Behind Bars - Motorcycle Gear Queer

Up To Speed

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Shasta Willson

Twenty-five years as an unreconstructed Greasy Rider didn't prepare me for the sudden decline into my current sorry condition. Figuring all but my head was rebuildable, I rode everywhere wearing full-face Shoeis, Simpsons and Arais over my standard motley of leather jacket, Wranglers, leftover jump boots and gloves from the grange supply. At least my Langlitz Cascade was a damned good jacket, enduring 23 years of all-conditions use until finally passed along-in fine working order-to my still-little little brother due to the burgeoning of my gut.

Then, all at once, I low-sided into notorious gear sluttery. In my sole defense, I didn't fall; I was pushed.

My girlfriend's house was 350 miles from my apartment. Once the weekend commute became semi-routine, it was revealed to me that there ain't enough ghetto gear in the world for six hours at 70 per in a 33-degree rainstorm on a 40-plus carcass.

It's a victory every time a cheap-bastard solution actually functions-and when Goodwill's finest flunks, you throw it back and fish out another with minimal financial pain. Technical layers from Eddie Bauer and Nike are all very well and good, but for trapping cozy warmth under your windproof on a bitter day, nothing beats a J. Crew lambswool sweater that cost 3 bucks at St. Vinnie's.

The first chink in my moldy armor was a rain suit. I'd actually owned one pickle sack before, a Hein Gericke that turned to feathers during an 80-mph slide outside Washtucna. Black-ice stunting, a traditional feature of Northwest riding, is as unfairly misunderstood elsewhere as is dwarf tossing outside the great state of Florida.

My other favorite cheapos are a stretchy, wind-resistant neck gaiter and polypropylene long handles-free gifts to every subscriber to the U.S. Army. (If not completely satisfied, you may cancel your subscription at any time after your enlistment is up... probably.)

Because I worked at a BMW dealership, I picked up one of München's "Pro 2" body condoms. It proved resolutely proof against all moisture-including sweat.

As soon as baby blue and O.D. green becomes the fashion combo of choice, I'll be stylin' like an army of one.

I would have stopped there, honest. But once gifted with a birthday Gerbing electric jacket liner, I was well-begun on the road to perdition and ruin. "Mmm...toasty"-it's not just for sandwiches anymore. Then came snappy black road boots with no exposed laces to snag, and Held Force Majeure gloves with their spiffy windscreen wiper and sufficient knuckle armor to effortlessly punch the mirrors off SUV target drones (professional rider on the open range, do not attempt, etc.).

For now, I'm ahead of the curve.

There were fresh revelations in every box.

Now a partially fledged magazine whore, I don't just "have gear." I have a closet full of gear. Nice people ship me flashy kit and wait to see what I think.

What I think? Two years ago, I thought "space-age technology" meant drinking Tang for breakfast.

But now I have this bulging rack of leathers and textiles and boots, oh my. Even at the rate I crash, I should be well-set into sometime next year after which, defeated and disgraced, I'll skulk back to my Langlitz and desert boots....

New gear seems miraculous to a mossback. Staying warm and dry without bundling up like the kid in A Christmas Story is unprecedented in my riding life. Brilliant researchers developed extraordinary solutions to the conundrums of versatility and protection, and I only just now noticed.

Then there's the stupid stuff: Who in God's name thought women should wear riding boots with Japanese schoolwench heels? I'm all for a pretty girl taking risks in 5-inch heels (oh yes...yes!), but if she can't get her paw under the shifter or feel the rear brake, motorcycling just shouldn't be on that long and sordid list. Vanity, thy name is Emergency Room.

Despite miracle-bespangled technology, fashion drives the industry. Even BMW, promulgator of multitudinous wonders, occasionally falls victim to faux-niness. My cherished F800GS jersey, extruded from Heaven's own nano-fibers by specially bred space caterpillars (okay, it's actually cotton-but it's really nice cotton), features a spray of chunky brown splotches across the chest. Note to BMW: Your boomer clientele may be aging, but we're not so old that we need to buy fake dirt on our shirts.

I forgive BMW all too readily because their other stuff is just so damned marvelous. But despite harboring a riding suit, gloves and two pairs of boots from Bavaria, I'm not a completely dedicated Kool-Aid gulper.

That's because ghetto gear never really loses its charm.

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