Gear: street, track and in between

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Category: Gear

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.

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