If you wear the same pair of pants for weeks, months or maybe even years without washing them, they become so saturated with the oils from your skin that they become a whole other kind of material, one that has unique waterproof characteristics. The downside is your pants also develop a unique smell that’s familiar to you if you use the free internet terminals in a big-city library, where a guy is searching for evidence that the government agency beaming radio signals into his brain also kidnapped the keyboard player from the early-’80s funk group Dazz Band and replaced him with a robot.*

Nothing looks better hanging out with old rusty things.

Nothing looks better hanging out with old rusty things.

Using the time-honored method known as “not washing,” homeless dudes utilize the oils in their skin to turn their clothes into a fabric known as “oilcloth.” The Gorton’s fisherman and other period-correct seafarers wore it, as it was as waterproof as waterproofing got in the 19th century. That made it a natural for motorcycle apparel in Jolly Olde England – enter the Belstaff jacket, perfect for keeping you dry while waiting in the rain for your wife to come with the van. Modern waxed cotton uses compounds that are far less fragrant than what you’ll find in the subway.

Here in the 21st Century, everything old is now cool. At least, old looking things are cool; we’re not so in love with things that function like they’re old. Retro-mod is the word of the day, and Roland Sands Designs can do functional retro-mod moto-clothing like nobody’s business.

Observe the new Houston jacket, which I’ve been wearing for a few months. It’s a very technical, modern jacket, with all the features you may expect from your standard-issue ADV-style jacket. It’s made of heavy waxed-cotton canvas, and includes waterproof chest pockets, zippered back vents, water-resistant two-way zippers, a removable thermal vest, neoprene-lined cuffs and collar, and pockets for optional Forcefield armor in the elbows, shoulders and back.

The design is modern enough that it doesn’t look too weird on a modern bike, so long as the motorcycle matches the simple, retro look.

The design is modern enough that it doesn’t look too weird on a modern bike, so long as the motorcycle matches the simple, retro look.

The jacket feels like something substantial. The waxed cotton material is heavy and feels nice to the touch, supple and slightly greasy, like rubbing Sean’s back. Signs of detailed craftsmanship and careful design are everywhere, from the double stitches on the seams, to the brass vents and waterproof zippers to the leather tabs on the waist adjusters. And pockets. There are pockets everywhere on this thing, including a very handy one on the right sleeve for toll money, earplugs or keys, and a hidden pocket in the back that I just discovered today.

I was equally impressed by the usability of the Houston. Its fit is tailored and neat, yet comfortable. The shell blocks the wind almost as well as leather, better than an inexpensive nylon jacket. It’s also truly waterproof – you don’t have to trust in Captain Ahab-era technology. RSD has bonded the 10.5-ounce British Millerain waxed cotton to a waterproof barrier, and it works. I rode 80 miles in a light-to-medium rain and my shirt stayed dry underneath. Big props to the Holy Rollie design crew for those neoprene cuffs, which neatly solve the problem of rain running down your sleeves if your gauntlets don’t stay sealed around your wrists.

These cuffs are a great idea, although I might trim these to fit.

These cuffs are a great idea, although I might trim these to fit.

I do wonder about the abrasion resistance of waxed cotton. I couldn’t find any Taber (that’s a company that sells equipment to test fabric strength) test results for waxed cotton, but a 28-year-old article from Cycle magazine (that John Burns probably had to do all the drudge work for) shows that even brand-new denim shreds after 225 cycles (a sample of fabric is rubbed with rubber wheels until it shreds), where Cordura nylon fails at 559. Roadrace-grade leather goes to 2600 Taber cycles, if you’re interested, which means you could basically slide on your belly like a penguin for a half mile.

My assumption, until I’m corrected, is that waxed cotton offers at least the same abrasion resistance as similar-weight denim. The jacket’s nitrile-rubber-based Forcefield armor will offer additional protection from impacts and abrasion. No one is saying this is a roadrace-quality, multiple-crash kind of jacket, but on the other hand, for what it’s worth, and any number of other internet clichés, odds are you won’t crash at very high speeds, and anecdotal evidence gleaned from various fora frequented by old fogies tells me it’s not the worst thing to crash in. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Here, Gabe contemplates his future as a product reviewer. After 20 years, they let you write about tires (as long as the background of your photos isn’t filled with gardens and Camaros… —Ed.).

Here, Gabe contemplates his future as a product reviewer. After 20 years, they let you write about tires (as long as the background of your photos isn’t filled with gardens and Camaros… —Ed.).

Waxed cotton is also perfect for riding something unrideable, like Al’s Dirtbag Challenge machine.

Waxed cotton is also perfect for riding something unrideable, like Al’s Dirtbag Challenge machine.

The Houston has its share of little faults. The collar button is hard to work with a single hand (and don’t you always forget to fasten that until you need it?) and the cotton doesn’t insulate or breathe very well, meaning it’s best for temperatures from about 45 to 75 degrees. I also think it needs a warmer liner (fleece!) with sleeves, not just a vest, and a piece of paper I left in one of the waterproofed external pockets emerged at the end of our ride slightly damp.

The main thing you may balk at is the $650 price tag (add $90 for the armor). It’s a lot, but this jacket isn’t competing with your run-of-the-mill $189 imported ADV wear. The high-quality materials, craftsmanship and stylish design makes this piece heirloom quality, and if you have some waxed-cotton stuff hanging in your closet, you know it just gets better with age. If only I were made of waxed cotton.

RSD apparel might not suit all riders, but my experience with several of the company’s products is they make stylish and practical gear that looks good posing, but also works well on the ride. The Houston (and the similar 1/2-length Edwards) is no exception. It’s also available in black.

Roland Sands Design