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Back in June, I had the chance to tag along with Ducati North America CEO Jason Chinnockk for a whirlwind weekend of motorsports, culminating with the Italian brand's triumphant return to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. I met Chinnock at the Ducati North America headquarters in Cupertino, California, where we jumped on a pair of sport bikes—a Monster 1200 for me, a Panigale V4 for him—and blasted our way to Laguna Seca for practice and qualifying sessions for World Superbike. From there, we jumped on a plane to Colorado, picked up some Multistrada adventure-touring bikes, and rode through the night to Colorado Springs where, in the dead of morning after just a few hours sleep, we saddled up again and headed to the Pikes Peak starting line, 9,000 feet up America's Mountain.
Complicating matters from a logistical standpoint, I was piggybacking my trip with Chinnock directly onto the tail end of a trip to Southern California—meaning packing was going to be a bit of an issue. Motorcycle gear is by its protective nature bulky and inconvenient; trying to figure out kit that could accommodate disparate climates in different states on different bikes, from sweltering California heat to cold Colorado mountain mornings, was no small task. (Not to mention plane rides and restaurant dinners and just hanging out in the paddock.) And all of it had to fit either on my body or in my only luggage: a carry-on backpack I would also use while riding.
Luckily, I got my hands on some primo stuff, both new kit and old favorites. Here's the gear that passed a rigorous and fairly comprehensive three-day test.
JEANS: Pando Moto Karl Devil
I asked Sam Bendall, The Drive's resident professional motorcycle instructor, to recommend a good pair of moto jeans—something comfortable that I could live in for several days, in several different climates and riding conditions.
"The best pair of motorcycle jeans I've ever worn are from Pando Moto," Sam said, so I grabbed a pair of the top-selling Karl Devils and hit the road. When I arrived at Ducati USA headquarters in San Jose, California, Cycle World writer Gary Boulanger was wearing an identical pair (his having a few thousand road miles already baked in).
So the Pando Moto label, out of Lithuania, comes highly recommended, and after living in these jeans for the past several months it's not hard to see why. The materials are what you want out of a protective piece of gear: heavy duty, 13-oz. fabric—tough and breathable Cordura denim woven in with cotton threads—with Kevlar stitching and a thick mid-layer of Kevlar yarn. The details are right, too: the selvedge-style cuffs are reflective when turned up, and the jeans come with integrated slots for hip armor and insertable, thick rubber knee pads that can be installed and removed with remarkable ease, and are as good as invisible when in place:
The pockets are huge front and rear—without adding visible bulk, a neat trick—and the jeans have plenty of stretch in the seat and knees. They're incredibly comfortable both on and off the bike and shockingly stylish for a piece of functional gear. The cut is roomy in the seat and slim and through the leg, but not skinny; they wear like a pair of Levi's 511s, and if you dig moto-style denim you could absolutely wear these around town. (Plus, they're super comfortable on a plane thanks to the aforementioned huge pockets, comfort, and stretch—and you won't be embarrassed to wear them to the airport, assuming you care about what you look like at the airport, which you should.) Best of all, they move in all the right ways but never look like "stretchy jeans." I wore the Karl Devils for four days straight, slept in them on planes (and once, briefly, in a Colorado Springs motel bed), and rode hundreds of miles in them on two very different motorcycles, and they were like a second skin; I never noticed them except to note how comfortable and breathable they are.
Yes, these are expensive jeans, and yes, they're absolutely worth it. (Karl Devil slim fit heavy-duty motorcycle jeans; 239 Euro (about $276) at pandomoto.com.)
JACKET: Rev'It Zircon Jacket
This Rev'It jacket was kicking around the office for a while before I fought off all comers and claimed it as my own. The Zircon is a modern take on the classic British four-pocket waxed-cotton jacket (think of staples like the Belstaff Roadmaster or Barbour Newcastle), but with CE-approved Knox Lite armor at the shoulders and elbows (the jacket also has an integrated insert for back protection) and a breathable, waterproof membrane beneath the cotton-and-oxford exterior to keep the inside dry—something I had multiple chances to test, and to which I can attest the efficacy. Even if you get dumped on, the inside of the jacket, and whatever you have stored there, stays pretty much dry.
There are those big, sturdy pockets, of course, but I particularly like the chest zip-pocket tucked beneath the closure flap—it's easily accessible without having to undo the whole coat. Just pop open one button, and you can reach in and grab your phone, wallet, or both, even wearing gloves. The collar is reflective, and everything buckles down or buttons up securely—there's an adjustable collar strap and cuff tabs, an elastic draw cord at the hem, and a buckle belt, which I promptly lost—and it comes with a removable thermal liner, for the colder months.
The Zircon is a great three-season riding jacket, lightweight and comfortable, with a slim fit that nonetheless feels roomy and maneuverable. It was perfect at high altitude in the Colorado summer, though a bit hot under the collar during the 90-degree, t-shirt weather California portion of the ride. But the fact that it could effectively pull that double duty, obviating the need to pack two coats, and still look good enough to wear with jeans and shirt to dinner at night, make the Zircon a bargain at $380. (Rev'It Zircon Jacket in khaki; $379.99 at RevZilla.com.)
BAG: Velomacchi Speedway Backpack 28L
Velomacchi makes the type of overbuilt, go-anywhere products one would expect from a former North Face product designer like Velomacchi founder and CEO Kevin Murray. The 28L Speedway is a rugged and versatile backpack made from essentially un-killable 1000D competition fabric—waterproof, abrasion-resistant, and stable at speed—and the dry bag stays watertight even when rain becomes insistent at finding its way inside at 100 mph.
There are a whole whole bunch of clever features designed to help a rider commute with ease and style. The orientation of the bag is designed to sit close to your center of gravity, with the weight carried off the shoulders to allow for aggressive riding positions. (It should be noted that, while this is very comfortable on the bike, it's less comfortable off of it, while walking around; this doesn't double as a good day pack for hiking around the city or on trails.) The harness straps pivot for increased comfort and maneuverability, and everything, including the easy-adjustable straps, tucks away, so nothing flaps in the wind. The roll-top has a magnetic closure; there's a clip at the center of the bag for attaching your helmet and tie-down anchor points if you want to throw the bag on a luggage rack; and you'll find well-considered storage solutions—for a tire pressure gauge, tool kit, emergency contact information, keys, and more—throughout. Perhaps my favorite feature, though, is the sternum coupler, which locks the bag into its proper position and has a magnetic closure that can be operated with one hand:
For a multi-day trip, the 28L is a bit too small; the Speedway 40L would have been the way to go. The 28L is made for commuting—there's a laptop slot that can also accommodate an aftermarket hydration sleeve, for weekend exploration—but I made it work. You can fit a surprising amount in the small packaging and the pack is remarkably comfortable even after hours on a bike, thanks to the way the weight is distributed. Plus, there are so many cool little details—there's a camera mount on the right strap!—I'm still figuring out everything this pack is capable of. (Velomacchi Speedway Backpack 28L; $269 at Velomacchi.com.)
BOOTS: Dainese Street Darker
The Dainese Street Darker is essentially a motorcycle high-top sneaker, but despite the low-key styling it's a robust piece of footwear with a rigorous European "CE" safety rating. The silhouette is classic high-top—from a distance, they could be a blacked-out pair of PF Flyers—but the materials are high-tech: tough polyamide fabric and a microfiber upper; Gore-Tex breathable waterproof membrane; thermoplastic polyurethane guards. The sneakers have a discreet but effective shift pad on the toe, and external reinforcements for extra heel and ankle support and protection.
While the Street Darkers pair easily with jeans or sweats, you will notice those reinforcements: if you do any real walking in these, you'll notice the sneakers' heel-toe rigidity, which reveals them to be an actual piece of technical gear. It's enough to notice on the ground, but never to the point of annoyance or discomfort. On a bike, that stiffness was appreciated, allowing for crisp-but-padded pulls on the upshift and communicating exactly where your feet were on the pegs at all times. Plus, despite the high-tech fibers and heavy-duty construction, the shoes were remarkably breathable. Overbuilt, comfortable, and subtly stylish: as a low-profile, everyday riding proposition, the Street Darkers are hard to beat. (Dainese Street Darker Gore-Tex shoes; $249.95 at RevZilla.com.)
HELMET: Arai Defiant-X
So much of helmet choice comes down to the look, and I happen to very much like the Defiant-X's mix of modern touches with a retro and subtly aggressive silhouette. But the only really important bit—that it's safe enough to keep your brains from going runny-egg all over asphalt should the worst come to pass—is more than well-covered here: the helmet's shell construction is made through a process called Peripheral Belt, which was developed all the way up in Formula 1. It not only allows for a particularly strong shell, but a wider eye port as well. (More visibility, of course, is always safer.)
There are all sorts of airflow capabilities through the venting system, only some of which I could figure out on the fly, but everything remained cool and remarkably fog-free though almost all riding conditions. I had a bit of trouble feeling the tab openings up top through my gloves, and the visor-release thumb catch takes a lot of breaking in; for the first couple months in the helmet, I found myself wrestling with visor on the road, it staying firmly locked in place as I tried to get the damn thing open to adjust my sunglasses or scratch my nose.
The interior is well-padded in odor-resistant anti-microbial fabric and the lid is supremely comfortable, even on very long rides. (An interesting touch: there are peel-away pads at the temples and cheeks, which when removed each give an additional 5mm of breathing room, meaning the fit is customizable right out of the box.) The Defiant-X is compatible with Arai's Pro Shade System, which I haven't taken advantage of but plan to (I much prefer such systems to riding a visored helmet with sunglasses on). I do wish it came integrated with Bluetooth functionality directly in the helmet, like a competing Bell helmet I have, but other than that small (and, with aftermarket product, fixable) quibble, this is a brilliant everyday helmet—comfortable, well-ventilated, and safe, with lots of visibility. And it looks damn good to boot. (Arai Defiant-X in black; $659.95 at Araiamericas.com.)