With my Aerostich Roadcrafter beginning to look a bit tatty after a mere 15 years of use (I can’t believe that it was actually the summer of 1997 that I bought it), I’ve been looking around for a replacement as the cost of importing another into the UK is just a bit too much for my wallet to bear right now. All I want is an ‘overall’ style riding suit, that’s quick to put on and pull off again. Not too much to ask for, surely?
Well, apparently it is. There’s a dearth of choice in the UK. You’re looking at either importing the top quality ‘Stich or the slightly cheaper Olympia Phantom (which hasn’t exactly received rave reviews for robustness) and paying the price via Customs and Excise, or sourcing something that’s sold in the UK.
And that’s where it gets tricky. Some years ago Giali were selling an Aerostich clone but they seem to have sunk without trace, and I seem to remember Triumph produced a similar suit for a year or two but that’s gone too. There was also supposed to be a suit produced by Rev-it but I can’t recall ever seeing one beyond the initial press releases.
Errr… and that’s about it, apart from the Alpinestars Drystar one piece which I hadn’t seen around for ages until I found one in the ‘end of line’ sale at Get Geared down in Leatherhead last week. At £260 in their sale, it’s relatively inexpensive compared with two piece zip-together textiles, so I went down to try one on, on Saturday.
But first, a bit of background research. I knew these suits have been around for a while as my buddy Keith has one. I discovered there are two incarnations. The first was pretty much a clone of the Roadcrafter, with an offset full-length zip running from neck to ankle and a second zip opening up the length of the other leg. There were also large reflective panels across the shoulder blades and on the back of each calf, just like the Aerostich. However, that particular version was discontinued and replaced by the Alpinestars 360R Drystar suit, which is substantially different. I do wonder if they heard from Aerostich’s lawyers!
Instead of the diagonal zip, the 360R features two zips that run from top of the rider’s hips down to the ankles, whilst a third conventional ‘jacket’ style zip opens up from neck down to the waist. To get in, you simply step into the waist before sticking your arms down the sleeves, then you simply wrap the leg fabric back around your legs and zip back down from hips to ankle, and zip up the jacket portion.
It’s a little more difficult to settle the shoulders in place, but in real terms it’s barely more difficult to get into than the Roadcrafter. The zips are covered with more generous storm flaps than the Roadcrafter with decent Velcro attachments at intervals to hold them in place. I’ll be interested to see if they are more waterproof than the leaky ‘Stitch. And just like the original Model T, it’s available in any colour you like, so long as it’s black. Incidentally, the description of the 360R suit on the Getgeared website is wrong – it refers to the original version with the diagonal zip.
Unlike the made-to-measure Aerostichs, you’re dependent on the cut of the suit out of the factory and the vagaries of the manufacturer’s sizing chart. And there I got just a bit lucky. The biggest size they had left was XXL and whilst that was just a bit long in the arms and legs, it was also a slightly snug fit round the waist – not quite too tight but let’s just say I better not put on any more weight; there’s no room for expansion! But I have never understood why at 5’9″ I am not M!! Anyway, it was close enough to a good fit, so I parted with the cash and rode home in it.
The first thing I noticed on the bike was that the knee armour promptly moves to the inside of your leg where it’s about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. That’s a consequence of the leg zips being on the outside of the leg. I’ll have a look to see if there is anything I can do about it – I’ve got some decent Hiprotec armour around somewhere, but I might just chuck it out completely if the pockets are so badly placed that nothing sits properly.
The second thing I noticed was that the double ended ‘jacket’ zip isn’t low enough to enable a call of nature to be answered in any comfort!
On the move it’s comfortable enough, with stretch panels in the shoulders and knees, something the Roadcrafter lacks, and a decent cut round the neck. It took me a while to find them there are a couple of underarm vents (and I have a suspicion that the top pair of pockets can also be opened up as vents) but there is no rear ‘exhaust’ vent to let the air flow exit through, which is a plus for the US-made suit. The Mk 2 360R has also lost the big arm vents of the original version. I guess you could also open the top of the double ended leg zips a trifle. It was comfortable enough in low-20s temps but if the mercury rises and the sun shines, it could turn out to be a bit warm if the vents don’t work.
There’s no zip-out lining but that’s no great loss in my opinion, as they rarely perform as well as the kind of lightweight wicking materials you can find in climbing and cycling shops for winter use. The cuffs are a bit full for my liking but snug up OK with Velcro, and there are poppers on the sleeves to tighten them up if the material flaps a bit but I’ve left them where they were on the ‘open’ setting.
Like many fabric riding suits, the designers seem obsessed with pockets. I rarely carry anything harder than wallet, a pair of earplugs and a visor cleaning cloth in a pocket because landing on keys can punch a nasty hole through the epidermis and a phone in a breast pocket can break ribs as well as smashing the phone to bits which makes it useless in an emergency! I do wonder why they designed the four pockets on the torso with a vertical zip – perfect for losing things if you forget to do them up! There’s also another one on the inside of the zip, and finally there are also two ‘handwarmer’ style pocket on the top of the thighs in a typical trouser position which isn’t the best place to put them where they scrunch up in a seating position in my experience. Bizarrely one of them has a transparent front but the position means it’s impossible to see so totally useless for maps though oddly it does get very hot when the sun shines on it – a perfect example of the greenhouse effect as the UV light goes through the clear plastic and heats the black fabric beneath. By contrast, the Roadcrafter has a detachable map pocket which sits just above the knee where it can be seen.
Back home, a closer inspection revealed that the big retro-reflective panels of the Mk 1 suit have been replaced with a tiny bit of reflective piping across the shoulders – totally useless. I also investigated the non-CE back protector and the two small chest protector pads – they’re just pieces of cheap foam with no useful function whatsoever, so that’s all come out and gone in the bin. The shoulder and elbow armour is apparently CE-approved but for the rest of the garment, Alpinestars make no warranty as to its effectiveness for any role whatsoever! I know the drill for non-CE approved kit by now, but it’s still depressing to be told that something clearly sold as protective clothing isn’t actually warranted by the manufacturer to do anything useful in the event the rider crash-tests it.
The blurb says it uses Alpinestars exclusive Drystar waterproof and breathable internal lining construction, with the outer a mix of 500 denier nylon fabric with PU coating construction, and Ballistic Nylon reinforced panels on shoulders, elbow, knees and back. The overall look and feel of the suit is one of fair quality and it’s a fair bit lighter but the overall impression is that it’s simply not as robust as the Roadcrafter. There are a couple of examples of untidy stitching and the thread looks thinner than that used on my Roadcrafter, but the payoff is that the price is a fair bit lighter too. The longterm question will be to see how that trade-off balances out.
I’ll be wearing the suit a lot more over the next couple of weeks so will update on waterproofing and hot / cold comfort, as well as add some photos when I can reach my camera – there’s a half-painted wardrobe in the way at the moment