Feb 27, 2009

Product Review: Aerostich Darien Jacket and Pants

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

I'm getting gas in Montana. It's only 10AM, but the temperate has ripped past 95oF and is still climbing. It will top 105oF before sunset. The moment I get off of the bike, I pull off my gloves, helmet, and Darien jacket. A couple on a Harley laugh at me and the guy asks me, "Don't you get hot in that gear?" Neither of the two wore helmets and their riding gear consisted of leather vests over tee-shirts, jeans, designer boots, and bandanas.

"I'm fine, as long as I'm moving," I said.

"Seems like a lot of clothing on a hot summer day. Couldn't you get by in something a little more comfortable?" the lady says.

"I don't believe in magic," is the only reply I can think of.

They wandered away, probably confused by my response. It's the truth, though. I don't carry a rabbit's foot, a crucifix, a picture of Jimmy Carter in my wallet, or have a Suzuki tattoo on my butt. I don't believe in magic. I do believe in preparation and luck, but I only have control of the first of those ingredients. So I practice my riding skills, wear good gear, and leave the luck to whatever is in control of that aspect of my life. My Aerostich Darien suit is the best full-body gear I've ever owned and I wore it non-stop for 26 days and almost 10,000 miles this past summer.

This piece of equipment has received so many positive reviews that it is probably pointless to add another. However, I feel an obligation to tell the story of my Darien riding gear. I "tested" the Darien suit in a 45-55mph crash on 4" of arrowhead shaped rocks and the suit held up better than my helmet. I can't say I came away from the crash undamaged, but I didn't lose a drop of blood. From the waist down, I was completely unharmed. The shoulder armor absorbed most of the impact and the 500 Denier Cordura barely shows any evidence of abrasion, even though I slid thirty feet on my side and back on that godawful road surface. I crashed on the 9th day of a 30 day trip and my Darien suit is responsible for my being able to go on with my lifetime-dream motorcycle trip to Alaska.

I spend a lot of my year riding in the rain. Since sometime in the mid-1980's, I've covered myself in an Aerostich Roadcrafter one-piece suit, but the GORE-TEX® has long abandoned the waterproofing realm and I've "grown" a bit in the last 25 years. I bought the Roadcrafter when I lived in California when a local dealer recommended I look into Aerostich because I was "crazy" enough to want to ride year around in L.A.'s insufferable winter weather. Some folks say I look like an over-stuffed gray sausage in my old Roadcrafter. Last season, I too often became a wet, over-stuffed gray sausage when I got caught in the rain. I hauled out my old Belstaff rain suit for emergencies for the rest of the year, but I decided to upgrade to a more modern Aerostich.

In January 2007, I drove to Duluth and got fitted for a new Darien two-piece suit. I picked the Darien over the Roadcrafter because Mr. Subjective said the Darien is more waterproof. Since I expected to be rained on for a good bit of the 12,000 miles I planned to be on the road, I went for waterproof-ness over style and convenience. I bought whole Darien rig, including the standard liner. I should have gone for the electric liner, but I can always add that to the garage closet later.

After decades of breaking in my old gear, I wasn't looking forward to dealing with the stiffness of the new suit. My old Roadcrafter is so worn and worn-out that it will wad up into a ball small enough to stuff into a tailbag or a GIVI E21 side case with room to spare for lots of other stuff. The Darien suit takes up all of both E21 cases. The stiffness relaxed with use, but storage has not become less of an issue. That is the high cost of better protection.

After wearing the Darien suit almost every day for two months, it became much more flexible. After two years of wear, the suit is part of me. The Darien pants-jacket combination is warmer, drier, more visible, more versatile, and tougher than anything I've ever worn. I'm still discovering pockets (at least 9, not counting the liner) in the Darien Jacket. I'm pretty sure there is a cup holder somewhere on the jacket.

I often used the large front pockets to store a video camera, a still camera, and lenses on my Alaska trip. I was rained on for 20 days on a 27-day trip stayed mostly dry for the whole trip. I am the polar opposite of a "pencil neck geek" body type and my one complaint is that the Velcro'd neck gusset is too short when the collar of the jacket liner is added to my neck circumference (18 1/2"). When the Velcro lets go, water dribbles down the front of the jacket and the back of my neck. Not much water gets in this way, but enough to let me know that I'm riding in cold weather.

Aerostich has offered to extend the Velcro tab, but I have to give up the jacket for a few days for that to happen and my desire to be perfectly dry hasn't overwhelmed my affection for this jacket. When I'm zipped up, hook-and-looped, belt and shock-cord adjusted down, I'm water, wind, dust, and abrasion resistant and secure in all ride-able weather and some weather that a smart person would only observe while sipping whiskey in front of a fireplace.

At the each end of weather extremes, the jacket's air flow design is good enough that I'm comfortable on a 90oF or a 25oF day. I'm not flexible enough to unzip the jacket's under arm ventilation without removing the jacket, but I've seen it done. A combination of open sleeves, under arm vents, and the large rear jacket vent allows for a lot of air flow. When you stop moving, it gets hot in the Darien suit fast, but when I'm moving I'm comfortable.

The Darien pants have fewer features than the jacket. The pants are equally waterproof, abrasion resistant, and adjustable for comfort and fit. There are two deep front pockets and a single back pocket closed with a hook-and-loop patch. The TF2 armor is held securely in place where it protects the rider's knees and a good bit of the shin. The zippers are on the outside of the leg, as are the Scotchlite™ covered ankle adjustment gussets, so they don't hang up on kickstands or footpegs like another brand's gear (left unnamed). The zippers are well covered by inner and outer flaps for weather protection. A heavy-duty removable belt is included so you have someplace to hang your Leatherman case.

Last, but among the best, is the Darien liner. It is removable and becomes a very nice free-standing insulating jacket when separated from the Darien jacket. Nylon on one side and fleece on the other, it's a good looking casual windbreaker away from the bike. One of its seven pockets doubles as a stuff sack, including belt loops so you can carry it like a fanny pack. The liner is a highlight of the Darien suit, in my opinion: comfortable, practical, good-looking, and compact.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I liked the pro golfer's famous reply to a dim remark. He'd just made a long putt and the remark was, "That sure was a lucky shot".

His reply; "Yep. And you know what? The more I practice, the luckier I get."

Or the author of "Chickenhawk" - Robert Mason, an assault helo pilot in Veet Nam, who took care never to approach a hot LZ from the same direction twice.

KC

Anonymous said...

Nice to read this, Tom. I bought the same 2 yrs ago & have *hated* wearing it, as the break in period is so unbearable. (I don't ride near anywhere as much as you).

However, I'm in the midst of planning a MN to OR down Hwy 1 to Big Sur in CA & back this June (never been on Hwy 1 before), so plan to wear it then. As big & stiff & new as it still is...

(I get so sick of those Harley Rider's questions about my "outfit"...)

T.W. Day said...

Molly,

I was in a break-in hurry when I bought my suit, so I came up with a fun, exciting, break-in process for my new Darien. I went sledding with my grandson for two weekends. He used a sled, I tossed myself down the same hills in my new Darien suit. It was flexible and comfortable after about two hours of "sledding."

Thomas Day
Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly Magazine
http://www.motorbyte.com/mmm/
http://geezerwithagrudge.blogspot.com/
thomas@motorbyte.com

T.W. Day said...

On my trip through New England, last summer, a couple of guys in Chinese gear mumbled that they really like Aerostich gear but it costs too much.

We were riding together through north eastern New York and one of them went down in a corner because of gravel drug into the corner by farm equipment. His Tourmaster suit shredded like cotton, leaving him with road rash on the back of his arm and down his side. He seemed to be ok and was going to turn back and go home with his friend. The bike was still rideable. I continued on my way toward home.

I gotta say, my crash last summer on the Dempster Highway was a lot nastier, at higher speed, on to a much more vicious roadway, and my suit was just a bit scratched up. The 'stich might cost more, but body repairs are more expensive than any riding gear.

MrPete said...

Just wanted to add my 2 cents about how awesome the darien stuff is.

I was hit by a car last week while riding at 60kph, did a superman over the car and landed quite hard on the other side.

Broke a thumb and some bleeding in my brain. Oh and a tiny bit of bark off my knee.

I fully attribute the darien jacket and pants to my still having skin! The armor helped keep my bones from harm too I reckon.

The gear has a few scrapes and abrasions on it, nothing too bad. It certainly held up quite well. I wouldn't be buying new stuff except the paramedics cut it all off me :(

T.W. Day said...

Wow! That's quite an endorsement, Mr. Pete. It sounds like your suit took as much damage from the crash as mine did on the Dempster (scratches, but still whole). The Darien is made of incredible material and it's a well thought out design.

I'm curious about the "some bleeding in my brain" part. Did your helmet come off or just not provide enough protection to prevent concussion?

Dave C said...

This blog popped up very high on a Google search for Aerostich suits, so thanks for writing that review. Have you had the chance to try the A.D.1? Comments on the Aerostich website indicate it's better than the Darian. I live in Orange County, CA, which is between LA and San Diego. Fairly warm during the day (today will be in the 70s), but gets cold at night. Also, do you wear these over street pants/shirts, or is this the basic outer-gear? Thanks.

T.W. Day said...

No, I haven't used the AD1 gear, yet. It looks like everything I would change in my Darien stuff, though. I specially like the change in the pockets. The Darien's front pockets are almost designed to jettison stuff when you pull off the gear.

When I'm touring and it's hot, I wear very little under my Darien. Early December this year, I was wearing a couple of layers of clothing and an Aerostich heated vest. Buy it loose enough you can do layers and you'll love it. Break in is a bitch, though.

I lived in Huntington Beach for a decade. I know OC pretty well. I must have commuted PCH to CSULB a zillion times in six years. I bought my first Roadcrafter in 1984 after a bike shop in HB told me "no one rides in the winter around here, too cold." With that lousy gear advice, I found an ad for Aerostich in a magazine somewhere and ordered my first Goretex suit.

Andy thinks it's an embarassment to the company. He says I look like an "overstuffed sausage" in the old suit.

Dave C said...

Thanks for those comments and tips. It gets pretty cold even in Irvine at nite where I live, but daytime is great. Went for a pedal bike ride near 20 miles to Upper Newport Bay, then on the Beemer R1200C to my meeting. Nothing dramatic, but good to get out. Dave

T.W. Day said...

I don't remember ever being close to freezing in HB, low 40's maybe? A 'stich with the liner and normal work clothes will keep you warm for hours in that weather. I put my V-Strom away when we got ice on the roads, but I commuted to work in high 20's weather until then.

Dave C said...

Like your style, so I'm "following" and hope to see more just like it.

Dave

viagra online said...

However, I'm in the midst of planning a MN to OR down Hwy 1 to Big Sur in CA & back this June (never been on Hwy 1 before), so plan to wear it then. As big & stiff & new as it still is...

J Adams, motogadgeteer said...

Geezer, you are the man. Ever since I read your piece about "What kind of bike should I buy?", said the new rider in training...I've been a big fan of your writing and penchant for the unvarnished inconvenient truth. Kudos.

That being said, it's well known Andy Goldfine's garments are top-shelf. But I won't buy them because they're not absolutely waterproof. I don't have any interest in hauling extra rain gear or in getting wet, ever. Mr. Subjective says the Darien is more waterproof. But there is no such thing. That's like being kind of pregnant. Either a jacket is waterproof or it's not. I can do better.

Keep up the great work. It makes me nuts when I so often read obvious BS about motorcycling. It's nice to know someone will give you the straight scoop...even if you don't want to hear it. Ride well, mon ami.

T.W. Day said...

I don't know of anything that's absolutely waterproof and comfortable. Pick one. I moved from Nebraska to California, in 1983, on a CX500 wearing a fireman's yellow rubberized suit. That was waterproof, but I froze in the damn thing because it didn't breathe. I have ridden in rain for days in my Darien and stayed warm and dry. Ride in the rain long enough and some part of you will get wet, though.

On my Alaska trip, the Darien kept me warm and dry, but my Goretex gloves (three different pairs) failed miserably. I had the Aerostich three finger "overs" the next year and my upper body stayed warm, but my boots leaked a little. Both trips were marked by at least a dozen days of heavy rain. Last year I did North Dakota in June and the first 10 days were in constant rain. Again, the damn boots (different boots) leaked. I bought the Aerostich boot overs and that problem is solved.

Anonymous said...

I have had my Stich about 12 or 13 years now and this summer I noticed that the main zipper was acting up. When you put the 2 halves of the zipper together the left side would slide through the pull instead of stopping at the top. I had to fuss with it until it aligned in order to get it to start. My sleeve zipper's pulls were also worn out and broken. Whenever anything in the house with a zipper was going to get tossed I always salvaged the pulls in case I needed them. Not a BFD but somewhat annoying. I decided to wait until the riding season was over and then get it fixed. I saw in the catalog that the pulls were available by themselves and they were cheap but I don't know how to replace one and besides if the zipper itself was worn out I'd have to send it up there anyway. I removed the pads and the pins and headed up to Duluth the week after Thanksgiving with a buddy of mine. A Road Trip and lunch, not a bad way to spend a winter afternoon. We got there about 11:30 am and dropped it off. The repair guy wasn't there so I gave them my number in case he had to call me for anything out of the ordinary. We had a great lunch at Fitger's and got home about 3:00.
They called me about 2 days later with the prognosis. He had just replaced all the pulls, the zippers themselves were still in good condition. That's good because it's like $70 to replace the main zipper. I told him that as long as the repairs were so minor that they might as well wash the suit and retreat it with the waterproofing. My pad's foam was starting to get a little crumbly so I told him to send a new set of pads along with the suit back to me. Since I stopped up to the factory to drop it off I got a 10% discount so the total came up to $117 with shipping. I figured that it would be at least 2 weeks before I got my suit back. Three days later I got my suit back and it looked like new. It was in pretty good shape to begin with but it almost sparkles now. I don't know how your Darien is holding up but I would recommend getting it cleaned by them. It just might make it look new again.
On another tangent. Have you seen any info on the new Triumph Tiger 800 Dual Purpose bike? It sure looks interesting.
Hope you had a good Holiday. Mike.

Gene said...

I have had the Darien Pants and Jacket for about 5 years. I bought them to tour SE Asia. The combination was excellent. I went through every imaginable type of weather in a 3 month period and the equipment held up wonderfully. 95 deg. Thai and Cambodian heat did wear down a bit on me, but it was tolerable and I had plenty of places to stop and refresh.

Unfortunately, near the end of my trip, a thieving Cambodian stole my jacket from our hotel room -- luckily the pants were in the tub for washing and were left alone, and I ended up riding about a 500km stretch before I could source a mediocre mesh jacket for some protection. That was a nightmare... the jacket was some cheaply made chinese motorcross jacket which was completely uncomfortable and didn't even fit right.

Now that I've been back in the States a couple years, I am looking for a replacement Darien jacket.. just have to wait, because I can't afford a new one right now.

Anonymous said...

I'm thoroughly entertained by anybody in CA south of SF saying it gets too cold to ride. I live in New England and ride almost all year round - depends on the snowfall.

One year I rode from Minneapolis to Danbury, CT on a 250cc Yama-something dual-sport for a friend on the weekend of Halloween, wearing a Roadcrafter that my boss lent me. It was a great trip. Probably un-doable without a 'Stich, though. The gallon water jugs that I picked up for a couple of bucks at Wallyworld, dumped, cut up and zip-tied to the handlebars kept my fingers from freezing off (what? a dual-sport without hand guards?!). But the Roadcrafter went above and beyond. To wit, it served the first night as a (pretty comfortable) bivy in a field along a side road.

Great work, folks. And thanks.

Rex said...

Over the years I've spent close to 3 grand in riding gear trying to find a lower cost alternative to the Aerostitch Roadcrafter. The only time I have had crotch leak was when I didn't make sure the storm flap was properly positioned.
The fact is whether you go with Darien or Roadcrafter, its simply the best available. My current suit has wellover 125,000 miles on it. It has been machined washed once and nature washed dozens of times. The zippers are beginning to snag so I'll send it in over the winter for detox and rehab.
I think of my Roadcrafter as being similar to the body of an automobile for bipeds. Under that shell goes polyprop to wick off moisture in the heat of the summer to fleece and heat to ward off the cold in the winter.
For rain stuff your glove gauntlets inside your sleeves to keep water from gravitating into your gloves. Then run your zippers down as far as you can to keep the breeze from coming up your sleeves.
Those waterproof leather Japanese gloves Andy sells are awesome in cold and rain. I wore them most everyday on a trip to Alaska with lots of hard rain. They were a beautiful chrome black when new and are know a faded gray but never once leaked. My Gerbing heated glove were packed but never needed. On the day we ran Whitehorse to Dawson it rained so hard that the thre fingered goretex was broken out more to provide additional windchill protection than anthing else.

Leather Pants said...

nice post love it