2005 - "Multi-layered Man" has just ridden 650 km in freezing temperatures and sleet!
Winter is upon us in NZ. It doesn't get particularly cold in the coastal region where we now live but when it rains, it can be torrential, like over 100mm (yep, that's right!) on a REALLY wet day! July is the wettest month but the chances of getting a good dump in other winter months is pretty good too. Time to clean the bugs off the leathers, stick them away and dig out the Cordura.
Anyway, I have a question - how come so many manufacturers take such a liberal interpretation of the word "WATERPROOF" without breaching the Trade Descriptions Act or similar legislation? I've scoured the fine print to see if it says "Waterproof, but only for 30 seconds" or words to that effect but no, they all seem to claim that not a drop will pass onto your skin unless you happen to be riding underwater. I guess that rain intensity, time out in it, whether you're on a faired or naked bike and so on has a significant bearing but to my mind; you really do have to tread a cautious path when buying wet weather clothing. Am I just unlucky with wet weather jackets or have others had similar experiences?
Let's deal with rain suits first....
As a young 'un in the UK, I wore waxed cotton jackets and pants which from memory were impervious to everything including chemical and nuclear fallout. However, it didn't take long for the wax coating to attract general road crap and dead insects. Both the ensuing smell and lumpy appearance were hardly attractive to members of the opposite sex either. At least they largely did their intended task though, even if the gloves and boots of that era left something to be desired.
My first exposure to "new technology" rain gear was when I started riding again in the 80's with the purchase of a Frank Thomas Aquasuit one-piece plastic coverall. Nice design and could be folded into itself and carried on the waist like a bum bag. Generally speaking, it was pretty good but in heavy rain with the bike I was riding at the time, the seat seemed to direct water to my crotch area and the welded seams were not 100% waterproof. Not a good look at all after removing the outer layer at the final destination and appearing to be seriously incontinent!
The second attempt to stay dry but project a racier image was to buy a Teknic cordura jacket in 2001 or thereabouts. Nicely fitted at the waist, bright red with armour and a quilted detachable thermal liner, it looked the part. It didn't have a waterproof membrane but the blurb on the label talked about the material itself and the way it was woven being a superb water barrier. There's a sucker born every day.....
Here's a photo:
Big, bad bikers with ice creams!
Imagine the crushing disappointment when it leaked like a sieve first time out. The vendor wouldn't come to the party so I was stuck with a lemon. The Nikwax range of waterproofing products were fairly good remedies, but only for shortish periods without having to be re-applied. The only course of action was to spray it with Scotchguard Heavy Duty silicone spray for outdoor fabrics. Effective result, but with the same drawback of waxed cotton in terms of dirt attraction and lack of breathability. It's still sitting in my biker gear cupboard, unused and unloved apart from providing a home for the resident spiders.
Next jacket was a black Arlen Ness textile cut in at the waist but this has a membrane as well as a removable thermal liner. I like this jacket and still use it. Extremely comfortable and effective apart from having the weird property of leaking a bit from the elbows to the wrists in prolonged heavy rain!!! The other thing I discovered is that the pockets outside the membrane leak. A soggy wallet proved that on an early ride so mobile phone and wallet now reside in small plastic bags. Here's the jacket in question:
Moeraki, South island NZ
I'm sure that there are textile jackets out there that don't leak at all in even the most horrendous weather after riding all day but I've yet to find one. Rukka have a great reputation but they're horrendously expensive. Reading motorcycle forums, a lot of people seem to have had similar experiences. Not wishing to continue flushing good money down the toilet, I'll simply continue wearing my $120 Spool brand plastic motorcycle jacket shown in the top picture over leathers or cordura in really bad weather - it's the only 100% effective solution I've found. I do a lot of long distance riding and being caught in torrential rain when I'm on a mission is an unpleasant experience.
I've always worn plastic pants over leathers so have had no experience of cordura pants until recently. There's a small NZ company (1 Tonne Motorcycle Apparel ) which has rain gear manufactured directly in India. Prices are about 40% cheaper than the major international brands so I decided to take a chance. When they arrived, the quality was as good as anything else I'd seen, the pants being equipped with CE armour, reinforced stitching and so on. I haven't ridden much in the rain recently but on the odd rain day ride, they've been perfect. Early days yet I suppose but perhaps is an indicator that the only major difference compared with some of the well-known brands might be mark-up! Update: The 1 tonne pants were used in the 1000 miles in 24 hours event in October 2010. They endured several hours of torrential rain on a naked bike with no leaks whatsoever.
Just one further comment on plastic overjackets which is quite important. Overjackets are generally made of fairly lightweight material which means that they have a propensity to flap if they aren't a fairly snug fit. Flapping can be really distracting on a decent run, a genuine safety concern. On my Honda Blackbird, the shoulder area flapped at 100+ km/hr, causing my helmet to shimmy slightly. Not a good thing to happen in terms of concentration or vision. I guess it was a combination of the crouched riding position and the airflow over the double bubble fairing screen which caused it. On my Street Triple, it doesn't happen at all. Just something to bear in mind!
The boots I bought 10 years or so ago were Styl Martin made with lorica. Generally waterproof in all but the wettest conditions but you could compensate for those events in the time-honoured Kiwi tradition of slipping your feet into plastic bread bags before putting your boots on! However, some SIDI waterproof boots were purchased about 5 years ago and they've proved to be totally waterproof over that time so no need (yet) to search for replacements.
Waterproof gloves were also an issue for me until last year. The issue is that I hate the lack of feel/control with big, bulky winter gloves. I had a pair of Teknic leather winter gloves which were waterproof and warm but so bulky and stiff they gave an insight as to how mediaeval knights must have felt. The problem accidentally resolved itself when in an incautious moment, the lining in one of the fingers turned itself inside out and I was never able to get it back properly. There was a residual small lump that pressed on a finger tip which drove me insane after a few km so they were also consigned to dark recesses of the bike clothing cupboard. The favourites are my Spidi armoured racing summer gloves and with Icebreaker merino wool liners, are adequately warm in all but the coldest weather. They're supple and superbly comfortable, the only problem being that they don't keep out the rain for long.
A solution to the dilemma came early last year and whilst I'm not normally big on product endorsements, this one is so good that I'll share it. They're called Rain-Off over-gloves, made here in NZ. This is their website: Rain-Off over-gloves . The over-gloves are made from a fully-welded thin but very strong rubber so that you don't lose any feel. The extra layer is also a highly effective wind and cold barrier so you can wear your favourite lighter gloves underneath and stay warm. Best of all, they only cost a little over US$50 a pair which is fantastic value when you think of the price of new hi-tech waterproof gloves. They fold up into a little pocket-sized pouch which means they can be kept on the bike for those occasions when the weather catches you out. A product which delivers 100%.
Whilst it has little to do with waterproofing, I might just mention clothing for under your protective riding gear. Polypropylene thermals used to be the favourites but they had one serious shortcoming - at the end of a decent ride if you worked up a bit of warmth, you found that you didn't have many friends on account of the horrendous odour emanating from you!
The other item I wouldn't be without is the Pin-Lock anti-mist visor insert for my Shoei helmet. I first came across these in the 90's when I used a Nolan helmet (I think Nolan were the originators) and they were so much better than other anti-mist inserts in terms of their primary purpose plus no distortion and scratch resistance that I've stayed with them ever since. Available for a wide range of helmets and in clear or a variety of tints, they work perfectly, particularly at night in the rain and cold. A lot of Kiwis use Pledge furniture polish on their visors to help the rain to bead off fast. I've never tried that, but use Rain-X repellent used for car windows and helicopter plexiglass bubbles works superbly.
Pin Lock anti-mist visor insert (light tint)
There - I've endorsed more products than intended but in each case, they are fully deserved after extensive use!
Addendum August 2012: The 1Tonne cordura pants which I've owned for just over 2 years have just started leaking in the crotch area and is probably exacerbated by the fact that I ride a naked bike. Might be able to improve things by washing them with one of the Nikwax products. However, any fix will be temporary and from now on, I'll be sticking to my plastic 2-piece waterproofs over the top. They get a little sweaty in warm, wet weather but at least I stay dry. I've given up in my search for a perfectly waterproof cordura suit without the need to sell my first-born to pay for one!