Icon Operator Gear Review

Calling all Operators!

story by Jeremiah Knupp, Photograph by Holly Marcus, Created Feb. 01, 2010
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Operator      Function: noun
1: one that operates: as a: one that operates a machine or device
2: a shrewd and skillful person who knows how to circumvent restrictions or difficulties
(Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online)

Anyone fitting the above descriptions, you may be interested in Icon’s new for fall ’09 “Operator” line of motorcycle gear. Icon’s plan was simple. Take its Alliance SSR helmet, Hooligan jacket and Sub gloves and add a variant of the military’s new Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP), a combination of green, tan and grey in a digitally pixilated pattern, designed to work in multiple environments. The result is gear with an attitude unlike most anything else on the market. Don’t think Icon’s trying to do things differently? Check out its guerilla marketing campaign some time.

By the way, this camouflage doesn’t work. When wearing the full outfit, don’t expect to slip by the cop running radar undetected. Don’t think you can pull a sick wheelie in traffic and not have the cagers calling 911. Icon’s Operator gear draws attention; so much that after a while you’ll get embarrassed explaining to people that, although urban riding sometimes feels like combat, you’re not active military. Ironically this camo may raise your visibility more than gear in pee yellow with reflective tape. So the effect works. But like hood scoops on an import tuner, any gear dressed in camo has to have the function to back up the posturing. In this article we’ll go over the specifics on all three pieces.

No, Icon Operator gear does not come with an M4, but the gear's styling borrows heavily from U.S. Army equipment. (Photo by Holly Marcus)

Sub Operator gloves

Starting from the fingertips, the first piece in Icon’s Operator collection are the Sub gloves. The Sub line of gloves are a short-cuffed “street” length mesh textile and leather with injection plastic knuckle armor. The Operator model combines digital camo colors with a combat glove styling.

Icon's Sub Operator gloves are a mesh textile, combined with goat skin palms. (Photo by Holly Marcus)

Don’t feel like wearing your leather and carbon fiber Stormtrooper race gloves on a quick jaunt down to the local coffee shop on a hot summer day? Then Sub gloves are for you. They’re quick on and off with their single piece of Velcro cuff closure and pull tab. The leather is Icon’s proprietary “Battlehide” goatskin that is present in the palms and gussets.

Relaxed and comfortable, Sub Operator gloves give you enough dexterity to unbuckle and remove a helmet. (Photo by Holly Marcus)

The result is the best of both worlds. The textile makes the gloves light, flexible and breathable. The leather is placed in all the areas that are likely to be sliding on the pavement, should you crash.

On the street the Sub gloves fit snug, without being too tight. The pre-curved fingers feel natural when your hands are on the controls. In warm weather the gloves are cool enough to give you a reason to protect your fingers when you’d leave heavier, bulkier gloves at home. They still provide enough warmth to get you a short distance on a cold morning. Sub gloves are flexible enough that you can do nimble things, like buckle and unbuckle your helmet, with them on. 

"...the Sub gloves fit snug, without being too tight."

If camo’s not your thing, Icon’s Sub gloves also come in other designs with multiple color options. MSRP for the Icon Sub Operator gloves is $45.

Hooligan Operator Jacket

Unlike the Operator version of the Alliance helmet and Sub gloves, Icon’s Hooligan Operator mesh textile jacket is more than just a color scheme. The jacket closely mimics the U.S. Army  “ACU” or “Army Combat Uniform” down to the velcroed-on shoulder patches,  mandarin collar, external pockets tilted 45-degrees with hook and loop (read “Velcro”) closures. What would you expect from a jacket the manufacturer calls the “Abrams [as in “M-1 Abram tank”] of motorcycle gear.”

Icon Hooligan jackets feature CE approved elbow and shoulder armor, along with a dual density foam back pad. (Photo by Holly Marcus)

The rest of the features are standard Hooligan, from the CE-approved shoulder and elbow armor, dual-density foam back protector and quilted zip-in full-length liner. The liner makes this a nine-month jacket for most of those reading this review. I used it when temperatures dipped down into the 40s and it keeps you warm enough for short commutes.

But this jacket was designed for summer. For warm and hot weather, take out the liner for a lightweight, mesh air jacket that is the next best thing to wearing a t-shirt. The low, lined mandarin collar leaves plenty of room for head movement without a collar interfering with your helmet. Along with the external pockets there is also an internal one for wallet or cell phone stowing.

Icon claims that its printed on designs will not fade. As the owner of black textile jackets that have faded to purple and red jackets that have faded to pink, I’m curious on this one. Time will tell.

The Icon Hooligan Operator jacket is the centerpiece of a collection that includes a similar themed Alliance SSR helmet and Sub gloves. (Photo by Holly Marcus) With the included quilted liner, the Icon Hooligan jacket transforms from warm weather gear into a versatile jacket that can be worn early in the spring and late into the fall. (Photo by Holly Marcus)

The Operator jacket’s main weakness is in sizing and lack of adjustability. Unlike Icon’s other Hooligan jackets the smallest size the Operator is available in is medium. For the Navy SEALs and Marine Recons among us this is no problem, but the medium size was a little large for my slender six foot frame. To compound the problem, the Operator doesn’t have the wrist, waist and sleeve adjusters that most mesh jackets have. Leather or textile jackets have a stiffness that maintains shape. Mesh jackets tend to be more flexible and if they don’t fit closely the extra room in the jacket beats around a little bit in the wind. The cuffs tended to ride up at speed, but the elastic cuffs of the liner take care of this when the liner is installed. These problems would be eliminated with proper sizing and if the Operator was offered in small. 

MSRP for the Icon Hooligan Operator jacket is $190. There are a wide range of other Hooligan jackets that cost $165 - $190 and most are available in size small.

Alliance SSR Operator Helmet

The Operator version of the Icon’s Alliance SSR helmet features the digital camo finish in “Rubatone,” the company’s matte texture with a rubbery finish. Not only giving the helmet a no-frills, business-like appearance, the Rubatone finish also makes for a grippy, non-slip surface. Alliance helmets have an injection-molded polycarbonate shell that meets or exceeds U.S., European, Australian and Japanese safety standards, including Snell M2005 and DOT.

The Alliance helmet’s venting system complements the warm weather slant of its fellow Operator items. The helmet’s design focuses not only on letting cool air in, but letting hot air out through exhaust vents. The helmet features dual channels, what Icon calls “supervents,” that route air across the crown of the head and out exhaust vents in the rear of the helmet. There is one chin vent and two crown vents, all easy to find and manipulate at speed with a gloved hand. The vent system can be further fine tuned adjusting air flow “switches” inside the helmet.

Shown with optional dark shield (clear comes standard) Icon's Operator helmet adds a Rubatone digi-camo finish to its Alliance SSR helmet.(Photo by Holly Marcus) A close-up of the Operator helmet's "supervents." Icon has designed a system that not only lets cool air in, it also vents hot air out. (Photo by Holly Marcus)

The venting system also aids in keeping the faceshield clear, with a defogging chin vent that complements the fog-free shield. Combined with the removable breath deflector, which doubles as a visual effect that reinforces the helmet’s Top Gun look, short of sitting at a dead stop on a cold day, the shield on this helmet stays clear.

Alliance helmets have a quick-release shield attachment. While the shield comes off easily, reattaching it takes a little practice and a break-in period for the parts. It’s not the easiest shield removal system in the industry, but it does the job. Shields are scratch resistant and come in a variety of shades, from smoked to metallic, and range in price from $25 to $45.

The Alliance helmet’s other benefit is in its size adjustability. The cheek pads are replaceable, with thicker and thinner sizes to customize the helmet to your head shape. The standard padding fit my oval-shaped head well, although Icon’s sizing runs a little small compared to other brands. The remainder of the helmet’s interior is the removable and washable “Hydradry” liner that is designed to wick sweat away from your head for long distance comfort. All of the helmet’s internal lining are available for purchase to change sizing or to extend the life of the helmet.

Icon Alliance SSR helmets feature a removable liner for cleaning and removable check pieces so that a helmet can be custom sized for an individual rider. (Photo by Holly Marcus)

The Alliance helmet fits snugly yet is still comfortable over a long ride. We fortunately never had a chance to test its impact protection, but plenty of other people have. The Icon website features a “Survivors” section, in which you can see Icon helmets that have hit telephone poles, slid face first down the pavement and smacked concrete median barriers, and their occupants lived to tell the world their story. So all that posturing is backed up with some muscle. Buy an Alliance SSR helmet for quality, comfort and safety, and you get the unique style thrown in as a bonus. 

Icon Courtesy: Photo courtesy of Icon. Talk about field tested. An Icon dealer tests out the Alliance SSR Operator helmet while manning a mini-gun during his tour in Afghanistan. Icon is working on a similar system to defend motorcyclists against coffee-drinking SUV drivers and texting soccer moms.

MSRP for the Icon Alliance SSR Operator helmet is $190. There is an extensive line of other Alliance SSR helmets, including many new for fall ’09 designs. Prices vary from $140 to $210.

Icon’s Operator line takes great gear and endows it with some unique attitude. Stay tuned for evaluations of Operator Sub gloves and the Operator Hooligan jacket.

Form follows function, and neither are shabby. Calling all operators.

For more information, visit RideIcon.com.

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