulder, knee and elbow. That’s nifty.  Their SC 2/07 hip protector is 9KN. The SC-1/06 knee is 11KN. The Back armor comes in 5 sizes and has prefixes that are either SC or SK (SK-1/55, SC-1/11, SC-1/12, SC-1/16, SC-1/13.) It bells in at 6 KiloNewtons of transmitted impact to the anvil. So, by my way of thinking I can get pretty good coverage with 3 sets of the Prestige SC-1/42 and one SC-1/16 back pad. Throw in the hip protector and I am done. The newest Scorpion textile gear comes from the factory with Sas-Tec Level one armor.

D3O’s Highest end gear is their Xergo (joint armor) and Viper Stealth Pro (back armor.) They ring in at 11-12 KiloNewtons (the lower the number the better.) I have to believe these numbers because they are done by independent labs contracted by the European Union and not done by the manufacturers of the gear themselves.  This is still within the range of the CE Level 2 cert’s. The newest Firstgear TPG line has their T5 EVO- Pro molecular armor installed from the factory – this is level two armor in all but hot weather where it just drops into the level one category..

I am ordering up some Sas-Tec armor to swap into the Joe Rocket suit (crossing my fingers that it will be a swap fit) as I seem to be riding a great deal with the Survivor these days. More on the fit and feel of that trade out when the armor comes in. I hope this finally makes sense of the numbers game with the molecular armor for those seeking the most highly rated gear.

5) A while back there were questions about heated gear. I will research this and order some up before the fall chill hits. Hang on for a heated gear report in a couple of months.

Please Keep the questions coming.

—–

Gerde Applethwaite

Tourmaster Select Lid Pack Helmet Bag

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: After shopping it out I bought a Tourmaster Select Lid Pack helmet bag to protect my helmet.

I recently put Pinlock shields on my Arai RX-Q (mmmm, shiny new shields) and I wanted to provide adequate protection for my helmet and face shields when off the bike. I looked around on the interwebz and found that helmet bags run from about $16 to over $125. It wasn’t my intention to spend a lot of money on this – I just wanted something in which to put my helmet.

The Tourmaster Select Lid Pack, at $31.00, became my ultimate choice. It is sort of teardrop shaped and is made of your standard woven black nylon material. The interior liner is a soft flannel-like stuff and it seems durable. The liner extends over the zippers and protects the helmet and shield from zipper scratches – amazingly some helmet bags do not have covered zippers. There is also an inner pocket of the same soft material to store an extra shield. I put two of my (sleeved) Pinlock inner visors in the pocket and now I have a protected place to store a change of visors when I am on a ride.

Tour Master made this bag with two long adjustable straps and it is more like a back pack than a suitcase. That’s what I wanted, hands-free carrying scenario. It makes sense to me to be able to sling this thing over my shoulder rather than being forced to lug it around in my hand. This backpack feature and the visor storage were the main things that sold me on this particular bag, yeah and the price.

The construction is simple and sturdy and it comes with 2 zippers. The larger zipper gives you enough room to nestle a full-face helmet into the bag while the shorter second zipper gives you access to the same compartment but on the opposite side. I use it put my gloves into the bag once the helmet is in.

If I am in an area where I trust my kit and kaboodle unlocked around my bike I simply sling the straps over the handlebar and let the bag dangle. If I am in any other environment I just take the bag with me. That’s the idea. I don’t want to leave my Arai RX-Q dangling from its d-ring on the side of the bike even if it is locked up.

The bag cost me less than a replacement shield – what’s not to like?

Gerde Applethwaite

New For Fall 2013 – Icon Jackets and Gear

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: The Moto gear manufacturers are starting to release their fall stuff and here is a look at some of the kit from Icon.

Icon Jackets:

Icon is always very good with the naming thing. It’s unrelentingly evocative of… something. They have an entire new line called “Overlord Resistance” (see what I mean.) The jacket has the look of tactical armor to reify the product name. The line runs from helmets to jackets to pants to gloves to boots. You can be Overlord resistant from head to toe.  Sometimes the creative enthusiasm of the folks in the ad department runs away with Icon but I have to giggle along with them under my breath. When you are deciding whether or not to buy this Icon gear you will have to interpret the practical meaning of terms from their marketing wizards like; “Attack Fit”, “Fighter Mesh” and “Tactical Front.” I want to work for them. I want to be a part of the team that sits around the Cheetoh-laden table and comes up with this stuff. It must be two and a half hoots. I could be “Gerde the Indomitable, Ruler of the CE-EN471 Dominion and Grand Panjandrum of the Viscoelastic Knights.” Yeah, that’s me – Indomitable wot’s it.” Where do I sign?

Once again, as I mention every 10 minutes, I am really only interested in full hi-viz gear for my personal riding kit but I am attempting to overcome my personal bias while I look toward the new offerings from the major gear makers.

Having said that let’s take a look at the Icon Overlord Resistance jacket with EN471 hi-viz accents. This jacket is complete with D3O armor all around. Yup (!) all around — the back armor too! Hallelujah. I wish they all had it. Thank you Icon! This D3O is only level 1 but the form factor should allow you to swap in the Level 2 D3O if you are interested in the high end molecular armor (for more about the differences in viscoelastic armor see my earlier post “Traversing the Molecular Maze.”)

This Overlord Resistance jacket is a sport-bike rider, waist-cut, design. The jacket has pre-curved arms so that you are not fighting with your jacket in order to get comfortable on the bike. The neck is your standard sport bike style crew neck. The hi-viz inserts are not enough for me but I am suppressing my urge to lecture about hi-viz. In this case I am just thankful they have a hi-viz offering at all. According to the Icon video for this jacket you will want to: “approach, engage and vanish” from The Overlord with this look. There are 4 other options including; a white with black accents, a solid black, a red with black accents and a wild looking thing that is blue with pink accents.  Yes, you can resist The Overlord in the pink and blue jacket. I am the Indomitable Wot’s It and I say so.  For more details about the construction and fit look to our Icon jackets pages.

Icon Citadel Mesh Jacket:  They come in; full black, black with hi-viz, black with red and grey with grey. There is, like the Overlord jacket, a removable thermal vest for those days when the weather starts to get a bit chilly. This is a mesh jacket so you get plenty of venting here – they call it “large hole Iron Weave Mesh” and the only thing that keeps me from the temptation to hyphenate every word is that the first two are not capitalized

Icon Overlord Pants: The Icon Overlord jacket zips to the Overlord Resistance pants and for some reason I am now conjuring up an image of Eddie Izzard on stage in Overlord Resistance pants. This too will pass. The pants are are equipped with D3O armor in the knees and its also level 1 D3O. Unusual for standard street fare is the inclusion of pucks in the knees. The armor is a molded puck but has something called Battlehide Leather and Fighter Mesh. Come on, tell me you don’t want to work for them too? The pants are black and have the standard back zipper to mate them with the jacket. These are not overpants.

Icon Insulated Denim Pant: Don’t want to wear leather or textile riding pants to your mother in law’s BBQ later in the month? Icon has a pair of Insulated Denim Pants that have a removable insulated liner, D30 armor and an Aramid fabric inner patch over the knee.  They look like your standard blue jeans but there is armor inside.

Icon Citadel Mesh Pant: These pants are the mate to the Citadel jacket. They hook and loop to the jacket. They are not overpants.

Icon Helmets: The helmet for the Overlord ensemble is an Icon Airframe Helmet in a matt black with a yellow visor. It is called the “Airframe Ghost Carbon.’ Yup, its a medium oval, carbon fibre version of the Airframe helmet and it weighs 1450 grams. The helmet has all of the standard cert’s. Not the least of which is the ECE 22.05.

The Icon Airmada Helmet line has not been ignored. You will find no less than 14 new graphic schemes to complicate your choice.

Icon Gloves: There are new gloves that are a part of both the Overlord Resistance and the Citadel Mesh packages. The Overlord Resistance Gloves are wrist length and the Citadel Waterproof Gloves are gauntlet style. The color schemes of the gloves are in tandem with those of the Icon jackets. I am more a fan of gauntlet gloves these days so let’s look at those.

The Icon Citadel Waterproof Glove has a Hipora liner to keep the water out. It has their Battlehide leather on the finger tips and to help prevent knuckle damage in a get off they use TPR that is bonded to the glove in this new welding process that we see on all of the fall gear. They are just under $100.00.

Icon Boots: The New boots are called “Field Armor 2 Boots.” They come in a grey and a black and are equipped with a steel shank, 2 buckle closure system and a Goodyear welt. Oh yeah, they are just above the ankle style boots.

Next up – What’s new from Alpinestars.

Gerde Applethwaite

But what about the pants?

BigGuy82

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 …