Textiles abound; some have even said that leather's days are numbered. We're not sure about that, as no protective bike clothing manufacturer has won over masses of riders with a suit made from synthetic fibers that has all the properties offered in, say, leather suits – we know Aerostich is a great product but you don't see race paddocks filled with them. As protective as textile gear is, it can’t match the abrasion resistance of animal hides. What we do know is that textiles are here to stay.
Of particular interest to us is a product that can be worn in more than one setting while still being comfy and functional. Shift, a relatively new company to street gear, has readily embraced synthetics. We've taken a liking to Shift's XC Jacket, a lightweight textile unit from the company's off-road product line. It's what I'd call adventure riding gear as it's not a dedicated street piece, nor does it look like you're at the gate ready for the next moto.
Constructed from 600 denier polyester with 1680 denier 100% nylon "ballistic" reinforcements in the elbow and shoulder area, the XC looks and feels like it's ready to take a beating. Yet, main body material weave is small and tight, so it doesn't look like you're wearing bomb-squad gear. The light, airy polyester mesh liner is permanent, and has a pocket for a back pad if you choose to install one.
'It's what I'd call adventure riding gear...'
The fit is roomy without being baggy or bulky. I've worn both a medium and large. I typically take a size 39-40 sport coat, so was expecting to swim a bit in the size large but that wasn't the case. It's a bigger fit, of course, but this allows a fleece or something similar to be worn underneath without tightening up the fit, making it feel too restrictive. Wearing a fleece under the size medium doesn't allow as much room, though it isn't uncomfortable to wear as if it were one whole size too small. If you're in a quandary like I was, I'd say err on the larger side. This way you'll be able to layer when it's cooler, yet still have a decent fit when it warms up.
Whatever size jacket is decided, closing it up is easy with the large-tooth zipper that runs up to just below the 1-inch collar. To seal out the chill or dirt and grime, a weather flap with Velcro closures covers the main zipper. A neat feature is that the weather flap is split, or separated into two pieces, with the upper piece beginning around mid-chest area. The intent is to offer additional cooling and comfort. Even better is how the upper part of the flap is held out of the way, when not in use, with a single snap and small elastic hoop that attaches to a plastic hook on the collar. That same hoop can be used with a second hook on the opposite side of the collar to seal the flap shut. Additionally, a small area of neoprene material is used at the top of the weather flap/collar closure to prevent chafing of your pointy Adam's apple (if you are so equipped).
Venting is surprisingly abundant for a jacket that expects to see some water, mud, dust and what have you. Two vents, approximately 3 inches long, with hardy, large-tooth zippers are found in the clavicle area. Two more vents located on the inside-middle of each sleeve are roughly 6 inches long. Both sets of vents are very effective. Trust us with that knowledge as Fonzie and I each wore an XC in some pretty steamy off-road environs. A permanently-open vent with two, 2-inch openings is in the back between the shoulder blades.
Finally, Shift has one more trick up its venting sleeve, literally. Both jacket sleeves are removable via zipper where the shoulder meets the top of the sleeve. Zip, zip: instant vest. The zippers are well-hidden; the sleeve integrates nicely with the jacket to the point that if someone didn't tell you, you may not know they're removable. Velcro is used to adjust sleeve cuff fit.
'It has good venting, a comfortable fit, is lightweight and durable'
If you're relying solely on the XC for protection, then removing the sleeves will eliminate the only pieces of armor found on the jacket; both elbows have removable CE approved armor – a CE mark means that the product complies with the requirements specified in the EU Medical Device Directive and that the product has been approved for sale within Europe. Again, take my word for it, these work. I sampled them while attempting to traverse a staircase of rocks.
So what to do with those zipped-off sleeves? Luckily you won't have to tie them 'round your waist like a dork. There is a large zippered pocket in the lower back area meant to hold them. It can also serve as extra storage if you've already filled the smaller pocket that sits atop it. This smaller outer pocket also has an elastic strip inside that's been stitched to create loops to hold things; kind of like some travel grooming kits, or like shotgun shell holders on some hunting vests.
Of course there are two deep front pockets, both closed by Velcro. And a zippered pocket inside the jacket next to the main zipper has a big enough opening and is deep enough to hold pens, small note pads or a flask of some sort. The usual motorjournalist tools.
Always thinking details at Shift, the XC Jacket has an "expander." Starting at the hem where the top of your hip meets the jacket, this 4-inch vertical zipper allows an even roomier fit for the beer bellies. Finally, there is a small drink tube opening over the right breast area for hydration packs.
Shift has a good thing going with the XC. We like it because it can be easily worn on the street or for off-roading, and styling doesn't dictate one or the other. It has good venting, a comfortable fit, is lightweight and durable. Ask Fonzie how he knows the material strength. Maybe he'll tell you that he "low-sided in the dirt at 40 mph and there's not a mark on the stuff... "
Select from small to triple X for size, choose the gray/silver, red, blue or orange that highlights the black, and then all you're left to do is factor in the very reasonable MSRP of $139.95 to have yourself one smart piece of riding gear.