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

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.

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

Dad’s Day Options

My friend Marianne has a dad who rides. He has been riding motorcycles for a long time and he has all of the gear he needs. He doesn’t want a new helmet. He likes his jacket. His boots fit just fine thank you. We gave it some thought and she decided to go for a Bluetooth set. The idea was that when she occasionally rides with him they can talk about where to pull over for coffee and wot not or how beautiful the trees are  or…that her feet itch. When he rides with their mom he can talk about his itchy feet. Hmmm, I somehow just managed to make this sound a little less appealing, didn’t I? Thing is – she’s not sure he’ll like it. His hands signals are fairly well evolved and he always leads so it isn’t hard to figure out what he wants. He will smile politely and it will stay in its box. Then we realized that this thing will give her a chance to say to him stuff like “did you see those cops over by the overpass?” Or maybe she could even say “we’re pulling off at this offramp cuz I have to pee.”  For that and that alone its worth getting him the Bluetooth gear.

Dads who ride invariably need stuff for to make their ride just a little sweeter. It may not be a big ticket item like a new helmet (although if his helmet is more than 5 years old it should be replaced.) How are his face shields? Scratched? Get him a new one. Even better, if his helmet manufacturer makes them try stepping him up to a fog-free pinlock shield and a couple of differently tinted lenses. No fog, sun shade – sweet.

This isn’t really the season for heated gear but a pair of heated gloves is most welcome on a cold morning start or at the end of a long day when the sun has gone down. Keeping your hands warm on a ride can make all the difference between the miles tripping pleasurably by and hand cramps that harsh dad’s buzz completely.

Take a stroll through the accessories pages. You’ll find something there for even the most seasoned dad.

To Pink or Not to Pink: An Unmanifesto

When I lived in So. California I would, upon a warm Sunday morning, see a bunch of folks gathered in the parking lot of a large local motorcycle dealership queuing to go off on a ride together. I think community is a grand idea. More community – less strife. I sadly have, somewhere deep inside my rusting lizard brain, a sort of judgmental anti-fashion fashion mechanism. I am learning to overcome it — really I am. Many of my favorite quotes in life come from either Yogi Berra, Dororthy Parker or Fran Lebowitz. One Lebowitz quote is especially trenchant for this post. She said: “Your right to wear a powder blue polyester leisure suit ends where it meets my eyes.” [Maybe she said mint green – I can't recall.]

At this dealership there were a couple of couples in matching fringed leather jackets. Oh, I have no problem with that — really. I am generally not too enamored of the idea of couples dressing alike but I certainly have more valuable things upon which to focus my attention – do I not? Oh please, do I not? I couldn’t help but notice that my stomach was acting up when I saw not one but two women who were wearing fringed leather jackets only differentiated by the intensity of their pastel color schemes — one in pink and the other in a disturbingly intriguing robin’s egg blue.  Thankfully they were not together like some mannered Rock Store Hummel figurine bookends from out of the mind of a Jeff Koons. I digress.

Beige is the hardest working color in the universe. Beige not black, it was discovered a few years ago, is the predominant color of the universe. Orange/yellow is the color of our solar system as El Sol works tirelessly to illuminate and warm us. On our little orb and amongst human kind it is pink that never sleeps. Yup, pink. Pink is singularly declarative. Pink stands resolutely at the bar, eyes darting back and forth across the crowd to see who’s watching. Pink is endlessly judgmental in its need to control the impression. Pink works across class and income to monitor and maintain the borderland of gender. Pink.

The reason for this post is to expiate my soul on the one hand and on the other to reinforce the notion that women have the right to wear whatever they danged-heck-want-to when they ride. As long as that gear is designed with some sort of rated armor and out of a material that will not shred in the off chance that you do an aerial pas de deux with your fringed partner then I don’t really care.

Here’s the thing though: women will, many women will…some women will… sacrifice any modicum of common sense for the sake of annunciating and articulating their femininity. Don’t get me started about shoes and the cult of the shoe — that phenomenon goes well beyond your garden variety commodity fetishism. The need to assert one’s womanliness by compulsively wearing pink is a syndrome of a larger social malady and while I would like to lean forward into rant mode over my keyboard I will not or at least not too much. Should you have the time and the interest though I highly recommend a book by Barbara Ehrenreich called “Bright-sided” for among other things its insight into the way pink is used as a marketing tool in women’s health care.

Motorcycle riding has largely been a testosterone basted male bastion and there are too many women who feel the compulsive to need to state “Sure, I ride but I’m really a girl.” Motorcycle gear designers have come up with satchels full of pretty gear designed to calm that neuroses. Again, I say, if you like the pink then go ahead and wear it – do not let my personal aversion to the color and its implied cuteness dissuade you, you’re stronger than that. Go for the pink, you’re worth it. The point I want to make is that your gear should fit you properly and be designed for riding no matter what side of the gender corral from whence you have roped it in.

A friend of mine doesn’t like women’s riding jackets because the cut of the jacket gives her what she so eloquently describes as the uni-boob. I am not as well endowed as she but I am not too fond of the uni-boob look myself. I have preternaturally long arms and women’s riding gear never fits me right. I buy the men’s version of the jacket in a size smaller and I invariably have a better fit. There is also a wider selection in the men’s gear line. If you are riding up the PCH with a group at 60 miles an hour how important is it really that you show off your svelte hour glass figure? Maybe it is and in such case I want to make it absolutely clear that we are chockablock with jackets and pants and helmets that will fulfill your desires.  Please just make sure that no matter what you choose to cover your body when you ride that you opt for gear that is designed for use as motorcycle kit and that it has the proper safety armor.

This goes for you under clad scooter vixens too. You know who you are. Just because your wheels are smaller and you are closer to the ground doesn’t mean you do not need the protection from a get-off. I don’t care if your scooter is pink too. Please gear up.

Coming up in the very near future I will doing a shootout post between the hi-viz Firstgear  (men’s) Kilimanjaro jacket and the  hi-viz Scorpion (men’s) Commander 2 jacket. I have no idea which one will win but I like them both: they will both be subjected to the tyrannically rigorous dictates that are the hallmark of the Applethwaite family way but I have to say right off the top that, without laying my hands on them, the Scorpion jacket has the fashion points all over the Firstgear. Does that matter to me? Tune in.

A final Fran Lebowitz quote before I go.

“The conversational overachiever is someone whose grasp exceeds his reach. This is possible but not attractive.” On that note I think it best that I take my leave now.

Gerde Applethwaite

Ride in Safety and Style

With all the dangers out there on the road today, it is becoming increasingly important to protect yourself when riding your motorcycle. You may be a safe rider, but the cars and debris around you can potentially harm you.

Some of the motorcycle gear that you want to make sure to wear when riding are a helmet, faceshield, gloves, jacket, pants, and boots. Helmet City has a variety of different selection to assure that your personality and style shine through. All of this gear will add a layer of protection as well as make you the most stylish biker on the road!

Take a look at the infographic below, provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, to see the difference between cool gear and a fool’s gear.

Introducing Helmet City’s Blog

Helmet City is “the world capital of helmets.” Helmet City offers over 700 different types of motorcycle helmets, 12 different brands and seven different styles, with inventory that is constantly being updated! Helmet City doesn’t just provide motorcycle helmets to the public; they provide gear and accessories to go along with every helmet.

Not so long ago Helmet City was only offering Simpson Automotive Helmets to the online world. With the help of our dedicated customers and motorcyclists, Helmet City has been able to provide 12 great years of service. Helmet City is constantly striving to offer the lowest prices and the best customer service around. If you’re looking for a helmet, a jacket, a pair of gloves, or even some luggage — Helmet City is your ideal destination.