DARIEN vs. KALAHARI


Shoot-out: RiderWearHouse's Darien jacket vs. BMW's Kalahari jacket

by Stephen Karlan (Dali Meeow)


[Darien photo] [Kalahari photo]
TABLE of CONTENTS
Stephen Karlan's (Dali Meeow) comparison of Darien and Kalahari jackets
[Preface] [Short Version] [Long Version] [Service] [Availability and Pricing] [Style/Fit] [Materials] [Hot Weather] [Motoport] [Rainy Weather] [Cold Weather] [Weather Summary] [Storage] [Safety] [Pants] [Bonding]


Other options, comments, and reports
[Dave Meyer on Roadcrafter] ... [Tom Jamrog on Motoport] ... [Scott Squire on First Gear] ... [John Baxter on Darien] ... [Tom Keen on Joe Rocket] ... [Mark Rooney on RoadGear] ... [Tom Nash on First Gear Kilimanjaro and Tour Master] ... [Jerry Smith on First Gear Kilimanjaro and RoadCrafter 'stich]
Companies contact numbers and information

PREFACE:

This is a really long review of the Darien (above left photo) and Kalahari (above right photo) jackets. In fact, two Darien jackets were tested, the regular and the light version. The only difference between the regular and light (More Taste, Less Filling) is that the light is made with a thinner, 160 denier, Cordura shell, providing a slightly cooler and more supple feel with less abrasion resistance than the 500 denier Darien regular.

The BMW saga begins with seeing a BMW jacket while on a trip. Looked great, and so I ordered one from a local dealer (and paid for it) way before I was to leave for a two-week east coast ride. After nearly three weeks and no jacket, I started telephoning BMW to get the jacket. I got voice mail and left messages, but BMW stonewalled me for nearly two weeks. I went online with the problem and the Internet BMW Riders gave me no sympathy -- "Forget the BMW jacket and buy a Darien" was their message. Someone else online asked about one-piece vs. two-piece suits, and the Darien received praise once again. I knew from the net comments that BMW was the problem, and it got worse.

I got on the phone to RiderWearHouse, who makes the one-piece Aerostich and the two-piece Roadcrafter in sizes (like dress suits) and the touring-oriented Darien S-M-L-XL jacket and separate pants. I had a grey Darien in my hands within three days. Mea culpa, I should have listened to the Internet BMW Riders from the beginning. And then miracle of miracles, the BMW Kalahari showed up at my dealer's doorstep. I tested them side-by-side.

I exchanged the Darien for a black Darien Light with fleece liner and traveled New Hampshire, Maine and the Carolinas in October with it. I also had further contact with BMW NA, and what follows is my experience with the jackets and the companies. Here's a comparison.

SHORT VERSION:

The Kalahari has great style and fit. It needs more and better venting, it needs larger zippers, the safety features are inadequate, and the BMW NA support for this product is non-existent (this will be explained in detail). The Darien deserves its reputation and praise; the company has done its homework and listens to riders. The Darien looks and acts like motorcycle clothing; it is made for the serious rider.

LONG VERSION:

This is a totally accurate and scientific comparison of RiderWearHouse's Darien and Darien Light, and BMW's Kalahari. I'll compare service, alterations, style, use of GoreTex, cleaning and maintenance, use in hot, rainy and cold weather, storage capability, safety, pants, and the highly objective "ability to bond" with the product for the touchy-feely crowd in California.

SERVICE:

Service Part I, Ordering: Ordering the Darien was quick and easy with their direct 800 number and UPS delivery (1-800-222-1994). According to the sizing chart in their catalog, I would have ordered an extra large. Instead of using the chart, I called a friend and tried on his "large" Darien -- it fit, and that was it. My friend didn't have the fleece liner; he uses long johns and other layers when he travels north. Since I was a southern codger headed north to New Hampshire, Maine and western Carolinas in October, I opted for the ($167.00) fleece liner -- made the fit slightly tighter, but still comfortable.

Obtaining the BMW Kalahari is either extremely easy (the dealer has the item in stock and you can try on several until you get the right fit) or you ask the dealer to place an order with BMW. Figuring out what size to order isn't too bad; I ordered the same size as the jacket I wear (okay, it was a 44). You might ask the dealer to bring in one size larger and one smaller to make sure you get the right fit, especially if you need the right fit in a hurry. If all goes well, the jacket will arrive within the week. In my case, it took nearly a month because of a reported problem getting the right part numbers, more delay because of BMW's ordering cycle (waited six days to ship), and a severe and penetrating migraine brought on when BMW took lots of messages and voice mail but didn't call back. Granted, customer service was poor and a little stupidity went a long way. However, this was nothing compared to an official letter from BMW NA that accused me of being vulgar while asserting that I should only talk to my dealer -- BMW NA doesn't want to talk with customers. The exact words were: "...please remember that BMW NA is a wholesaler; it does not sell products directly to consumers." When you read this review, know that they succeeded in making me angry.

Service Part II, Alterations: RiderWearHouse has alteration pricing in the catalog. Scores of Internet BMW Riders have posted their praise of RiderWearHouse and the quality of their alterations. I know of one customer who did not like the final product, RiderWearHouse took it back and sold it from their outlet-seconds stock. You might ask about any returns if you're trying to save money. RiderWearHouse does perform their own alterations and are focused on making the customer happy. My experience was positive -- they shipped my pants back to me FREE so that I could mark them while sitting on my bike; Nena wanted to be sure we got it right and she went the extra 643 miles.

BMW does no alterations. They absolutely refused to deal with me on size or fit, suggesting that my dealer order 17 jackets so I could try them on. (Actually, they wanted my dealer to stock up on their product.) BMW customer service did supply me with the names of three companies who will do alterations; there is no price list for alterations. Buyer beware: If the alterations don't go well, BMW's attitude is that the suit is yours and it is your problem -- they are a wholesaler only. Darien clearly is the better product if you will need any alterations.

Service Part III, Repairs: RiderWearHouse repairs; it is the single and best source for service. Everything heard online supports the idea that you will receive unsurpassed service and repairs. BMW NA does not want to deal with Kalahari owners, they have set up nothing to help them. A strong relationship with the BMW dealer from whom you bought the jacket will not help you get it repaired. I have no information about which company to use for alterations and repairs. Unless there is a water problem, in which case the GoreTex guarantee may come into play, you are on your own with a Kalahari. If you have a get off (crash) and need repairs, repairs are up to you and must be made by someone (not BMW) that you select. Darien clearly is the better product if you ever need repairs, and they address the repair issue in their catalog.

Service Part IV, Crash Report: In January, 1997, the first Darien Light suit was sent back to the factory after a guesstimated 50 mph get off and 70-foot slide on asphalt. Both knees and the hip of the pants were torn. The right shoulder, two front panels and the back of the jacket including the reflective strip were damaged. All padding stayed in place during the crash and did the job. Because both pants and jacket repairs were more than 1/2 the cost of the items new, they were declared a total. The good news is that RiderWearHouse replaced them at a discount, the clothing worked, and the rider suffered no road rash, no lacerations (cuts), and no bruising. Absolutely no blood spilled. There were some broken ribs from the impact with the pavement. The BMW motorcycle (R1100RS) had $4,500 in damage, mostly replacement of plastic pieces on both sides and new hard saddlebags. The injuries to knees and hip would have generated large medical bills if the Darien Light had not been worn. The medical costs would have been many times greater than a new Darien, and it saved lots of pain and scarring. The rider purchased a new Darien Light (pants and jacket) following the accident. But, his riding partner then purchased the Darien regular jacket and Roadcrafter pants (mixed and matched for best fit), thinking that a Darien regular in the same crash might not have been totaled. I concluded that the Darien Regular will give better abrasion resistance, the Darien Light protects you in hotter weather because you'll be wearing it when the Darien Regular might be in the closet. By the way, I replaced the large size with an extra large (per catalog measurements) and it is more comfortable and is easily worn over regular clothing.

AVAILABILITY and PRICING:

Darien is sold by mail order, telephone 1-800-222-1994, or through the factory shop in Duluth, Minnesota, where you can receive a 10% discount if you buy it in person. Price: $487 includes fleece liner, $367 without liner, back pad/spine protection $60 additional. Same price for regular and light. Darien is not sold by local dealers. RiderWearHouse http://www.aerostich.com also has a free 100-page catalog of other clothing and accessories.

BMW's Kalahari is sold by BMW dealers, check your local telephone book. Retail list price is about $589.00. Your dealer may also have other types of BMW-distributed clothing. There are several suits not in their current 80-page catalog and you will want to at least look at them before making a final decision. Note: BMW makes none of the clothing; is appears to be designed and manufactured by the fashion industry and the catalog has not kept up with the design changes (there are more types available than appear in the catalog).

STYLE / FIT:

Most of you have seen the Darien, and the style police have their own preferences. I like the grey color best, then the black. I thought the Darien felt stiff (cardboard) and then found out that it gets more comfortable with use and washing. Lots of pockets (the pockets have pockets), horizontal reflective tape on the rear flap looks unique, two Velcro pulls at the waist create a belted appearance without the buckle to damage the bike and your stomach. This jacket shouts "serious rider". Comes in red, blue, black and grey. The Darien Light, with lighter Cordura for warmer climates, comes in black or tan. The tan model looks sharp but I thought it would get dirty too quickly for me; it is washable. I got black even though it will absorb more of Miami's heat.

You can get the Kalahari in any color, as long as it's black. The BMW Kalahari is sleek, has a tailored look, and you'll fall in love with this dark beauty. Black Kevlar body, grey shoulder and arm areas, and black&grey shoulder and arm skid patches. The belt looks smart on this jacket, and the jacket shouts "style". The devil is in the details. You lose the inside pockets when the GoreTex lining is installed. The Kalahari fits well because it comes in numerous sizes, not the S, M, L, XL of the Darien, and the Kalahari material is more pliable (similar to the Darien Light) than the unwashed version of the regular Darien. Kalahari is not made for warmth and will not look as good when you fit several layers under it. Remember to buy it big enough (even at the loss of some style) so you can add warm-weather clothing under it.

The Kalahari has an elastic cord along the jacket bottom that is designed to keep draughts out, and the elastic in the waist in back adds to its shape. I thought the BMW name and the roundel were positive trademarks, but the jacket hides its heritage. There is one tiny 7/16 inch diameter roundel hidden beneath the fold of one front pocket (find it if you can). There is a 3 3/4 inch embroidered name "MODERN CONCEPTS" on the left front pocket. What is that name doing on this jacket ? Are they telling us that this is not a BMW jacket, but one made by a fashion house with little connection to BMW ?

My last style/fit comment: If I'm going to pose next to a bike, take my picture in a Kalahari. If I'm going to be riding the bike, or if it rains, make it a Darien.

MATERIALS:

There are pros and cons to Cordura (Darien) vs. Kevlar (Kalahari); bring on the spin doctors and the hype hounds; both materials have their fans. The Cordura on the Darien Light gives up durability (compared to the Darien regular) for more comfort in hot weather. Both companies agree on GoreTex for rain protection and YKK zippers. Darien uses large YKK zippers, which I like better than the smaller-tooth Kalahari YKK zippers even though it sometimes is a bear to start. The Kalahari has an elastic pull-cord on the bottom of the jacket that makes the bottom fit closer; I never used it on the Kalahari and never needed it on the Darien.

HOT WEATHER:

The GoreTex in the Darien is part of the shell, and both the shell and GoreTex breathe and allow air flow. Venting is quite different on the two jackets. The Darien has five vents -- each sleeve opens really wide, there's a vent under each arm and there's a long horizontal vent across the back. The five vents open by unzipping, which then leaves totally open holes in the suits. With the front zipper pulled down, the suit fills up with air and flows out the side and rear. You'll have the Michelin-man look and will appreciate cool arms and torso.

The GoreTex lining comes out of the BMW Kalahari jacket, and with the GoreTex out the Kalahari is lighter than the Darien. The Kalahari lining fits into a spacious wrap-around pocket in the bottom of the suit that made me look like I have more of a deformed posterior than I have. The Kalahari has 16-inch long arm vents that are secured by mesh, open 3 inches wide, and have a two-way zipper. The arm vents look great, but because the jacket is so form fitting and because there are no other vents to allow circulation and let air out, the vents cool only the skin they are near. This jacket needed larger wrist opening and looser sleeves. With the front zipper pulled down, the suit takes on a little more air to cool the torso and the jacket is lighter without the GoreTex. The GoreTex robs you of the sleeve vents and makes the Kalahari seem heavier than the Darien. Kalahari's designers neglected ventilation for style -- you will get a steam bath.

The Darien, and especially the Darien Light, work in moderate or warm Miami weather even though there are two layers (Cordura and GoreTex) that air going through the material must navigate. Lots of air goes through vents, and I scored the Darien as tops in the venting department.

The Kalahari has arm vents in front and, when opened, only the lower arm area directly behind the vent was cooled. Air did not circulate up to my bicep and went nowhere else. When I opened the bottom of the sleeve of the Darien, those large wrist openings scooped air from the handle-bar area and shoved it all the way to my armpits (air exits from vents there) and to my back (where there are more exit vents). This is real circulation.


Two paragraphs on the Motoport.

Miami is really hot and humid and both the Darien and Kalahari jackets will be in the closet during the hottest months. I recommend that you investigate the Body Gard from Motoport (1-800-777-6499) if you're going to be spending time in sub-tropical climates or want to ride on hot days in Kalamazoo. This jacket is made of nylon lycra mesh and ventilated body armor. It needs a reflective strip added to the back for safety. There is no solid jacket and no rain protection. The mesh jacket has been tested during two unplanned get offs (failure to complete a decreasing radius curve) and the mesh held together and there were no broken bones. I thought of using the Kalahari GoreTex liner under the Body Gard for rain protection, but this was nixed by BMW NA because, they said, the Kalahari liner is fragile and might be damaged. A damaged liner means having to pay BMW's replacement prices, and the liner reportedly is not available separately ... ouch.

I own a Motoport and, when riding in Miami, can wear it nearly all year. The armor in the Motoport is excellent, it stays in place via pockets, and there is even chest protection. For $99, it is a great deal.

Back to the Darien v. Kalahari.

RAINY WEATHER:

Again, the GoreTex in the Darien is part of the shell and it is always ready for the rain and is protected by its bonding to the Cordura. How weatherproof/waterproof is the Darien Light ? The Flying Scot (David Godfrey <glaswegian@aol.com>) said it: "The jacket is so water tight, I no longer carry a rain jacket. I live in N.E. Ohio where we get plenty of rain and the jacket has been tested many times. In fact, on my trip to the RA in Bonjour, Quebec, I encountered rain almost every day and had no problems with the Darien. The Darien Light is <by far> the best riding jacket I have ever owned. It is comfortable enough to be ridden between the mid 80's F in the summer and, with the zip-in liner, the low 40's F in fall and spring. I especially like the much lighter and more flexible material of the "light" vs. the "standard" Darien. The previous summer I ordered the standard Darien, but felt it was too stiff (I was told it would become more flexible with use) and too hot for summer riding and returned it for credit. I feel the Darien Light to be much more comfortable in general, and hot weather in particular, while not giving away too much in the area of rider protection."

The Kalahari GoreTex liner must be installed if it's not already lining the jacket, an easy five-minute job. The Kalahari's GoreTex liner folds over itself in front to seal, which was much more awkward than the Darien overflap. Water protection seems to extend down to a comparable length on both the Darien and Kalahari. Will water collect between the shell and the GoreTex of the BMW jacket ? The jacket will get wet before the GoreTex protects the rider; remember to remove things from the pockets that you don't want drenched. The shell can be treated with after-market sprays and chemicals. The Kalahari liner may be more prone to damage because it is separate, and BMW NA said NOT to use this liner without the jacket because it is fragile. Check with GoreTex for rainproof care and feeding instructions for both jackets.

COLD WEATHER:

Both Darien and Kalahari are designed to allow air flow through the jacket and through the GoreTex rain protection. In standard form they both offer poor cold weather protection. You can get a fleece liner with the Darien, which is a $167 investment. Without the fleece liner, both the Darien and Kalahari will require electric vests, sweaters or long underwear. With either jacket, make certain it is large enough so you can fit cold weather clothing inside.

The Darien offers a liner, which I bought and tested. I have two criticisms about the Darien liner:

  1. I would like a second snap inside the wrist area even though the one has worked well for two years now.
  2. The liner should snap or zip onto the jacket collar so I don't feel Velcro in the collar.

The positive design features of the Darien liner are:

  1. The liner stuffs into its own internal nylon case (inverted rear pocket) and there are two heavy-duty loops for storing the case.
  2. The zipper is set up so that the liner can be used separately as a jacket, and I do that frequently at rallies.
  3. You can use the liner inside out or outside in, depending on which side you like against your skin.
  4. The liner has two pockets that will keep your stuff dry because it will be inside the GoreTex.
  5. The liner has the same big, wonderful YKK zippers as the jacket.
  6. The liner has underarm vents that match the vents in the jacket.
The positives far outweigh the negatives, and the liner works in cold weather.

The Kalahari has no fleece liner and no provision for keeping you warm and will not look as stylish with something bulky under it. I tested the Darien Light with fleece liner in Maine and New Hampshire in October and stayed warm and toasty -- the Darien light wins the cold weather comparison.

WEATHER SUMMARY:

If you live in an area with a wide temperature range, the Darien and Darien Light seem better suited for the extremes. If your TV weather reports include UV ratings (lottsa sun), consider the Motoport at $99 to supplement your wardrobe.

STORAGE:

The Darien designers believe that you can never have too many pockets. Jim Montie of Miami says he needs a Rolodex to keep track of what is stored in which pocket (eight outside and one water-proof one inside). I organized my stuff right away. Top pockets for CamelBack on the right and maps on the left, keys, money, gloves, and some other items found their place. Inside pockets behind the GoreTex for wallet and papers I must keep dry. The other storage question is how easily the Darien packs away. With all of the padding (including optional spine protector) both the Darien and the Darien Light were hogs. No way to compress them well.

Storage in the Kalahari consists of two large and two medium well-secured exterior pockets that work fine, two inside zippered pockets that you lose when the GoreTex liner is installed, and a black bag that's waterproof and fits into a large front pocket if you need to keep something dry. There's also a large liner storage area along the bottom rear of the jacket for storage of the GoreTex liner (looks really ugly in use, but might be nice additional padding in the event of an unplanned get off). Darien easily won the battle of closet space (pocket storage). Because of less and smaller armor, the Kalahari was less of a hog when it came to packing it away.

SAFETY:

As I said before, I'll leave the Cordura vs. Kevlar question for others to argue. The Darien has a 3 x 20 inch horizontal reflective strip across the back that is easily seen by traffic approaching from the rear. There is also a 2 x 6 inch reflective strip on the front. Starting in early 1997, a Velcro-adjustable tab was added to the bottom of the jacket and it is covered with left and right side reflective strips, bring to four the number of reflective areas on the jacket. The armor on the Darien incorporates a hard plastic liner facing out to take the abrasion and 1/2 inch padding to absorb impacts. It is the large, thick armor that gives the Darien its unique look. The armor in the Darien is attached by Velcro fasteners and is adjustable; the Velcro fasteners also failed to keep the armor in position sometimes when putting on the jacket, requiring repositioning, but once on it stays in place and protects well. A few words about the optional $60 back protector. It measures 4.5 inches wide by 24 inches long and has a 6 x 10 inch horizontal wing near the bottom for kidney protection. This is a foam and plastic piece that attaches to the inside rear of the jacket by Velcro(tm) fasteners. My only complaint is that this is not standard equipment.

The Kalahari has a 14 inch long strip of reflective material on the belt front and two small reflective pieces at the jacket bottom that are nearly invisible even when someone is looking for them. People who have followed me say that the Kalahari needs reflective material up high; this black jacket invites trouble. In my opinion, the Kalahari is NOT SAFE until you buy good reflective material and have it sewn on. The Kalahari armor consists of a plastic exterior (for abrasion) bonded to a thin foam; it is not as thick as the Darien armor. If you purchase the Motoport Body Gard, consider replacing the Kalahari armor with that supplied with the Motoport. The Kalahari padding stayed in place well because the padding is placed into sewn-in pockets, but it is not adjustable this way. A few words about the back protector. The Kalahari back protector is less than 1/2 the thickness of the Darien. The Kalahari back protector measures 17.5 inches long x 5 inches wide, or 88 sq.in. versus 144 sq.in. for the Darien large (it comes in sizes to match the jacket). I did not like the size or the thickness of the back protector, but it was standard (free).

Which jacket would you rather be wearing during an unplanned get off and a slide down the highway ? We need some volunteers. Neither company has any tests to replicate rider sliding. I give Darien the edge in safety because it shows up in the dark and has larger, thicker armor. Too bad the back protector is not standard.

PANTS:

I ordered and tried on the Kalahari pants, but did not seriously consider purchasing them. The pants were at least 18 inches too long and, if we cut off the bottoms to make them fit, the knee protection would be at my feet. The pants needed to be altered both above and below the knee. Because BMW neither performs nor guarantees alterations and I had no idea what it would cost, I ruled out the Kalahari pants. Kalahari pants have one nice feature, they zip to the jacket in the same way that RiderWearHouse's Roadcrafter pants zip to the jacket with the two-piece suit. This zip-together feature is reportedly much heavier than the Darien combo. The Darien pants do not zip to the jacket, but there is plenty of overlap to maintain rain protection. RiderWearHouse has now altered two pair of pants for me and I've been more than happy with the fit and the cost ($50).

BONDING:

A call to RiderWearHouse is a pleasure, with a shipping price, arrival time and a tracking number all in the same call. Ask anyone online and you'll get warm fuzzies when folks talk about the company and how they handle customers. The jacket is a class act all the way, from lots of pockets, big zippers, reflective safety tape, thick and adjustable armor, warm fleece lining, alterations as needed, four colors -- in total, lots of what we want. Still, I would like a real belt, more sizes (and a women's pattern), standard back protection and bottom draw cord. It's easy to bond with the Darien. The Kalahari is the new kid on the block, but very good-looking with a belt, pants zipper and bottom draw cord. The Kalahari could use bigger zippers, air vents, better armor and reflective tape. The Kalahari does not work over a wide range of temperatures.

I am not making any recommendations about Cordura vs. Kevlar or about GoreTex integrated in the jacket vs. removable water protection. Everyone who saw me in the Kalahari thought it looked marvelous. The Darien was lighter, costs less even with the optional back protector and fleece lining, has great storage and better armor. Do I need the fleece lining, or should I buy long johns and get the Kalahari ? Will I enjoy the Kalahari more with the GoreTex zipped out, or should I ride the Darien with full-time rain protection at the cost of a bit more weight and great ventilation. If I needed the warranty, alterations, was concerned about safety or wanted to ride during varying temperatures, the choice would have to be Darien.

After a few weeks with the Darien Light, I am satisfied that the Darien is the better product for me. You may be happy with either product, and are certain to receive many years of service from either. You're much safer with either of them than without. The strong recommendation is to make a choice and then enjoy.

Use these phone numbers for ordering or more information.
Also see the alphabetical listing of Companies at the end of this document.
 GoreTex800 431-4673
 RiderWearHouse800 222-1994
 BMW NA800 831-1117
 Motoport800 777-6499

OTHER OPTIONS:

There are other suits and possibilities and we haven't even mentioned the word leather. Dave Meyer comments on the two-piece Roadcrafter. A full review of the Motoport Difi II Jacket and Pants, contributed by Tom Jamrog, and Scott Squire's comments on the Darien have been added below. It does not follow the outline of my work, but is well written and included because the information is relevant and should be interesting to anyone who is researching riding suits.


Comment: Dave Meyer, '91 K75S rider <dbyker@ix12.ix.netcom.com> wrote on November 17, 1996 that:

The Aerostich Roadcrafter is about 90% waterproof - it's geared toward the hard-core sports rider/racer, it's made for wiping out on racetracks, and it's quick zipping zippers are not quite totally waterproof - it gets wet in the crotch after a while. The Aerostich Darien is essentially 100% waterproof - it's geared toward the hard-core touring rider.


Motoport Difi II Jacket and Pants by Tom Jamrog

For six weeks this past summer I was provided a Motoport Difi Ultra II Cordura jacket and pants for a motorcycle camping trip to Alaska. I put the suit through a stiff product test, hitting it with rain, mud, thousands of bugs, dirt, and even a high-impact crash. The suit consists of separate shelled jacket and pants with separate removable liners.

Motoport has been in business for 36 years, and is the world's largest motorcycle apparel manufacturer. Product literature states that the suit consists of 1000 Denier Ballistic Cordura, which is more than double the strength of competitors' 500 Denier Cordura. The Cordura is double layered on 65 percent of the jacket in critical impact areas. Stretch Kevlar is used inside the arms and thighs, adding extra strength and ventilation in those areas. Unique to the industry is the fact that the Cordura is uncoated, allowing the outer jacket to breathe freely, and dry rapidly after being wet.

Motoport maintains that by allowing the liner to be removable, the comfort range of the suit is extended. According to product literature, coated/lightly insulated suits are only really comfortable in moderate conditions. When it heats up to over 90 degrees, or you encounter humid conditions, they become uncomfortable. Construction is Safety Lock Stitching with 7 of the strongest nylon threads available. Sixty-five percent of the suit is reinforced with Tri-Armor, Motoport's patented armor with tri-layer composite pads located in the knee/shin, thigh/leg, chest, shoulders, elbow/forearm, and back. To water proof the system, Motoport offers a GoreTex / Thermolite liner, which zips in. Thermolite insulation produces the same insulation benefits that would require a layer of Thinsulate 4 times as thick. There is a wide band of reflective material across the back and down the side of each leg.

So, how does it work?

The suit is rainproof. I remained dry throughout the trip, including a 550 mile day of terrible wind-driven rain, behind a small fairing with no lowers. But you have to get over the idea of taking your jacket off to put the rainproof layer underneath it . At night, when the thermometer dropped below forty I even wore the liner inside my sleeping bag in the tent. After layering the dust of gravel roads on top of a wet goop of calcium chloride, I appreciated the ability to unzip the grimy suit and step out with clean pants and shirt underneath. That's not going to happen in leathers. I threw the suit into a washing machine with a perfect return to cleanliness without special presoaking. I found the suit to be very warm in cooler conditions when I was wearing the liner, but I rarely zipped and snapped it in. I preferred the ability to quickly remove it as the day warmed up. Most of the time, I wore a t-shirt and jeans underneath , but when it got rainy or cold, an electric vest was enough to keep me comfortable. I can prove the suit withstands impacts. I crashed my motorcycle on a gravel road. The bike survived with minor damage, and the handlebars were severely bent. I landed on my left side and skidded down the road with the motorcycle still on top of me. My knee and thigh were sore, but the Tri-Armor prevented more serious injuries. You cannot detect where the Cordura was abraded.

Drawbacks. The collar was not high enough for my liking. The Velcro closure and snap worked fine, but I found myself adding a turtleneck shirt to help cut the cold around my neck. The pants are quite bulky off the motorcycle but I found myself wearing them into restaurants and stores rather than zipping them off and draping them over the motorcycle. I was worried about someone stealing them. They are simply too bulky to stuff away in a saddle bag.

I felt that the system of securing the pants around the ankle could be improved. What I ended up doing (in hard rain only ) was using short nylon / Fastex buckle straps to secure the bottom of the pants. But Motoport can make custom length suits, and mine might have been too short. I also learned the hard way that in rain you must empty your outside pockets or experience a wet wallet; the pockets are not waterproofed.

The suits are made in the USA and are guaranteed against manufacturing defects for 2 years. The liner is guaranteed to be waterproof / windproof / breathable for the life of the garment. If you are not satisfied with your suit, return it within 30 days for a full refund or exchange.

The Ultra II is a quality piece of work, with adequate research and support aimed at keeping the customer dry, safe, and seen. I was impressed enough with the product that I bought the suit rather than send it back.

The Ultra II Cordura Jacket costs $399 and the GoreTex Jacket Liner $99. The Ultra II Cordura Pant costs $239, with an additional $79 for the liner. Order through your local motorcycle shop or direct through Motoport, 6110 Yarrow Drive, Carlsbad, California 92009. Tel. (800)777-6499. You can get their catalog for $5, refundable with your first order.

Tom Jamrog <balrog@midcoast.com>
Lincolnville, Maine
http://www.midcoast.com/~balrog


Owning a FirstGear Jacket (for a while) -- Review by Scott Squire

Well, I bought the FirstGear jacket, but I didn't end up with it. This is not a Cordura jacket. Instead it is made of a matte-finish nylon, rather finely woven, like cotton bedsheets. The shoulders and elbows are augmented with very coarse nylon ballistics cloth. This jacket is waterproofed by a "hypertex" membrane, and has a beefy storm flap secured by about six rubberized snaps. There is a zip out fleece liner which can be worn as a jacket on its own. The fleece is not Malden Mills Polartec or other good quality fleece -- looks like it will pill up in about twenty minutes (after about 50 miles the neck had begun to pill where my beard rubs). The liner is also not lined with nylon like the Aerostich's. It is grey and has long, ribbed knit cuffs which I liked.

The jacket itself has a very aggressive Euro styling with a waist belt and big, poofy shoulders, and rubberized colored patches on the pockets proclaiming the Hypertex waterproofness and three 3 inch reflective silver "FirstGear" patches. There is a fold-down 1 inch reflective strip across the back, concealable under the rear exit vent just below shoulder level. There are no pit-zips, if I remember correctly, but there are vent zippers in the sleeves and vertically on the chest, alongside the large pockets. All vents have thoughtful storm flaps to ward off errant breezes when you have the vents closed.

The armor consists of discs of what seems to be ensolite (camping mattress) foam at the elbows and shoulders and a 3.5 inch strip down the back from neck to waist level. This foam is undoubtedly better than nothing in the event of a get-off, however, it seemed pretty feeble to me.

The large front pockets were neat, with inner organizing touches like little pouches for sunglasses and pens, and one had a little elastic lasso for your ignition key, I presume. They would easily hold a liter bottle of water, or a CamelBack bladder, and the left one (I think) even had a grommet I think was designed to let the drinking tube get routed inside the jacket and up the collar. Nifty.

The jacket overall seemed pretty well-made, and thoughtfully designed. It was stamped "made in Indonesia" very prominently.

The sleeves were very large in the upper arms, and seem to flap around a lot on the freeway, even with the liner in. Even so, the liner sleeves were so tight that it was difficult to keep long sleeves on my shirt from bunching up around my elbows. Both the jacket's and the liner's lower arms were too tight -- and I'm no Popeye (no Olive Oyl either).

I highly recommend that anybody looking for a jacket for year-round wear should check this one out real closely, then go buy a Darien, like I did. It's not for nothing that the Darien is something of a holy grail among the long- the cold- and the wet-riding set.

I love this jacket, made right here in the good ol' USA by people who say "YouuBetcha!" of super tough Cordura and real fleece and honest to GoreTex waterproof. I have a big doofy crush on my new jacket.

Put that in your review and distribute it. I'd be glad to respond to any feedback. Feel free to use this if you wish. Hope it's a help.

Ride Well,
Scott <SPOTBIG@aol.com>


John Baxter answers some questions about Darien regular-weight pants.

Q: Do the pants fit well over jeans, etc.? Do they zip to the jacket? Will they stay on well in a crash - gawd forbid)? How 'bout warmth/breathability - I know they're 100% rain proof, but would like to know if they breath well in summer/stay warm in cooler weather.

A: The pants are actually two piece, front and rear halves. They snap together at the beltline on either side, and have a full length zipper along the outside of each leg, beginning at the top. A flap with Velcro fasteners covers the zipper. There is a snap at the very bottom of the flap. The pants do not zip to the jacket, but have a Cordura web belt with a Fastex buckle. There is an elastic triangle sewn in at the top rear belt line, so the fit at the waistline is stretchy when properly adjusted, very comfy.

Two snaps on either side adjust to your 'current' waistline (and depending on the bulk of your underclothing), the belt is used to 'snug' everything up. I do not feel that the pants would come off in a slide, but you could always wear a set of $4 suspenders if so desired. The pants stay on well for me, and fit just fine over my jeans, which is what I usually wear underneath. They are lined with GoreTex, all seams are sealed with GoreTex tape, so they are essentially wind/waterproof while riding in the ahead direction. Any warmth would be contributed to only by the wind/wet proofing, the 500 denier Cordura/GoreTex laminate garment shell itself, and whatever you're wearing underneath - there is no fleece liner in the pants (but Aerostich and others sell pajama-type polarfleece underwear for riding in the really extreme cold). There is plenty of room inside the pants for layering. Ventilation can be provided by unzipping the side zippers in any combination of top/bottom or both. The lower pant legs have Velcro adjustments to fit tightly at the boot ankle for warmth; loosen for ventilation. Removable knee pads are standard and Velcro is sewn in for the optional hip pads (I have both the hip pad and back/spine protector options). I had to get 2 3/4 inches bobbitted below the knee (on the pants! $50 plus shipping), but then I have short legs (no pun intended). When first sitting on the bike, you can feel the knee pads, but after 5 minutes it goes away and you can't feel 'em, they seem to mold to your knees, weird but wonderful.

As you can probably tell, I like this product. Just slip the pants on over street clothes, put a 'Wind Triangle' around your neck, slip the lined jacket on and you are ready to ride, as far as protective clothing goes, from the mid 60's down into the 20's. Lower temps and I add thermal underwear and layer with a sweater or my electric vest (BTW, with the Darien, DO NOT get an electric vest with a collar, not enough room around the neck area). Mid 60's and up, remove jacket liner, zip open vents and legs, outfit works into the 90's over a tank top and shorts. Over 100 degrees I have to keep it wet ( 4 front pockets hold ice and drinks) because I am concerned about heat exhaustion/stroke, and it's too easy to overdo it while riding in the heat.

"John P Baxter" <Jbaxter@cenad1.nad.usace.army.mil>
(Portsmouth, VA)
1995 R1100R "Whisper" 1974 R90/6 "Old Black Dog"


Tom Keen <Tom_Keen@coax.net> from Dayton, Ohio, comments on Joe Rocket brand jackets and pants.

Its junk .. more of a fashion statement than appropriate protection I wouldn't want to go down wearing it. Very light, the padding is poor. .... spend the money and get one of the better textile jackets with real armor or a nice leather one.

[To add to Tom's remarks, the jacket is virtually no protection from the rain and the padding is uncomfortable. It is not good motorcycle apparel. It's best features are good looks and low price. SEE THE COMP ACC CATALOGUE !!! - S.K. aka Dali Meeow]


From: Mark Rooney <k75ryder@ballistic.com>
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 1997 08:48:40 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: RoadGear Durango Jacket Report

Several weeks/posts ago I commented that I'd ordered a RoadGear Durango jacket and would post a report once I received it. Well, it finally came! One stolen batch, a customs problem and six weeks of waiting later. Overall opinion, nice jacket!

Picks:
+ 1000 Denier Cordura nylon (red/black only)
+ Armor in the shoulders/elbow, lower arm & back
+ Zip-down sleeves w/snap-buttons on cuff
+ Two snap-buttons on the collar
+ Wind flap over a rugged YKK zipper
+ Two small hand pockets on front
+ Inside pocket on left side
+ Vents on front and rear of jacket
+ Storage pocket on back
+ 3M Thinsulate liner
+ 30 day return satisfaction guarantee.

Nits (minor):
- Armor pads on shoulders not quite on shoulder (this may be due to my build)
- Missing Velcro tab on left shoulder armor pocket
- Velcro tab on inside pocket halfway sewn over with pocket.

Fit:

I'm 5-9 and 190 lbs (still need to lose those 15 lbs) with broad/thick shoulders and large chest. I ordered the 42 and am comfortable with the fit, this waist-length jacket is cut on the full side. Snug enough so it doesn't flap in the wind but loose enough to wear a long-sleeved t-shirt and the liner for cool weather. This jacket was purchased for use in the Texas summer heat (yes, I will be modeling it at the MOA National in F'Burg;-) and not winter time use, I'll use my Motoport Canyon for that. The Durango jacket is not water-proof as it is not coated inside with poly-urethane. A rainsuit will be needed for staying dry. But being uncoated it should (hopefully) allow for air to pass through. Could wish for GoreTex, but that would push up the cost.

Cost:

$279.99 + 12.00 S/H

To order:

RoadGear 800/854-4327 http://www.roadgear.com

Mark Rooney <k75ryder@ballistic.com>
Tyler, TX
'94 K75


First Gear Kilimanjaro vs. Tour Master by Tom Nash <tomnash@wco.com> 4/97

I have been frustrated on rainy days because I have a nice set of leathers, and I have been buying lightweight rain suits to go over them. The result has been a sauna effect, which has been awfully uncomfortable. I have been looking for a do-it-all suit that either is, or nearly is, as abrasion resistant as the leathers, layered so that I can use it for everything from winter to summer, and water-proof. It would make for a lot easier for commuting. I will still use the leathers for the weekend activities, but this all-weather commuting creates a different set of requirements.

I bought a jacket on Saturday. On the advice of a friend, I ended up at Road Rider Motorcycle Accessories on Monterey Ave in San Jose, where they sell Hein Gericke, Tour Master, First Gear, and about three or four other brands I had never heard of.

Despite all of the accolades for Aerostich on the BMW List, the prices for Aerostich are way out of my budget, as are the BMW Kalahari suits (nearly $600 for a jacket? - geeez.) I tried on a Kalahari jacket at Bavarian Cycle Works in San Francisco, and I am glad I did, because the jacket I eventually bought is nearly the same for about half the money. In fact, I like the zip-out lining on the jacket I bought is better than the Kalahari lining.

I bought a First Gear Kilimanjaro jacket at Road Riders for $269.00, and the pants are on back order. The pants are around $150.00.

I was also attracted to the Tour Master based on price, and because the friend who sent me to Road Rider has had one for a while. He has been very happy with it. The Tour Master jacket was $239.00, and the pants were in the $100.00 to $150.00 range. However, I was right in between a small and a medium. The small was too small, and the medium was too long. The elbow pads lined up on my forearms instead of my elbows, my hands disappeared inside the sleeves, and the shoulders were pretty droopy.

The Kilimanjaro jacket seems to be cut slightly smaller for the same sizes, and they are a tailored cut for those of use who have a shape that leans more towards athletic than beer belly. In addition, there are adjustable waist straps on the outside of the jacket.

The Kilimanjaro is made from a smaller fiber with a tighter weave than the Tour Master, and the jacket weighs less. The Tour Master has a rough "canvas-like" feeling, and the Kilimanjaro fabric feels more like a wind-breaker. First impression is that the Tour Master would be tougher and more abrasion-resistant, but I am not sure that is the case. When you get into the science of large versus small fibers, and all the ins and outs of materials and weaving, I'd bet that they are probably pretty equal despite the differences in feel.

The Kilimanjaro does not have as many pockets as the Tour Master, and they are not nearly as convenient to use. The Kilimanjaro's lower slash pockets are pretty useless. They are small, zippered at an angle, protected from rain by a double-flap, and the net effect is that they are very awkward with gloves on. The Tour Master's pockets are much better designed, in my opinion. However, since the leather jackets I am used to wearing only have two pockets, I didn't think I would miss having 10 pockets like the Tour Master.

My friend likes the pockets on his Tour Master because his wife can stick her hands inside his slash pockets. On the Kilimanjaro, that would be next to impossible, unless one has a wife with very small hands.

The Kilimanjaro does have better vents for warm-weather riding, including vents in the upper arms (nice feature). The Kilimanjaro has a very large vent in the upper back, one in each upper arm, and a big vent on each side of the chest (incorporated into the chest-front pockets.) When I rode home from Road Riders, it was warm and sunny in San Jose, and cold and windy in San Francisco. I started with the vents open and zipped out the lining. I was very comfortable in a situation where I would have started to sweat in my normal leather jacket. During the ride home, my son wanted to "do Woodside", so we went up to the top of the peninsula mountains and did a blast down the Skyline Blvd twisties. It was cold and windy up there, and by the time I got to San Francisco, I had zipped the vents closed and was warm despite the chilly 30 to 40 mph cross-wind coming off the ocean.

The inner lining was still in the saddlebag, and I have a funny feeling that I am not going to be using that very often.

The Kilimanjaro has a tall collar that can either be folded down for warm weather, or stood up and velcroed closed for cold weather and rain. It is very comfortable.

On both suits, all of the pockets and vents have double-flaps with Velcro for rain protection.

Incorporated into the Kilimanjaro back vent is a drop-down reflective strip for night riding. The reflective strip is incorporated into the vent cover, so vent open/closed is independent of reflective strip out/in.

One nice feature of the Kilimanjaro compared to the Tour Master is the zip-out inner lining. The Tour Master has a quilted black zip-out lining, and it looks exactly like what it is: a lining. The Kilimanjaro has an inner jacket that looks like a Polartec jacket (I am not sure if it actually is Polartec), you can zip it out and wear it as an independent jacket, and you don't look like a homeless person or a redneck while sitting in a restaurant or whatever. (Flame alert: some guys are proud of being rednecks. That's their style, and that's fine. To each his own. It's not my style.) The inner jacket is grey, and it has two slash pockets. I found it to be warmer and more comfortable to wear than the quilted lining in the Tour Master. The inner jacket on both suits has elastic wrist cuffs, which are nice for cold-weather protection. Both jackets have Velcro straps to adjust the outer jacket sleeve openings, and you can easily get a gauntlet over the outer sleeves of either jacket.

The Tour Master has removable hard armor, the Kilimanjaro has removable foam padding. I like the feel of the spine protection on the Tour Master better.

However, I wonder if it is a false sense of security. I wonder if in the dynamics of an accident, one type of armor or padding is better than the other. Logically, I can make a case for either, and I am not sure which one is right.

The Tour Master pants come in S, M, L, XL, XXL, etc. The pants that match the Kilimanjaro are by waist size and either regular length or tall, i.e., 34 regular, 34 tall, 36 reg, 36 tall, etc. Since you are a bit on the tall side, and you don't have the beer belly, this might be something for you to investigate. The fabrics used in the pants match the respective jackets. Both brands of pants zip open from just below the waist all the way to the ankle, so getting in and out of them is easy with boots on. The zippers are protected by the usual double-flap with Velcro for rain protection on both pants (including the front zipper.) Zipper quality seemed to be good on both brands. The only thing I did not like about either brand of pants is that they are not as high-waisted as I would have liked.

Keeping one's mid-section warm is going to be dependent upon the jacket, with no help from the pants. Some people may want to look for bib overall-style pants to go with either jacket.

If the Tour Master had fit, it would have been a very tough decision between the two suits. The Tour Master has more pockets, the Kilimanjaro has better vents and a nicer inner lining. The styling is different on each, but either one looks nice.

One strange feature on the Kilimanjaro is an inside pocket designed for an optional water bottle, with a metal ring to guide the straw out the right chest pocket and up to your helmet. The water bottle is very tall and flat, and runs the entire height of the jacket from waist to upper chest. I did not buy the bottle, and I will probably ask my creative wife (the family seamstress) if she can modify this inside pocket into two pockets, an upper and a lower, for other things.

It was trying to rain this morning on the way in to the office. It was one of those San Francisco combination heavy fog, light drizzle, trying to do more, kinds of mornings. I wore the Kilimanjaro with my lightweight rain pants, and watched the water bead up and run off the jacket. It seems to work, but I will let you know how it goes in a downpour. I get the impression that this jacket will be fine in a heavy rain.

I think I would have been happy with either jacket. They each have their pros and cons. The Kilimanjaro seems to be more comfortable, while the Tour Master seems more heavy-duty and crash-worthy (I wonder if it really is), but it's so close that if I had been able to fit a Tour Master, it would have been a really touch choice.

Since I tend to be very warm-blooded, I probably still would have opted for the Kilimanjaro due to its better vents. However, the Tour Master was a pretty nice suit, and is well worth looking at. Both of these suits seemed to be a less expensive alternative to the very expensive Aerostich and BMW suits, without sacrificing much in the process.

Tom Nash
San Francisco, California, USA
'94 KGS


First Gear Kilimanjaro vs. RoadCrafter 'stich by Jerry Smith <jbsgr@earthlink.net> 03/99

Here's my two cents' worth on this topic. Bear in mind, however, that since part of what I do for a living is evaluate stuff for magazines, I'm hyper-picky. Other caveats below, as they occur to me ...

WATERPROOFNESS:

I have a two-piece Roadcrafter as well as a Darien jacket and pants. Unlike some others, I've never had a major leak through the RC suit, and never a leak at all through the Darien stuff, and that includes riding for hours in some real frog-stranglers. If I knew I was going to be riding in rain for days on end, as I was in Alaska last summer, I'd pack the Darien stuff without a moment's hesitation (and I did).

OTOH, the very first time I took the Kili jacket and Hypertex pants out for a ride in the rain, I found leaks on the left thigh and over my stomach. As Andy G. will no doubt be pleased to point out, it's all well and good to start out with waterproof material like the PU-coated nylon used in the Firstgear stuff. But as soon as you puncture it with thread to sew it together, the waterproofness is compromised. I talked to an editor who was testing the same stuff at the same time, and he said his leaked, too. Could have been an aberration, though. Since then I've worn it in lesser downpours with no leaks.

WARMTH:

The Stich stuff isn't worth a damn as an insulating layer. Then again, I'm pretty cold-blooded, and not really into passive insulation -- pass the watts and damn the alternator! Full Gerbing's ahead!!

Even without electrics, the Firstgear stuff is warmer, especially the pants, which as I recall are insulated with Thinsulate. The Kili liner is so-so. I wear my Darien liner under the Kili when it's not cold enough for electrics.

VENTILATION:

Not really an issue for most of the year where I live and ride. The Stich vent system works well enough for me. On the one occasion I wore the Kili in the summer I damn near melted.

FIT:

On a purely subjective note, as a member of the Expanding-Middle Class, I'm sort of outgrowing the lean and studly profile the Roadcrafter is cut to. The blousier Darien is more my style these days, as are the looser Darien pants.

The Kili is, shall we say, cut a bit fuller, and is more comfortable on longer rides than even the Darien. The material is more supple, too, even compared to my 10-year-old Roadcrafter.

STORAGE:

Despite the array of pockets in both the RC suit and the Darien jacket, I only use the right breast pocket on either. Everything else goes in the Givis or the tank bag. I'm just not thrilled with the idea of having tire gauges and pocket cameras and Walkmans in the pockets if I step off at speed.

The Kili pockets go by the hip Cargo Storage System moniker, and a more frustrating and fiddly design I've never encountered. Sure, you could stuff a whole roast chicken and table service for four in 'em, but you'd starve to death before you got past the two sets of Velcro flaps and the sticky zippers and the mesh nets inside. Pockets on a motorcycle jacket should not require two hands to open. Whoever designed these should be sentenced to having them sewn into all of his clothing.

PROTECTION:

Nylon simply does not offer the abrasion resistance of leather. Period. The RC suit, however, affords me a more lasting illusion of adequate protection that the Darien, primarily because of the ballistic pads and double layers over the shoulder and elbows, and the fact that it zips together at the waist, preventing "ride up" during a back-slide. I have spoken to many people in the magazine biz who wear RC suits all year, and who have hit the deck in them. Given that accidents are by their nature chaotic and more or less irreproducible for testing purposes, I feel reasonably certain the RC will do the job at speeds up to about 65 or so. Past that, give me dead cow and lots of it.

The Kili nylon is a lighter denier than the Stich stuff, 230 or so vs. 500. The padding isn't anywhere near as impressive as the Stich pads. If I really thought hard about hitting the deck in the Kili/Hypertex combo, I probably wouldn't wear either one again. Then again, if I thought really hard about playing fender tag with a log truck, I'd probably never leave the house...

All standard disclaimers apply to above information, including but not limited to YMMY, IMHO, WGAS, and BFD.

Jerry Smith
jbsgr@earthlink.net


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