Aerostich: Engineered for Social Good
A Minnesota-based company with a cult following
Aerostich’s story is one of the people. The people in Duluth handcrafting Aerostich products, and the people around the world who’ve turned the Roadcrafter one-piece suit into a cult icon. It’s about people like Andy Goldfine who staunchly believe motorcycling is inherently good for the human race, “a social good,” he says.
In 1983, as the industrial sewing industry was leaving America and equipment was being auctioned at paltry prices, Andy purchased 16 industrial sewing machines without knowing what he was going to do with them. He was at a point in his life where it was now or never, something had to give. It didn’t take long though for an idea to be born of necessity, as they often are, but it needed a name. Looking for something as generic as possible, he chose to combine aero and stitch.
“Look mom, I’ve got a business card,” said a young, entrepreneurial Andy Goldfine as he handed a freshly printed card to his mother, a stack of matching letterhead tucked under his arm, “Oh, honey,” she said sympathetically, “You misspelled stitch.” Admittedly never all that great at spelling, Andy replied sheepishly, “Thanks, mom.” At the local library later that week Andy found the word stich did in fact exist and was a literary term for a line in a verse. “That’s okay,” he thought and decided to stick with it. Furthermore, he wouldn’t have to pay the $34 dollars or so that it would cost him to reprint new materials. Looking back, he’s happy with the unique spelling.
Goldfine’s idea was that if he could create a product to help folks more easily and safely ride motorcycles, he could, in essence, make the world a better place. For nearly 40 years, in a 100-year old former candy factory on the bay of Lake Superior, Andy Goldfine and the Aerostich team have worked toward doing just that. The first Roadcrafter one-piece suit was built in 1983 with that idea in mind. When people realized they could don the Roadcrafter and easily and safely experience the benefits of motorcycling, they’d eventually ditch their cars and ride as many of the 365 days a year that was possible. That was Goldfine’s hope, a subversive approach to the automakers, road builders, and oil companies who surely don’t want motorcycles to take over.
Well, we still have fewer folks in the US using motorcycles for utilitarian purposes than most other places around the world, but more than a few people “got it.” At peak production, Aerostich employed nearly 100 people and has sold thousands of Roadcrafters over the years, and that doesn’t include any of the other dozens of products Aerostich has in its line up or the well-curated catalog of other bits and bobs that the company resells. Perhaps it’s not the cultural revolution Goldfine had hoped for, but it’s evidence of a positive impact that has been made in the community for both employees and the riders who have continuously used and/or been protected by Aerostich products.
When I was touring the workshop, Andy explained why they have tags in the garments with the names of the employees who worked on each component. Sure, they could be more efficient with an assembly line procedure but when a person is able to work on an entire aspect of a garment there’s more ownership and pride that goes into it. The employee isn’t doing the exact same task hour by hour, day by day watching the clock waiting for the end of their shift. The immense pride and gratitude that Andy Goldfine has for his co-workers is a feeling he wants them to be able to embrace as well – and many have.
There are multiple stories of employees working for years then leaving only to come back later in life. Stories of watching employee’s lives unfold through generations. Love and passion have been found inside the brick walls of that old candy factory. I met a woman who’s been at the company for nearly ten years who didn’t have much interest in riding when she started, now she’s the proud owner of a Honda Rebel 250 and has since got her husband into riding. I met the motorcyclist who started the first e-commerce website in Duluth. He’s been an integral part of Aerostich for more than 30 years.
If you’re not proud enough after buying a product handmade in the USA from Aerostich that prioritizes functionality over fashion, one trip to the shop in Duluth should do it for you. Meeting like-minded people during a Ride to Work Day gathering should do it for you. The Aerostich community is unlike any other. Pirates, hooligans, and pragmatic types abound. Motorcyclists are inherently unusual folks, particularly here in the US. We’re not normal, perhaps that’s why we can mostly get along pretty well despite our backgrounds – we all dig straddling motors and riding them down the road, track, or trail.
Aerostich’s Bread and Butter:
Table of Contents
Aerostich R-3 One-Piece Suit
The Aerostich R-3 is the third generation one-piece suit that has made the company so well known. It features an American-made mil-spec 500D Cordura Gore-Tex fabric throughout the chassis and is bolstered in high-impact areas with 1000D fabric. Aerostich’s TF armor covers the shoulders, elbows, and knees, and can be purchased separately for the hips and back. The TF viscoelastic foam material is unique partly because the faster and harder it is struck, the more it resists impact. Customers have the choice of over 60 stock sizes with dozens of color combinations and custom adjustments to ensure the perfect fit for the application.
The suit uses two zippers, one up the right leg to the inner thigh and one that goes from the left ankle to the collar, that allow quick and easy entry/exit of the suit. By design the R-3 is made to go over your normal clothes or base- and mid-layers. Built as the ultimate commuting suit, riders have not only used the Roadcrafter to make commuting more exciting but also for touring around the world.
The Aerostich R-3 suit also has thoughtful pockets throughout to ensure you can keep the necessities close and also offers the option of attaching accessories with hook and loop fasteners. And of course, the suits are made in America.
Darien Jacket and Pants
The Darien jacket and pants were some of the first technical textile armored garments to hit the market. Designed as high-tech shells, the Darien allows users plenty of adjustability to fit the garments with or without extra layers. Similar to the R-3, the Darien jacket and pants are made from 500D Cordura Gore-Tex and feature TF3 or TF6 armor options.
Also similar to the Roadcrafter suits, the Darien jacket and pants come in a plethora of sizing and color options as well as the opportunity to add accessories to fit your use.
All sorts of useful kit
Not only does Aerostich offer products hand-made in Duluth, developed and designed in house, but they have also curated an expansive catalog of goods to help the discerning motorcyclist to enjoy his or her time on the road, whether that be commuting to the office, traveling to some far off land, or weekend rides.
The small compressor pictured above has saved my butt so many times that it has paid for itself over and over again. It easily connects to a battery lead, SAE connector, or 12V plug and has the power to get your tires back to the appropriate pressure in no time – much faster than a bicycle pump. That is just one of hundreds of other useful items found on www.aerostich.com.
3,000 miles in 3 days with the Aerostich R-3
In a way, I feel I’m not yet qualified to type this review. Sure, I spent 3,000 miles spanning the country in the third-generation Aerostich Roadcrafter immediately after picking it up in Duluth – mostly over the span of three days – but these suits of armor can withstand many years of riding and many thousands of miles of use. So, I guess, at least you know where I’m coming from. I’ve also never had the opportunity to slip into a Roadcrafter of any sort before. This was my virgin run.
During my ride, it was hot and humid in the Midwest and even hotter and bone dry in the Southwest. I experienced rain in the mountains of Colorado and cool dense fog on the bay of Lake Superior. As someone who wears mesh gear year-round, I was slightly apprehensive to test the R-3 one-piece. A solid Gore-Tex heavy-duty textile garment isn’t something I would typically consider due to how fiercely my internal fire rages. I’m always warm. So, how’d the experience work itself out? Read on.
Inside the Aerostich showroom in Duluth, once Donna showed me how to properly put the R-3 on, I slipped into it effortlessly. I zipped down the right leg and then, beginning at the collar, proceeded to pull the zipper down my torso and then to my left ankle. I was in. I couldn’t believe how well the thing fit. I sat on the rocking… motorcycle.. thing in the lobby to consider the fit. It’s really quite surprising how well it fit, almost like it was custom. It was then I remembered that I had given the company a few measurements (not a lot). Even still, the suit fit, well, like a glove… for my entire body.
The 500D Cordura Gore-Tex chassis flanked with 1000D in the impact areas was pretty stiff, but at the same time, the cut of the suit worked so well that it didn’t bother me. It was substantial. I felt safe. Not 30 minutes after trying the Aerostich R-3 on, I was standing outside a diner with Aerostich founder, Andy Goldfine. In the wind and the fog of that day in Duluth, MN, I couldn’t think of a garment I’d rather be wearing – and I was able to easily slip out of the thing when we were seated (thankfully there was enough room at the booth to set the R-3 next to me).
The Roadcrafter, in its third iteration or first, was designed as the ultimate commuting attire. Something to get people to use their motorcycles more. Commuting to work is great in this thing. You can slip it on easily over whatever it is you wear to work, a suit, business casual, chef’s whites, whatever it may be, without removing your shoes thanks to the clever zipper design.
What you have to keep in mind if you’re using the R-3 for touring or bouncing around town is that, while it is easy to take on and off, it is not easy to store and perhaps more difficult to tote around. While I was cruising back to California from the Midwest I wore some Klim cooling base layers, shorts, and Sidi Adventure 2 boots. When I stopped for a butter burger and some cheese curds on my way south from Minnesota, I didn’t really care how I looked because it was 100º F and about the same percentage of humidity (or so it felt). Tall adventure boots with shorts over long base layers. Nice. Storing the suit wasn’t a problem for me during that ride because stops were usually only for gas and a quick snack, but if you wanted to use it to ride out to meet up with some friends, you’re going to need a bike with decent storage to securely stow the thing.
As for the temperature of the suit, because mine is so well fitted, leaving the sleeve cuffs unzipped allows a lot of air into the suit, and because the material is so thick and not too broken in yet, this creates a nice ram air effect that allows cool air to swirl around my torso before being expelled out of the vent across the upper back and the large vents under each arm (these are the only three vents on the suit). I’ve since used the R-3 for grocery runs around town, fake commutes on the freeway and through the city and despite the current weather hovering around 85 to 90º F (and 40% humidity), I’ve been comfortable. It’s really only when I stop moving that things get steamy quickly. A pleasant surprise for a guy that fully expected the R-3 to be too warm to use most of the year in Southern California.
My size 42 R-3 had ¾-inch removed above the knee and below the knee and ½-inch above the elbow and below the elbow. It also had the shoulders rotated forward for sportier riding positions. I’ve used the Roadcrafter R-3 on adventure bikes and various naked bikes at this point and haven’t felt uncomfortable or restricted on any of them. The only time I feel myself run out of room in the back/seat is when I bend over to grab something off the floor, which isn’t the position I hope to be in while riding any motorcycle.
Another benefit of the custom-fit is that the TF3 armor throughout the one-piece is precisely where it should be and molds to my joints nicely when wearing the suit. There’s plenty of great information about the material here and about how Aerostich has been using it since before CE ratings were a thing. Interestingly, in 1984, the TF viscoelastic foam material Aerostich had developed and still uses was probably better at dispersing impacts than what most Motorcycle Grand Prix riders had in their race suits at that time.
I’m practical enough but I also don’t eschew fashion. I had begun chatting with Goldfine about the Cousin Jeremy – a Roadcrafter built out of waxed cotton. I’d seen one in person and been impressed with the melding of the (currently) fashionable material and functionality of the Roadcrafter. I opted for the R-3 though to sample what was quintessentially Aerostich and with the worry that the waxed cotton would be even warmer.
With five zippered or hook and loop fastening pockets throughout (and two hand warmer style pockets) there is plenty of storage without too much. The pockets are thoughtfully designed too, like the right chest pocket that is long enough to fit a map (or a ton of ice should you find yourself in warmer climes) and the pocket on the right arm that’s perfect for stowing tollway change or a garage door opener or keycard.
During the final day of my trip to California from Colorado, I experienced temperatures that hovered between 115 and 119º F for five hours straight. The entire ride was hot, but that was the extreme. At that temperature, you don’t want any of the outside air getting in. It felt like a hairdryer was blasting through the vents in my helmet. With the vents on my helmet closed and the ’Stich zipped up, I was as comfortable as one could be in that situation. I drank plenty of water and was relieved when the temperature dipped into the double digits as I dropped into the LA basin, no worse for wear.
I’m happy with the R-3. I went out for a faux commute this morning and felt safe and comfortable as I split lanes up the 405 freeway. The first paragraph of John’s Roadcrafter review was a reassuring reminder that I’d be okay should things go slideways.
Thankfully for you, the curious reader, you don’t have to just take my word for it! We’ve got more than enough folks around MO with Aerostich experiences to offer alternative facts. Heck, half of the staff have been using Goldfine’s products since I was thrust into the world kicking and screaming decades ago. Here’s what they have to say:
Thirty years ago, when I bought my first Roadcrafter suit (a two-piece version in the old red that used to fade to an impressive orange the more miles you logged in the sun), there weren’t as many options for textile motorcycle gear. A lot has changed in textile riding gear, but the Aerostich suit is mostly the same – except for the waterproof zippers. Its beauty lies in the usability of the design – a true example of function dictating form. Over the years, the Roadcrafter has gone from being my only street suit to one of many, yet the appeal still remains. It’s ease of use over street clothes is its defining feature. When I was a daily commuter, I wore one so that I wasn’t stuck in riding gear all day. Now, I wear my Aerostich the most during the summer, so that I don’t have to change out of shorts to go for a quick ride. I’m now on my third Roadcrafter. I upgraded from my two-piece to a one-piece, and that one lasted over 20 years. So, the journey begins again.” – Evans Brasfield
“Stop me if I already told you about the time I found myself rolling down the fast lane of the 405 North at LAX. Bumper, road, sky, bumper, road … When I stopped rolling, the lady in the car who’d managed to outbrake me, thank God, ran to me saucer-eyed and asked if I was okay. Er, let me check. Yes. Yes, I seem to be fine, thanks. In fact, not only did I escape without any scrapes or bruises, I wasn’t even sore the next day. I was wearing an Aerostich Roadcrafter suit.” – John Burns
“Granted, the last time I wore one was probably a decade ago (or more). Nonetheless, I still love the idea of a Roadcrafter. Having something simple to wear over my normal clothes that provides all the protection I need is a huge benefit. One I’m surprised more manufacturers haven’t taken too seriously. The particular suit I had restricted my leg movement, which is why I stopped wearing it, but I’d like to think it was just an issue with that suit and not all of them. Considering how many of these things have gone out of the door in Duluth, I’d like to think the problem is me. Not the suit. As it is with most things in my life…” – Troy Siahaan
Bonus quote: “The quest of every motorcyclist I’ve met is to have the perfect motorcycle that will do everything. So it’s natural that we want a suit that does it all as well. The Aerostich Roadcrafter is the closest thing I’ve found so far to the perfect riding outfit. And judging by the numbers of veteran riders with these things, I’m guessing I’m not the only one who thinks so.” – Gabe Ets-Hokin
What makes an Aerostich product stand out?
Andy Goldfine, founder of Aerostich, has a philosophy degree and has clearly spent a long time considering what makes a garment better. In some ways, it’s cutting out the noise. Losing the idea that the garment must follow trends and get updates every year, just so it can say “new and improved” on the tag. “Tide’s new and improved, but it’s said on the bottle since my mom was washing my clothes when I was a kid,” quips Goldfine. Constant development and determination to make the best product possible are part of Aerostich’s outlook, but changing just for the sake of changing, especially for trends, is not.
It’s simple. Speaking to Andy, he makes it clear that he wasn’t trying to make the garment something it’s not. The materials and stitching are robust and well thought out, and use high-quality materials throughout, but it’s not rocket science. The one-piece suits that Aerostich makes have proven to hold up through all sorts of crash scenarios. “If you come to a stop after rolling and sliding down the road, stand up and the suit falls off around you in tatters, it’s done its job,” says Goldfine.
Having the manufacture of Aerostich garments right there at HQ also allows for stringent quality control and inspection as well as the development of new product at a level that simply cannot be replicated in other manufacturing scenarios.
How do I wash an Aerostich Roadcrafter?
Thankfully, Aerostich has excellent instructions on it’s website for laundering, but here is the gist of it below:
Machine wash is recommended. Do not dry clean unless clear distilled hydrocarbon solvent is used for rinsing, and a spray DWR (Durable Water Repellent) is applied to fabric before drying.
Do not use powder detergents or any products that contain fabric softeners, conditioners, stain removers or bleach as these affect fabric performance. Also, do not wash with other heavily soiled clothing. Wash on a warm permanent press cycle (105º F/40º C) using a small amount of liquid detergent. Run the complete wash/rinse cycle a second time with no soap, to remove all traces of detergents. Machine dry on a medium setting for 20 minutes to reactivate the DWR treatment on the outer fabric.
Of note: You need to remove all armor and magnets (and of course, the contents of your pockets) prior to laundering the garment.
Can Aerostich products be altered after purchasing them?
I’ll let Andy field this one:
“Only very limited. (95% of all fit alterations are done at the time of manufacturing on the sewn-to-order garments.) Because the garments are held together by a combination of stitching and gluing — the hot-melt waterproof seam sealing tape — disassembling them for fit alteration is not economical. Taking off the seam tape is a slow, tedious process. We build garments for inventory in 61 different graded sizes (half are women’s sizes and half are mens sizes) and those fit most people well, but sometimes fit-alterations are needed, so we offer them. The key to a long-wearing favorite piece of gear (boots, gloves, riding suits, helmets, everything) is fit. A great and accurate fit is paramount if you want to ride a lot. All long-time experienced riders know this truth.” – Andy Goldfine, Founder of Aerostich.
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Ryan’s time in the motorcycle industry has revolved around sales and marketing prior to landing a gig at Motorcycle.com. An avid motorcyclist, interested in all shapes, sizes, and colors of motorized two-wheeled vehicles, Ryan brings a young, passionate enthusiasm to the digital pages of MO.
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