Friday, November 30, 2012

Motorcycle jackets review

Rukka kindly supplied us with their Cosmic suits for evaluation. A pretty bold step as I wasn't that impressed with fabric motorcycle jackets and pants in general. I've written on these pages that I prefer leather as our so called 4-season jackets had failed miserably in both cold and hot weather and weren't all that waterproof either. Rukka could have supplied us with their leather jacket but instead said we were wrong about dismissing fabric and that we should try their Cosmic suit. The jackets and pants arrived at the end of the day before we left for the UK, we hadn't even tested them and were already hurrying for the shuttle to Dover…

The weather in the UK is pretty much like our own Melbourne weather; 4-seasons in a day. Rain, dry, rain, dry, cold, warm, wet etc. I can still remember the holiday we had when Mike was just 3 years old and we went to the UK with our Royal Enfield with sidecar. We have never changed in and out of our waterproofs so much as then.
The Rukka Cosmic impressed from the start and kept impressing as we went along. It has clearly been designed by a motorcyclist and is full of simple but smart features that makes life so much easier. For starters it isn't a jacket with a waterproof liner, the jacket itself is waterproof. That means all your pockets are waterproof too… and you don't end up with a heavy jacket which is soaking wet and can't be stored inside your tent. It has pockets everywhere, inside and out. The inside ones are huge as well, and what a clever idea to use magnets for closing the flaps.

But there is more. The soft neoprene removable storm collar fits over the jacket and keeps the wind and water from your neck. As it fits over the jacket, rain water runs over your jacket, not in it! The thermal liner is removable and via the easiest system I've seen so far, they even went as far as colour coding the buttons with which they attach in the sleeves. The sleeves have a double cuff, which means water will not run from your sleeves into your gloves and yet water being driven up from your gloves won't run into the sleeves either. 

I must say that at first I was a bit unsure about the limited ventilation options, especially since all the ventilation openings in our previous jacket were still not enough to prevent us from sweltering. There are just two zippers in the front and one in the back of the jacket plus two in the pants. So far they have been enough though. Apart from the jacket being of much better quality, the ventilation is also channeled inside. Rather than cold air hitting you straight at the shoulder and leaving the rest of your body to sweat, this jacket channels the stream of cool air through the whole jacket. In practise it means we can now get off the bike and take a photo without sweat dripping from us everywhere.

The jacket and pants are fitted with CE approved protectors. Usually these are necessities that offer a balance between hinder and safety. In cold weather they usually become uncomfortably hard and seriously hamper any movement. Not these. Rukka uses a protector which not only works better than just CE standard, they also work when it's hot or cold and don't hinder at all. 

As I'm writing this we've been using the Cosmic suits for 5000 km and 3 weeks, every day and all day. We've already noticed they keep us warmer when it's cold and cooler when it's warm compared to the leather jacket Jeanette uses. We haven't had a massive downpour yet but it kept us dry in the rain and yet when we arrived at a campsite it was simply a matter of shaking off the drops on the outside and store it in the tent. The material seems to be water repellent so there isn't a lot of water on it at any one time. 

We tested the jackets as we went along to find out where the limits were. When to use the thermal liner and how far we could go with and without the liner. The simple answer is we haven't worked it out yet! Up to 25 degrees the thermal lining is ok but at the same time we rode with just 12 degrees with the liner removed and that was fine too. We have had so much wind in the Peak District that Jeanette had to wear a rain jacket over her leathers to keep her warm, has a jumper on and she also uses her neck warmer. We are riding without the thermal liners, in T-shirt and nothing but underwear under the pants and we're fine… 
The reason I'm comparing to Jeanette's leather jacket is because her leather jacket was both warmer and cooler than our previous 4-season jackets… now it's the other way around!

Due to unforeseen issues we ended up having an 18 hour riding day, wearing the Rukka suits the whole 18 hours too. The pants' built-in cushions obviously works a treat! During that single trip the weather changed from coldish early in the morning to 27 degrees in the afternoon, followed by a blustering wind and rain at night. The only thing we had to do was close the vents at night, zipped-on the storm collar and changed from summer to intermediate gloves (both Rukka as well).

Like I wrote earlier we are impressed with the Cosmic suits, we like them more everyday. They are full of clever features and details that make life on the road so much more comfortable. Rukka believed they could do better, much better, than my previous 4-season jacket and they do. With Rukka there is no need for ventilation panels everywhere and all kinds of removable layers (which you have to store somewhere too…). Instead they have made a jacket with build-in climate control. It just works, and very good too! It is by far the best motorcycle clothing I've had in over 30 years of motorcycling, I simply can't fault this jacket and pants and hope they will last us a long time. As Rukka even offers 5 year warranty, which for motorcycle clothing is very good as we all know bike gear has a hard life, we think they will last!

Testing the waterproofness of his Rukka suit. Mike rode up and down 7 times so that I could take this shot! The suit was properly wet(!) yet Mike was still perfectly dry!

Second evaluation after 23,000 km use. An extract from our post 'All gear after two years on the road': Rukka Cosmic and Rukka Belle

Without a shadow of a doubt the biggest improvement to our personal gear. It was a big risk for Rukka to supply us with two suits, as we had stated before that we liked our leather jackets better than fabric suits, as our previous four season jackets had failed miserably. Having worn the Rukka Cosmic every day from early morning till late in the afternoon or evening, we can't even begin to express how much better they are than anything we've had before. 
Quite a few manufacturers make bold statements about how good their gear is. They usually give it fancy names too. So when we read about 'SuperFabric', AquaseaL', 'Lockout Closure', 'Climate Control', 'Outlast', 'Air Cushion', 'Air Protectors' and 'AntiGlide' for instance we were a little bit hesitant at first. Mainly of course because they all make these claims. 
The first day we had the Rukka Cosmic was a 600 km trip to the UK… a distance that anyone with a pre-2012 Bonneville seat will tell you is painful. The Yamaha XT660R is even worse. The Rukka pants have a built-in air cushion… which works! All the other claims have proven to be true too. We had days of rainy and stormy weather in northern Norway and Finland, not a drop leaked in anywhere. The neoprene storm collar works a treat too. As it fits over the collar of the jacket, water running off it will run over the jacket rather than in. All the pockets are waterproof, tested by leaving petrol receipts in them that stayed dry, and the inner pockets are huge! The zipper, which looks vulnerably exposed and prone to leakage has proven to be fully waterproof. 

What surprised us most however is the wide range of temperatures we can use the jackets in. There are quite a few jackets on the market that have multiple layers built-in which you can put in or take out depending on the conditions. It may seem handy, but where do you leave all these layers? They take up valuable space in your pannier. In changing conditions they will have you zipping layers in and out all day. Believe me we've been there, done that! With Rukka there are no layers, simply because it doesn't need them. There is for instance no need to zip out the waterproof layer in warm weather as the waterproof layer is breathable. The Cosmic jacket is even waterproof on the outside and yet breathable. The only layer you have that can be zipped out with Rukka is the thermal lining. One lining is all you need. When you want to put the liner in is of course personal preference. In my case below about 8°C. Yet the Cosmic covers such a wide range of temperatures and is so well temperature regulating that I can wear the jacket with the liner up to about 25°C as well, so I don't have to change in and out of liners all day.

Being keen photographers, we found most motorbike jackets uncomfortable to walk around in. Especially when it's warm, stopping for a photo meant sweat pouring out of us in no time at all. Add to that the so called non-stick liner in the sleeves being like sticky-tape to sweaty arms, and we we ended up with jackets that limited our movement when back on the bike. If you look at our blog in the Mexico and Central America section, you'll see quite a few photo of us riding in T-shirt… it's not good to ride in just a t-shirt and we don't promote it at all but it this case it was the lesser of the two evils. This was before we had Rukka Cosmic jackets. 
Obviously we wanted to know what our Rukka gear would do. We didn't have 35°C yet but tried something else; in 28°C we went for a walk into town wearing our complete Rukka gear, zipped up and everything. Jeanette did the same in the same leather jacket she has had the whole trip, a jacket that had worked much better in the heat than our previous fabric jackets. 
The leather jacket became quite uncomfortable in about 5-10 minutes and she opened the front zipper. Both Mike and I walked around for more than 20 minutes before it became uncomfortable…
but we didn't have sweat running down our arms
or anywhere else. Don't forget we were wearing the full suit, jacket and pants, Jeanette was wearing a leather jacket and draggin' jeans.

There are plenty of clever touches in the Cosmic suits. Magnetic closing pockets for instance, but also inside pockets that you can reach with our without the liner in the jacket. Double cuffs to stop rain entering the sleeves and gloves. The belt closes magnetically too, which means it can be opened and closed with gloves on. The thermal liner is not just insulation but Outlast temperature regulating material. Protectors that are still pliable when it's freezing cold and a ventilation system that not just lets air into the jacket but channels it all around your body. The protectors are also much more extensive than in most other motorcycle suits I've seen. For instance the pants don't have just knee protectors but protect everything from the shin to well above the knee. They also have more extensive hip protectors than most. 

This has become quite a long piece of text, but we really can't praise these jackets and pants enough. We've had them now for 23,000 km and still find little clever touches on them and are still impressed how good they are. We've had the opportunity to compare them to Jeanette's same leather jacket, a jacket that had worked so much better than our own previous 4-season jackets in the past, yet now clearly the Rukka works heaps better. So much so in fact that Jeanette now has a Rukka suit herself. Her first impressions are that she loves it!

Rukka Belle
Jeanette now has a full Rukka suit as well; the Belle. She looks a Belle in it too! She likes the look of the jacket and we like the way she looks in it! It is very much a female jacket, without being too 'girlie' if you know what I mean. The first thing she noticed was the increased comfort over the leather jacket she had loved to wear so much before. Like the Cosmic it has huge inner pockets which are waterproof but the outer pockets on the Belle aren't according to Rukka (it takes more than a bit of rain though before the petrol receipts in the jacket were wet). The Belle has an easy to fit thermal liner and large ventilation panels in the sides for summer use. The neck part is well lined and can be used together with the Windstopper neck warmer from Rukka for colder weather.
The Belle comes in two different colours but Jeanette likes her gear in black, always has always will. At the time of writing she's used her Rukka Belle suit from Finland to Spain and back north again. She's really happy with it. The best suit she has had so far, by far. It feels like a quality product and is definitely warmer than the leather jacket and the Bella pants are much more comfortable than the Draggin' Jeans she used before. We haven't had any seriously hot weather yet, just normal European summers' days and that worked well. We did have a couple of -5°C mornings that only warmed up slowly and that wasn't an issue either. It has also proven to be 100% waterproof, even in torrential downpours of 400 km.

Previous motorcycle jackets we used:

Motorcycle jackets come in a lot of different varieties. Most of them seem to be more fashion orientated than anything else. From a manufacturers point of view that's understandable, after all when it looks good it gets sold. No problem there then, but some manufacturers limit themselves to just looking good without even remotely worrying about wether it actually functions. That's why it's hard to select the right gear. It is difficult to see through the material and see if it's actually properly made. Having a waterproof liner in it doesn't mean it's actually put in there properly...

I bought a DriRider Alpine jacket and thought for a long time that it was a good choice. It's warm enough for Tasmanian winters, has plenty of ventilation front, rear and in the arms, is waterproof and has CE protectors. After 4 years of use I do in fact still think it's a comparatively good jacket. But it also has quite a few drawbacks; drawbacks that most other textile jackets have as well and quite often even more so than the DriRider Alpine.
One of the drawbacks with most textile jackets is that the waterproof lining is on the inside. The outside still gets wet and this makes the jacket very heavy. Having a wet jacket in your tent means the tent gets wet… using it as a pillow is no longer an option either; and if the jacket stays wet for prolonged periods then it starts to smell… badly!
Still, that's not the main problem. The ventilation seems a luxury, but isn't. It's a necessity! These jackets get so hot that you'll melt without it. Just a little bit of sun changes them into an oven. Basically the vents at the rear of my jacket are open all the time and I'll only close the front vents when it's freezing cold. If it's really warm, 30 degrees C and over, I'll even leave the main front zipper half open and then it's still a hot jacket. Another problem with all these zippers all over the place is that you are struggling to operate them when riding. The fabric gets stuck in them, you can't find the buttons to keep the zippered panel open, and the zippers on arm sections get stuck on the inner lining meaning you can't close them when it starts to rain, so you'll still have to stop as you need two hands to wriggle the bloody zippers. 
After 4 years; mine is also no longer waterproof. it leaks at both arms and the front section must have cracks or splits in the waterproof lining as well. This brings us to the main problem with all these types of jackets: you can't repair them. They are nothing more than throwaways, very expensive throwaways. As the waterproof liner is inside the jacket, you can't replace it. You can't even replace a zipper without stitching holes in the waterproof liner. I really hate stuff that can't be repaired… grmbl.

Jeanette had a simpler version of the DriRider jacket which turned out to be poorly made and was made with poor quality materials as well. It's colour faded quickly and it's waterproof membrane gave up in just over a year. She reverted back to a leather jacket, as she always felt the textile jacket was a 'sweat-box' and uses a separate rain-jacket to put over it. In the beginning we thought she was mad. 'Every time it starts to rain you have to stop' we said. It turned out she made the right choice in the end. Her jacket is just as warm in winter, if not warmer, than our modern 4-season one, has better abrasion protection in a fall and doesn't get anywhere near as hot on a warm day. She doesn't have the fancy zippered ventilation but doesn't need it either. If we leave both jackets in the sun for he same amount of time, hers is just warm on the inside while mine is stinking hot! I should say sticking-hot because that's another problem with all these modern jackets, they are made from plastic which will cling to your arms like sweaty cling foil.
Jeanette's leather jacket can take a fair bit of rain before it gets wet too, more than mine in fact. Plus she uses the rain jacket over it, which is easier to fit than closing all the zippers in mine (let alone fitting the inner lining), which means at the end of a wet day her jacket is still perfectly dry and can be stored inside the tent while mine is dripping wet... 

I really have had enough of these so called 4-season jackets with their smart plastic fabrics that supposed to be breathable without leaking water, but aren't. They are also called 'climate control' jackets with all the fancy zippers (that wear out in dusty conditions and can't be replaced) and yet the simple leather jacket works better without all that fancy stuff. Leather jackets can be repaired, give better protection and last forever. After all these years there is still only one thing that will keep you dry in the rain: the PVC raincoat with a high cuff. I really regret not bringing my 16 year old leather jacket on this trip, I fell for the marketing and sales blurb…!