Pilot Motosport Riding Gear Review

ATTGATT. All the gear, all the time. It’s the mantra I live by, especially since my motorcycle is my primary transportation, and I ride every day. That turned out to be a good decision in 2008, when the van driver for a handicapped transportation service, presumably trying to drum up some more business, ran a stop sign and T-boned me while I was riding my FJR1300. I walked away with just a broken toe.

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VikingCycle Warrior Motorcycle Jacket

Riding Gear Review

Motorcycle House contacted me and asked me if I’d be willing to review some of their gear. They wanted me to review a set of their leather saddlebags, but, since I ride a VFR1200, that wasn’t possible. So, they asked if I’d be willing to review a jacket. They even let me pick the jacket I wanted to review. Since I’m a sucker for a nice leather jacket, I chose the Warrior motorcycle jacket. There was no quid-pro-quo for a nice review. The deal was that they’d send me a jacket, and I’d review it, as always.

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Cardo Systems Scala Rider G9 Review

For years now, I’ve been using a set of Sony Bluetooth earbuds/phone remote when I ride. They’ve been OK for listening to my XM unit, or my phone, but, of course, far from perfect. The phone is pretty much unusable since all the other person can hear is the whoosh of wind, and me, faintly, screaming like a maniac.

So, after saving up for a few weeks, I plonked down $289 for a Scala Rider G9 Bluetooth unit from Cardo Systems.  For a price that steep, I thought, it better work great.

Happily, I can now report to you that it does.

The G9 is the latest and greatest from Cardo Systems, and they claim lots of great features for it.

Talk time: up to 13 hours

Standby time: 7 days

Charging time: 3 hours

Radio on time: 8-10 hours

Certified Waterproof and Dustproof (IP67)

Intercom conferencing with up to 4 other scala rider users (up to 1.6 km in Full Duplex)

4-Way (2 drivers and 2 passengers)

3-Way (3 separate bikers)

2-Way (rider-to-rider or rider-topassenger)

Intercom “One+8” – toggle between 8 additional G9 users

Click-to-Link: for spontaneous intercom connections with any G4/G9 user

Mobile Phone Conference Mode (rider, passenger, outside caller)

Mobile Phone / GPS device

MP3 Player – Stream stereo music via A2DP (cable connection also included
for older MP3 players) Plus: Built-in FM radio with RDS, 6 station presets and smart auto scan

Priority Management: No need to manually disconnect from intercom or music to receive incoming phone calls or GPS instructions!

iPhone™ Compatible – iPhone is a registered trademark of Apple Inc.

Up to 1 mile / 1.6 km Bike-to-Bike intercom with flip-up antenna for extended range

Built-in FM Radio with 6 presets

Cardo Systems Scala Rider G9Well, I can’t speak to the 1 mile range on intercom, as I don’t know anybody else with one, but I can verify that, as a phone/mp3/gps bluetooth system, it works, and works well.

First off, unlike some of the other bluetooth systems, the G9 is fully iPhone compatible, and transmits great stereo using iPhone proprietary (of course) bluetooth system. If it works with iPhone/iPod’s maddening “We don’t follow the standard everyone else in the industry does” arrogance, it’ll work great with an Android phone, too.

The unit itself comes in two pieces. One piece is the mounting bracket, which contains both the boom microphone and ear speakers, and the other piece is the removable Bluetooth control unit. In addition to the boom microphone, the system comes with a wired microphone, which is useful for mounting on the chinbar of a full-face helmet. The boom mic works better with modular or other than full-face helmets.

You have two mounting options. There is a clamp mount which fits between the outer shell and padding of the helmet, but, if that’s not a possibility, the unit also includes an external glue mount. But, a warning about the glue mount: it’s permanent, and uses a bonding epoxy that, given 24 hours to cure, will be a permanent fixture on the helmet.

Once mounted, the speaker wires are run under the padding of the helmet to the ear cutouts in the padding. Since many helmets now come with speaker pouches built into the helmets, the speakers will fit quite nicely in there. The boom mike is mounted on a plastic coated metal gooseneck that’s plenty long and flexible enough to reach your mouth.

My helmet is a Shark Evoline 2 modular, so there aren’t speaker mounts, but I was able to pull out the cheek pads, and cut out the earhole padding, giving me the perfect spot to mount the speakers on the included Velcro pads that can be stuck to the helmet’s inner shell. There’s plenty of room with the padding removed so that the speakers don’t uncomfortably press on my ears. The speakers themselves are fairly small and thin, with reasonably substantial wires connecting them to the mounting unit.

The Bluetooth control unit slides onto the mount, and is removable for recharging. The rubber-covered control buttons are large and chunky, which makes them easy to manipulate with gloved hands. each button has multiple functions, which depend on tapping or pressing and holding the button to activate different functions.

Connecting the Bluetooth control to a phone is fairly easy and painless, and it mates in seconds.

Once on the road, you can listen to the built-in FM radio, your iPod/iPhone music, skip tracks, change the volume, make a phone call, or listen to your GPS, either via the buttons on the Bluetooth control unit, or via voice command. For instance, saying “Radio On” activates the G9’s built-in FM radio.

Which brings me to a drawback. If you start singing along to your iTunes, or start yelling at something infuriating you hear on talk radio, the G9 will shut everything down to listen to what you have to say, so it doesn’t miss your voice command. So, you have to remain silent, and just scream in your mind, instead of using your outside voice.

The sound is surprisingly loud, so you don’t have to turn the unit all the way up to listen to it. Just set it to a comfortable volume before you hit the road. As you go rise along, and the ambient noise changes, the G9 will raise and lower the volume appropriately, so you don’t always have to fiddle with the volume buttons, and you can still hear clearly.

Music sounds good on the speakers, although, given their size, some might argue that they don’t have quite enough bass response. That’s inherent with any small speaker size, though. There’s a reason your home stereo speakers have 12- or 15-inch woofers, after all. I would dismiss this quibble, as the wind noise inside even the best helmets are going to destroy any pretense of audiophile-level sound quality anyway. Personally, I think the sound quality is very good for such small speakers, and I don’t find them tinny at all. Indeed, I had to turn them down on the highway, because they can get uncomfortably loud.

The really important thing I noticed is that, unlike noise-canceling earbuds, you aren’t completely cut off from the outside world.  You have a better sense of situational awareness of the other sounds on the road.

To me, when you couple that with the usable volume and quality of the speaker sound, makes the Scala Rider G9 the best of both worlds.

Embracing Technology

After months of hemming and hawing, I went out today and picked up a Cardo Systems Scala Rider G9 Bluetooth system. I picked it up this afternoon from Cycle Gear, and, while I haven’t had a chance to ride anywhere with it, I did get it partially charged, installed on my helmet, and played around with it a bit.  So far the sound seems loud and clear, it was relatively easy to install on my Shark Evoline2 helmet, and I can control my iTunes music, make phone calls, etc. So it works sitting in my living room. The buttons are chunky, and easy to use with gloves. It’s also supposedly waterproof and dustproof. The volume is supposed to increase and decrease with your speed, but I won’t know about that until tomorrow.

It seems OK so far, though, so I’ll probably have a full review up in a day or two.

Xelement Men’s CF-624 Armored Race Motorcycle Jacket Review

First, for full transparency, this is a solicited review. Leatherup.Com contacted me and asked if I would be interested in having them sending me some gear to review, and I said I’d be happy to. There is no payment or quid pro quo, other than that they’d send me stuff from time to time, and I’d review it.

cf624_1What they sent me this week was the CF-624 Armored Race Motorcycle Jacket. I’m going to assume that the "Race" is merely a style name, and not referring to actual race use as this is a textile jacket, not a leather one. I can’t imagine anyone going to the racetrack and wearing anything but full-on leathers. But it certainly has a racing-style look to it, and is a fairly attractive jacket.

The outer shell is a 600-denier nylon "Tri-Tex" material, comparable in weight and thickness to the shells that Tourmaster/Cortech or Joe Rocket uses for their textile jackets. The jacket has removable CE armor pads at the elbows, shoulders, and back, with additional foam protectors sewn into the shell in front, and down the back. It comes with a quilted, insulated, zip-out liner for colder weather, and when the liner is zipped out, the inner shell of the jacket is fully lined with polyester. One thing I always look for is the back zipper for connecting the jacket to riding pants—an item usually missing in the Tourmaster stuff I’ve seen—but present and accounted for in the Xelement jacket.

For warmer weather, there are four zippered vents: two in the arms and two in the back, that open mesh-covered vents for airflow. The outside of each shoulder also mounts a polycarbonate external protector that has integral screened holes to allow additional airflow. Each side has nylon pull tabs with velcro closures to cinch the waist to your size.

cf624_2The CE armor at the elbow and shoulder has a semi-rigid outer shell, with a softer impact-foam backing, while the back protector is a removable impact-foam pad. All of the armor is CE certified, however.

The bottom of each sleeve has a zippered closure for tightening, as well as velcro tabs.

The construction overall seems solid, with well-stitched and taped seams.

I would say it compares very well with the relatively more expensive gear from Tourmaster/Cortech, Joe Rocket, and even some of the Icon Motosports textile gear. For an $80 jacket, it seems like it’s a pretty good value, as that is about $50 less than comparable Tourmaster jackets.

There are a few cons. Personally, I’d like to see some additional, thicker cordura patches in the impact areas, as well as some adjustment snaps on the arms to tighten the elbow armor more firmly. Also, some reflective material would be nice, as this jacket has none at all. Having said that, I had a Harley-Davidson textile jacket that didn’t have those things—and no back protector besides—that cost double what this jacket costs.

One caveat about buying an Xelement jacket seems to be a common complaint that they run a bit small. I can confirm that. At 5’10" and 190lbs, I generally wear a size large, but this jacket in that size is a tight fit with the liner in, and just large enough to provide adequate freedom of movement without it. I’d recommend buying a size larger than you would usually wear.

A final thought. I am a bit of a fanatic about protection when it comes to riding gear. The least protective jacket I have is the Olympia Motosports jacket I reviewed a few months ago. It has more armor coverage, and 2000 denier cordura in all the impact areas. My second jacket is a full-on Dainese hard-armored jacket with a 1" thick hard back plate, and my hot weather jacket is a Pilot mesh jacket that I got before Pilot went back to making only custom race suits, and it has so much hard armor coverage that the mesh is essentially useless, as no air flows under the armor anyway. And, If I want to to wear an unarmored jacket, I have a Six-Six-One armor set that I wear underneath it. So, the Xelement jacket is not one I’d wear on a daily basis.

However, I realize that most of you aren’t as paranoid as I am about armor, and aren’t interested in shelling out $500 bucks for a Dainese jacket. So for the vast majority of you guys, this jacket will be perfectly fine. I’d say it’s every bit as good as a Cortech jacket at a much better price. It’s lightweight, comfortable, and better armored than many budget jackets. I would also note that a quick check of customer reviews at Amazon shows that—size issues aside—people rate this jacket well.

Oh, my chick also says it looks nice—and she’s far more of an authority on that stuff than I am.

Review: Freeze-Out Zipped Gilet and Inner Glove Liners

Cycle Gear is running a sale on their Freeze-Out line of motorcycle under layer clothing.  I picked up the zipped jacket gilet and the inner glove liners.  Cycle Gear’s web site touts this line of gear with the following description:

FREEZE-OUT® utilizes cutting-edge membrane laminate barrier technology to block wind and retain warmth while allowing internal moisture to escape. Brushed poly interior facilitates moisture transfer and is supremely comfortable. Thin and light with flat-lock seams to layer easily under riding apparel and equipment. Extend your riding comfort with FREEZE-OUT® accessories.

giletI guess it does all that, but you should be clear. This is not a replacement for the thermal or quilted liners that come with your outer gear. It is an additional thermal layer. If you need a lighter liner than the stock one, it’s OK, but it’s not best suited as a cold-weather replacement for that stock liner.

It’s actually a pretty cool little jacket for 30 bucks. It’s relatively tight-fitting, but comfortable, and is a nice fleece inside. I’ve taken to wearing it as a light jacket after I get off my bike. It’s got a techy, futuristic look, and I’ve gotten several admiring comments on it. Worn as an additional underlayer, it does keep you pretty toasty in the 30-degree range. Otherwise, the "barrier technology to block wind" sounds better than it actually is at highway speeds.

The tighter fit, however, allows it to fit well under your regular jacket/liner, and adds a comfortable thermal layer that’s not too bulky, and keeps you warmer. Another nice feature of the gilet is that the arms both zip off, leaving you with a thermal vest, instead of a full liner.

Likewise, the inner glove liners are fine for some extra warmth under a good set of windproof gloves. I tried them out with my perforated leather sport gauntlets, and they didn’t seem to help all that much.

Used as intended, however, they are both adequately good at what they are designed to do, which is to provide a good, additional, thermal underlayer to your regular riding gear.

The best thing about them is the price, which is under $30 for the gilet, and $15 for the glove liners. The second best thing about the gilet is that, when you get off your bike, you can wear the gilet as a comfy jacket, and it gives you a cool, "I’ve come from the future" vibe.

In a positive, Star Trek way, not  a dystopian, 12 Monkeys kind of way.

Need a new helmet?

…Then you may be interested in the J.D. Power survey that shows Arai and Icon are tops for consumer satisfaction.

For a 13th consecutive year, Arai ranks highest in customer satisfaction, and ties with Icon with a score of 852 on a 1,000-point scale. Arai performs well across all 11 attributes, particularly in fit and comfort and face shield effectiveness of keeping wind out. Icon performs particularly well in color/graphic design. Shoei follows in the rankings with a score of 831 and performs well in ease of replacing the face shield.

Oh, and if you really want to join the “in” crowd, buy your new helmet online.

Helmets, helmets, helmets!

The 2011 helmets are on display in all their glory at the annual Powersports Dealer Expo, and Motorcycle-USA has coverage (Get it? coverage?) of new & notable lids for this year.

Included are new modular helmets from Bell and Vega for the graying Sport-Touring gentleman to wear with his hi-vis Aerostich, Arai’s new Vector-2 line for the leather-clad racer wannabes, Icon helmets with outlandish graphics for the squids, Fulmer carbon-fiber useless half helmets for the pirates (assuming they even wear helmets), and AGV MX helmets for the dirty, off-road rabble.

Any segment of the motorcycling community I didn’t offend with that last paragraph?



Another Helmet Myth Debunked

Ah, science! It’s so good at telling us that things we “know” are true…aren’t. In this case, it’s the idea that the extra weight of a helmet on one’s head increases the chance of a spine injury, as the extra weight snaps your whiplashing vertebrae like toothpicks.  The people who don’t like to wear helmets have all sorts of stupid pseudo-scientific reasons for why not wearing a helmet is “safer”.

A Johns Hopkins study of crash data from more than 40,000 motorcycle accidents showed that wearing a helmet was associated with a 22% reduction in cervical injuries. There was also–as if it wasn’t blindingly obvious–a 65% reduction in traumatic brain injuries at a 37% decrease in death.

Look, I, personally, don’t care if you wear a helmet or not. I certainly wouldn’t force you to wear one. But if you don’t wear one, and end up with a crack on the head that turns you into a broccoli floret, I don’t see why I have to pick up the tab for it, either.

21st Century Protection

Compared to the way the world was when I was a kid, when helmets were optional, and leather vests & blue jeans constituted protective gear, we really do have a wide option of riding garments, protectors, armor, and helmets.  The thing is, aside from the invention of some tough new fabrics like Cordura and Kevlar, protective gear remains mired in the mid-20th century.  Helmets are still essentially a fiberglass shell with a styrofoam backing, while crash protection is some padding–even if the padding is gel–behind a hard plastic cover.

But in the past several months, that’s really started to change, and some new products are about to appear that constitute a real step forward in applying 21st century materials science to protective gear.

Del Rosario Helmet
Del Rosario Helmet

This helmet, designed by Del Rosario, is a completely new breakthrough that incorporates a radically new approach in helmet design.

The first layer of protection are gel inserts intended to to eliminate vibrations and other small forces that current helmet technology utterly ignores. While these kinds of forces are unlikely to cause injury, they do cause fatigue and discomfort.

The second layer of protection is a multi-layered laminate liner. Capable of flexing, crushing and delaminating, this liner can deal with a wider range of forces than a traditional styrofoam liner, which can only crush. Through the controlled destruction of this layer, a lower level of force reaches the helmet’s main level of impact absorption.

A carbon frame of arched members composes the Del Rosario helmet’s main safety mechanism. Through the magical power of science, theses arches can be precisely tailored to flex or break in a predictable manner, coping with both high and low energy loads.

Also notice the non-traditional, extremely aerodynamic lines.

Knox Kinesis Armor
Knox Kinesis Armor

Knox Labs has created the Kinesis line of armor, which incorporates a floating shell instead of the fixed shell in current armor offerings.

Kinesis is a revolutionary technology that mimics one of the most successful and natural safety systems which occurs in the human head. When the head is subjected to an oblique impact, the brain can slide along a membrane on the inner surface of the skull, which reduces the forces transmitted to the brain.

Similarly, Knox has created the Kinesis protector which has a ‘floating’ shell. When this is subjected to an oblique impact the shell moves relative to the core protector, creating an alternate load path for the energy. This significantly reduces the force transmitted to the body part in question.

But, that’s just the outer shell.  There’s new goodness on the way from d3O labs for the gel backing, as well, in somewthing called “shear thickening gel.

d3o Armor
d3o Armor

Shear Thickening gel is soft and pliable as can be, right up to the point it is subjected to a sharp impact, at which point, the bonds between the molecules harden, instantly stiffening the material to distribute the impact. FirstGear is already implementing a line of motorcycle clothing that incorporates 3dO armor.

It’s nice to see such progress on all fronts after 50 years of stagnation in protection design.

Rear-view helmet

Reevu Helmet
Reevu Helmet

A British company is set to bring a brand new helmet concept to market.  Called the Reevu MSX1, this new helmet allows the driver to see the road behind him through a small mirror inserted into the visor.

The mirror reflects the image of whatever is to the rear of the helmet, and to see it, the rider merely has to glance up slightly to see the mirror.  The helmet liner is sculpted to fit the rider’s line of sight to the mirror.

Sadly, there is no word as to whether this helmet will be marketed in the US, or only in Britain.  At £249–approx $400–it isn’t an especially cheap helmet, but it is available directly from Reevu, and their web site has more info.

If you’re interested in what you see as a rider when wearing the helmet, Reevu has obliged us with a demonstration as well.  Click the image below to see a larger view.

Reevu MSX1 Riders View
Reevu MSX1 Riders View

At first glance, it seems like a massively useful idea, and one that really does offer some safety advantages.  It’s a neat idea, and I’d like to see that helmet over here in the US.