Preparing & planning for adventure – Part 3: Riding Suits
At this time of year, the weather is probably your biggest consideration before mounting your adventure bike and heading out on to the open road (or off the beaten track) to unwind.
NA1 3712This will be closely followed by what you’re going to wear, and to that end, the type of riding suit that you’ll protect yourself with.
For any rider, selecting the right suit can be a real can of worms, so let’s look at your main considerations for adventure riding suits.
1. The time of year
2. The type of riding / speed
3. The length of time you’ll be away
What about the cost of the suit, you might ask? While this is a major consideration, if you consider the cost of the suit above these points, then you will have to make some serious compromises in terms of rider comfort. You might save in the back pocket, but you may well regret it when you’re cold, wet, and a long way from home.
1. Time of year
As a general rule, if you are adventure riding in the northern part of Australia you do it in the winter time. Trips undertaken in the summer are generally in the south of the country.
Having said that, if you’re leaving from a southern state, even in the first two days of travel you can be in full winter type conditions, and that’s before you get up north, where the temperature can be over 30 degrees in the daytime.
The weather is such an unpredictable element that you pretty much need four season capabilities from your riding suit, unless you have the option of only riding on days that look like being fine.
2. Type of riding / speed
Knowing what the climate will be like in the areas you are riding is important to know, as is the difficulty of the terrain. Are there open roads where you can average higher speeds, or are the roads and tracks difficult to manoeuvre your bike around at a slower average speed?
A prime consideration is letting heat out of the suit. In slow going, zip vents offer very little from a cooling perspective, so you need a fabric that will let the air flow through it.
Open road riding, where you’re getting along at speeds of 80km/h or more, can be a two-fold problem. On the one hand, if it’s cold then you need to keep the wind out, but on the flip side, if it’s hot, you need to be able to let the air in to cool you down.
At higher speeds, zipped vents work well and allow the air to flow in through the suit, but as soon your average speed drops and you’re having to work harder on the bike, using more effort and energy, then keeping cool is more difficult.
The suits that are made of a mesh type fabric that let the air flow through (such as DriRider’s Air-Ride) will cool down more effectively, but they are not windproof at all, and they’re certainly not waterproof in any way, shape or form.
Whether your bike has a windscreen fitted will also have an impact on how much airflow you are getting, and how much your suit will allow you to cool down. This can be off-set on bikes with very effective fairings and windscreens (eg: BMW GSA 1200) by riding in the standing position to allow for improved air flow.
3. Length of your ride
How long do you expect to be away for on your trip? If you have the option to plan your ride or multi-day trip and then move it to when you have a guaranteed slot of good weather (a luxury not usually available or wanted by adventure riders), that makes it a lot easier for clothing selection.
But if you have set dates, or if you’re going to be out for extended periods of time when you could experience all types of weather conditions, you have to have gear that will cope.
It’s worth noting that most suits have comparable protection in case of a crash. The flexibility of some of the smart armours in the more high-end suits make them more comfortable to wear, however, all suits will offer acceptable protection. Some of them will fare a lot better than others after a skid down the road as well – particularly those featuring Cordura.
To be able to cope with the cold you’ve got to be able to stop the wind chill and the water on the outside of the suit. If the waterproof and windproof layer is in the suit structure, or inside the suit, you’ve got a lot of wind chill to contend with. And you also have the inconvenience that if you get your suit wet, you’ve got to try and get it dried out. You may have kept your body dry, but your suit may not be and it will be like an evapourative air-conditioner, taking all your body heat.
You need to be able to make your suit completely waterproof. A compromise is to have a one or two-piece waterproof outer shell, but there are some serious compromises in terms of comfort and breathability, and they are inconvenient to put on, often requiring you to take off your boots to get into these shells. Another downside is that if you don’t get these outer shells on before the rain starts, then you lock all the water in and you’ll still get wet.
The outer shells are cheap and pack down quite small, but they have no abrasive resistance and rip very easily, so won’t be any use in an accident.
You can make anything work if you need to – I have even used garbage bags and duct tape in desperation to stay dry and a little warm! If you’re doing a day trip and you don’t have a fully waterproof suit, the worst case scenario is that you’ll be cold and wet that day, but you can dry everything out and warm up when you get home.
However, if you’re on a multi-day trip, then getting your suit dry overnight is often impossible, meaning you’ll be wet the next day as well.
The best of the winter suits have a laminated Gortex in the outer skin. These suits are 100% water and windproof, with overlapped joints, not relying on zips to seal them and to keep the wind and water out, while the Gortex offers breathability in all but the hottest conditions.
A lot of suits claim that they are 100% waterproof, but water can still find a pathway in when you’re riding at 100km/h. There’s nothing worse than ending up with a wet crotch while you’re riding, and with many suits this is the case.
Even waterproof zips don’t cope with water coming in at 100km/h, and at different angles.
BMW Rallye Pro 3 Range
A summer suit will work in the spring, and in temperatures down to around 20 degrees, but below that you need to layer up as you have no windbreaking ability in the suit.
A full summer adventure suit is great in dry conditions and at temperatures above 20 degrees, with many more options in the market place.
In extreme heat, hot and slow conditions, the full airflow fabrics are brilliant. Suits using zip vents will work okay when your speed is up, but in temperatures over 30 degrees they will get hot and you’ll find it hard to cool down.
A summer suit gives you the option of using a waterproof outer shell in wet conditions (as detailed earlier), however, it must be remembered that these outer shells do not breath
Using your summer suit in cooler conditions is possible by layering up, but layers add bulk, and when you’re not wearing those layers, they need to be stored somewhere on the bike, which needs to be considered.
Touratech’s Compenaro is a four seasons suit, a revolutionary suit (see side bar) that was designed to work in all weather conditions. It is basically two suits in one (a summer and a winter), and while it’s the most expensive of all the suits, it does what it says it will do.
Any four season suit will be heavier than other suits.
Touratech Companero – summer configuration
So what should you buy? There are many brands to choose from, including (in no particularly order) DriRider, RST, Rukka, KTM, BMW, Triumph, Yahama, Fox, Klimb and Touratech.
If you’re new to adventure riding and a little bit unsure as to what type of adventure riding you’ll end up doing, I would buy something in the $500 to $800 range and get a waterproof outer shell. That will get you by if you are only doing one or two-day rides.
Unless you know that you’re going to be riding in conditions where you will experience all the benefits of a four-seasons suit, then I would be starting with a slightly compromised approach. That’s certainly what I did.
I’ve had five different riding suits over my adventure riding time, including some road bike suits, and my suits have evolved as my adventure riding trips have.
You will certainly notice that the more money you spend on a suit, the more comfortable it is. The less expensive suits are not always as comfortable to wear, and you’ll want to get it off as soon as you stop riding.
Sizing options also improve a lot as you go up towards the high-end adventure suits, as does the comfort of the garment. You can almost wear a good fitting suit like a pair of jeans – they’re that comfortable.
Fit is an important consideration, as some riders like a tight fit and some like them loose. Personally, I’d say that the general consensus is that you want a looser fit (which allows for adding layers underneath), and in this regard the sleeve length (neck to wrist with your arm in the riding position) and the inner leg length is very important. You don’t want the sleeves or the legs riding up when you’re sitting on the bike as it’s uncomfortable, and will affect the ability of the suit to do its job.
Your choice should be comparable to what your operating window is. In other words, if you just need a suit for one day rides in good weather, your choice is pretty easy. However, if you’re planning longer trips, then your operating window is a lot larger, and you’ll need to buy a suit that covers all eventualities.
All in all, do your research, talk to the experts and the suit manufacturers, and buy what’s right for your requirements.
While it’s a difficult choice, the more money you spend, the more seasons you’ll cover, and your comfort will increase. And believe me, you’ll be glad you didn’t compromise on your purchase.
PICK OF THE BUNCH
Certainly the best of the best is the Touratech Companero, but at $2650 it is at the top of the price scale as well.
After testing dozens of suits over the years, Touratech wanted to design a suit that filled all the gaps, and that did everything it said it would. Working in conjunction with Stadler, who brought their significant expertise to the table, they did just that.
The result is the only true four-season adventure riding suit that keeps you warm and dry in the winter, and cool in the summer, while also giving you the protection you expect.
Combined with a detailed sizing chart that takes 22 measurements and ensures the perfect fit, the Touratech Companero has marked a new chapter in the evolution of the adventure riding suit.
– Robin Box