The set-up on the motorcycle is just the half of it. What you wear is a major factor in staying comfortable on a long ride.
This isn't my first rodeo. I haven't been riding as long as some, but I've tackled some longer rides that have given me some insight into what I'll be facing during my upcoming ride.
Currently, 95% of my riding is my daily commute, along with knocking around town. Since I happen to live in Minnesota, this means that I'm typically riding on highways and on city streets in medium to heavy traffic, rain or shine, in temperatures ranging from below freezing to 100+ degrees.
That other 5% of my riding is the fun stuff. As a newbie, I started with charity rides such as the Flood Run along the St. Croix River and began to take on longer, more adventurous trips. Short hops around the state to places like Alexandria and Duluth were the next step. I even had a chance to trailer out to Sturgis and ride areas like the Needles and take on some truly challenging roads. Last season, I finally took my riding to the next level and completed an Iron Butt Saddlesore 1000. Each time I spent an entire day in the saddle was another lesson learned in what (and what NOT) to wear. Research, as well as trial and error, have given me some insights into how to dress for the weather (expected or not) and stay comfortable.
Below is a breakdown of the riding gear I intend to bring with me and wear during the coming trip out to the West Coast.
Part 1: On The Road
The 4-day first leg out to San Francisco and the 3-day third leg back to Minneapolis from Seattle will involve some heavy long-haul riding, mostly on interstate highways. I expect each of those days to average more than 600 miles and involve 10-12 hours of riding. This is the gear I will wear during these portions of the trip:
Helmet: Scorpion EXO-AT950
This helmet is Scorpion's entry into the modular adventure helmet market. The German company Schuberth retains the industry reputation for producing the very best (though leaky) and quietest modular helmets, and top-of-the-line manufacturers such as Arai and Shoei produce modular helmet of nearly the same quality.
However, those products just do not justify their hefty $600+ price. This was especially true for me after I tried the Scorpion. $240 bought me a helmet with all the same features, a larger viewport (large enough to accommodate a pair of goggles), and a visor to supplement the integrated sun visor. A fantastic value that has proved itself to me over and over again in all conditions.
Riding jacket: Firstgear Kilimanjaro Jacket
My most recent purchase, the Kilimanjaro has already displayed its value in downpours and in airflow under hot and steamy conditions. I'll note it's benefits and limitations further as the month progresses, but so far this bit of kit is living up to its stellar reputation.
Riding Pants: Joe Rocket Ballistic Textile Pants
My oldest piece of gear, these pants have served me ever since I first hopped on a motorcycle, from riding school to my first accident, through commutes both scorching and freezing, my first visit to Sturgis and my first Iron Butt. While not as cool as denim or mesh would be, they do zip down the sides and provide enough ventilation to help me avoid heat stroke. Where they really shine is when it gets chilly. Featuring a zip-in liner, these things have handled highway speeds in temperatures down to 20ºF. No way I'd leave home on a trip like this without my trusty Joe Rockets. I hear tell that there are better pants out there for touring and adventure riding. I say that those products will need to be something special for me to retire these riding pants.
Gloves: Knox Handroid pod MKIII Gloves
When I was younger, I was a rollerblading fiend. I even raced competitively for a while and was once pulled over by St. Paul Police for speeding (I was clocked doing 43 mph in a 30 mph zone). As a result, I've always been paranoid about the damage I could do to my hands if I was ever to go down traveling at a high rate of speed. I used to wear huge, armored rollerblading gloves and they saved my hands more than once.
Fast-forward to the time I spent buying motorcycle gear ahead of purchasing my first bike. The British gear manufacturer Knox first caught my eye with the boa closure for their Orso street glove. But when I looked at their other products, I spotted the Handroid and fell in love immediately. A racing glove that features scaphoid protection (just like my Rollerblade gloves!), as well as protection down over each of my fingers? Greater impact coverage across the top of my hand than most racing gloves? SOLD! It took me a bit to save up for (and justify the exorbitant cost of) these gloves, but they are my go-to pair of riding gloves now and they continue to fit like a dream.
Boots: Sidi Apex Boots
I started out riding with a nice, heavy pair of Icon street riding boots. Big and clunky, they fit my vision of how I wanted to ride. Poor workmanship drove me to try a different pair of boots, then look for something softer and more comfortable. With each successive boot, poor workmanship was the problem that led me to junk them. So, for this riding season, I decided to do my research, read a ton of industry and anecdotal reviews, and more carefully consider the kind of riding I typically did in order to find the perfect boot.
And what do you know, I might have finally succeeded.
The Sidi Apex has the racing profile that I had avoided for years. Contrary to what some might think looking at the kind of motorcycle I ride, I am NOT a sportbike enthusiast; I personally like to ride for more than an hour at a time without having to stop because of cramps from hunching over like a Kentucky Derby jockey. I do, however, enjoy a... shall we say "spirited jaunt" on occasion. I also became fascinated by the information I was reading about "boot feel", getting a better ride because the boot allowed for more precise shifting.
The result? I started the season in a pair of racing boots...sort of. I am not the type to dress up like a Power Ranger, with the racing suit, the purpose-built racing helmet, and over-the-calf racing boots. I like to wear riding jeans on occasion, I commute, and I like having a bit more range of motion with my foot, for riding and for walking. The Apex is a lowered version of the Sidi Vertigo boot, and feature all of the foot and ankle protection of the full boot while allowing you to wear it under a pair of riding jeans. I have a narrow foot, so I have found them more comfortable than some people, and I feel as though my shifting is easier and more precise.
This trip may cause me to look for a taller boot in the future, but for now, this is the best boot I have ever owned.
Rain/Safety Gear: Frogg Toggs All Sport Rain Suit, Vega High Visibility Yellow Safety Vest
My Kilimanjaro jacket is completely waterproof, but this is not the case with the leather jacket that has served as my primary cold weather jacket, nor with my mesh hot weather jacket. Also, none of my pants are waterproof, including my Joe Rocket pants and my riding jeans. It only took a few downpours for me to decide that, should I need to ride a fair distance in adverse conditions, it might be best if I had some rain gear to bring with me.
I ended up taking it a step further and found a rain gear that I could pack into an ultra-small package and store in my gear bag. Because, of course, you're going to leave your rain gear at home the day you really need it. Frogg Toggs were the solution. They look like they're made of paper, but they have stood up to riding at highway speeds through a sustained downpour. I expect to avoid the heaviest weather, but if a few hours riding in the rain gets me to my next destination before dark, these will see me through.
I'm not normally worried about being seen on a motorcycle with such a bright and unusual paint scheme, but poor visibility conditions like rain, fog, dawn, or dusk mean that you want to maximize your visibility any way you can. While I have yet to go all the way and opt for a hi-viz helmet and riding suit, this vest is an easily stored option. I keep this with my rain gear not simply for the added visibility, but as a reminder of just how difficult it is for drivers to spot motorcycles when the weather turns.
In Part 2, I will cover the additional riding gear I intend to bring with me. After all; on your downtime, you don't want to be tooling around town dressed up for the Apocalypse.