So what did I get? Patience — that too will be answered. First off, time to get some new kit — too much mildew in the helmet (I also have a nasty suspicion about what the cats had been using it for) and a 16-year-old baggy Belstaff isn’t really going to cut i t on a leading-edge modern sports bike.
When I were a lad, full leathers were a fetish item, and not something to be worn in public unless you were either Mike Hailwood or Tim Curry. Now they’re sensibly de rigeur, along with enough body armour to fulfil all my old Dungeons and Dragons fantasies. Fair enough, who am I to argue?
So the question is, one-piece suit or jacket & trousers? One-piece race suits look very good. If you’re racing or doing a lot of track days, they’re probably the best protection you can get. They’re also expensive and less flexible if (say) you want to wear a winter jacket instead of the top. Suits also, if you’re buying off the shelf, assume that you’re a certain shape. That’s where it all went pear-shaped for me, particularly with the fine Italian stuff — Dainese and Spyke — that I liked — if I found a suit that fitted across the shoulders, I had room in the trousers for a small marching band (but let’s not follow that train of thought. Really). If it fitted in the leg & waist, I found I was doing a passable impression of Charles Laughton at his finest. I didn’t have time to think about getting a suit made, so went for the mix’n’match jacket & trousers.
I tried Dainese, Spyke, Wolf, Belstaff and Frank Thomas. All were good at their respective prices — i.e. the Belstaff and FT were a couple of notches below the others in overall quality. The Wolf stuff was good quality but I never managed to find a jacket & trouser combo that worked for me (besides, they only have a silly half zip to hold ’em together — I was after a full job, something you’ll need if you plan on doing any track days). I ended up with Dainese on fit grounds (although I reckon the Spyke to be a little better made), in minimalist post-modern black, with reflective logos and built-in hard (CE-approved) armour, with velcro’d knee sliders. Very useful for fancy dress parties where you’re expected to go as a Klingon.
A word about knee sliders — the item probably reponsible for more lowsides at roundabouts and sales of DIY angle grinders than any other item of clothing. Other than equipping you to walk the final of any knobbly knees contest, they do absolutely nothing for you as a road rider — if you’re regularly getting your knee down on public roads, you are simply trying to do just that. Either that, or you’ve taken a wrong turning at Druids and need to get back to the track just as soon as you can.
And throw in the Armadillo, please…
Oh yes — the back protector. Good idea. I think. Interlocking composite plates attached to a harness that looks like nothing so much as an Edwardian Gentleman’s corset. If nothing else, it’ll shift the resonant frequency of the beer gut away from that of the suspension, which can only be a good thing. It’s also completely crippling to wear until the leathers bed in around it. It is a touch embarassing not to be able to reach the handlebars and look forward at the same time?
Do (I’ve learnt) buy leathers as tight as you can get on, and not (just) to satisfy your bondage fantasies — they do give a lot as they settle in and are nothing like as effective in protection if they start comfortable and then become seriously loose and baggy.
That’s the body sorted, now for the extremities — hands, feet & head. A pair of Dainese Goretex & Kevlar gloves took care of the first — a touch warm for high summer, but not a bad compromise (I hope) for year-round use. I’ve always had Sidi boots and cycling shoes and found them well made and a good fit for my feet, so it was on with a pair of their very cool Vertebra boots — another case of the interlocking composite spine, giving just the right Borg/Alien organotechnochic.
That just leaves the helmet. I’ve been completely stunned at the advances in helmet design since I bought my last — they’re half the weight and have ventilation systems that actually work. The better ones also have removeable liners and quick-change visors. All good stuff. Again, it’s a question of what suits your head shape — it’s no good hankering after that Shark Foggy Rep if your cranium is fundamentally non-Shark-shaped. I soon found that my head is very definitely Arai-shaped, so after that, it was just a question of how much to spend. By that stage, I’d spent more on clothing than I’d spent on my last Ducati, so was probably a little punch-drunk. So it was a case of ‘damn the torpedoes’ and I came out with the stunningly good and sphincter-clenchingly expensive Arai RX7XX. And I don’t regret it for a moment — it’s almost weightless, totally comfortable (even at the height of summer) and steams up something rotten in cold weather. Some things just don’t change.
So now I can waddle around the car park as a Power Whinger lookalike — it’s probably about time I got the damn bike.