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.