These days, synthetic motorcycle touring jackets seem to be a dime a dozen. A nice problem to have, sure, but separating the wheat from the cheap is more difficult than ever. This past year, as we've explored the world we've simultaneously perused some popular touring-suit styles. You'll find six jacket/pant combos here that have survived extreme miles and scrutiny. While they aren't the only choices today, they are some of the best.
Darien Jacket and Pants
Two venerable Aerostitch suits--the street-minded Roadcrafter and its tour-intended cousin, the Darien--have become a kind of holy grail in the world of Cordura riding apparel. Until recently, the competition was so much Tupperware in comparison. Although Aerostitch does have some true competition from current suits by Alpinestars, Belstaff, BMW and REV IT!, the Darien, when it comes to touring, remains a sublime example of efficiency.
You know just how functional it is the first time you put it on. Everything makes sense. When you reach for something on the Darien--a zipper, cinch or pocket--it's exactly where your hand would expect to find it. The pockets (all 12 of them) are just the right shape and in just the right spot. A place for your maps, your toll change, your wallet, your ham-and-cheese sandwich--it's all handled.
The 2-in-1 Darien concept is built around a three-quarter-length Cordura and Gore-Tex shell. The Gore-Tex is actually welded to the nylon, and the seams are heat-sealed like a rainsuit, making the shell very waterproof in all but extreme and enduring downpours where you might find some leakage occurring around the zippered openings. You select the jacket's liner when you make your purchase, choosing from standard, lightweight, electric and windbloc-equipped. Of course, more than one is best. The liners are reversible and fleece-lined and look groovy worn off the bike, too. You use the liner's existing front zipper to attach it to the suit--just put it on first and then pull the jacket shell over it. How simple, and it works beautifully. Strong points include versatility--without the liner and with full venting at work, you can absolutely ride all summer in comfort. In the winter, if you have the electric liner, you can easily survive a ride in freezing temps. The jacket and the matching overpants (black only) come equipped with our favorite armor system, too, which uses molded TF2, a soft, flexible material that stiffens on impact. You hardly know it's there until you need it, and when you need it, I can tell you personally that it performs. The Darien is also completely washable. Just remove the armor first and wash it whenever you stink it up.
Breaking in a new Aerostitch suit requires a little patience. The Darien is especially stiff out of the box and won't look and feel its best until you put several hundred miles on it. They wear extremely well, though, and you can expect a suit to last for decades. Off-the-rack sizing runs S-XXL, and you can expect a generous cut to allow for movement and layering. So, how much for the most exalted suit in motorcycle touring? The jacket will run you $497 to $587 depending on the liner you choose, and it comes in black, blue, gray, red or yellow. Pants are $297, and suspenders are $20 extra. Despite the competition, the Darien remains the suit to beat for its simple everything-where-it-should-be functionality and four-season versatility.
What we liked:
Versatility, feature placement, reflectivity and terrific armor system
What we didn't:
Break-in is a bear; not the most flattering cut for most
Apex Drystar Jacket and Jet Road Pants
Alpinestars, with the Apex Drystar jacket and Jet Road pants, didn't exactly put a man on the moon, but it has come very close to the ideal two-season combo thanks to a clever design and a raft of forward-thinking features.The Apex jacket is your basic Cordura shell fitted with CE-approved armor in the shoulders and elbows, plus a back protector called a "comfort pad" primarily because it won't stop object penetration. An integral Gore-Tex liner makes the jacket waterproof yet maintains some breathability. (This is not, however, a warm-weather jacket; it doesn't ventilate well enough to be comfortable into the 80s.)
Alpinestars has really thought this design through, and it shows in touches such as the twin zippers at the hem that allow the hemline to spread out over your legs without having to open the main zipper, which could permit water intrusion. The two main pockets on the front of the jacket are built on top of the waist cinch strap; the idea is that to have reasonably sized pockets you need to either place the waist strap too high on the torso or, well...have smaller pockets. We're not enamored of the pockets, though; to preserve the Gore-Tex liner's integrity, the pocket liners are not even tacked to the membrane, and thus they frequently come out when you search for something inside.
Except for a slight drip down the back of the neck--not the jacket's fault--the Apex kept me dry and reasonably toasty in driving rain. It comes with a zip-in thermal liner, but it's bulky and you could do better by layering. In general, the fit is very good and the finish extremely good-- after quite a bit of thrashing, we only managed to pull a few threads from the wrist closures. Another beef: The material around the top of the neck is unusually rough and will chew up unprotected skin. The neck closure is fussy in the extreme, with a snap and pull-through-a-ring tab; it also needs a wider adjustment range.
Overall, though, the jacket works well, is comfortable and warm and has a good set of features, including reflective material front and back, inside pockets and a stout constitution. It's available in black, blue/black and red/black. The Jet Road pants (black only) are waterproof as well; we noticed only a bit of water wicking from the hem, but it never traveled more than two inches. The pants have CE-approved armor in the knees and hips (both removable), a stretch panel above the knee and a zip-in thermal liner. At $299 for the jacket (XS-XXXXL) and $229 for the pants (XS-XXXL), the Apex/Jet Road combo is in the middle to high end of off-the-shelf textile wear, but it represents a good showing for Alpinestars nonetheless.
What we liked:
Quality, kept water out, well-thought-out features
What we didn't:
Fussy neck closure, lack of versatility in warm weather
Discovery Jacket and Pioneer Pants
Escape assignments can take me all over the world, and when I'm not certain of weather conditions, I usually pack one all-season combo--Belstaff's Discovery jacket and Pioneer pants. This well-designed outfit has safely escorted me through truly nasty conditions from Nottingham, England, to Newark, New Jersey.
The Discovery jacket can feel overwhelming at first, but I was thankful for its reinforced, 500-denier nylon shell and waterproof, breathable membrane on my tour of the rainy Isle of Man. And the insulated, detachable liner and neck warmer kept my innards toasty, even in the subfreezing temps of last winter's Midnight Run in New York. The liner is too warm for temperatures above 60 degrees, but you can zip it out and open the underarm and back vents (though the liner buttons are hard to manipulate). This option usually provides ample airflow, but the jacket proved too warm for a ride in Tennessee last spring, even with the liner removed. A favorite feature on the Discovery is the CE-approved Knox hard armor in the shoulders, elbows and back (all removable). And with eight pockets on the jacket, I never wanted for storage space, though the lower pouches' maddening zipper/snap configuration was hard to manipulate with gloves.
The Pioneer pants feature a high-denier nylon that's abrasion-resistant, too. I particularly liked the Nomex fire-retardant patches along the lower leg and the hefty Knox armor in the hips and knees. A detachable, padded liner provided plenty of comfort, though a zipper on each outer cuff opens only to the calf; I usually had to struggle to get my boots on. Velcro strap adjusters at the ankle, though, effectively keep flapping cuffs snug against your leg.
A connecting zip attaches the pants to the jacket, and the combo worked superbly in a ferocious spring downpour in Virginia, where the jacket's internal rain skirt and external sleeve adjusters prevented water from wicking upward. Overall, I'd say the outfit is a superb choice for fall, winter and spring rides to about 75 degrees; my biggest complaint for both is that ventilation is somewhat lacking, especially in humid, subtropical locales.
The jacket comes in men's and women's sizes S-XXXXL in gunmetal/silver/black and khaki/silver/black and retails for $355. The $220 Pioneer pants also have men's and women's options in black only. This gear isn't cheap, but then it's an all-season outfit configured for climatic extremes. You may curse all those weatherproof bells and whistles during a summer ride, but you'll sing their praises when Mother Nature throws a tantrum.
What we liked:
Superior armor, cell-phone pocket and weatherproofing
What we didn't:
Too warm for summer rides, occasionally bulky
Firstgear Kilimanjaro Air Jacket and Pants
Intersport Fashions West
Firstgear has taken its venerable adventure-touring jacket, the Kilimanjaro, and created a vented version that we tested on tour in the hot weather of southern Brazil. The jacket has a poly mesh outer and an insulated waterproof liner, with plenty of useful pockets and vents.
The Brazilian weather cooperated nicely for the test, with sunny highs in the low 90s and a couple of torrential downpours to test the waterproofing. I was pleased to find that the jacket flows air superbly and stayed comfortable at speed in 90-degree heat. I was skeptical that the zip-in liner would keep out really serious rain, but the skies opened and the jacket proved up to the task. Even after two solid hours of heavy rain, I stayed dry and cozy. The high collar kept water off my neck, and the sleeve closures worked well over or under my high wrist-covering gloves.
The zip-in liner is quite warm, and I was comfortable even in a 50-degree wet ride into Sao Paulo. In hot and humid rain, the liner would be a bit much, and the jacket would be hot, but the wet weather was never quite that warm on our trip. The pockets are roomy and useful and proved a lifesaver for my passenger in the rain. She slipped her hands in and was able to keep her gloves warm and dry. The long cut doesn't interfere when sitting on the bike, and the jacket tucks underneath you comfortably.
The large jacket's fit was perfect, and the handy waist-tighteners adjust in (or out) to fit snugly. Although the jacket has some light armor that Firstgear calls "Temperfoam," I would like a bit more heavy-duty elbow and back protection. Overall, the jacket is an excellent choice for riding in warmer climates, and the liner adds waterproofing and warmth good to about 40 degrees with proper gloves and a neck warmer.
The jacket is available in men's and women's sizes (men's S-XXXXL and women's S-XXL), and comes in black, blue, red, silver and yellow. The retail price is $270. Adding the $169 black-only Kilimanjaro Air pants is a great idea. Trouser-cut from Cordura, the Air pants are easy to slip into thanks to lengthy zippers on each leg, and they provide extra protection with Temperfoam at the hips and knees.
An excellent touring suit for warm-season riding, the Kilimanjaro Air could be a four-season entry if coupled with an electric liner in winter. At less than $300 for the jacket and $200 for the pants, it's a sure bet.
What we liked:
Price, excellent venting, waterproof liner, quality fit and finish
What we didn't:
Lack of heavy body armor, minimal reflectivity
Motion Jacket and Spirit Pants
This jacket-pant combo went to Spain with our esteemed publisher, Fred Koplin. The day he arrived in Valencia and pointed an R1150GS toward five days of adventure it was pouring rain and 40 degrees. Straight off the hanger and into the fray, the Motion jacket and Spirit pants were up to the challenge. Koplin said he remained dry; the jacket never became saturated and always dried quickly. The Motion features a three-layer system: a zip-out windproof liner between another zip-out, quilted, insulating liner and the jacket's Cordura shell, which also houses the waterproof/breathable membrane. Sounds like bells and whistles? That's just the beginning.
Koplin reports that he mastered the complicated zipper system with little effort, and he appreciated being able to add and remove layers on a whim. However, the Motion features no venting whatsoever, so when things heat up there's only so much to zip out. Opening the pockets apparently helps to cool you, but riding with your pockets open seems like an unforgivable compromise. Better to call a spade a spade and know straight out that this is a winter jacket with some spring and fall capability. Once you hit 70 degrees you're going to bake like a potato.
Favorite features on the Motion include its contoured sleeves, soft, functional collar and comfortable yet serious CE-approved armor system, including a back pad. Additional assets worth mentioning on the Motion jacket are the reflective piping and logo and stretch panels and draw cords at the waist to tailor fit. During his debriefing, Koplin did mention one pocket that was a particular nuisance. Seems the single breast pocket, dubbed the "document pocket" by REV IT!--where you would, indeed, want your passport and other important documents--is tucked between several folds of the puzzlelike zipper system, making it very hard to manipulate. He felt like he was never sure he actually got the docs in the pocket unless he removed his helmet for a little visual confirmation.
The Spirit pants Koplin teamed with the waterproof Motion jacket featured nice knee-cup armor and a zip from top to bottom for extremely easy entry. The removable liner, however, is not so easy to reinstall, and once out it missed further action.
Although not a bargain at $240 for the black trousers and $430 for the jacket in black/blue, black/gray or black/maroon, this REV IT! suit made a strong impression as a great tool for keeping warm and dry during winter expeditions. Sizing is unisex XS-XXXL. Be sure to check out the company's huge variety of suits. There's something for just about every intention and budget.
What we liked:
Immediate comfort, useful functions, warmth
What we didn't:
No ventilation, zipper system can be complicated for those without a master's degree in some form of manipulation
Cortech II Jacket and Pants
This suit has been around the block. And not just on me. It seems you see someone wearing one just about every time you ride. And with good reason. It's a basic jacket, yes, but basic in the very best sense, starting with the price. This three-quarter-length version, which we prefer, is only around $270, and the pants are $200. What you see here is the improved version of the ever popular Cortech, not the same ol' suit we're used to. The shell is a combination of 500- and 1000-denier Dupont Cordura-Plus backed by waterproof polyurethane. All seams are heat-taped in a five-step sealing process to make sure no water sneaks in. The best of the updated features are the "Scoop" chest vents, which channel air into the jacket while you're riding yet seal tight with hook-and-loop closures to keep cold and moisture out. This is a big improvement over the jacket's previous attempt at venting, which left me steaming on many occasions. Still, the new vents don't quite qualify the Cortech three-quarter as a summer suit. Instead, it remains an extremely viable three-season suit, and well-priced to boot. (Note: There is a Cortech Lite that's intended for hot-season duty.)
The Cortech cut is clean and simple, and everyone who tries one on looks darn good regardless of his or her girth. The jacket is also very lightweight and the removable armor unobtrusive. In other words, when you slip it on you feel right at home and ready for action. I've been through many versions of the Cortech in extreme riding situations and it has yet to leak when it's raining. Claimed to have "more pockets than a magician's coat," I've found them all mostly waterproof as well, with the exception of the two large front pockets and built-in, zippered fanny pack. The pockets are convenient and provide ample storage. Another favorite feature is the soft, cotton collar that eliminates the kind of chafing on your Adam's apple that can ruin a ride.
The "armor" found in the Cortech jacket and pants is more padding than guard, and while better than some or none, it's still not as serious as I'd prefer. New adjustable hook-and-loop straps at the forearm do cinch the elbow pads down, however, which keeps the suit in place and creates a less bulky line.
Tour Master sells the Cortech concept in a variety of styles, including two sporty waist-length versions, a "lite" waist-length version, and in leather as well. The three-quarter-length jacket is available in black/black, black/blue, black/red, black/silver and black/yellow, while the pants come in black only. Sizes are men's XS-XXXL or women's S-L.
What we liked:
Great price, not overburdened with tech features, nice cut
What we didn't:
Not viable for extreme heat or cold, not the best armor