The riding gear
Riding gear has gotten more and more technical every year. While you can still load up in jeans, a pair of work boots, and a flannel it certainly isn't a good plan. Crashes happen. Weather happens. Equipment stowage needs happen.
For me, I dress for the crash. ATGATT, All The Gear, All The Time, is more than just a catchy phrase for me. I started out the trip with decent gear and upgraded it as soon as I hit Sacramento, CA. The idea of coming off the bike in a country with questionable medical care and likely lots of hoops to jump through before getting somewhere with better care doesn't exactly appeal to me. With that in mind I wanted cover all the bases. Decent slide protection for coming off on gravel or pavement, solid impact protection for the fall, and lots of ventilation to keep from being a heat casualty and causing the fall and the slide, Central America is hot after all.
So with protection in mind, here is what I have been wearing from head to toe.
Helmet: Have a cheap brain, get a cheap helmet. That has stuck with me for years. I am not short "the big one" that most motorcyclists generally have during their riding carriers. Mine resulted in a concussion, including unconsciousness, a right thumb broken into three small pieces, ankle and back damage, plus some road-rash. When I examined my helmet I could see that the chin bar was cracked where it met the body of the helmet and scratches went all the way up and over the top of the helmet. So where am I going with this? Wear the best helmet you can afford the fits you properly. If you don't know how to get fitted for a helmet make sure you know before you buy.
So what did I buy? I went with the Arai XD4 Adventure helmet in neon hi-viz yellow. I purchased mine from the Outpost in Fairbanks a few years before the trip and saw no reason to change what was working. The helmet fits my odd shaped head better than any other I have ever tried and weighs next to nothing compared with other helmets I have owned. The hi-viz color was actually my second choice but was the only one that fit me at the shop. It did however make an almost immediate change to how others saw me on the road. It was the start of what turned into a lot of hi-viz gear for me. As for the helmet, I love it. The visor doesn't appear to cause any additional lift or buffeting even at 80 miles per hour. The noise is low to moderate in comparison with other helmets I have used. My only real gripe at all is that the slope of the cheek pieces where they form the ear pockets is a hard to get the speakers of my Sena 10C to stay put in the proper place. I have an idea for this but need to test it still.
Solid 9 of 10 with this one. Would be a 10 if it had slightly better designed ear pockets for speakers and a pin lock visor included like the equivalent Shoei unit.
Jacket: I spent an extended period of time convincing myself that I knew the jacket and pants I wanted for the trip. I went everywhere I could in Fairbanks to try and see the gear in person and when I finally found some in Anchorage, a six hour drive away, it wasn't even in a size that fit me. I liked what I saw but not enough to fork out the cash in hopes that what I ordered in would fit. Instead I went to Alaska Leather while I was in Anchorage to see what other options they might have in. When I got their I found a company I knew nothing about, but that fit well and really seemed to tick all the right boxes for me.
The Olympia Dakar Jacket turned out to be that jacket.
While I never thought I would have a jacket with so many pockets, I ended up using pretty much all of them for something on the trip and most were right where I wanted them for the gear I put in them. My Spot Locator dropped into one breast pocket, a tourniquet in one flapped pocket, an israely bandage in the other. The small zippered pockets over the flap were perfect for my credit card and change for tolls in one and chap-stick in the other. The included rain jacket and the rain pants from the Airglide 4 pants rolled up and stowed in the rear rabbit pouch of the jacket perfectly and gave me easy access when needed.
The ventilation was perfect for the hot areas along my trip both in the states and Central America. The wind blowing through while moving was enough to keep even the hottest of rides bearable. When standing still even the mesh jacket and pants wasn't enough to make 100+ degrees comfortable when the speeds slowed to zero. For colder weather the included liner worked fine, but in the interest of space savings I sent it home and used my WFTDA track jacket as my multipurpose solution for warmth on and off the bike.
My issues with the jacket mostly stem from the velcro type fasteners used at the collar, cuffs and arm adjusters. They worked initially but as time went on they began to come unstuck more and more often and now they seem to need a lot of attention to stay shut. The other issues come from the rather anemic armor that came with the jacket. I managed to sort that out with a compression suit from Icon but it would have been nice to skip that step and save that $250 bucks.
Overall this is a solid hot weather jacket that has been with me for over 20,000 miles, through two low sides, and continued to look good doing it. 7 of 10 based on features for cost.
Compression Suit: This was an idea that I wasn't so sure about when I first heard about it. Ditching the armor from my jacket in order to wear a separate set underneath had been brought up a few times but it wasn't until tying on a set in Sacramento that I started to think it might be a good idea for me. My reasoning was that the armor stayed perfectly in place, was way higher quality stuff than came in my jacket, and would allow me to ditch the outer abrasion layer when riding strictly off-road. It seemed like a solid plan and so I laid down the $250 on an Icon Stryker rig. Initially I loved the feeling of security it gave me, and both times I took a digger on the bike I was really grateful for the amount of impact protection the armor offers. But every time I had to gear up or gear down I realized the whole room would stare at me like Robo Cop. The looks were a mere annoyance, but on the hotter days of the trip the rig seemed to put back in most of the heat the vented jacket would have let out. If I were riding an extensive amount of single track and falling more there would be no way I would consider not wearing the rig, but the reality of the trip I took means that I probably could have done with just upgrading the armor in my jacket and been fine. As for durability, this is actually my second Stryker Rig. The one I bought in Sacramento was replaced in San Diego due to rivets popping out of the back protector. I have since lost a rivet out of the replacement unit as well but have not forked over the money to order replacement rivets from RevZilla. 6 of 10 stars, while build quality isn't great it has held up for 14,000+ miles and kept me safe in two low sides.
Riding pants: As I said above, the Olympia Airglide 4 pants were what I ended up settling on. Like with most pants I had to go a size up on the pants to get them over my thighs. Like most clothes they just aren't made to fit athletic builds well. It meant always needing to zip them into the jacket but really I would have done that anyway.
I also had to swap out the anemic armor from the knees and hips here too. I again opted for Icon's offerings of Icon D3O Evo Pro X Knee Armorl and some Icon D3O EVO X Hip Armor as well.
My only other grief with them is that since I wear them as a stand alone pant and not an over pant I occasionally get some discomfort on the points of my knees where the fabric rubs against the skin. There is also a touch of tension there that can cause some pain and bruising on really long days in the saddle (10+ hours)
Long story short, those are some really small set backs for a set of pants that has been great for over 20,000 miles through hot, cold, wind, rain, and two small low sides. The insides of the legs are having some separation at the seams that should be easily fixed. Easily 7 of 10 when you take in the value they present with the included rain pants.
Gloves: If you have never seen a degloving trauma or photos of one, you might consider riding without gloves or in open toed shoes. I would usually throw up a link but if you really want to see it spend a moment on google but not if you are squeamish. To that end I don't ride without gloves.
- Warm weather gloves:
- Icon Merc Short Gloves - I have owned these gloves for over six years and loved every minute of the experience. They have been the best fitting gloves I have ever owned and I would have used them the entire trip except that I needed something that would work with a touchscreen phone. Had I known about these I might have saved myself $90. With the years of service I have gotten out of these gloves and the most perfect fit ever I have to give these a 10 out of 10.
- Alpinestars SMX 2 Air Carbon Gloves - I purchased these because they were the only touchscreen gloves I could find that fit me. They were almost twice the price of my beloved Icons and they fit a touch on the tight side. They have held up for the last 18,000+ miles without any signs of letting up anytime soon. They do tend to shrink a bit on hot dry days and end up a bit tight on my hands but only minor discomfort is the result. 7 out of 10, they cost me too much at full retail for the cramping I get on long hot days. Otherwise they are a solid glove if they fit you.
- Wet/Cold weather gloves:
- REV'IT Summit H2O 2 gloves - On the same trip to Alaska Leather where I bought my Olympia riding gear I also picked up my REV'IT Summit gloves. I knew I would be in the rain and cold for at least a little of my trip so i figured it would be best to grab some decent gloves to suit my needs that were also touch screen compatible. These fit the bill and fit my long narrow fingers very well thanks to REV'IT's additional sizing. my only complaint is the placement of the touch screen compatible section being in the middle of the pad of the pointer finger. It isn't particularly instinctual but within a few fat fingered stabs I usually manage to make the adjustments needed. 8 of 10 for these gloves.
Riding boots: This was the easiest of all my gear to pick. I have worn the same Sidi Flex Force SRS MX (Circa 2005) boots for more than ten years now. I purchased them used when I came home from Iraq for a few weeks before redeployment to Baghdad. They went through trail riding with me for years before becoming my adventure boots of choice when I bought my KLR several years back and I wouldn't have dreamed of replacing them before this trip. They have made it many years and probably over 30,000 miles by now. The only issues I have had since day one was a few screws backing out and my own ability to melt the heel of one boot on my exhaust. They are incredibly protective and have managed to protect my feet and ankles through many offs trail riding and even a stump or two ripping my foot clear of a peg. I plan to repair these with some fiberglass when I get home and expect to see another 30,000+ miles out of them. 10 of 10. Years of protection and comfort with no change in performance.
Heated Gear: I went the simple but reliable method of warming gear by purchasing a Gerbing heated vest. It is a simple elegant system that has kept me warm on days where I was knocking frost of the seat of the bike in the morning. My only grip is when I am reaching to find one and it is the lack of rheostat controller...that they make and I haven't shelled out for you... so ya, my fault. Simple, functional, and worth the price 10 of 10.