First Gear Kenya Suit

There's a good reason First Gear's Kenya and Kilimanjaro jackets sell like hot cakes at the dealers near my quaint Midwestern town.

The riding season around Chicago consists of three months of sweltering heat and humidity sandwiched between many months of bitter cold. While mother nature flat out skips temperate riding weather near the Windy City, she certainly left us plenty of rain.

So unless you're a Harley-type dude who emerges only on sunny days wearing nothing but jeans, boots, shades and tattoos (there's no helmet law in Illinois), you might want riding wear that can keep you protected, dry, warm or cool.

The fine folks at First Gear certainly did their homework when designing their Hypertex line of textile-based clothing.

The Kenya jacket is a short-length version of the company's Kilimanjaro jacket and sports a variety of high-tech features.

These include 3M Scotchlite reflectors, five vents (dispersed between the sleeves, chest and back), Dynax abrasion-resistant 320 denier Koslan nylon, polyurethane coating and taped seams (for water resistance), a patent-applied-for CSS cargo system and removable temperfoam armor in the shoulders, back and elbows. The pants are armored in the knees and hips.

Perhaps the nicest feature is a warm, polar fleece-style jacket that can be worn separately or zipped into the Kenya itself.
Interestingly, the word Kevlar appears nowhere on this particular garment. This is odd since the Kenya boasts almost all other popular cutting-edge materials, requisite for non-leather riding gear.

Regardless, all this techno-babble means in practical application the jacket is bearable to wear in 80+ degree temperatures, even in stop and go traffic. At speed, you get a subtle flow of air (assuming you open the vents). Having removed the inner jacket, the fit is loosened slightly, also enhancing flow of cool air. Thankfully, the Kenya never puffs up like a balloon.

As for water-related performance, a five minute, mid-ride rainstorm yielded no leakage. So in the interest of thorough journalism, I literally took a shower in the suit.

Water initially beads off the outer fabric, but soon the material begins to retain water. This would otherwise be disturbing except that inside, the jacket and the pants were bone dry. A closer inspection reaching under the armor revealed absolutely no moisture. Having previously closed the vents, none of those leaked either.

An extended ride in serious rain might reveal some leaky spots. But five dry minutes standing under a heavy stream of H2O is fairly impressive.

The pants are nice too, but there is one major beef.

According to literature, they are lightly insulated with 3M Thinsulate. While this enhances cold-weather performance, this hampers their usefulness as summer riding pants.

Technically, they are designed as overpants to be worn over jeans. Thus they feature zippers which run the entire length of the pants for easy ingress/egress.

Personally, it's hard to imagine them not being brutally hot in the summer when used this way. Fortunately, worn without pants underneath, they were not terribly bad.

Still, I'd rather the pants follow suit with the jacket in allowing the rider to determine how much insulation is needed. Also, the pants are not vented at all.

Both the pants and jacket offer a myriad of awkward but water-tight velcro enclosures allowing access to vents, pockets and the aforementioned CSS cargo system. The cargo system is a series of small pockets, loops and clips hidden under the two breast plates.

It's a pretty clever system and many will find this useful. I personally prefer to keep my keys and wallet in my pants pockets. For anything else, I use a tank bag.

CSS System Also of note, you have to negotiate a lot of velcro and zipper real estate in order to get at anything in the cargo system. That's a bit too irritating for me to bother with.

Finally, we get to safety. I have no intentions of conducting a serious test of this particular piece of equipment, thank you.

I do know a variety of reflective surfaces are sewn on. But if you're too cool for conspicuity, the reflective strip on the back of the jacket can be hidden by turning it under itself.

The jury's still out on fabric verses leather. As far as I'm concerned, though, if the racers are still wearing leather, then this suit sacrifices a degree of safety in return for water-repellency, temperature control or the ability to stuff it in your saddlebag.

Finally, I compared the Kenya's armor to my leather coat with CE-approved, carbon-fiber protectors. By comparison, the temperfoam seems like something I could cut out and sew into a jacket myself. In other words, flimsy and cheap.

Attempting at lease some semblance of a scientific test, I placed the palm of my hand behind the armor of both jackets and found a blunt object to strike it with (in this case, a paperweight).

To my surprise, I actually felt pain through the CE armor and only felt pressure through the temperfoam. The temperfoam seemed to compress and absorb the blow.

Bear in mind a paperweight and a fast-moving piece of pavement are two different things. But the test made me feel confident Hein Gericke didn't just find some random piece of foam and velcro it to their motorclothes. Another nice touch is the armor can be moved around slightly to fine tune coverage. Overpants

My only only other real concern is that it's alarmingly easy to pull the jacket up, thus exposing your back and belly. The two velcro waist straps help to remedy this problem, but I've looked and looked and still can find a way to connect the jacket and the pants together.

I think the Kenya suit looks pretty cool, like expensive ski wear. I could do without the cheesy First Gear patches on the shoulders, but otherwise, I would feel comfortable walking into a bar wearing the jacket.

The price is pretty nice, too. The jacket lists for $264 and the pants about $100 cheaper. I paid $400 plus tax for the whole thing. This is probably why the dealer claims to have sold over 30 this season.

FYI, my local BMW dealer doesn't even bother to carry the $1000+ BMW Kalahari suit unless you order it. They just stock Kenyas and Kilimanjaros. I guess even affluent riders respect value.

Motorcycle Online Rating:

The Kenya Jackets are sized S, M, L, XL, etc. while the overparnts are sized in inches, similar to men's jeans.

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