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Jackets, Pants and Riding Suits

The summer of 1974 my first jacket was a Levi jean jacket. My pants were Levi 501 shrink to fit. Or if we were going out, bell bottoms. Well, it was the 70’s. That first summer I eventually bought a Brookes leather jacket. That was little more than what one might find in a fashion boutique at the mall. It did have long enough sleeves to not ride up when I stretched forward for the bars, long enough tail to not expose my lower back as well. And snap at the collar to secure the closure. Not a lot of attention to protection beyond weather with a nod to historic motorcycle fashion.

That first summer was jean jackets and jeans. Of course as the weather turned come fall, I began looking at warmer and warmer clothing. Since I was mainly commuting to work as a machinist, I wore my work clothes to ride in, but I needed warmer and warmer gear. First I borrowed a pair of Korean War era flight pants with my ski jacket on top. The jacket worked OK, but the flight pants huge brass zippers that ran up the front of either leg rendered the ample insulation useless as the zippered exposed to the wind blast of 60 mph 25 degree air was beyond painful. I had to stop every five or so miles and warm up by hugging the motorcycle. trying to get any heat that was there. My brother had bought them at the surplus store for $5 and used them a few times skiing. Cold and heavy. They went away. I found a horribly fitting snowmobile suit at J.C. Penny. The legs were short but the body was big around. The adjustable belt kept the suit from flapping too much, and some winter hiking gaiters from the climbing store took care of the short legs. The suit cost $59. That quilted nylon suit was in no way waterproof and spraying with Scotchguard was the solution. I had to wear long underwear at work anyway as the machine shop floor had a shallow basement under it that was open to the outside.

I soon bought a poorly fitted snow mobile suit. Very short legs but enough girth to allow for a heavy sweater under my leather jacket. That became my usual commuter kit. I used my ski goggles to keep my eyes protected and limit the fogging of my glasses. Ski gloves became ski mittens which became better ski gloves with rain suit pre-gortex overmitts. Boots became my usual work boots with heavy wool socks and silk liners. These boots were hiking boots that covered my ankles. They were light enough I could feel the foot controls, but heavy enough to be relatively warm for the 20 plus mile commute.

Our riding kit at this point had stabilized into Leather jackets, Bell Magnum II helmets, leather gloves, and leather boots. For foul weather we had one piece DryRider suits.

When my wife and I moved back to Denver in February of 1980, I needed winter riding gear. I was commuting sometimes on a sidecar, sometimes driving, but mostly riding in the car. At that time the current tech was the Belstaff Trailmaster suit. Aerostitch wasn’t a thing yet. There were rain suits from DryRider.
The trick was to buy a Belstaff jacket a bit larger than needed and wear an old down jacket under for warmth. That is what I did. The Belstaff pants were the same black waxed Egyptian cotton, brass buckles and eyelets. Add to these Widder electric vest and chaps and I was set. Those Belstaff jackets cost somewhere around $100 retail. We paid wholesale. So, good stuff. Summer ventilation was unzipping the main zipper and unbuckling the collar. Which is how I usually rolled. In summer I would wear the jacket with jeans and pack the pants and electric vest. Morning in the mountains is chilly.

Summer and good weather would see us wearing leather jackets, but rain or cold would bring out the Belstaff for me and DryRider for my wife. BMW heated grips were great behind the fairing of the RS. Even in the winter I generally only wore silk glove liners inside a pair of custom made deerskin ropers.

There were more than a few times that winter when we rode around long jams of stuck cars. Once helping push a Denver cop car out of a snow drift it had slid into on a hill. We had Continental RB II tire on the front and Dunlop Trials Universal tires on the other two wheels. I think the spare was a rear Continental that matched the RBII. When we needed extra traction, I would climb on the pillion rack to weight the rear wheel. 

We didn’t carry a shovel as we knew the two of us could lift the rig and slide it out of nearly anything.

The EML rig was great fun with around 100hp to rip the wheel loose. And the tires were Volkswagen sized bias ply tires. The kit had come with a set of radial tires that had two ply sidewalls that flexed so much the whole rig felt unhinged. It was horrible. I talked Clem into swapping the tires from his beetle to the sidecar and those from the EML to his bug. 

When I bought BMW leather touring suits I started using hiking rain gear over them. The Belstaff eventually went off to somebody on ADVrider more than 20 years after I’d first bought them and I included the can of wax I’d never opened. We had a can at the shop we used to keep our stuff proofed.

I first read of the Neese DryRider rain suit in Rider magazine. Bright yellow, like a toddlers rain coat. The company who made those also made sailing storm gear. I had a set of that too.
A DryRider one piece suit, which was a pain to get over leather cost about $80 retail back then. 
I’d tried a few other suits that leaked the first time I used them in a real rain. 100% of these were designed the same as work coveralls and depended on Velcro to keep the rain out of the crotch. DryRider made an expanded “V” baffle at the base and ended the zipper a bit higher. The Velcro flap extended below the base of the “V”. So less chance of water coming in and up and over.

The old labyrinth seal. Works pretty well as long as you don’t create a pipeline for water when designing the labyrinth.

My first BMW Leather Suit at a Track Day
My Second BMW Leather Suit Leaving in Winter

The better seal than this is no opening to seal. That is how hiking rain gear works at the crotch. Though they confound this usually with a zipper and Velcro closure the length of the leg from the waist to ankle along the outside of either leg. Great for easily and quickly donning over damp, rain speckled leather. Not so great if you get the Velcro closed just wrong. I had a pair I carried for years and years. Then the internal waterproof coating began to crack, peel, then flake off the material as if it were coarse dust. The crotch leaked. I replaced them with a very similar pair only instead of bright blue, the replacements were black. These gave up after years of use and storage.

I grew out of the last BMW suit that I’d had to modify to lengthen the upper leg as it was far too short, (these suits were made fro BMW by Dainese). I bought a Spidi two piece zip together suit and a Dainese back protector since suits were not yet coming with those. A year later they would. While not custom, it fit well enough with just enough room that if I removed the back protection, I could replace it with my electric vest. There was just enough room for the power cord to enter between the pants and jacket where they all came together at the top of the crotch.

Spidi at the Track

Between those and now, the Adventure travel motorcycle scene opened and textile gear met high tech materials and fashion. My first experiments with this new technology was with First Gear jacket and pants to fit over my work clothes. We had moved back to California in the late 90’s just in time for the beginnings of El Nino. I only had a twelve mile commute, but every morning and evening was pouring rain it seemed. I wore through the hiking rain gear I had so, one Saturday afternoon I visited the local shops in search of a solution. The First gear jacket I chose was a shorter model than the longer more Trailmaster styled jacket. It had several issues that led to its replacement. First was the waist that had very strong elastic at the back that rendered the side velcro adjustments irrelevant. Even with those side tabs loose, the rear would pull the jacket tight so that it slipped above the top of the pants and exposed my back to the wind and worse, the rain. The second issue was the wrist closure was velcro. So, each time you put the jacket on or took it off that velcro was cycled. It got loose rather quickly being worn every day. The liner was bulkier than necessary so it ballooned the jacket. The air vents were next to impossible to operate while wearing the garment and not that functional. The jacket and pants were weatherproof, though the seam along the crotch wore and lost it’s waterproofness over the course of two years commuter wear. I rode every day, sometimes seven days a week, so that is a lot of wear. When First Gear replaced the pants model I used with one with a removable liner, I tried to make those work and eventually gave them up after finding a pair of BMW brand pants that worked perfectly for about five years, then, you guessed it, the crotch began leaking, but at least I’d actually worn through the light liner and the seam threads and some of the cloth from inside and outside. And of course BMW no longer made those. The Jacket was replaced with a Trailmaster style from Hein Gericke. This was not much more than a ski jacket with liner and motorcycle padding. It was not actually waterproof and the seams along the sleeves began fraying within months. I’d bought it cheap at a factory sale so, I gave it away. I kept the weird pocket that slid along the belt that was too small to fit our cell phones then, but has ever since captured fuses and small charger cords. I l found I liked that Trail master style of jacket with a two way zipper so the bottom could be opened a bit to let me bend for drop bars or a bit of ventilation. I moved to adventure motorcycles and bought my first BMW Rally suit. These suits had Gortex liners that fit inside the shell that served to provide lots of pockets and plenty of body protecting CE padding.

BMW Rally Suit at Jimmy Lewis Adventure Riding School
BMW Rally II Suit Replaced the Original

The downside of a design like this is in the wet, everything in the pockets is soaking wet, while the rider inside the Gortex remains dry and warm if layered correctly. I wore that suit out and got another similar suit I also wore out. The second BMW rally suit had good sealing ventilation and I liked the rear venting better. It still had the inner Gortex waterproof liner, but, we were well into a lot of drought so I rarely used that. And I’d adopted my old hiking rain gear to use over the jacket and pants. I had replaced that last pair of hiking rain pants with a pair of GorTex hiking pants, but they only had side of leg zippers from the ankle to just below the knee. They were also cut a bit slimmer than the previous similar size. I could pull them on while warm and dry inside, but on the windy and wet side of the interstate they became a sticky, tangled mess. But, more on that later. The BMW pants were sold and I bought a pair of Klim Overland pants. This were very good for commuting and they fit over my boots, though my Sidi Discovery boots were not water proof.

Between the leathers and the Adventure bikes, I had a couple of other jackets. One was a Spidi air jacket that was mesh. I gave that away not long ago after years of not using it much at all. The armor had all worn out. It had a waterproof liner that was removable and oddly could be worn over the mesh jacket. This is how most of us used the thing. I really should have kept that shell. I also had an Alpinestar Drystar jacket that was really a heavy winter jacket. For a time it was waterproof, then began leaking along the forearms. I like that the wrist closure was a zipper with velcro tab adjustment. The venting was minimal, but I’d worn it in very hot weather and as long as I was moving I was fine. The waist cinch belts remain the most perfectly placed of any jacket I’ve ever owned.

On the road Friday. The only picture before the wind kicked up.
Spidi Air Jacket in the Heat
Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes
Drystar by Alpinestar at the Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille

Then I found KLIM.

I had known of the KLIM products fro a while, but there were at the time not a lot of shops who stocked the levels I was interested in. I’d tried on the rally jackets they had at the time, they were amazingly expensive and definitely overkill for the climates I normally rode in. Plus, I was not only using my gear for adventure travel a few times a year. I used my gear every day for my commute. That means it needs to be able to fold up into a hard luggage case if need be and fit over my street attire I wore in the office.

The BMW jacket went away and I got. KLIM Latitude.

I sold the KLIM Overlander pants because I’d stopped wearing them for commuting after getting a deal on some Aerostitch overpants. These had full leg zippers and were easy to get on and off over street clothes. They even fit over the Crossfires. No vents in them so they were not a great travel solution. But, for commuting they were perfect.

KLIM Latitude Jacket with Adventure Spec Pants

I got a pair of Adventure Spec Atacama Race pants. These fit knee protection and me better than the KLIM pants. Again those these are not waterproof, but flow air very well. So, I was back to riding pants and hiking rain gear to wear over them. I’m about ready to make that same transition with the Latitude jacket. The KLIM latitude jacket is nearly perfect for all my riding conditions up to mid 90 degree days. Opening the venting and main zipper, provide enough cooling until stopping in the sun.

My progression from early days with thin leather jackets to today’s higher tech textile offerings has been long, a bit expensive but fun. If I were to change up anything more now, it would be to change out the aging and worn Latitude for something lighter with better venting. I’d use a hiking rain jacket over it. Likewise I can get by with lighter protection for my knees, by going with a later version Atacama pant from Adventure Spec that have knee and hip protection in pockets. I don’t commute anymore and travel is really limited to trips in the good weather months. The little rain I’ve hit has not been a big problem. I expect I would want warmer more water proof pant for something like an Arctic Circle ride, but by the time I got back south nearer the border riding Canada gravel, I’d be fine with the Atacama pants. I figure if I do get to make my epic ride, I’ll carry my Aerostitch pants and wear them for bad weather days and be fine. They are not that much more bulky to pack and light. The pants and the knee protection easily fits in a 20L dry bag.

If I were starting out today, and knew what I know now, I’d go for the Aerostich pants for my commute with something like the KLIM Latitude jacket. Living here in Southern California that set up is great down to very hot afternoon commutes home. Then pretty much nothing is perfect. Even air jackets are a sweaty mess. Because I live and worked near the coast, within a few miles at times, early morning commutes meant heavy dew and even mist and fog. Spend much time in that with mesh clothing and your business clothes are soaked through. I typically wear hiking boots that are Gortex and good enough to keep my feet dry in moderate rain showers I run into. For heavier rain I would stow them in the bags and wear my Sidi Crossfires.

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