Labrador: Grant’s gear

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Believe it or not, Wes and I don’t dress like twinkies on motorcycle trips. I decided against go-go boots and David Lee Roth high kicks and wore an unfathomably expensive Rukka suit and Alpinestars touring boots instead. I also ditched the fancy MX helmet for a cheapo full-face. After 3,500 + miles, which approach worked better?

Scorpion EXO-400 Helmet

I made it roughly an hour and a half before pressure points from the Bell Moto-8 had me in such pain I couldn’t concentrate on the road. A quick check on the iPhone and 3 miles later I’m at a dealer trying on new helmets. To hell with a motocross helmet when 2,500 miles of this trip would be on paved roads. At $130, the Snell M2005-rated Scorpion EXO-400 is cheaper than a one-night stay and dinner in a smear-stained smelly room at “The Lodge” in Churchill Falls.

The visor never fogged and I could still manage to see large objects in the road during even in the most torrential downpours. Yeah, it’s trashed after two solid weeks of riding in harsh conditions, but any other helmet would be too, regardless of washable liners.

The lesson here? Taking really nice helmets on long adventures to remote places is lame. Buy a decent, cheap, comfortable, safe helmet that can get tossed around, nicked, dinged and accidentally rolled down the gravel road and into a ditch. Because it will. When you finally get back home just replace the visor, put the helmet in your closet and save it for the next trip.


Rukka Merlin Gore-Tex leather suit

Okay I’m just going to throw this out there now: I am officially a believer and devout Rukka fan-boy. Don’t get me wrong, for as much as Rukka gear costs — this suit is $3,500 — I really, really wanted to show this stuff wasn’t worth it. So if you’re staying in the hate camp because the stuff is so incredibly, almost ludicrously expensive, then I understand. That said, I feel invincible like Superman when I go out in the Merlin. In fact, I now get excited to ride in the rain just because I can scoff at any inclement weather conditions.

When we rode through the first big storm in Nova Scotia, I thought the suit was leaking through the soaked stretch panels, but no. The liner under the panels never failed. What happened was that while the rest of the suit kept my body perfectly warm, the thin Gore-Tex stretch panels and underlying liners gently reminded me that I was, in fact, in a giant, cold thunderstorm. For the record, I never used the removable thermal liner, I didn’t even bring it. I guess I might need to put it in for the middle of January if there’s a blizzard, maybe.

The 1.2mm thick leather is Gore-Tex Pro Shell laminate and slightly perforated and treated with TFL Cool, deflecting heat from the sun. Riding through New England during the first days with temperatures reaching the mid 90s, I never overheated.

The CE-certified honeycomb armor is in the usual places including knees, elbows, shoulders and back, plus the hips for good measure, but that’s not the important part. The amount of coverage the armor covers without getting bulky is what really stands out. For example, the elbow inserts run from a touch under mid-bicep to just a few inches shy of the wrist. The knee and shoulder inserts offer similar acreage.

All zips are completely waterproof, but the two flap zips for the jacket are a pain in the ass. If you don’t get them started perfectly aligned and without any side tensions for the first 5 inches, you’re going to break the seam. Without fail. Which means you need to start over. After a solid week of riding, I had the act down, but I won’t pretend having to do this every time I zip up isn’t annoying. Almost as annoying as the giant logos I had to Sharpie black. Seriously, giant garish branding on anything this expensive is simply unacceptable.

That said, once you get zipped in and you close up the collar made of stretchable Gore-Tex, you’re from Krypton.


Rukka Hero gloves

So this is another love letter. Throw eggs at me, go ahead. But this is how you make beautiful gloves that are technically sound and loaded with safety features. The Kevlar inserts over the main knuckles as well as the individual joints on the three descending fingers are seamlessly covered in leather. The carbon palm slider and the leather strip for reinforcement running the length between the index finger and thumb are sewn in with double stitching. The reflective pipings are treated as discreet, stylishly-placed functional details.

Rukka’s Hero gloves are made for warmer weather, so they’re perforated with a light fleece lining and not waterproof, but I didn’t have any issues the entire trip. Unfortunately, I have no idea how much these gloves cost because Rukka doesn’t have a price set for the US market. They come in black only, and I’m going to guess they’re not cheap.


Burton Approach gloves

These are my standard gloves for snow skiing, and I used them as waterproof shells over the Rukka Heros when the storms got really bad. They come with fleece inner liners, but I left those at home. The Burtons pack tiny, and they kept me from having to bother with sacrificing limited packing space or buying bulkier, technical weather-proof riding gloves. Win, win.


Alpinestars Bionic Back protector

CE level 2 certification without being uncomfortable. Thin, with multiple adjustments for perfect fit, this is fantastic supplemental back protection. I wore the Bionic Back protector from New York to Nova Scotia, then put it on again after we got back on US highways. For the rest of the trip, where traffic was minimal, it felt like overkill even though it was never bothersome when I had it on. Sometimes I just feel weird putting on my racing gear for what is really light duty.


Alpinestars Winter Tech Performance top and pants

We had 2 frigid days of solid squals and thunderstorms in Labrador and Quebec, when wearing just a teeshirt and boxers under the Rukka wasn’t perfectly comfy. Both Alpinestars’ top and pants are tightly cut with tubular seamless construction and dual density layers for wicking. Fabric is hypoallergenic and bacteriostatic, qualities you don’t think matter until you use gear for long periods while traveling. Then you don’t ever want anything less. The main thing to watch out for with the Winter Tech liners is overheating. This is gear for keeping you warm in extreme cold temperatures, so if the temperature swings back up into the mid 60s or higher while riding, you’ll find yourself pulling over to peal off layers and cool down. Also, I got a good amount of shrinkage after washing.


Alpinestars Durban Gore-Tex boots

I love how the description on the website says these can be used for “running into town on the commute.” No. Nobody’s throwing these boots on for light jaunts, because the Durbans are nothing short of range-topping hardcore fuck-off touring boots. Completely waterproof and all day comfortable, the Durban boasts full CE certification. While my feet never got cold, they did overheat a little in temps over the low 90s. However, that is a really tiny complaint, and they break in way faster than tech 10s. Mine got perfect after 5 days of solid riding and a thunderstorm.


Kriega R35 Backpack

We’ve covered this pack before, but it deserves mention again. I used the waterproof liner for food transport and the nightly bear bag while camping, and the backpack was used for packing ratchet straps, dirty clothes and miscellaneous goods while riding, plus double duty for hauling the tent, sleeping bag, cameras and other gear while off the bike. Highly versatile and pretty much all around amazing. The idea here is a pack that carries the weight through your chest and onto your hips while in a riding position, it’s not designed to be used while hiking, but it worked in a pinch.


  • Mark D

    Ever had any concerns about visibility dressed in all black? Especially in rain and fog, I’d be a little worried. It looks like there are reflective strips on the pants, but what about the back of the jacket (not that it matters to me specifically, I’m not dropping $3.5k on a set of leathers anytime soon!)

    • Wes Siler

      If they can’t see a full-loaded R1200GS with its lights on, they’re not going to see a dayglo vest or whatever. Just ride as if no one sees you.

    • jayspeed

      Christ, if I hear this meme again I will go apeshit. Dressing like a dayglo power ranger will NOT help you avoid accidents. Accept that motorcycling is inherently dangerous and get on with it.

      • Mark D

        I fully accept that motorcycling is dangerous; hell, that’s why I like it!

        The line I heard in MSF is that the eye is naturally drawn to brighter colors (and actually, white draws the most attention, moreso than day-glo colors). Also, as your helmet is the tallest thing other motorists see, a white/bright helmet can help draw more attention to yourself. Obviously defensive riding is much more effective, and you shouldn’t really “feel safer” looking like a cross between a power ranger and a crossing guard, but I tend to notice riders/cyclists more when driving if they have brighter colors on.

        • Grant Ray

          Sadly, what you heard in the MSF course is both true and false. While our eyes initially moved towards bright objects, and still do in certain controlled environments, we train ourselves to discreetly and unconsciously filter out objects, that over the years we designate as a kind of unimportant psychological clutter. Size, color or placement have no sway over this filtering.

          • Mark D

            Well, I’m going to look on the bright side (no pun intended), and buy a nice black leather jacket with no guilt about style over safety.

            I will continue to rock a white helmet, however, because it makes me feel like a storm trooper.

            • smoke4ndmears

              I’m with you: bright helmet (in my case the new icon alliance in splendiferous day-glo yellow) and black lowers. Or whatever. What I wear off the bike has to be stylistically versatile. I too would like a compare between the rukka and the ‘stitch, though it’s likely that when the day comes to choose I’ll most likely choose the suit that can likely receive timely warranty service.

          • mcfaite

            I wear a bright (Shoei) yellow helmet. But I’ve seen a number of studies that confirm what Grant says — if everyone is filtering us out, it doesn’t matter how bright we are.

            It’s kind of like regular life, in that way…

    • SamuraiMark

      There’s *absolutely no difference* between wearing inconspicuous colours vs. bright colours or day-glo. Which perfectly explains all the neon pink uniforms our US & Cdn soldiers are wearing overseas. Ummmmm….

      Bright colours make a difference. Every study I’ve read comes to the same conclusion. And, as my old Lin Alg Prof used to say, it’s ‘intuitively obvious’. Bright colours abound in nature for the express purpose of attracting attention. The hot red Ferrari attracts our eye. As does the red dress of that lithe treat across the bar …

      Of course, bright colours are not a guarantee of anything and your best defence is always your own skills. But they do reduce the incidence of accidents. They will reduce the likelihood of you getting rear-ended. If you want to wear a cool black leather jacket, get a day-glo vest and stuff it away when get off your ride.

      Now, if you will excuse me I just need to go put on my black leather jacket, black helmet, black boots and black riding pants …

  • Sasha Pave

    The lead pic looks like dead cow remnants on the slaughterhouse floor.

    • SamuraiMark

      That’s kind of what they are, no?

  • Brammofan1

    Wait… no vanity shot at the end? What are the stalkers going to post on their fansites?

    You know I’m never going to go out and buy any of this stuff, but I do enjoy reading about it and looking at the great pics.

    I suggest you and Wes take a page out of HGTV’s “Design on a Dime” show and try to outfit a rider as best you can with a budget of, say, $500. Heck, it could be a whole series of articles: HFL Makeover for MarkD for $500. HFL Makeover for Skadamo for $750. HFL Makeover for Brammofan for $1,000.

    See, that’s what you get people subscribe–they have that feeling of “owning a piece” that makes them happily hand over award-winning article ideas for free.

    • Wes Siler

      That’s a good idea. I like how Brammofan gets the highest amount. :)

      • skadamo

        Sign me up. $750? This is the off season, I could seriously gear up with that kinda money.

        I love Grant’s advice about the helmet. Cheap and disposable. You know it’s gonna hit the ground.

  • jayspeed

    Very interesting review of the RUKKA. I have the new Aerostich Transit Suit, which looks to be the same thing: Gore-Tex leather, minimally perforated with reflect-black leather technology. Completely waterproof, etc.

    I would like to see a comparison report between the RUKKA and the Transit Suit.

  • Tim

    I am very interested in the Aerostich Transit Suit since it is only OMG expensive, not OMFG. I concur with Jayspeed. I nearly got ran over twice in 1 mile yesterday while riding a bright red KLR, and while wearing an orange and tan Firstgear Katmandu jacket that is pretty loud. I didn’t get hit because both times I assumed the cars would look right through me and pull out, and they did, surprise surprise.

    • Wes Siler

      The Transit and this Rukka (and my Alpinestars 365) are all made from the same Gore-Tex Pro Shell leather. They just differ in construction, cut, armor and stuff like that. Aerostich makes good stuff.

  • andy727

    Great, now you guys made me want a rukka suit! ;-)

  • holdingfast

    Here’s something I’ve been wondering lately – while we’re sharing ideas for aticles – I love reading about the gear you guys ride with, but somehting I’m curious about is what motorcycles you guys own/ride on a regular basis? maybe there was an article about it at some point, in which case I must have missed it, but in case there wasn’t maybe that would interest others as well?

  • motoguru

    Tell ya what man, my rep hooked me up with the same helmet last spring and I have been wearing it ever since! I’ve got more $500+ helmets sitting in my closet that I want to admit, and I’m pretty sure it’ll be a while before I wear any of them again.

  • cynic

    Where did you guys get this suit. I’m having problems finding it for sale anywhere in the US. Of course even though it looks MUCH better then the Aerostich one, I’m not sure it’s worth $2k more…