Tailpacks

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All luggaged up

I had some Cameron Barker panniers (see header image). They’re now discontinued and they didn’t work so well on the cruiser, the mounting system probably works better on conventional tourers and adventure bikes but I’ve torn the fabric where the eyelets meet the system due to the bungees pulling at an odd angle. They were very waterproof so top marks for that.

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Held bag an Givi Topbox, and a tiny stowaway

My pannier supports met with an unfortunate incident involving my mother not listening and enthusiastically operating a powered garage door. I sought out a cheap alternative.

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Parked up fuelling myself with coffee after getting petrol. Yes that is a plank of wood on the back. Stops the sidestand sinking on soft ground.

I tried a Held Waterproof Tail Carry Bag. The 30 litre option is plenty to supplement my 45 litre topbox. It’s really simple, a red PVC tarpaulin bag will a roll top, some compression straps and a shoulder strap for off the bike. I bought some rok straps to secure it to the pillion seat. They fit in seconds and are far more secure than standard bungees. I’ve been using it since the autumn and it’s not let me down. Really simple. Really waterproof.

 

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Magnets on my tank

My leathers are less sweaty than my textiles so I have worn them through most of this year. If it starts raining hard I need to get waterproofs on fast or it will be too late. On an overnight or longer trip I will have a lot of carefully packed luggage, and extracting waterproofs is a pain. On a recreational ride I don’t want a top box. A small tank bag is the answer. I had a little Frank Thomas one. It was terrible, determined to move about and come off. No Headstock strap and the magnets were really weak.

I bought an Oxford X4 based on BCF recommendations. The magnets are insanely strong, and on a removable board. There are Velcro straps so it can be used as a tail-pack if required. The zips have some kind of rubbery shroud so are water resistant. There’s a satnav holder, an A5 map holder that’s just big enough for my Philips Compact Atlas or directions printed on booklet mode. It has a headstock strap too. Most importantly, it stays put really well. Right now it’s carrying my waterproof overjacket, my waterproof trousers, my goretex winter gloves, visor cleaning kit, hand sanitiser, a spare buff, a pen, an tyre pressure gauge, my disk lock and (because I fail at packing) my ledergris and boot brush. My phone and wallet sometimes end up in the top section, and sometimes I use the map holder.

It stayed put during every crazy run I’ve made since I’ve had it and feels really well made. It is quite small at 4 litres, so consider a bigger one from the same range if you want something to carry everything. For the bits of tat that I want straight away, it’s perfect. Highly recommended.

All luggaged up

All luggaged up

Take your armour and insert it in the appropriate cavity

So I have some pretty decent kit, some mid-price kit and some cheap kit. I’ve crashed in some of it. Worst I’ve had is some ligament damage from throwing my bike down the road in a different direction to myself and not getting my foot out from under it before rolling over. Didn’t hit the solid object, all is good.

BGUK Knee

That’s the knee armour I was wearing when I did that. Dual layer foam. It’s been in storage for about two years and is going crusty and brittle around the edges. See the waffle pattern on the inside of the left pad? That’s the weave of the trousers embossed into the foam. I think these were done with. Granted that knee hit the ground and at least one layer of the 1200 denier nylon was worn through so it did its job, don’t think it would work as well a second time.

BGUK Hip

Here’s the hip armour that came with it. No CE approval marking. Trousers were advertised as having CE approved armour in the knee and hip. Buyer beware. Note that some of the edge looks slightly blistered? This matches the scuff mark in the outside of the trousers that follows the outline of the hip insert. I’m quite glad it was there. Again, single use. Would I buy those trousers again? Yes if that was my budget. They were cheap and did their job.

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Above is an elbow pad from my leather jacket, approved to EN1621-1 1997 as a type A elbow protector. The type A means it’s the smaller coverage area, and given the thin foam across most of it, I suspect only the vented area would dissipate the 50 joule test load with no more than 35kN as required. I’d expect to see this kind of armour used for skateboards and similar with the addition of a little velcro. The plastic shell is great for abrasion resistance but that’s what the surrounding leather jacket is for. Accordingly this is not in a jacket.

Some maths:

Work = Force x Distance

Work/Force = Distance

Therefore we can calculate the distance over which minimum standard armour will dissipate the test force. In this case EN1621-1:1997 armour will dissipate the 50J force over at least 1.4mm. 50J is the same amount of energy as a mass of approximately 5kg dropped from a metre. That’s not huge compared to the forces involved in an accident. Consider how thick the armour is and how much more it can deform before it becomes useless. In the case of the above armour much more.

EN1621-1:2012 brings in tiered standards, level one as we know it, and level 2 specifying a maximum of 20kN in the same test, which means a dissipation over at least 2.5mm. This standard also requires that performance be retained after hydrolythic ageing and in cold, hot and wet conditions.

Forcefield Knee Forcefield side

The above armour is Forcefield Net armour, one of the few aftermarket products that meets EN-1621-1/2012 Level 2, and on the B template so sized for a large person. I bought some for my RST leather trousers. It’s remarkably flexible, quite light and easily conforms to the shape of my knees, I shall have more of these. Hopefully I won’t test the claim that these work for repeated impacts, as I have plenty of armour with permanent marks in it. The original armour was the RST A-template armour shown below.

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I can’t see why RST put this in their products, the pocket is big enough for a B-template insert but they’ve cut away at it to make it smaller and lighter the internal curvature is too small so the edges dig into my knee.

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The RST trousers had no hip armour, but there were pockets for some. The forcefield hip armour is made from 4 layers of Nitrex and can be easily cut to shape. It’s only level 1, but it’s arguably the best that I could find.

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My IXS Tromso trousers came with some kind of comfort padding as pictured above. It’s no better than cardboard. Initially used the forcefield insert, as these are the same shape as my RST trousers. The shape matches well with a D3O insert, so I’m trying those in the IXS trousers. The D3O material is a non-newtonian oobleck-like material, the harder you hit it the stiffer it gets. It’s more flexible than the Forcefield and has smoother edges, so it’s less likely to present a hard edge behind the less abrasion resistant textiles.

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I’ve not got my hands on any knox aftermarket kit yet. I’ll find some inserts that knox upgrades and write them up separately.

See also:

Nights in dirty black armour

Modern motorcycle kit is pretty good and technology is advancing rapidly, partly driven by aggressive European standards, and partly by high rider interest in the protectiveness of their kit. Extensive media coverage of top-flight disciplines like MotoGP mean we are bombarded with footage of gladatorial heroes having huge crashes and walking away unscathed. Here Bradley Smith escapes with a few bruises.

I’m not going to discuss helmets here. A good one that fits well is essential.

Boots have long been covered by EU PPE Directives, which which involve a manufacturer demonstrating how an item protects adequately whilst preserving adequate mobility. Historically such approvial has been limited to expensive specialist boots, such as Altberg’s range which are designed for emergency services use, with a price tag to reflect this. Such designs, including my much loved Altberg Clubman Classics, were typically big bulky leather monsters that were hard to find on the shelves or only available made to order. Now there are are number of boots in modern sports or sports touring styles proudly bearing their CE PPE approval as a badge of quality, budget manufacturer Tuzo offering a CE boot for £60.

Almost every rider has at least one decent jacket. Leather jackets differ from fashion jackets in thickness of leather and quality and type of stitching. One can typically expect seven seconds of sliding down the road before failure whereas stitching on a fashion jacket may split on impact offering nothing more that a false sense of security. Often the surface may be treated to provide some degree of drizzle resistance. Textile jackets are made of thick abrasion resistant nylon, and usually have a waterproof membrane inside. Quality varies from lasting half as long as leather to similar performances. Commonly elbows and shoulders will have heavy reinforcement layers, expensive jackets using leather, stingray or synthetic equivalents in these locations. CE PPE kit is getting more common, but still a rarity and expensive. Some kind of CE approved shoulder and elbow armour is expected, and there is usually a pocket for a back protector, but often this is an optional extra, or worse a foam packing pad is included. I’m not sure the inclusion of packing pads or comfort pads is a responsible approach. Perhaps it’s better than nothing but I suspect it may be a deterrent to adding proper armour. The counterargument is it makes the rider aware that something is supposed to go in that pocket. I’d been told my first leather jacket had a back protector but it did not carry approval markings. It appears virtually identical to a level one approved insert I have, but appearances can be deceiving.

There is a rumour that regular denim jeans are adequate leg protection. They aren’t. Come off at 30mph and you’re looking at severe skin loss. 20mph is enough to put a hole in a layer of 1600 denier nylon reinforcing the knee some budget waterproof textiles. There were several layers and armour inserts, so plenty of abrasion resistance left. My more upmarket Frank Thomas trousers have titanium sliders over the kneecap as that point is so likely to suffer point abrasion. Such sliders are also seen on high end race suits and jackets at the elbows and shoulders, but should not be confused with the replaceable hockey puck sliders on the outside of the knees on race suits which offer abrasion resistance for knee-down track riding. Marc Marquez et al may have similar upon the elbow. Both kinds of slider can be seen in this video, note the silvery titainium triangles and white plastic blobs with the Alpinestars logo at the shoulders and kneecaps sit almost flush with the suit whereas the hockey pucks sit proud and have a single flat surface to present to the track.

Leather trousers are again the thing to beat. Some high quality textiles manage this although almost as good is usually the case. Draggin produce kevlar lined jeans that meet CE standards, although to reach the abraision resistance of leather the trousers are thicker, hotter and heavier than leathers and require a mesh lining, defeating the comfort appeal of denim, so all that remains in their favour is the look. Admittedly they’re less obviously bikewear than leathers making it easier to blend in when off the bike.

Trousers and jackets that zip together are awesome, as this prevents trousers slipping down, jackets riding up and hopefully keeps both parts in place during an accident. It also keeps the wind out. Zup make adapters that allow you to velcro together a two-piece for convenience or fit a mismatched set. I have some Zup velcro parts and they work to keep the wind out, but I wouldn’t say they were as safe as zipping everything together. They also make adapters to zip mismatched sets together or extend matching sets. I will try their zip-together adapters shortly. One-piece suits are great for the track and dedicated recreational sport riding, but are uncomfortable of the bike, and are only really suited to sport-bike riding positions. Furthermore they look ridiculous if one is in the least bit tubby.

Decent gloves are essential. Leather fashion gloves are likely to split at the sight of tarmac, textile ski gloves or similar might keep you warm but are not significantly abrasion resistant. Leather is the dominant material, with waterproof membranes and thermal linings for wet and cold days through to unlined vented leather with the seams on the outside for the height of summer. All kinds of fancy knuckle guards are popular, but beware cheap rigid armour, what you need on the knuckles is impact absorption, which nitrex or other deformable armour may be better at. Hard knuckle armour is more important on faired bikes as the edge of the fairing is a painful thing to punch. Often neglected are the scaphoid and palm of the hand, which are most likely to hit the ground first. More modern glove designs are more likely to have some extra protection here, my summer gloves have a thick nitrex foam pad covered in a low friction abrasion resistant stingray replacement material called Superfabric. Most important of all is that the gloves fasten securely so they will not come off in an accident. I had some traditional gauntlet style gloves that were warm and comfortable but had an annoying press stud strap that did not work well, and I have modified my winter gloves the hook section of the Velcro did not extend far enough.

Armoured inserts are discussed in a companion article.

IXS Tromso Trousers

I bought a pair of these last October from my local J&S. It was the first major purchase I’d made from there, having started riding in hand-me-downs and some pricey Hein Gerike kit as money had become available, partly due to HG being the nearest store to me, and partly due to their reputation for decent kit. HG’s uk stores had gone bust over the summer.

My choice of waterproof trousers consisted of some beat up Bikers Gear trousers that had been thrown down the road and were up for replacement and some Frank Thomas hand me downs. I didn’t want another pair of Biker’s Gear trousers, they were cheap and did their job when I crashed, but the fit was poor, I slid around all over the seat in them, the waterproofing wasn’t perfect but good enough for a short trip, and I’d already sent one pair back as they fell apart in six weeks of riding. The Frank Thomas pair I have were probably top of their range when they were made, with waterproof zips and titanium knee armour (over the knee cap as extra abrasion resistance rather than any kind of knee-down type slider) and they were more than a bit big, they felt ok if I had a pair of jeans on underneath, but even with the thermal lining removed they were a winter only option. Again I slid about in the seat a lot in them, and all the extra padding and insulation meant I could not grip the bike with my knees well enough to feel confident in recreational riding. I think they might work better with a sportsbike where the shape of the tank helps to hold you in place, previous owner was an R6 rider, or on some kind of rolling sofa where staying in the seat isn’t an issue.

On a good day I’ll ride the wheels off my 535 so trousers that keep me in the seat are a bonus.

I still had my second GZ when I rolled into J&S looking for some new trousers, I think the rest of the kit I was wearing would have cost more than the bike was worth had i paid full price for it. Functional, safe mid-price kit. The sales assistant knew her stuff, she didn’t mess around showing me the budget stuff, sporty/adventure stuff, or eye-wateringly expensive but fantastic kit like Rukka‘s offerings. I tried a few different pairs on, and started asking about hip armour. I eventually chose the IXS Tromso trousers as the fit was really snug, there were internal pockets for hip armour, and the height of the knee armour could be adjusted. They look really plain, a few discreet logos, no random titainium bling or hints of power ranger, they’re just black trousers.

ixstromsoI bought the trousers and some forcefield hip armour, a few days later I rode out to Scunthorpe in the pouring rain. It’s a long ride on a 125. My feet were really cold and my fingers took some warming up when I got to my destination, but the rest of me was warm and dry. So that was the Mod 1 that I passed. I might tell that story another time.

Winter was coming in fast, I replaced the boots, serviced the bike, and enjoyed the fact that I was staying thereabouts warm enough. I note that the ankle-zip design of the lining made the trousers fiddly with high boots, and I had to be careful to avoid snagging the lining zip on the top of my very high boots. These definitely wouldn’t fit over tall adventure style boots, and are much better suited to wearing over conventional mid-height sports and touring boots.

I took a trip to York to find the DSA centre there. I don’t think my hands have ever been as cold as they were on the way back. The rest of me was fine, few days later my mod 2 is called off due to frozen roads, and I reschedule for the 19th of December. I’d put some ugly cheap hand guards on the GZ to keep the wind off my hands so I was ok cruising up and down the A19. Did my mod 2, no faults, think I was was warmer than the examiner, who seemed as impressed with how seriously I took my kit as he was my riding.

The next day I was to collect the 535, it rained like crazy. Here my kit came unstuck a little as I hit flood-water a little too fast on the 125, and some of the water splashed up and under my jacket and soaked into my trousers. More water drained down into my gloves. The lining did not hold onto the water, but my cotton underwear and t-shirt did, and my gloves were horrible. I put my t-shirt and undergloves in my backpack and insantly felt much dryer. Wet cotton is horrible. Riding the 535 on the way back was an experience and a half. The rain had slowed a bit but the roads were still soaked, loads of spray, my hands were very cold, and even restricted to 33 horses, the 535 required much more careful handling. It had better brakes, more engine braking, and bucket-loads more torque than the old 125, and being wrapped around the big air-cooled lump of an engine in the rain I felt toasty warm. Apart from my hands as there was not room to fit the hand guards on the narrow flat bars, this was quickly sorted with R&G heated grips.

Since getting the 535, the IXS Tromso trousers have been brilliantly warm with the linings in and the vents closed, to the point where I have not considered anything else.

The festive season saw more rain and I stayed dry when I rode. The image at the top of this blog shows the state of the roads when rode from my mother’s house to friends in leeds and arrived with a massive grin. A significant proportion of January was sabotaged by snowfall, and I didn’t ride on the snow covered roads. Then it thawed and I coaxed the 535 into life, pushed her up the slushy path to the road and set off to Leeds via Selby. It was an uneventful trip apart from trying to get the bike over an icy pavement into a partially cleared garden. By the time I was inside I was regretting the decision to wear army surplus thermal underwear as I was sweating. The next day I had an electrical fault and it was nearly dark by the time I set out home. It wasn’t frosting up or I wouldn’t have ridden, but the electrical fault meant the heated grips wouldn’t stay turned on, and my hands and upper body were beginning to get cold. Legs stayed toasty warm.

Roll on summer for comparison, and in reasonable weather I rode with the linings out, opening the vent zips when it was very hot, thinking they did nothing until evening came and suddenly there were cold patches. Still not the most comfortable thing to wear on a hot day, I’m considering my options for next summer.

I got to a week ago, not problems detected with the trousers, then I rode across town in very heavy rain, discovering a feeling like I had wet myself. It appears that the seam taping on the waterproof layer had failed at the crotch. I took them back to J&S on the Monday, and they were replaced under warranty by the Wednesday. I didn’t have to throw a strop, it was sorted effortlessly, so full marks for that J&S.

On the occasions I have ridden in the Frank Thomas trousers (when I’ve needed other trousers on underneath and during the warranty return period) it has become very apparent just how good the IXS trousers feel. They have a rubbery high-friction patch between me and the seat, and I feel very connected to the bike.

It’s a lot more tiring riding in other trousers, and anything that makes riding less tiring is an epic bonus.

When I wear out this pair, I will likely have another, they are better than anything else I have tried.