Gear: street, track and in between

Gear -

By

IMG_4828

As you can see here we’ve just been to the track to test the new 2013 Honda CBR600RR. As part of that test, we also took notes on how our gear performed. While the street is our primary focus at Hell for Leather, the track allows you to push your riding gear to the point where any flaws will quickly become apparent. Let’s see how our latest kit worked out…

Shoei GT-Air Helmet
Shoei has been quiet up until recently, but the Japanese helmet brand is getting back to creating all-new models. Headlining the brand for 2013 is this all-new GT-Air street helmet. Designed as a premium sport and touring helmet, the GT-Air brings a slew of features together for the first time under the Shoei label.

The GT-Air takes many of the popular technologies from the Neotec flip-face lid and applies them to a sportier, conventional full-face model. This includes the new faceshield and shield mechanism, the internal sunvisor, a simplified but still very effective venting design and improved aerodynamic and noise control. Also unusual is the removal of Shoei’s usual SNELL certification. Thanks to the sun visor and shell design, the GT-Air is DOT/ECE only here in the U.S. And that’s a good thing.

Fit and Comfort
Shoei is doing a great service for the North American consumer. One, if you have a more oval head shape, the new Shoei fit will make you cry with happiness. Pioneered in the Shoei’s all-conquering X-11 race helmet, the shape is a perfect compromise between narrow and rounder ovals that seems to fit just about everyone. Joy!

Two, the entire Shoei lineup in the U.S. takes advantage of this shape, making it very easy to shop for a new Shoei. So if you fit a medium RF-1100, you’re almost certainly a medium in the GT-Air.

Once you’ve fitted the helmet, your braincase is treated to one of the most plush and comfortable liners that Shoei has ever created. The liner material is a very thick and it feels great. The neckroll is very snug, sealing out wind noise and you can feel the effort that went into designing each 3-dimensional shape of the liner. All-day comfort is something a serious touring rider needs, but it’s great to have even if you’re only rolling across town.

Visibility and Noise
The GT-Air excels in both of these critical categories. The wider and taller faceshield really opens up your view despite the extra complexity of the internal sun visor. A Pinlock system is standard issue and prevents fogging as advertised. The shield baseplate uses a clever spring-loaded system that pulls the shield against the gasket, which is now a double-walled seal.

Although internal sun visors are getting pretty common in the helmet market, Shoei has built the best one available, bar none. A short-throw slider controls the shield and offers stepless adjustment. When fully lowered, the visor completely shields your vision, unlike so many other designs that put the lower edge in your line of sight. The GT-Air delivers on the promise of a single helmet ready for all lighting conditions. And on track, the new Shoei offers great vision with zero distortion, an impressive feat for a helmet with three pieces of plastic (shield, pinlock, visor) between you and the next apex. The only downside is that the shield lock isn’t strong enough to keep the shield closed when doing a head check in the triple digits.

As far as noise control, Shoei has spent a lot of time reducing wind noise. The aforementioned neck roll works with the heavily styled shell to keep air moving around the helmet. Audio system-ready ear pockets come equipped with thick foam spacers to further reduce noise. And the venting is designed to minimize noise as well. Overall, external noise is very well damped, but it still isn’t quite as quiet as the quietest Schuberths. But, The GT-Air is still one of the quietest helmets on the road today.

Ventilation and Function
Of course, the payoff for the slight increase in noise is a simply awesome amount of airflow into the helmet. At first glance, the GT-Air looks a bit disappointing in the ventilation department because it only uses a pair of upper intake and exhaust vents, with no additional fixed ports in the rear of the shell. But Shoei’s engineers obviously earned their pay, because the GT-Air flows more air than some companies’ racing helmets. Thanks to the large scooping effect of the upper intakes, the ventilation works at nearly any forward angle as well.

Two criticisms then: one, if the GT-Air ventilates this well with four holes, imagine how well it would work with a few extra ports! And two, the internal sun visor mechanism gets in the way of the traditional brow area ventilation, so your forehead can get a bit sweaty when the weather heats up.

Finally, the chin vent does a great job of directing air to your upper face and eyebrow area, without letting a distracting draft come up from the bottom of the chin opening. The included chin curtain that seals this lowering opening is a bit overkill in comparison.

Weight and Balance
The GT-Air isn’t a featherweight, but it feels dense, like it’s made out of stronger stuff than lesser helmets. The GT-Air weighs the same as an Arai Corsair V in the same size, but is looks more compact thanks to the Shoei’s teardrop shape. This makes the helmet feel like it’s more a part of your head than something you are merely wearing and it helps the lid cut through the air with little resistance. Because the GT-Air is so svelte, it feels as light in the first hour of a ride as it does on the eight.

Graphics and Finish
Ah, Shoei… if only other helmet companies could make a helmet like you do. Every moving part on a Shoei feels like a team of scientists built it for NASA. The liner stitching and various seams and joints on the lid are crafted to near perfect unison. This is why Shoeis handle abuse so well over the years, because they simply come out of the factory at a higher level.

As far as graphics go, tastes may vary but the GT-Air continues to offer the complex and well-designed colorways that Shoei does better than most. Go look at your current helmet; do you see where the various graphic panels have been applied? Look at a Shoei; it might as well be hand-painted for the detail involved. 10 out of 10 here.

Features, Value and Desirability
The Shoei GT-Air offers a unique combination of so many features in a single helmet, and it’s especially impressive to have them all function at such high efficiency. That’s what makes the GT-Air so damn awesome, it does everything you ask of it, only more so.

Of course, premium features and craftsmanship come at a price. But unlike so many reviews you might read that hem and haw about price, this call is easy. Go buy a GT-Air. Now. If you don’t want to spend the $670.99 for one of the graphics ($600 at Revzilla), go white or black for $549.99 ($495 at RevZilla) and save over a hundred bucks. This is one of the best street helmets ever created. Full stop.

Alpinestars Orbiter One-Piece Suit
With any trackday (especially at an unfamiliar track), you’ll want to make sure you’re covered in a good leather suit. I’ll turn laps at my local track in a textile suit like an Aerostitch, but for Chuckwalla, cowhide was the only way to go. But instead of simply calling up a leather supplier and having their top-shelf suit sent out, we asked ourselves what we’d look for in a suit that needed to do it all: street, track and everything in between, on a budget.

Alpinestars new Orbiter is one answer. Of course it has a good 1.3mm leather chassis and the full compliment of armor with a vented back hump, but it also offers a few key selling points that make it an attractive option for street riders and amateur racers.

The Orbiter makes use of an asymmetric entry zipper that makes the suit more comfortable as well as a whole lot easier to get on and off. If you’ve never spent a day inside a leather suit, here’s what you can usually look forward to: cramped shoulders, pinched knee joints and a front wedgie from the depths of hell. Thanks to clever tailoring, the Orbiter fits great on the bike and still is comfortable walking around in, even when standing up straight. No leathery mangina and no “diaper butt”.

If there’s any sagging here, it’s the fault of the hamburgers, not the leathers.

Even if the suit sucked on the bike, I’d recommend the Orbiter to street riders for the above reasons alone. But of course, being an Alpinestars item, the suit offered well-fitted armor, good ventilation and that elusive second-skin feeling you want in a suit. Best part? The Orbiter comes in well under $1000, with a retail of $899.95. That’s a lot of good protection for a very reasonable price.

Alpinestars GP Plus Gloves
Just like our thought process with the Orbiter suit, we stayed grounded with our choice of gloves. Alpinestars top-spec GP Tech glove offers an insane amount of armor but might be a bit much for most non-pro riders’ wallets. The GP Plus instead rings in at $189.95 and perfectly bridges the gap between street comfort and track protection.

The GP Plus uses several plastic armor sections over the top of the hand, fingers and palm heel, with zero interference of the gloves’ control feel. The knuckle guard combines with perforated panels to offer plenty of airflow. And the third and forth fingers includes a leather bridge to keep them both attached in the event of a bad get-off. The end result is a glove that you’ll want to wear when riding on the street but will still trust on the track, an ideal compromise.

Alpinestars Supertech R Boots
Are these the best sport-riding boots you can wear? Alpinestars seems to think so, because in the latest round of revisions to create the R model, Alpinestars only changed the internal booties’ material to a new 3D mesh, leaving the rest of the boot all but unchanged.

For your $449.95, your feet are treated to the same love and attention given to MotoGP riders’ delicate lower extremities. From the outside, the Supertech R doesn’t look all that remarkable, with the usual array of hard plastic protectors and perforated leather panels. It’s the insides that make the difference here, as the Supertech inner bootie contains the structural bracing that protects your feet.

By placing these components so close to the bones of you lower leg and foot, the Supertech offer the freedom of movement and control feel of a pair of slippers and the protection of a pair of medieval sabatons. Sure they may take an extra minute or two to put on, but the end result is a boot that is all-day comfortable with the best in riding protection. Pricey, but perfect. Wes has crashed in these several times without so much as toenail chip and now swears by them as a result.

  • therubbersidedown

    Are the Supertech R’s worth the extra money over the SMX-Plus boot?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      If you’re stretching to afford a good boot, the SMX-Plus are great. But, there’s not many items of riding gear where you can say you wear the exact same thing as a top-tier GP rider for just $450. I literally do swear by them. My feet and ankles are as protected as they can be in the Supertechs, but they’re also the absolute most comfortable footwear I can wear on a sportsbike or tourer.

  • gaudette

    My two favourite motorcycle gear companies! Never had any disappointments in any product from either Alpinestars or Shoei.

  • http://twitter.com/JackNorton8064 Jack Norton

    Goddamn I want a GT-Air. Too bad living in Aus they’re priced at $800-$900 and buying online isn’t so simple as an overseas helmet won’t have the ‘Australian Standards’ sticker on it.

    :(

  • Mark

    Happily in the market for a new brain cage this year. Wearing an RF-1000 which puts just a *wee* bit too much pressure on my forehead. I read that the RF-1100 is touch longer inside but the GT-Air comes with a pinlock visor and built in sun shield? Yes please. I really hope this guy fits my noggin.

    • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

      I loved my old Shoei X-11, but I damaged it in a crash so it got retired. I have been an Arai man ever since, but I REALLY like this GT-Air. Might be time to pick up a second lid!

  • Garrett Nelson

    I just picked up an Orbiter myself. I’m a big guy and it’s hard to find a suit that fits and is easy to get on and off when you have wide shoulders. Can’t wait to try it on the track for the first time. Only wish is that Alpinestars would make suits bigger then 60 in colors other then black.

    • Soph Tsangarakis

      If you dont mind me asking, what is your height/weight? Im 6’1″ 235 ish, looking for a good fitting suit.

      • Garrett Nelson

        I’m 6’6″ and about 270. I went with the size 64 suit. Biggest they make. Just the right size. A size 60 or 62 might work for you. Probably the 60 though. Astars has a perfect fit program though so your dealer should be able to get you the right size. Basically it’s if they order one size and it’s not right you can reorder the right size.

      • Random

        I’m 6’1″ 240 and I went with a US 48 from Spartain leathers.

  • http://twitter.com/damiengaudet Damien Gaudet

    Really liked this write-up. Trying to decide on a one piece suit myself. Interesting that GP riders don’t use the offset zipper design?

  • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

    +1 for use of the word “sabaton”

  • Cory

    I would love to see a review of street riding boots and kevlar jeans in the sub $250 range. I am struggling right now to find anything im wanting to spend the money on. And since hardly any places around me carry a large stock I have to do most of my shopping online which is always a risk. Anyways, love the articles and the Rideapart videos. thanks guys.

    • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

      If you want a solid pair of boot for less than $200, look into the Alpinestars S-MX 5 Boot. It has close to the same protection as the Supertech series, but lacks a removable inner liner, etc. (they also come in vented, non-vented and waterproof configurations.)

      If you want a safe, functional, inexpensive pair of kevlar pants, check out anything made by Sliders. You wont win any fashion contests, but they kept my bum in one piece after a 30mph+ accident I had last year and they don’t look horrible. (They tend to run big, just a heads up.)

      Revzilla.com and Compacc.com, both offer hassle free returns and together have arguably some of the best customer service on the planet if you are worried about sizing.

      Hope this helps!

  • Stuki

    “…Wes has crashed in these several times….”

    I’m honestly not trying to be facetious, and I’m very well aware that anyone who spends serious time improving ones ability to find and ride close to the limit of what one’s machine can do on a racetrack, inevitably will crash from time to time; but why is is always, and only, Wes who is referred to as crashing? Every month or so, there’s another reference to Wes crashing. This time it’s “several times”…. What about the rest of you, none of who exactly come across as timid slowpokes?

    :)

    Take care, guys! In actuality, highlighting that motorcyclists DO crash, and that crashing does not need to be the end of the world if one shows some precaution, is probably one of the best things you can do, in a world where more and more kids are raised to be so scared as to put a helmet and pads on before getting out of bed in the morning. While bikes and riding obviously should be approached with respect, both the bikes and those riding them, (at least when reasonably young and in decent shape) are not quite as fragile as the motorcycle = death, destruction and daredevils, crowd like to believe.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Yeah, I’ve had a few crashes in the last few years. It’s just part of riding bikes for a living. Seems like a lot simply because I’m honest and upfront about it. Not everyone can say that.

      Doing this, I’m often riding an unfamiliar bike, probably in unfamiliar conditions, on unfamiliar tires. Then all that also tends to be less than…optimized. Street tires off road, trackday tires in the rain, bikes that have major, unpublicized ground clearance issues that you learn about the hard way, zero aftermarket crash protection. My job can be harder than it looks some times.

      One of the reasons I’m so upfront about it is to hopefully show people that crashing can happen to anyone, anytime and you have to prepare for that when you ride. Even in the whole ass scar incident, I was wearing a strap-on back protector, body armor, a solid jacket, a real helmet, racing gloves and solid boots. It’s sad, but that’s a lot more than most motorcycle riders in the US wear. Gear of the type reviewed above serves a very real, very important purpose and it’s worth spending big bucks on. Even if you’re on a budget. A good helmet is not a luxury. Good leathers are not a luxury if you’re riding a sportbike. All this is a necessity if you choose to put motorcycles in your life.

      And yeah, it’s a running joke too.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    Dammit!! Shoei needs to make helmets for those that have round asian heads like mine. Oh well HJC’s have always fit my big ole globe

    • Bruce Steever

      You can always order your Shoei from Japan, where the lineup is designed around the traditional round fit. Not sure who sells them for export over there tho…

  • Darren Lund

    “When fully lowered, the visor completely shields your vision, unlike so many other designs that put the lower edge in your line of sight”
    This isn’t actually true, the sun visor does not completely cover your vision – there is a gap at the bottom that lets in a fairly big strip of light. For instance in an upright riding position your mirrors may not be covered by the visor, which some may find distracting.
    It’s great for convenience in changing light conditions but isn’t a full substitute for a tinted external visor, and this is where Shoei disappoint as they don’t make a tinted CNS-1 visor.
    The best you can do is insert a tinted Pinlock in a spare visor to give a fuller tinted coverage.

  • dontay

    The Shoei air is nice but wow that’s an expensive helmet.

  • Mark

    Is the US version of the GT-Air really both DOT and ECE? I know the European is ECE, but are they identical? If so, why doesn’t Shoei note that is also ECE in the US?

    If the US version is not ECE, would you still trust it? (I guess being a Shoei counts for something in itself…)