Motorcycle Riding Suit Buyers Guide
photography by Scott Hirko
[This Motorcycle Riding Suit Buyers Guide was originally published in the September 2008 issue of Rider magazine]
A good all-weather motorcycle touring or commuting suit is one that’s versatile enough to cover a wide range of temperatures, that provides some impact protection and keeps out rain. Though not necessarily waterproof, any of the dozen suits tested here should keep you dry for a few hours in the rain.
Textile clothing is made of synthetic materials such as nylon and its variants, often marketed under trade names such as Taslan, Dynax or DuPont Cordura. The fabric is available in several weave thicknesses expressed as “Denier,” which provides a scale for the heaviness of the fibers; the higher the Denier number, the thicker the fiber. Nylon is made from petroleum–oil–and therefore resists absorbing moisture. A water-resistant coating bonded inside the nylon fabric renders it essentially impenetrable to weather.
Keeping rain out is easy with an impervious shell, but if moisture can’t get out you’ll be clammy and chilled in cold weather, and stuffy in the heat. That’s why most suit makers add a waterproof, breathable membrane such as Gore-Tex, Hipora, Reissa or others to allow inner vapors to evaporate while keeping rain out.
For maximum temperature versatility a touring suit must seal well, offer controllable venting for hot days, and it’s a plus if it offers an insulated liner that is removable for warm weather. Staying warm on a motorcycle is all about sealing out the wind, so it’s very important that any jacket have a good neck seal. The insulated liner should overlap behind the main zipper and leave no gap. It’s also a plus if a jacket and pants zip together; most of those here have provisions to do so.
We prefer two-piece suits for versatility. It’s much easier to just take off a jacket when you stop, or throw one on to walk around town. The advantage of a one-piece suit is that there’s no split that can ride up and let the rain or cold in.
Pockets need storm flaps to protect them from rain. They’re usually secured with zippers or hook-and-loop (a generic term for a peel-apart fastener). Vents, which are openings in the shell, contribute greatly to a jacket’s temperature versatility, so long as they’re controllable and properly designed. They’ll zip or peel open and have a mesh backing to keep out insects; when opened they must stay open. Today, many jackets have such vents on the chest, forearms or shoulders to scoop the wind. Back vents allow the wind to flow through. Because the jackets of these two-piece suits usually have abundant vents and the pants do not, the pants are generally not as comfortable in hot weather as the jackets. A shell made of a mesh material is not controllable; it allows the wind in continually.
These suits are usually available in various color combinations in addition to those shown. Several companies offer jackets in high-visibility colors, such as that sent by Olympia. High-visibility clothing is only a safety factor if they really aren’t out to get you, so be forewarned. While something this bright is certainly easy to see, it also shows the dirt readily. All have reflective patches or piping.
All also have some degree of “armor” and dense, energy-absorbing padding in the elbows, shoulders and knees (and sometimes the back) that will cushion your fall to some degree. “CE” armor is that approved for use by the European Community, and is considered state of the art. Long leg zippers are a plus as they allow you to get into and out of the pants without having to remove your boots, but your boots can get the pants dirty inside.
We asked a dozen clothing manufacturers to send us their version of an all-weather touring suit, in a color that would photograph well. To test them I wore each suit on a big cruiser motorcycle with no windscreen, both with the suit fully closed and then with the vents fully opened, and everywhere in between. Then
I underwent a five-minute hose-down with a garden hose while wearing each suit. This may not sound like much, but it’s much more intense when your 16-year-old son is handling the hose with sadistic pleasure. It was tough on the water bill, but the lawn looked better afterward.
We divided these suits into categories. Those for Light Weather either do not have a thermal liner, or have a mesh body and the thermal liner is not very warm. While the suits in this category may keep you dry, they won’t keep you warm in cooler weather. The Heavy Weather suits not only have plenty of cold-weather cred, but the added bonus of available electric heat. They’re bulky, but they’ll handle seriously bad weather. The rest fall into the Three-Season category for general, overall use.
SUITS for LIGHT WEATHER
Alpinestars 360R Drystar Suit, $599.99
If you like things simple and direct, the new 360R Drystar may be for you. It’s a one-piece textile touring or commuting suit made of 500-Denier nylon with a polyurethane coating. Its front main zipper comes down to the waist, but its leg zippers go all the way up, making it easy to don while wearing boots.
What’s unusual is that the Drystar is one of the few suits in our test with neither venting nor insulation, though it does have a sewn-in waterproof and breathable internal lining. Its warmth comes from the fact that it seals so well. For protection it has shoulder, elbow and knee armor, with a foam back pad. Its wide array of pockets includes two thigh pockets, a clear one for maps, two large external chest pockets and one in the upper chest for a phone and wallet. During our hose-down only those two thigh pockets took in a little water.
While the Drystar will likely keep one quite dry, it offers a limited temperature range. The rider will need to wear additional clothing underneath in cold weather, and without vents it’s not ideal for hot weather. For that reason I would recommend it more for short-haul commuting or weekend touring duties rather than long-haul work when the weather is likely to be changeable.
(310) 891-0222 / www.alpinestars.com
Firstgear Torrent Mesh Jacket, $249.95
With a Polyester mesh outer shell, the Torrent includes a removable, waterproof and breathable fully sleeved liner, but it’s not insulated. With no insulation, the rider can feel the wind coming through the liner, which confirms that this suit is only for warmer days. During our hose-down I immediately felt cold when the water hit, though I remained physically dry.
The Torrent features CE armor in the shoulders and elbows, with an EVA foam back pad. Remove the full-sleeve liner and the mesh delivers a good breeze for those hot days. For storage it features two front mesh pockets and two cargo pockets that are weatherproof and remained dry; there’s also an exterior rear storage pouch, but it’s not large enough for the liner.
Firstgear Air Overpant 2.0, $199.95
The companion to the above, the Overpant is made with Mesh-Tex construction and also incorporates a waterproof, breathable, removable liner. Mesh on the legs keeps them cooler than most pants here, and the two pockets remained dry. There’s Temperfoam knee armor and full-length, two-way zippers that simplify entry. Again, this should be considered a warm-weather suit with the ability to keep you dry in the rain.
(866) 302-5676 / www.firstgear-usa.com
Shift Equator Jacket, $129.95
We’ve all had those nylon rainsuits that don’t breathe well and eventually tear and wear out. The Shift Equator is a much heavier-duty rainsuit made of a waterproof, breathable nylon fabric with sealed seams and waterproof zippers. Unlike a typical rainsuit it breathes well and has CE-approved shoulder and elbow armor. Ballistic nylon reinforces the shoulders and elbows, and gives it the quality look of a riding suit. Vents are positioned in the back and armpits. It also has three waterproof pockets, a drawstring neck adjuster and mesh interior for greater breathability.
With no thermal liner the jacket is quite light, but does not offer much in terms of warmth. I could feel the coolness on my arms and chest when riding, and even more so during the hose-down.
Shift Equator Pant, $99.95
A partner to the Equator Jacket, Shift’s Equator Pant is made of the same nylon, waterproof, breathable fabric with no thermal liner, and likewise features CE-approved knee armor. The knees are slightly pre-curved, and it features front and rear cargo pockets with rain flaps.
If you don’t need the bulk and complication of an all-weather, three-season suit, but would prefer a much more durable version of a rainsuit, the Shift Equator should do quite well.
(888) 744-3848 / www.shiftracing.com
SUITS for HEAVY WEATHER
Aerostich Darien Jacket, $517
The Darien is a no-nonsense, heavy-duty jacket with an outer shell of 500-Denier Cordura nylon with a Gore-Tex breathable membrane; it includes a back vent and three pockets. It’s a bit bulky and not very high styled compared with some other jackets; you’ll look like an astronaut. What’s special is that it’s made in the USA, and you can order it in your choice of colors and custom fit. The Darien’s standard liner is a fleece jacket in its own right that you can wear walking around once you’ve reached your destination. It looks good, has pockets and is reversible. Or, at extra cost you may substitute a liner made with Wind Blocker or Windstopper material, including an electric liner that plugs into your bike’s battery and keeps you extra toasty. It includes TF3 shoulder, elbow and knee pads. Though initially stiff, the Darien lightens up after a few washings.
Aerostich Darien Pants, $297
Also made of a Cordura with a Gore-Tex membrane, the Darien Pants are easy to put on and take off because of the long leg zippers. They include three pockets and are unlined, thus lighter than most pants here, yet warm enough for heavy weather use. The Rider staff has worn Dariens for years with great satisfaction.
(800) 222-1994 / www.aerostich.com
Gerbing’s Cascade Extreme Heated Jacket, $425
For the wettest, coldest, nastiest weather I’ll take the Cascade, thank you. It has a urethane-coated 330-Denier Cordura shell with 1,000-Denier ballistic fabric on the sleeves. The Cascade also has a Thinsulate insulated electrically heated liner that plugs into your bike’s battery and really oozes the heat; it comes with hookups for electric gloves and pants. When the weather’s warm, zip out the electric liner and open the vents in the chest, sleeves, back and underarms. There’s CE armor in the elbows and shoulders.
Four weather-proof pockets on the front hold your gear. My only complaint is that the collar is too loose and let in water. With its snaps it offers no fine adjustment; the Cascade is a strip of hook-and-loop away from a top rating.
Gerbing’s Cascade Extreme Heated Pant, $299
A removable electrically heated Thinsulate insulated liner in the pants adds plenty of warmth with little bulk, and it works in concert with the jacket liner. There’s T-Pro armor in the knees, but the hips only get foam pads. Add the large pockets on the legs for good capacity. Your bike had better have a good charging system to power all the electrics, but if it does this suit will keep you warmest of any here.
(800) 646-5916 / www.gerbing.com
British Motorcycle Gear Mercury Jacket, $249
British Motorcycle Gear (BMG) has bought the classic Belstaff name, and is undergoing the changeover now. While this jacket still carries the Belstaff logo, all subsequent runs will be BMG. If you know anything about British weather, you’ve got a hint of this jacket’s function. The Mercury is made of a waterproof, breathable Teflon-coated nylon shell that, though light in weight, is quite warm because it seals so well. Its Thermolite removable liner meets in the middle, leaving nothing exposed. Both the jacket and pants utilize Knox CE-approved armor in the shoulders and elbows.
On the downside the jacket has only two 4-inch vents front and rear, so airflow is minimal even with the liner removed. Its two handwarmer pockets leaked a little during our hose-down, and its pants pockets leaked a lot. The Mercury is quite warm without bulk, so I can recommend it for cool-weather applications if the leaky pockets aren’t a big deal.
British Motorcycle Gear Pioneer Pants, $229
The Cordura nylon Pioneer Pants feature Nomex fire-retardant fabric on the insides of the lower legs as a thermal shield against burns. There’s double Cordura at the knees and seat, a detachable Thermolite insulated liner, and though not bulky, the Pioneer Pants are quite warm.
(800) 432-9004 / www.britishmotorcyclegear.com
Joe Rocket Ballistic 7.0 Jacket, $249.99-$269.99 (depending on size)
New this year, the Ballistic 7.0 Jacket and Overpant are made of a heavy 630 Hitena twill nylon outer shell, and feature CE-rated protectors in the shoulders, elbows, back and knees, along with high-density hip padding. The jacket seals very well with its high collar, and the removable, insulated full-sleeve liner and pant liner kept me warm, yet breathed well so the suit did not become clammy. Though there’s an 8-inch gap where the insulated liner leaves off when zipped up, and it sealed so well that there was no strip of coolness left behind. Even when hosed down I did not feel much colder thanks to the overlapping flaps.
For a welcome cooling breeze remove the jacket liner, store it in the rear pocket and open the pair of chest and upper-arm vents, along with the back vent. In addition to the usual handwarmer and wallet pockets there’s a convenient long torso pocket for storing a spare helmet face shield.
Joe Rocket Ballistic 7.0 Overpant, $149.99-$169.99
The pant liner is likewise waterproof, and the pants are more bulky than the jacket. Because they’re not ventilated, the pants will remain warmer than the jacket on warm days. Here’s a good suit overall for moderate to cold weather, though it’s somewhat bulky.
(800) 635-6103 / www.joerocket.com
Olympia Men’s AST Touring Jacket, $289.99
Olympia’s All Seasons Touring (AST) jacket is made from a coated Cordura shell containing a waterproof, breathable membrane, and includes five waterproof exterior pockets. For warm weather the AST’s 17-inch-long, shoulder-to-forearm vents, along with torso vents (all of which seal with water-tight zippers) create major airflow. It includes CE armor at the elbows, shoulders and back.
Like the Aerostich, the Olympia is the only other jacket here whose insulated liner doubles as a separate walking-around jacket. When not in use, stuff the liner in the jacket’s rear pocket. I found the jacket shell’s collar opening too wide to seal well, and its material did not stop the wind well. For those reasons I recommend the AST for moderate to warm weather.
Olympia Ranger 2 Overpant, $189.99
With an outer shell of 500-Denier Cordura lined with a waterproof, breathable Bantex membrane, and a removable Thermolite liner, the Ranger 2 Overpant is a bit bulky with the liner in, though quite warm. It includes CE armor in the knees, and compression foam in the hips. It features a pair of slit pockets in the front, a pair in the rear and a pair of storm pockets, too. With full side leg zippers, I was able to get into and out of them with my boots on.
(866) 473-4327 / www.olympiamotosports.com
OSI Trek Air Navigator Jacket, $199.99
OSI’s approach to an all-weather jacket is a fully ventilated micro-mesh shell that includes CE-approved armor in the shoulders and elbows, which are covered with Cordura nylon. When it’s cool or wet, zip in the full-sleeve, quilted liner; the liner does not overlap the main zipper, which leaves a strip of coolness down the front.
Zip out the liner and the breeze freely comes through on those hot days. When we turned on the hose, water came through the mesh but its insulated, waterproof liner kept me warm. A little water came in through the low collar, but the four waterproof pockets keep the contents dry. Though the Trek Air Navigator is a mesh jacket, I did not put it into the Light Weather category because its thermal liner works so well.
OSI Trek Air Pant, $159.99
The pants also have a thermal liner, which makes them bulky, but warm. Curiously, the pant shell has a long zipper in each leg for easy access, but the liner does not. The Pant’s mesh ventilation panels are much smaller than those in the jacket, so the Pant will remain warmer overall. This suit is a good choice for a warmer, wet climate.
(800) 556-7355 / www.osi-sports.com
Rev’It Cayenne Pro Jacket, $549.99
I was really looking forward to this, as the Cayenne Pro is an update of one of my favorite jackets, the original Cayenne. To reduce weight, the Pro version is made of 500-Denier Cordura with Superfabric. I also liked the simplification of style, but not that the built-in fanny pack has been discontinued. It’s still a handsome but complex jacket with not only a new Exkin removable thermo liner, but also a Hydratex removable liner for waterproofing. There are still pockets and vents galore, and the jacket moves a good deal of air with its many vents deployed and liners out. Unfortunately, the two liners make the jacket bulky and complex; the Hydratex liner does not breathe well and became clammy on a warm day. A minimal amount of water came through the shell, but none got past the Hydratex. CE armor protection is located in the elbows, shoulders and knees.
Rev’It Cayenne Pro Pant, $399.99
As with the jacket, the Pro Pant also has two liners that make it warm but bulky. The vents atop the thighs move little air, so as is the case with most of these suits the pants will be warmer than the jacket. This suit is high on style and quite warm, but I recommend leaving the Hydratex liner out unless you expect rain.
(888) 681-0180 / www.revitusa.net
Roadgear Tierra del Fuego Jacket, $289.90
With a Maxtex outer shell and Reissa waterproof membrane the Tierra del Fuego (TDF) jacket features ballistic nylon reinforced shoulders, elbows and upper back, with CE-approved armor in those locations and a contoured Temperfoam spine guard. The DuPont ThermoLite liner provides good warmth, partly because the jacket seals so well. When it’s warm, pull out the liner and utilize the zippered chest, sleeve and rear vents. It features two lower zippered/snap pockets in front, a map/cell phone pocket inside the front flap and an inside zippered wallet pocket.
Roadgear Tierra del Fuego Overpant, $189.90
A Reissa membrane makes the TDF Overpant waterproof, yet breathable. It features a Cordura Plus outer shell with ballistic-nylon reinforced knees and CE-approved inserts. With no thermal liner the pants are lighter to wear and easier to store, though not as warm as insulated pants. Extremely long side zippers make the TDF Overpant easy to get into. Two front pockets, a change pocket and a rear hook-and-loop closure pocket keep items handy.
Roadgear’s TDF combo seals well against wind and water, yet provides greater warmth than its minimal bulk would indicate. If your legs don’t get that cold, or if you don’t ride in very cold weather, the TDF Overpant will do just fine. Overall, the TDF suit is one of my favorite combos for moderate to cool weather. (800) 854-4327 / www.roadgear.com
Tour Master Transit Series 2 Jacket, $169.99
The jacket shell is made from 600-Denier Carbolex and 600-Denier ballistic polyester, with a waterproof, breathable Rainguard barrier inside. It incorporates CE-approved armor at the elbows and shoulders, with an articulated back protector. Its shoulder vents combine with chest, sleeve and rear exit vents, and a low collar, to present plenty of breeze. The zip-in, full-sleeve liner does not cover 2.25 inches on either side of the main zipper, and left a cool strip during riding and our hose-down. It also indicates that the Transit is oriented more toward summer riding. When removed, the liner stores in a pocket in the back. Their folds can keep the vents minimally open as the rider leans forward, but the real cooling gets done in the long arm/shoulder scoop vents. There are small zippered pockets low on the front.
Tour Master Caliber Pant, $139.99
With its zip-in liner the Caliber Pant is rather bulky, but will certainly keep you warm. If it’s too warm, zip it out. With long leg zippers, the Caliber is easy to don and leave, even while wearing boots. The suit is fairly attractive, has the lowest price of any full-featured suit here, and is a budget choice for warmer-weather riding.
See your Tour Master dealer / www.tourmaster.com