Winter Riding Gear Guide
RUG UP FOR WINTER RIDING
With winter here already, motorcyclists in many parts of the country will be dusting off their cold weather riding gear. If you are a regular rider, it’s almost certain you’ll own some sort of wet-weather kit.
While the effectiveness of our gear is all important, most of us are not really aware of just what the stuff is constructed of. We simply trust that it will deliver those elusive qualities that we really need – to be waterproof and warm.
It all sounds pretty simple, but to make something waterproof is not easy. Even submarines take in water. Toss in the human needs of comfort and wear-ability, and the whole deal becomes quite a science.
Let’s take a look at some of the materials used, what you can expect from them and how much you can expect to pay.
The simplest sort of rain wear is a type of two-layer sandwich. The outer layer is typically nylon or polyester and it provides the strength. The inner one is polyurethane or PVC, and it provides the water resistance – but it does so at the cost of breathability.
So what’s better – polyurethane or PVC? Polyurethane is lighter and more flexible than PVC but less durable.
Polyurethane, unlike PVC, is normally applied on the inside of a nylon fabric or substrate. The plus side of this is that polyurethane is more breathable than PVC but at the same time it is also less water resistant. The more expensive polyurethane rain gear (compared with PVC) has multiple bonding to increase water resistance. This is the stuff that full oversuits are made of. They have the added advantage of folding up to a relatively small size and can be kept under a motorcycle’s seat.
For storm protection, a full polyurethane oversuit does a great job, but lacks breathability. For a long ride in very wet conditions, a polyurethane oversuit is not the answer, due to the material’s tendency to hold perspiration.
The most durable coating is PVC (polyvinyl-chloride). PVC is moderately abrasion and oil resistant, relatively lightweight and inexpensive.
There’s no doubt PVC keeps the water out, in fact it probably wins the ‘most waterproof’ award. It’s what you see road-repair crews wearing and Posties getting about in come winter time. It is also the cheapest alternative.
The downside to both PVC and polyurethane? Well, wrap your arm in plastic footwrap or a rubbish bag and run it under a hot tap. Feel how steamy things get?
Yep, you can get almost as wet from your own perspiration wearing PVC or polyurethane as you would if the rain came through. These materials simply do not breathe.
Either though, they will keep you warm and dry, and if you are not relying on them every day or for long periods of time, PVC and polyurethane gear is the budget choice.
- The good: It keeps the rain out very effectively.
- The bad: Elvis Presley breathes more and there’s no protective armour.
- The price: PVC jackets can be had for as little as $50 and pants $30; oversuits start at around $100.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on wet weather gear that also offers protection in the event of an accident.
We recommend you opt for gear that will not only keep you relatively dry (we say ‘relatively’, because a severe soaking will just about get through anything but the very top-end gear), but will offer some impact protection.
In the mid-range category, jackets and pants are available with built-in armour. Look for shoulder, elbow and knee protection and a sturdy outer material.
Construction of a typical mid-priced jacket or pants should include a good quality textile exterior (Cordura or equivalent), removable armour, plenty of pockets (with flaps over closures), zip-in thermal liner, and some reflective striping for added visibility.
We consider the above the bare minimum if you are looking for a stand-alone winter-riding product as the gear is also doing the job of offering impact protection, rather than simply being worn over dry-weather riding gear.
Be aware that this is the price-range where you are most likely to ‘get it wrong’ as the choice in the mid-range segment is extensive.
That just means you have to delve and dig to get the facts.
Ask questions of the salesman, look closely, try the stuff on and take your time to weigh up the respective features.
Get this one right however, and you’ll be very pleased with a smart and effective purchase – not just for its weather protection, but also its looks.
- The good: Price versus protection. Shop well here and you will get good protection from both the elements and injury.
- The bad: Bulky, therefore difficult to transport if you are not wearing it for the entire ride. It’s cheaper for a reason too, therefore will probably not last as long as top-end kit nor be as versatile.
- The price: Jackets $200-$450; pants $150-$350.
If price is no object there is a fabulous range on offer from the biggest names in the caper. While it may seem like an extravagance when you are handing over the readies, good stuff lasts and lasts.
Get it right and it’s highly unlikely you will need to buy again in the next five years – and you may indeed get 10. Doesn’t seem like that much to spend in that light does it?
Of course, you have to possess it to spend it and we can’t all afford the best. A top-shelf two-piece Gore-Tex riding suit from BMW or Dainese can cost over $2000. And, if you are not using it on some sort of semi-regular basis, well, you may very well not need to go this way. Top-line all-weather gear includes a Cordura or similar outer, Gore-Tex liner, reflective stripes, removable armour, removable thermal liner and some form of ventilation.
All closures should be flapped, the exterior should be constructed of a brand textile known for its strength and longevity (eg: Cordura), and there will usually be a much wider range of adjustment and fitting features.
Consider purchasing at this level as ‘custom fitting’, as comfortable textile riding gear will make the trip so much more enjoyable. That’s why you are in this market – it’s all about your total satisfaction.
- The good: This gear will last and do its job for a very long time. Brand cred is high here too. Your mates will envy you.
- The bad: There’s no hiding those prices, this stuff costs plenty.
- The price: Jackets $450-$1500, pants $350-$1000.
GLOVES AND BOOTS
It makes little sense buying good jackets and pants if your gloves and boots let you down. The extremities are always the first to cop the chill factor.
Look for gloves that suit your hand size, but go a size up. Close fitting wet weather gloves can become very uncomfortable on a long ride and, if they happen to leak (and in a super-storm, trust us, they will), they can be a nightmare to get off, and more importantly, back on.
Thermal inner gloves can help here, and add an extra dimension to a glove’s practicality.
Gore-Tex (see below) or a similar product like Sympatex is the way to go for winter gloves. Gloves are far cheaper than full riding suits, so different gloves for winter and summer riding is the norm. Around $100 is where we would start our price range here, through to around $300 for the very best stuff.
When deciding on boots, we opt to buy waterproof at all times. They are no less comfortable than non-waterproof items and are not much dearer.
Once again, ‘waterproof’ is a big claim with Gore-Tex the best of materials for breathability as well as waterproofing.
Look for a boot that has a liner behind the zip, one that reaches at least as far as mid-calf.
We’re yet to see the zip that won’t leak, so if that area is not isolated from your leg, it will leak, guaranteed.
Moulded-sole boots are better – sewn areas can leak through the stitching.
Expect to pay at least $300 for a half-decent pair of waterproof boots with in-built ankle and shin protection.
WHAT IS GORE-TEX?
Gore-Tex is a thin material that was invented in the US in 1969, and is the Rolls-Royce of waterproof and breathable materials. It’s based on thermo-mechanically expanded polytetrafluoroethylene and other fluoropolymer products.
Early Gore-Tex fabric replaced the inner layer of polyurethane with a thin, porous fluoropolymer membrane (Teflon) coating that was bonded to a fabric. This membrane had about 1.4 billion pores per square centimetre.
Each pore is approximately 1/20,000 the size of a water droplet, making it impenetrable to water while still allowing the smaller water vapour molecules (such as perspiration) to pass through.
However it was found that when used in clothing, the exposed Teflon membrane was easily damaged, as well as being compromised by exposure to the wearer’s own perspiration. As a result a third, monolithic polyurethane layer was added.
Finally either a loose fabric shell layer, or a bonded coating (typically a grid fabric), is added to the garment to protect the membrane sandwich.
TOP 10 TIPS FOR BUYING WE WEATHER KIT
1. Guess what? Golfers, sailors and skiers wear similar stuff if all you want is a waterproof over-suit without the body armour.
2. If you only ride in the rain/cold occasionally you should probably look to the cheaper end.
3. If you do more than 10,000km a year in all types of weather we’d be shopping at the top-end of the range.
4. Do you have carrying capacity? This stuff takes up space. If you are limited in this area, look to versatile gear that can be worn year-round (zip-out liners and Gore-Tex are good for this).
5. Do you carry pillions in bad weather? A hypothermic passenger is a crook look. Kit loved ones and mates out too.
6. Leather suits do not hold heat or repel water effectively. You may look a million bucks, but race suits are designed for protection and cooling – not to provide waterproofing. And, wet leather is heavy
7. Avoid products that quote terms like ‘water repellent’ or ‘water resistant’ The Titanic was ‘water resistant’.
8. If you do a lot of night riding, go for gear with good reflective features. The decreased visibility in bad weather can make you hard to see.
9. Buy sizes a little larger than you would for normal clothing. You are probably going to wear this stuff over some bulky clothing (including a well-armoured jacket in the case of PVC or polyurethane gear).
10. Read up, do your homework. Word of mouth is good here, so ask your mates.