I got free riding gear from Alpinestars and HFL

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When HFL randomly choose me as the winner of the Alpinestars giveaway Lagniappe I was, and remain, genuinely thankful. Especially because my old gear was falling apart. So, I submitted my sizes (always a gamble) and Alpinestars, via HFL, hit me with an impressive smattering of black leather. A jacket, gloves and boots. It was that easy. Killer.

We motorcycle-obsessed are a fickle bunch. The machines we ride are a reflection of the style of bikers we are, or at least the bikers we expect to be. How much power is enough? How much is too much? Do we need a bike that goes well in the dirt, are we shredding down country lanes every day or do we want a bulletproof low-MPG beater for city commuting? We search for the right tool for the job and hopefully when we wrap our fingers around the grips of that perfect bike we have the sense to ride the piss out of it and, of course, the gear we use is just another slice of that pie. Rain gear? Boots and gloves? Milk crate strapped to the tail? Where else are you supposed to put your fruits and vegetables? We need gear that works for us and works well. A great piece of gear makes itself barely noticeable to its wearer, becoming a travel companion joining our commutes and camping trips to perform deeply meaningful work.

I ride all year as much as possible. It’s a great way to get around the city every day. But aside from the physical and mental guerrilla warfare of commuting, there’s also camping in the woods, day trips to Wisconsin or Michigan, mellow cruising up Lake Shore Drive and track days at Gingerman Raceway. I work to stay on the bike. Unfortunately, in Chicago, this means that there will be inevitable weeks where ice and laughable amounts of snow get in the way. But, in this world, I’m shooting toward a percentage of correctness as opposed to an ideal. Ideals are often not reals. In the cold I use an electric jacket liner and gloves by Gerbing (sold by the excellent folks at Motoworks Chicago, hands down the best bike shop in the city), so long as there’s no ice and not too much snow, I’m riding. Later when the weather gets sweaty I melt for safety in boots, gloves and the rest of it. Whether this is a precaution to maintain life, as opposed to a simple fear of death, remains unknown. Either way, having the right tools in your tool belt makes all the difference.

My kit was really a mess, the $100 Joe Rocket Orbit boots were very comfortable for about six months, until they fell apart internally and the cracked leather on the outside began flaking off. My beloved AGV gloves that I paid about $40 for in Buenos Aires in 2007 have seen many thousands of miles and a few crashes. The leather is stretched to hell and the palm of the right glove is worn away from a long slide sideways under a train trestle in evening rush hour traffic. The stitching has come undone on one of the Velcro closures, but the gauntlet still stays exactly where it should be over the cuff of the jacket. They feel perfect in their imperfection, actually. The jacket is an old Hein Gericke (probably from the ‘80s) found in a second hand store in NYC that fits in a more satisfying way than any other piece of motorcycle gear ever. Despite having no armor, it’s simply the perfect jacket and has indeed saved my skin on occasion. So even though I love the massively imperfect kit, it’s so great to have an intimate date with some new duds.

I’ll start with what I think is the best part of this Alpinestars kit and then work my way to the least-best, which is still pretty damn good.

What better way to test new gear than a 1600-mile road trip? My friend Steve (‘07 BMW GS) and myself (06 Triumph Sprint ST 1050) set off to the east on a brilliant five-day trip riding country roads and camping in the Appalachian Mountains from Central PA down into Virginia and West Virginia. If only Indiana and Ohio could fold under the earth’s crust to make the mountains closer. The weather was great, the campsites sparsely attended and the roads (after getting IN and OH out of the way) were outstanding and a true joy to ride morning till night.

The Alpinestars SMX Plus boots simply kick ass. They came out of the fancy rectangular box onto the feet and I could tell immediately they were the right size (11US). These are the best, most comfortable bike boots I’ve ever worn and they felt pretty good off the bike too. I wouldn’t go hiking in them or anything, but they are perfectly fine to walk around in. The vents offered a little less airflow than I would have expected by their looks, but they certainly breathe well and maintain an all-round good pairing of comfort and burliness. Confidence inspiring indeed, I would recommend these boots to anyone regardless of riding style. Instant pleasure, they will be commuters and track day friends.

Alpinestars GP Plus Gloves are seriously handsome and they’re my first pair of bike gloves that have the little finger sewn to the ring finger. I was hyper-aware of this feature for the first few hours on the bike, feeling not necessarily uncomfortable, but rather kept in a way that was all new. They fit very well thanks to Mr. W. Siler recommending that I go with the L as opposed to the M, which leads me to believe that Astars glove sizing is positively wacky. I’m not a particularly large person, in fact I’m totally average size all round and my hands are normal for a 5’ 10” average-weight kind of guy. In any case, they took less than two solid days of riding to feel broken-in (to be totally fair the boots needed no break-in whatsoever as opposed to the gloves) and they are now slathered with my sweat, tainted forever by my DNA and fit like, um, like gloves. The only criticism I will offer is this: there are two little scaphoid-saving plastic nubs on each palm and, for long periods of time riding with consistent pressure on the grips, like perhaps when getting your soul sucked out across Indiana and Ohio, the plastic nubs become like little pebbles in between the palm of your hand and the grip of your bike. So I would recommend different gloves for boring highway riding because constant engine speed will make two little sore spots on your palms. Conversely, on winding mountain roads, these gloves are your friends, hi-fiving all over your brain.

The beautiful and understated Alpinestars Mert Jacket is a mixed bag though. The leather is nice and soft and the integrated armor is the most comfortable I may have ever felt. I want so badly to love this jacket because it does so many things wonderfully, but the folks at Astars just messed-up the fit on this one. I know from experience that Astars jacket size USA 44 will fit. I know this because I’ve tried on a bunch of different styles to see how they feel. So when Sportbike Track gear said the Mert jacket ran a little large compared to the rest of the Astars line, I took note and ordered a size down and got a 42. At first its baggyness wasn’t that apparent and I assumed it was a more cruiser casual cut, but a few days into my camping trip I couldn’t hide the truth: this jacket is almost clown shoes territory. The leather feels great and the perforation is dreamy once you get moving through the wind, but the leather hangs down into my gas tank and I could fit a small dog in there. It would be perfect if I had a massive beer belly but that hasn’t happened yet. In the fall, with two shirts and a hoody, it will feel much better, but for now as a summer jacket with just a t-shirt underneath, it’s just got too much extra leather flapping around.

It’s starting to feel a bit awkward here criticizing a really cool expensive jacket that I got for free, but while I’m on a roll there are two more little things. The zipper has the ring and female end on the left side and the male end on the right. No big deal but I’ve never worn a jacket that zips up like that before and it takes a little getting used to. Lastly, there is a tiny metal tag on the outside of the jacket on the back of the neck which made just enough contact with my T1 vertebrae to make it sore after a long day of riding. Subtle but annoying.

In the spirit of trying everything we learn and become more informed. Massive thanks to HFL and Alpinestars for the unexpected and generous gift of some sweet gear for an obsessed biker.

  • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

    lucky bastard :)

  • Tony

    Congrats on the win to a fellow Triumph rider (my track bike is an 09 D675) and actual hardcore rider.

    Great writing btw.

    Ride safe.
    TS

  • rustycb450

    Congrats on the win!

  • Dumptruckfoxtrot

    Appalachian Mountains, not Appellation Mountains. Buenos Aires, not Buenos Aries. Congratulations on your swanky new gear.

    • Zach

      Beat me to it. Great to have an update about the contest winner though.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      Fixed. I know a certain editor from the northern Georgia mountains who needs a good kick to the shins.

      • David

        sic

  • Roman

    Heh, dude’s basically my body double. So um…if any of the kit is not working out for you, feel free to send it my way :)

  • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

    Haha, I justrode through Ohio and Indiana for the first time a few days ago. Ohio was far and away the worst state I’ve been in on this XC trip, and until I went over my route the other day, I completely forgot I was even in Indiana.

    Congrats on the kit!

    • jason McCrash

      Flat. Other than southeast Ohio. That is the bad thing about living in the Great Lakes area, you have to go through IL-IN-O to get anywhere west of the Mississippi. Well it’s that or go the route of I-40 through Oklahoma. Nobody should ever go to Oklahoma. Fugliest state in the union.

      • noone1569

        South Indiana has some very nice roads. It’s about 45 minutes for me to get to anything fun from Indy.

  • Thom

    You done well and from what its sounds like , just in the nick of time as well .Congrats !

  • nymoto

    Dude congrats man!
    (can I have your old jacket now?)

  • NickP

    If you ride through the south of Ohio there are plenty of hills or “mountains” to keep you fairly busy…North side though, hope you brought a pillow!

    I bought a Mert and SMX-5 boots this year. The boots I love and have worn them all day before without being uncomfortable. No complaints here, just some great boots. I can actually shift gears with them too, which is quite something coming from someone who rode in puma speed cats the last few years :)

    The jacket has also been a mixed bag for me. I bought it for one reason and one reason only, it was the best jacket in my price range that didn’t turn me into a rolling astars icon held shift buell hjc xerox repsol l.l. bean trojan billboard. I’m not a sponsored rider and I don’t want to look like one.

    They didn’t have the Mert in stock when I went to try jackets on (funny you should mention, I’m 5 miles from the Sportbiketrackgear-super-hyper-go-fast-mart-dot-com showroom in MI. Great shop, although most people who go in there I assume actually do want to look like a sponsored rider so they don’t keep stuff like the Mert in stock) so I tried on some other astars sport jackets for size. That size turned out to be inconsistent, because the Mert we had delivered was far too big. No big deal, we just got the size smaller and it fits perfectly. It is definitely a summer jacket. 72 degrees with the sun down and you’ll actually freeze your ass off. Also the zipper is shit shit SHIT! I’ve had stuffed animals with tougher zippers than this jacket. It has come apart on me several times and I have to be careful putting it on. Besides those complaints I love it though. The ventilation is really top notch and I always have another jacket for when it’s cold out. It also looks good, I’ve had compliments from both Power Rangers and Pirates alike on it :)

  • Liquidogged

    Yeah Chicago riders!

    Wes, you see that sweet Scorpion helmet he’s rocking with the built-in visor? eh? eh?

    I have a pair of Joe Rocket Orbits that probably have a few thousand miles on them by now:
    - saddle soap every couple of months
    - new laces
    - replaced insoles with nice dr. scholls athletic gel insoles
    - they are tanks
    - the a-stars boots are obviously way nicer

    congrats!

  • Jeff

    Congrats

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    I am glad that you were critical of the equipment, and didn’t gush love for every piece. I gotsta get me some of those boots.

  • barryg

    Great writing, mate!
    And for you lot ‘oop north’ whinging about the roads in OH and IN, just come down here to FL and you’ll have something to really whinge about. The only relief is trackdays. No wonder half the GSXR’s have 8′ long swingarms :-)
    Thanks for the report.