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.