Well this is most probably one of the most important issues for those that love it to do long distance touring with their bikes. This article is aimed at the Touring bike fraternity and I am sure that most of what I will say is not going to be of much value to those that do dirt road adventure riding mostly because the clothing I discuss is not really suitable for mud and dust.
An all too familiar scene ... traveling merrily along the winding roads of the bushveld
and suddenly an ice cold drop hits you ... thunderstorm. You stop and hastily haul out
your rain gear.
I am sure that many riders stands for hours in front of the display racks in the bike shops and they try and find that illusive piece of clothing that will be the full and final answer to all their questions. The problem for the South African Touring Rider is simply this ... you get up at 05h00 and get dressed for your long awaited trip down to the Mphumalanga Lowveld. It is late April and Johannesburg is cold, very cold. On the bike the temperature will be below zero and you grin as you feel the warm and fuzzy thermal underwear wrap around your skin. Next you climb into your Tourance suit ... yep you are financially secure and costs of bike gear is something that you do not really pay attention to. The mere fact that it looks good and seems to be able to do what it is designed for is enough reason for you to buy it.
Your eyes go over the collection of jackets in the wide cupboard and you shake your head. Reality is that basically every piece of clothing in that cupboard is specifically designed for specific conditions.
As the bike heads out onto the N4 you smile because the indicated ambient temperature is 3 degrees Celsius and the heated grips and seat has turned your Tourance suit into a snug cocoon, protecting you against the wind chill and making you actually enjoy the trip. Here and there the long grass is covered with frost. By the time you go past Belfast the sun is up and the the clear blue sky indicates that the Lowveld will be great. At Milly's you stop for fuel and a snack and as you stand around waiting for your change from the pump jockey you unzip the jacket, it was getting quite warm in that suit now.
By the time you reach the bottom of the Schoemanskloof you are actually sweating in that suit and you are really uncomfortable. The temperature is in the middle twenties and it is still climbing as you go deeper into the Lowveld. By the time you reach Hazyview it is cooking, 34 degrees and no wind. As you fill the bike up you can feel the sweat running down your body and that thermal underpants is no longer your friend. You hurry the pump guy up and you hit the road, it is too hot to even consider stopping for a light snack, all you can think of is to get to your guest house in Graskop and get out of that suit.
You started the day with something along these lines ... good for Antartica.
Now you need something like this ... cool and light.
The winding R355 has lost most of it's charm as you tear down it, desperately trying to get some wind on you but it is of no avail because the air is hot and humid. You feel a sense of relief as you notice the clouds on the escarpment and you rush on towards Kowyn's Pass. Well your prayers are answered, suddenly the heavens open and the rain pours down on the simmering Lowveld, soaking everything and bringing some coolness. Fortunately the Tourance is really weatherproof and you stay dry inside that suit.
You ride into Graskop and park the bike. Before you even open the chalet door you are already out of the jacket because the storm was short lived and now it is getting hot again. Up here it is much better than at Hazyview but it was still hot.
I am sure many of you can relate to that little story and I am also sure many of you have experienced it some way or another.
During November 2007 I was in the Cape and my bike needed a new tyre. Hamman Motorrad was running a sale on some bike gear and the owner showed me the BMW Comfortshell jacket. To my surprise the only one they had fitted me perfectly and once I fitted it and felt how it sits it was all over. Fortunately I had a spare cargo net in the top box so the jacket was nicely folded and tied onto the backseat.
Many claims are being made about the Comfortshell and I was a bit skeptic. The next morning we rode out to Melkbosstrand and there was a cold wind blowing. The first moment of astonishment came as we turned into the wind and I could feel how the jacket shrunk to fit tight over my chest. It is claimed that the fibers in this garment is intelligent enough to sense what is expected of them and then they adapt. Well I experienced how they shrunk up to shut the wind out.
During December I participated in the Swaziland Stone Butt run and on this trip I rode in temperatures that varied from 8 degrees to 34 degrees. I went through numerous thunderstorms and the jacket did exactly what the salesman told me. I must say that at temperatures above 28 degrees the Airflow jackets are much cooler.
The jackets comes in black and a bright blue.
The jacket has 4 vents, two in front and two on the back and when it gets hot these do help a lot to keep you cool. The jacket also have a very well designed strap system around the wrists that makes it possible to really set the cuff correctly for your wrist. Once tied it slips easily into most gloves.
After around 3,000 kms with the jacket in a wide range of conditions except extreme cold I was happy that I bought the jacket and then two weeks ago I splurged again and bought the trousers. I have traveled in rain and in temperatures ranging from 6 degrees Celsius to 29 degrees Celsius with the pants and it was comfortable throughout.
I like the cut of the trousers and the jacket. The trousers have good leg movement and
it has a zipper and velcro strap at the bottom to open up for your boots.
In my mind this is the ideal suit to buy, especially if you are looking for ONE
suit ... the Comfort Shell is as close as I have seen to a Mc Gyver Suit. What really impressed me is the extent of the body armor in the suit. This suit was not only designed for the ride but definitely also for the fall.
The suit is designed with some style and it it is tapered for a snug fit.
This suit is not cheap but it covers basically the whole range, heat, cold and wet. I think that in extreme cold you will need thermal underwear to provide some buffer between your body and the jacket because the material is thin and as such I am sure the cold on the outside will be transmitted through that thin layer.
In conclusion I am super impressed with the suit and my initial thoughts that it was too expensive has been dispelled by the performance of the suit.