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Life is all about compromises, no? And so is riding a motorcycle. We balance speed and handling with comfort and reliability, and when it comes to apparel, we also balance safety with style, comfort with crash protection. Otherwise we'd just ride around wearing those giant armored suits like EOD teams, right?
It used to be that if you wanted style and maximum protection, you wore leather, and if you wanted convenience and features, you got textile riding gear. But now there seem to be a lot of companies selling some nicely-styled and value-priced apparel using a variety of space-age wonder fibers. One of these brands is Rev'it, a Dutch company that has a full line of jackets, leathers, pants, gloves, boots and even underwear.
Founded in 1995, the company combines high-tech materials with low-cost Asian labor and high-style European design to produce some innovative and very fashionable riding gear. They also have a wide selection of clothing for the ladies, including larger sizes that many European brands don't carry. We called them up and asked for some stuff to test; here's what we found out after spending some time riding around in this stuff.
"This stuff is designed to handle a cold, damp climate."
We get a lot of gear to test here at MO, and after a while, items like textile riding gear all mash together into a big blur of brightly-colored swag. However, the Rev'it clothing seemed different; better-constructed, with more innovative designs and features. It's also festooned with the Rev'it logos in every possible place, but it doesn't seem garish or overdone. Another thing that's apparent from the waterproofing, high collars and thick, fluffy insulation is that this stuff is designed to handle a cold, damp climate.
After divvying up the considerable pile of equipment we got, we used the apparel on several road trips and tests. Let's start feet first, shall we?
The Freestyle boot is Rev'it's take on a comfortable, everyday riding boot. The low-ankle, shoe-like boot has a leather outer shell with a breathable membrane to make it fully waterproof. For protection, the Freestyle uses thermoformed plastic guards on the ankle, heel and toe. The boot is secured on the foot with Velcro adjusters and features an oil-resistant sole.
Here are three things you need to know about this boot: one, it's very warm; two, it's as light as a sneaker; and, third, it's so comfortable you forget you're wearing shoes at all and feel like you're running naked at a Phish concert. Well, maybe not. But both Gabe and Al (who has run naked at a Phish concert) found them to be pretty sweet boots. Gabe liked them a lot, but once Al's worn something for a while... well, let's just say that they now belong to Al. He notes that they're "nearly as comfortable as my Crocs," although he cautions that it takes about a week to really get used to wearing them. "You'll want to velcro the tongue in place tightly at first, but the problem there is that the first step you make up a set of stairs, your ankle expands and 'un-does' your boot." But once you realize they're meant to be worn loose (maybe like a pair of wooden clogs?) you realize they're perfect for comfortable and dry riding.
Gabe's only criticism is that they are too low, which lets wind and rain come in below the pants cuff. Also, he thinks boots should come up a few inches above the ankle at the least for safety. But they are a very good compromise for riders (like Al!) who ordinarily just wear sneakers when they ride. This is a good product, well worth the money.
Some of us want fancy pants, others just need pants. For the latter, Rev'it offers the Mission Pants, which are basic ballistic nylon riding pants. They use a tough outer shell mated to a breathable waterproof liner, and are sized roomily to allow you to slip them over your street clothing. An elastic waistband and long leg zippers make donning and doffing an easier task. For safety, there's reflective piping on the legs, CE-approved armor sits in the knees, and better-than-nothing foam is placed on the hips.
In use, the Mission pants fit perfectly and do a good job of keeping the rider cozy. The pockets are deep and easy to use. However, even though the zipper for the leg opening goes halfway up the leg, there wasn't enough room to slip them over street boots. This isn't really a problem, just a convenience we like to have. These pants are comfortable, fit nicely, look good and seem like well-made, well-designed apparel. They have been replaced by the Zip pants, which offer similar construction and features, but with additional reflective material and other upgrades.
These pants are "multifunctional" (and here we thought all you could do with pants was wear them), the top-of-the-line textile pantaloons in the Rev'it collection. They get the addition of a removable thermal liner and an adjustable waistband. Like all the textile Shift gear, the fabric is softer and more flexible than the stiffer nylon found in other garments.
This contributes to this stuff being more comfortable to wear and also looking more close-fitting and tailored than other apparel. Gabe really liked these pants, finding them warmer with the liners in place than anything he'd ever worn before. They also seal up tight, with a rainfly and some kind of semi-permeable liner.
This means you are warm and windproofed, but they don't breathe as well as some other fabric riding gear we've worn. So that means at the end of a day's ride you might want to be alone when you take your pants off to air them out. Or, better yet, be with a person who appreciates your unique musk.
Perhaps you want to be protected but not necessarily look protected? Rev'it offers you the Inferno gloves, which offer racing-glove levels of protection with Schoeller®-Keprotec material in high-impact areas, composite knuckle guards and a two-strap retention system. The gloves are stylish and include thoughtful touches like the grippy material on the fingers to handle slippery clutch and brake levers. Like the jacket, the Inferno gloves are a touch on the small side. But that's easier to live with than all the material that Pete said bunched up into a joining seam over the thumb area. All that material created an extremely annoying "hot spot" on the back side of his hand, just below the thumb joint.
Gabe's pair fit tight but wasn't really uncomfortable anywhere. Light ventilation and no insulation means these are late spring-early fall-type gloves. Like the rest of the Rev'it line, the Inferno gloves are designed to have a close, second-skin-like fit. This means they fit perfectly if your hand is the right size but can be uncomfortable if not. What we're trying to tell you is to find a Rev'it dealer and try them on. If they do fit, you'll get protection, style and comfort for your $119.
Devil and Lab Jackets
$289.99 ($399.99 for the Lab)
If you're a new rider and you want to know if you should purchase leather or textile riding gear, here's the straight poop. Leather looks nice and offers unmatched abrasion resistance (if it's thick leather specially selected by somebody you trust for maximum abrasion resistance) at high speeds, but it's heavy, non-washable and marginally waterproof at best.
For all-purpose riding gear, miracle fabrics like Cordura and other polyamides (we are very proud of ourselves for using this word) give you all the abrasion protection you'll probably need at street speeds, are washable, lightweight and take to waterproofing much better than animal skins.
It's also much cheaper, as the materials are relatively inexpensive, and less-skilled craftspeople can assemble textile garments. This means you can buy a very versatile, stylish jacket for not a lot of cash, a jacket like the Rev'it Devil or Lab.
Both of these jackets are constructed of heavy-duty synthetic material, with a unique, three-part clothing system that extends the jacket's versatility. Beneath the outer shell is a water and wind-proof lining that can be removed and worn with or without the warm, thick inner liner.
CE armor is used at the elbows and shoulders, and there's a foam pad occupying the space where a CE back protector would go.
Both jackets have a huge pocket below the waist in the back to hold the liners when they're not in use, there are Velcro adjusters at waist, cuffs and hips, there's reflective material on the sleves, shoulders and back, along with adjustable collars.
There's also a zipper (with a cutout for the zipper to fit through) to attach the jacket to pants, front and rear zippered vents, waterproof pockets in front, and even a pocket labeled "GSM" for your phone (we assume it will work for CDMA phones but we didn't try it, as it's too narrow for the ridiculous PDA phones MO staffers carry around).
"The amount of details and features on these jackets is dizzying."
What's mysterious is the price difference between the two jackets, but for 2007 the Lab is dropped from the Rev'it lineup anyway, replaced by the CAyanne, which has even more features. We noted the Lab has a bigger collar flap (with a cool little loop to secure it when it's not shut all the way, a nice touch for hot weather) and a larger waterproof liner with a taller collar made of a stretchy material. The Devil gets a big inside back pocket sized to fit a water bladder and a sphincter-like (well, what else do you call it?) grommet on the left breast to pass the drinking tube through. Gabe likes his Devil coat just fine. He describes the fit as "tailored," with a close fit that's not too snug, even with an electric vest underneath.
He also liked the styling, and Pete agreed, calling the black and red accents "subtle and sharp looking." Because of the tailored fit, these jackets are appropriate for high-speed cruising, even on a naked bike or cruiser, without your clothes flapping about you like a skydiver. In cold weather, Gabe thinks it's the warmest and most wind-tight suit he's ever worn, and with an electric liner, might be all you need to ride on even the coldest days.
When it's hot out, the jackets perform adequately -- Pete even said "exceptionally" -- although you might be uncomfortable when the mercury goes much over 90 degrees. It's not for Phoenix or Baghdad. In the rain is where these jackets might be flawed. For one, Pete said, "The dual liner system is unnecessarily complicated. When the clouds gather and the winds whip, zipping in two liners becomes time consuming and cumbersome." He also didn't like how the Lab's collar bunches up around the neck, quickly becoming irritating over the long haul. If Pete's criticism isn't enough, Gabe also noted that when all buttoned up, the waterproof liner traps moisture on the inside of the garment, making items in your inside pockets damp and soggy.
"When it's hot out, the jackets perform adequately"
Removing this liner -- which is essentially a rainsuit worn inside the jacket -- cuts down on the wind protection. Pete's more svelte than Gabe (who has gained five pounds since he started the patented Motorcycle.com "Fatkins" diet), but he didn't like the close fit. He reported that "having all the liners zipped in makes the size medium feel like a small, with a tight and restrictive fit, especially in the arms and back." He also didn't like how the shoulder pads bunch towards the neck. Given that Gabe was happy with the fit, you should consider trying on all these garments at your local Rev'it dealer before you buy them.
We all love the look and feel of leather, but we don't like getting caught out where it's too hot, and being stuck in the rain wearing leather can be a damp, cold, soggy, miserable experience. What would you do in, say, the Netherlands, where it rains a lot?
You'd probably buy an Ignition jacket, (unless you were worried about being mistaken for Fonzie, which, for various reasons, would be very bad in certain parts of Amsterdam). He's been wearing his Ignition jacket for the better part of a year now, and you can't get the thing off of him.
The Ignition is constructed from Monaco 1.2-1.4mm steerhide on the sleeves, sides and back, with Dymax mesh and Schoeller Keprotec stretchy stuff in other places. Inside, there is a removable thermal liner, with a breathable waterproof liner in between the insulation and outer shell. There are two outer pockets and two inner pockets, along with two different back zippers to connect the jacket to different riding pants, as well as CE-approved armor in the shoulders and elbows. There's an additional hydroformed foam pad as a back protector.
In use, Fonzie found the jacket to be a perfect riding companion. He lauded the "truly engineered fit" and cool features like the tucked-in zipper pulls and cell phone pocket that's just the right size for a small MP3 player like an iPod nano. He liked it enough that he's going to "change his eating habits in the years to come" so he can continue to wear it. The Ignition jacket is a stylish, well-made item that stands up to use, abuse and all kinds of temperature changes. It's available in U.S. sizes 38-48 for men, and the special lady's version is for sized 4-14.
Overall, we found the Rev'it line of apparel well-designed, well-made and very practical gear. Pete thought some of the features were over-engineered, but overall, this is a clothing manufacturer who understands that motorcycle clothing needs to be stylish as well as feature-packed. These days, the bar is too high for gear with stodgy styling or useless features to sell at motorcycle retailers. The fit is tailored on this stuff, so be sure to try on some Rev'it gear at a dealer if you have the opportunity.
*To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time any motorcycle publication has used a Diane Arbus joke. Next week: we skewer Jean Baudrillard, just to please the post-structuralists.