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 thought I was "crazy" to want to ride year around in L.A.'s insufferable winter weather. I went hunting in motorcycle magazines and discovered an ad for the original Aerostich Roadcrafter. 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.

All the News that Didn't Fit (March)

Craig’s List Scam
Pennsauken, NJ bike sellers are experiencing a nasty version of seller’s regret. The buyers get the sellers to deliver the bike to an isolated area. Once the seller unloads the bike, the thief rides away. Detective Eric Davies says, "They [the sellers] get the thing started up and they [the thieves] jump on it and go. It's a very easy thing to do." Sellers are advised to have the buyer to come to them, either at the seller’s home or at a familiar site.

Steve McQueen Movie and a Bike
The possibility of a movie about McQueen’s life is beginning to sound somewhat solid. The film would be based around Marshall Terrill's biography "Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel." Lots of names are being tossed around for the lead, including Brad Pitt and Ewan McGregor.

Rob Phillips bought a 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross for $1500.00 in February 2008. At the time, he figured it was “just another bike” purchased for restoration. After chasing down the bike’s paperwork, he discovered it had been ordered by and delivered to Solar Productions (McQueen's production company). The bike has been restored and is on display at the San Diego Auto Museum.

Prescott, Wis. Considers Noise Laws
The Star Tribune reported that Prescott residents are debating the value of motorcycle commerce vs. motorcycle noise. As yet, the city has introduced no new laws, but Prescott’s debate is a lot like the one we saw in Stillwater last summer.

New Hampshire Goes after Exhaust Noise
New Hampshire: House Bill 95 proposes outlawing all motorcycle exhaust modifications, including aftermarket modifications and requires all motorcycles to have tachometers. The law would require all motorcycles to produce less than 95 dBA at 20 inches from the exhaust outlet.

California Lawsuit Finished
The three year old legal attempt to overthrow the California helmet law was thrown out of the Santa Cruz Superior Court. ABATE Executive Director, Tim Tennimon, Sr., said, “There is no further avenue of appeal on this lawsuit. It is finished.”

Nigeria’s Pumpkin’ Heads
In a really creative protest against helmet laws, Nigerian motorcyclists have taken to wearing dried pumpkin shells on their heads. “Kano Federal Road Safety Commission commander Yusuf Garba said, "We are impounding their bikes and want to take them to court so they can explain why they think wearing a calabash is good enough for their safety."

If you have a 39 cent per pound head, wear a 39 cent per pound helment.

Speed and Other Stuff Kills
A special 1½ year NHTSA study found that a variety of things injured or killed drivers and speeding was only a minority contributor. Out of 5,471 crashes studied, the following factors were found to be the major cause: 36% turning or crossing an intersection, 22% driving off the edge of the road, 12% stopping, 11% drifting over the center line, 5% “traveling too fast for the conditions,” and so on. The study concluded that 21% of the crashes were due to “Inadequate surveillance” and 11% were due to “internal distraction.” The study concluded that most of the studied crashes were caused by “a failure to correctly recognize the situation (recognition errors), poor driving decisions (decision errors), or driver performance errors.”

Texas Warning
The Texas DOT has a new web site (http://www.txdot.gov/) where bikers and cagers can flag road hazards. The site even tells you what to expect when you provide a notice. Recently, Texas hackers changed an Austin electronic road sign to read, "Zombies Ahead." http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,484326,00.html
Someone must have stumbled upon a Daughters of the Alamo meeting and overreacted.

Screw it. Let's Repo
Back in May, Harley initiated a campaign called “Screw it, Let's Ride.” According to Business Week, the company “seems to have applied the same logic to its loan portfolio.” Harley-Davidson Financial Services (HDFS) took a $6.3M write-down due to “rising default rates and decreasing interest among buyers for its securitized loans.” Apparently, one-third of Harley’s loans have been made to those now-infamous sub-prime borrowers. Harley offered dealer incentives to push HDFS loans and moved their share of Harley loans from 38% to more than 50% in five years. Harley’s stock has fallen from a high of $75 two years ago to $12 this month.

Winter Blues Solution?
If there is still winter left after you read this, SnoMoX (http://www.snomox.com/ “the world leader in design and development of snow kits for motorcycles”) may have a solution for you. Put a ski on the front forks, a belt tread contraption on the swingarm, and $3,000-$4,000 later you're on the trails tearing up the snow like it's July.

Feb 13, 2009

What the Show Showed

I spent a few hours staring at bikes, bikers, gear, and the usual suspects at the Cycle World Motorcycle Show this afternoon. There are, in fact, some cool new motorcycles, but (as my editor, Victor, suspects) they will probably be economic failures.

Honda, Yamaha, and Kawasaki have new 250cc dual purpose street bikes. A variety of companies have mid-sized bikes, most of which are not new. Honda put a lot of effort into displaying their new Fury VTX chopper-thingie. It is one of the silliest vehicles I've seen since my last visit to Pioneer Village in central Nebraska. The average age of the characters surrounding the Fury had to have been over 60. The same sort of geezer was seen climbing off and on of the Polaris Vision.

Friday afternoon wasn't a good day to judge the turnout or the character of the Minnesota crowd, but I talked to several people who said the show was down at least 20% at all stops. There is an air of desperation you can almost taste coming from the vendors. The customers emit something more like resignation.

I got home in time to watch a PBS movie called "Horatio's Drive" about the first cross-country auto trip, in 1903. About half way through the movie, our youngest daughter called to tell us she'd been laid off by Bank of America. She is an optimist and is convinced that she'll find a job soon. I've been through this sort of economic mess before, in the 70s through the 80s, and I hope she's right, but I worry for her and my son-in-law.

Times have been bad before. The country was less organized, more socially-segregated and stratified, and more destitute in 1930, but we don't know where we are in the curve of the current economic catestrophe.

If I get my druthers, we'll struggle through this recession/depression for long enough that many of the social inequalities and irrationalities get fixed but not so long that the nation seriously suffers. I'd like to see a little resurgence of American frugality and, along with that, a little attention paid to small motorcycles because of their economy and practicality. I don't, honestly, care if gas costs $5 a gallon at the end of the decade. That might be good for motorcycling, too. I would provide some initative for us to cut free from foreign oil.

I wouldn't mind if the whole gangster biker fad died a painful death. If the Angels, Outlaws, Bandidos, and the rest of them all end up replacing the crowd in Guantanamo, I wouldn't care. If even looking like that bunch of degenerates caused bikers enough trouble that leather fringe, bandanas, and Valley People butt-less chaps became fashion misstatements, I'm good with that.

In the end, maybe Honda will have to back off of their Orange County biker junk-mobiles and return to promoting the Nicest People. That's a future I can look forward to.

Feb 11, 2009

Thinking Bi-Futuristically

The Cycle World International Motorcycle Show is hitting Minneapolis this weekend. Being a media kind of guy, I don't have an excuse not to go and it's usually kind of fun. It's an excuse to bump into old friends, look at the usual suspects of two-wheeled toys, and avoid thinking about five or six more weeks of winter.

Last year, for the second time, I took my grandson to the show and we had a particularly good day of fooling around with mechanical objects. He's 13 this year and will probably be even more interested in motorcycles. None of my kids have been bikers and I don't really expect Wolf to be any different. I think the two-wheeled jones is going to live and die with me. My brother was into it for a while, until a close encounter with a deer demolished his ankle, but he's mostly over it now. My step-brother was a dirt biker and a bragging-rights Harley owner/crasher for a very short time, but he and his son have "grown up" and moved on to big trucks. Like I said, I'm the family's lone two-wheeler and, outside of bicycles, I'm probably going to be the last.

There is some speculation among industry insiders that my family experience is similar to the national trend. As an answer to the often asked question, “Honda has a marketing department?” Honda has dumped the Honda Hoot (apparently, permanently) this year and blamed the economy for the demise. Honda has been making noise about abandoning motorcycles in the US, due to liability issues, since the 1980's economic crash. Yamaha and Kawasaki are about equally enthralled with our low-tech, high maintenance, marginally economic stability marketplace and, if they could find a replacement for the US income, they’d probably dash to it so quickly that there would be a small tornado caused by the vacuum.

I’ve heard off-road distributors describe vanishing youth from those sports and road bike dealers and marketing gurus wonder if street bikes will become a “rich kid’s toy.” The companies who positioned themselves to take advantage of characters who would be willing to spend $30k-$100k on a giant cruiser and now wondering where their customers went. The biggest of the bunch, Harley, is stuck with hundreds of millions of dollars in bad loans after chasing the poor credit risk crowd that is wiping out the housing market. I imagine it won’t be long before we hear that the other companies in this market are suffering similar pains. In the end, the only people who will be buying a $20,000 Polaris Vision will be the guys who handed themselves million dollar bonuses for screwing up their companies and got out before the feds slammed them in jail. That might be a small crowd if those of us who are paying their bills have our way.

Risk is a big topic in the country, too. I’ve listened to several big-time ex-offroad competitors explain why they wouldn’t consider letting their kids ride motorcycles. For a country founded by folks abandoning their homes, history, and security to gamble on a life in “the new world,” we seem to be turning into a caricature of conservative, old-world. Hell, almost every European country is more progressive than the US and if we keep going backwards we’ll get to enjoy hearing China brag about being more contemporary than the United States. Won’t that be fun?

So, I’m going to take in the Motorcycle Show with the thought in mind that I might be the last of a breed, watching obsolete technology fun its course in my lifetime, wondering over what kind of world it will be without risk, adventure, surprise, or even real-world sensations over virtual experiences. Maybe, I’ll even look for something new from the motorcycle industry. That would be a surprise.

Feb 6, 2009

Counting on Spring

Yesterday was above freezing for a couple of hours. I went outside, for a few moments, without sealing myself up like a walking refigerator and tossed frisbies at my dog for an hour before driving the cage to work. I think we've had three days that warm since sometime in December. The good news is that I've finished my attic studio remodel, cleaned up most of my basement shop, tweaked my video gear for next summer's projects, and we'll probably have the bathroom remodeled before spring. The bad news is that my garage shop is a disaster zone from dashing to the Shopsmith, carving out whatever woodwork I'm in the garage to do, and dashing back without cleaning up the mess because I'm more concerned with frostbite than order. It will be June before I get all the crap tossed out and all the tools restored to their proper places. Unless I decide to re-side the house, then the shop will be a disaster until next summer.

I tried to start the dirt bike, to take a winter lap around our snow covered frozen lake, but the Sherpa wouldn't fire. It burped, but it wouldn't go. The V-Strom fired up, but I'm not man enough to ride that monster on ice.

The first hint of possible spring came today, though. I bought some motorcycle gear; a new Aerostich heated vest. I've been thinking about a heated vest since I frosted my butt in the Yukon two years ago. In a couple of days, I'll have one. I may hook it up to my cage to cut down on heater fan noise on my drive to work until I can use it on the bike. I am, officially, tired of being cold.

Aerostich has been mailing me taunting sale ads for heated vests since I decided I wanted one. Until now, the discounted vests were gone before I managed to log on to their website. Yesterday, I beat the rush. I'll admit to being cheap. I'll even admit to being irrationally cheap. I have an aversion to paying list price for anything. Honestly, I'm really fond of buying used for a fraction of list price. I'd buy used food if I could digest it. Disgusting, right?

This time of year, it's hard to remember what it is I like about Minnesota. It's dark, cold, dangerously slick, and uninspiring. I get up in the dark and go home in the dark. I'm cold inside and outside, especially outside. Yeah, the cold keeps the riff raff away, but I may be riff raff. I can't remember the last time I was actually warm, outside of when I'm in the shower. If my shower time keeps extending, by May I'll have gills.

I had a dream, a couple of days ago, about being on my dirt bike in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota. I was stopped in an abandoned town that was overgrown with weeds and the buildings were slowly going back to nature. Other than the wind, it was dead quiet. The town's roads were all but returned to the earth, with huge cracks in the remaining bits of asphalt sprouting grass and dandelions and thistles. The main street brick road was heaving and cracked. Power lines were drooping across the roofs of houses and some of the poles were on the ground and others were heading that way. The town was completely abandoned, all of the residents were dead or gone.

I think my bike was either out of gas or busted. I wasn't worried or upset. I was warm. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful June day. I had my gear off of the bike and was setting up a campsite. I had food, water, and I was warm. In fact, I was sweating a bit. Ok, I was stranded an unknown number of miles from help, but I was freakin' warm. It felt so good to be warm that being stranded didn't seem like much of an inconvenience.

I may wear my new heated vest around the house until June.