Let’s Talk About Off-Road Gear

In this post, I describe the off-road gear that’s worked for me.

In an earlier post, I discussed my touring gear. In this one, I’ll cover the gear I use for off-road riding. As before, I’ll move from head to toe.

Helmet

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a secondary helmet I use only occasionally, so the LS2 Pioneer was in the right range at about $230. It’s also a long oval, so the right head shape for me. In fact, it might be a bit tight even for me; towards the end of a long day, I wish it were a little wider. But it has excellent ventilation, and this is the helmet I reach for on stinking hot days even for street riding. It has a large eye port that accommodates goggles, a drop-down sun visor, and most importantly, looks really cool!

LS2 Pioneer Quarterback

Upper Body

The foundation, literally, of my off-road gear is the Knox Venture Shirt. I decided to go with a soft compression suit for comfort and safety. I know many will say I should have gotten a roost protector or some hard-shell armour, but for the kind of riding I do, which is not motocross but trail riding, I thought that would be overkill.

The nice thing about the compression suit is that I can wear it under an off-road jersey on really hot days. Also, unlike a jacket, the armour stays in place when you have an off. Because I live about 45 minutes from dirt, I like to wear my jacket to the trail, then swap it for the jersey. This means I need to carry a tail bag or knapsack, but I just don’t feel entirely comfortable riding asphalt without a jacket; it’s like how I don’t feel comfortable driving without a seat belt on.

This product wasn’t available in Canada and I had to order it at Revzilla. It’s since been discontinued but you can still get a similar zip-up armoured shirt from Knox or Bohn. It uses the latest D30 (Knox calls it Microtek) technology in the armour, which is pliable when wearing and stiffens upon impact. I upgraded the back protector to the Dianese Pro G2 because I found the Knox pad did not provide enough ventilation.

Pro-Armor G2

I wear over that either an off-road jersey, as I said, or my Klim Traverse jacket.

Klim Traverse

The Traverse is just a shell, and it doesn’t come with any armour. It’s very light and comfortable, and it has big zipper vents under the arms. It’s Gore-Tex, which makes it a little hot, but I also use it for street riding when there’s risk of rain. And because it’s going to get muddy, it’s got to be black. This is my go-to does-it-all jacket, and I love it!

Lower Body

Klim Dakar Over the Boot Pants

For pants, I use the tried and true Klim Dakar pants, over the boot model. These aren’t waterproof, and the first time I toured in them I got caught in a shower and soon learned that. They just aren’t designed for that purpose. Instead, they have a dense, tough mesh that provides some airflow yet resists snags when you’re riding through brambles and thorny branches. There are also elastic accordion panels in key areas that provide a lot of stretch. Big zipper vents front and back enhance airflow, and there are the usual Klim angled zippered pockets for wallet and phone.

If you are going to be doing some serious off-roading—and that involves a lot of movement on the bike—these pants are designed for that. There are also some nice touches like the leather inseams on the lower pant leg where you are gripping the bike. A very durable, ventilated, stretchy pant for off-road riding. And of course, they come with Klim’s D30 armour in hips and knees.

If I’m going to be doing some technical riding, I pull on the Forcefield Sport Tube Knee Armour. Forcefield, like Knox, is also a company dedicated to just armour, so they do it right, and like the Knox shirt, these tubes, although a little uncomfortable, ensure that the armour stays in place when I go down.

Forcefield Sport Tube, the most comfortable knee armour I’ve found.

If I did more off-roading, I’d probably invest the big bucks in some knee braces. I’ve ridden with the Awesome Players Off-Road Club and Mark did some major damage to his knee a few years ago that got me and others thinking about that possibility. So far I’ve been lucky, but there might be knee braces in my future. For now, these knee pads are the best I’ve found. They won’t prevent torsional damage, but they will help with direct impact.

I use my SIDI Adventure 2 boots when off-roading. They are not motocross boots, but have adequate protection should you get a foot caught under the bike.

One final piece of armour I’ve recently started using is wrist braces. I broke my thumb off-roading, and I’ve seen a few riding friends break their wrists recently, which got me wondering why riders don’t wear what skateboarders and snowboarders wear to prevent broken wrists. Apparently, it’s the most common snowboarder injury, for obvious reasons; it’s instinctive to put out your hand to break a fall.

Recently I started wearing EVS Wrist Braces. They are comfortable, and once I have them on, I forget I’m wearing them. Honestly. Okay, maybe you have to be off-roading to forget you have them on, but really, they do not encumber your movement on the bike, your grip on the handlebars, or your control of the levers. I had a friend break his wrist in a silly tip over when his hand hit a rock. It doesn’t take much with this vulnerable part of the body. They say the extremities are the most vulnerable, so if you off-road, consider picking up something like this and avoid losing six weeks of your season.

EVS Wrist Braces

Gloves

I took a tip from The Awesome Players and use a cheap pair of Mechanix gloves bought at Canadian Tire. You generally want a thin leather for the upmost feel on the controls, and mechanic’s gloves provide that dexterity, depending on the weight you choose. They also often have D30 on the back (for when that wrench slips and you were pushing instead of pulling) and are a fraction of the cost of dedicated motorcycle gloves. Go around Father’s Day and you will often see them on sale.

Mechanix Wear M-Pact Gloves.

Finally, the only other bit of gear that I use on but particularly off road is my Klim water bladder, or fuel cell, or hydration system, or Camelbak, or whatever you call it. It’s kind of a pain to carry water on your back. It’s heavy and hot, preventing airflow, but I’ve found that on hot days these inconveniences are worth avoiding the two-day headache I get if I don’t drink enough. When you are working hard in the heat, a sip from a water bottle every few hours during a rest stop is not enough. But if it’s cool and I can get away with it, I’ll put a Nalgene bottle of water in one of those canister holders on the back and ride unencumbered.

Klim Fuel Pak

This one is now discontinued and there are tons of others to choose from, including some with room for tools and first aid, if you want to get everything off the bike. Ryan F9 just did a good video comparing some backpacks that he particularly likes, and an upgrade might be in my future if I were to do a lot more off-roading than I currently do.

Summary

So as you can see, I’m pretty much a Klim guy. Their gear is expensive, but I’ve already said, you can get it on sale if you’re willing to watch and wait. I trust the quality of the materials and workmanship, and the thought that’s gone into the design. Some will say I’m getting fooled by marketing and there is comparable gear available for a fraction of the cost, and they may be right. But with the fuel pak, for example, Klim’s is unusual in that the seams of the bladder are radio frequency sealed, so you can turn it completely inside-out to clean and dry. It’s for qualities such as that I’m willing to pay a premium price. Again, I am not sponsored by Klim; it’s just my go-to brand for gear.

One of the pains with dual sport riding is that you have to buy two sets of gear, one for road and one for off-road. It’s a significant investment up front, and buying all this stuff almost broke my marriage as well as the bank account. But take your time, get a little at a time, prioritizing, and look for discontinued and end-of-season sales. There are sports that are more expensive, I like to remind my wife, and there are more frivolous things to buy than protective gear.

Off-roading is not a dangerous sport. In fact, I got into it because I felt it is a way to challenge myself safely. There’s only so fast you can go on the street before it’s not safe, and the stakes there are a lot higher. Off roading does not involve high speeds—not the trail and dirt-road riding I do—but you can still get hurt playing in low-traction terrain with a 450 lb. bike. Investing in some good gear minimizes the risks and therefore increases the enjoyment of the ride.

This is what I use and have found works for me. What do you use? I’m a gear weenie so I’d love to hear what works for you. Please leave a comment or send me an email. In the next post, I’ll talk about the camping gear I use. If you are interested in moto-camping, click the Follow button and you’ll be notified of new posts.

Where Has the Summer Gone, 2022 Edition

In the 100th post of 650Thumper, I reflect on a summer of forced relaxation.

Yesterday, the image above popped up as a Facebook memory of exactly one year ago, just to remind me that I once did something pretty remarkable. By contrast, this summer has been pretty tame, even by my standards.

To be fair, this was supposed to be a restful summer after the Epic Adventure of last year. I had eight months to recover, of course, but teaching is a pretty intensive profession, the workload of the semesters off-set by the summers of recovery, and this past year was especially draining as we continued to deal with masks and Covid protocols and the accompanying anxiety of a global pandemic. As a teacher, I am part pedagogue, part social worker, so found myself assuaging the anxiety of some students and standing firm against others who tried to take advantage of the situation. Deciding which is which is the hardest part of teaching, to be honest, and by the end of the semester, I and many of my colleagues were limping to the finish. “Boo-hoo!” I hear those in the medical and services professions saying. It’s true that I didn’t have to wear a mask 8-12 hours a day, but my experience has only heightening my respect for those who do.

But the real reason for a stay-at-home summer is that my wife and I got a new dog, and he was a rescue from a horrible situation. He doesn’t travel in the car without getting sick, and he has some triggers and in general is still settling, so we didn’t feel we could do our planned east coast trip this year. We’ll give him another year to get comfortable enough that we can leave him for even a few weeks so Marilyn can join me for part of that trip, as she did last year. We pledged to make the best of it, doing short day rides and maybe an overnight to test his limits.

Introducing Rusty to agility to build his confidence.

The summer started with a bang—buying a new bike and doing a series of short trips with friends in June while Marilyn did dog-sitting duty. First was a club ride to Westport, a small village on the Upper Rideau Lake, that took us along the Saint Laurence Seaway and up through the twisties of SE Ontario. I was on my new bike, purchased, registered, and insured the day before, so I was grinning the entire 700-kilometre, 2-day trip, except for when I watched in a local bar The Leafs lose Game 7, once again.

Narrows Lock Road, Rideau Lakes

I followed that with a trip to visit my sister and friend at a cottage in Denbigh, my first solo ride with the Triumph and a chance to put it through some paces on the winding highways of the Ontario Highlands. Then I did a little road trip (in a car) with a writer friend to Vermont in search of literary landmarks, followed by a return soon after with Mike and Danny, my riding buddies who did The Puppy Dog Route with me pre-Covid, but this time we finally did Bailey-Hazen, a military road dating back to the War of Independence. We also did some of the Hamster Ride, a similar dirt-route in New Hampshire, and road out to the ocean in Maine.

On the Bailey-Hazen Military Road, Vermont

I did another trip with Mike and another riding Buddy, Steve, to the VRRA races at Calabogie Motorsport Park on the July 2 weekend. And between those trips was a ride back to my hometown of Burlington, Ontario, for a reunion of The Burlington Teen Tour Band, a marching band I was in through my teens. So lots of short trips in June, when I usually rest on the couch watching a major football tournament, and by July, I was ready for that rest.

VRRA Summer Classic at Calabogie Motorsport Park

July is a bit of blur, to be honest, and the short day rides with Marilyn didn’t materialize. I did a few club rides, but to honest, I didn’t ride much in July. I think that had something to do with a good friend’s passing. I kind of fell into a funk, and didn’t feel like doing much of anything. I’m not sure where my time went, but I know I spent a lot of time on the couch. It’s true what they say about depression: it takes the incentive out of doing even the things that normally bring you joy.

Finally, with the end of summer looming, I decided to do a solo ride to Lake Placid, and that put a grin back on my face. I let Kurviger decide much of the route, and for some reason, part of it was a gnarly section of Class 4 road that had me wishing my Outback Motortek crash bars and skid plate weren’t back-ordered. At some point, I decided it was easier to keep going than turn back, and I managed to get back to asphalt without dropping the bike. I had on the front only the Pirelli Scorpion Trail II, the stock 90/10 tire, but we managed. I’ll be doing a comparative blog of the GS and Tiger, but one thing I can say now is that the front end on the Tiger is much better than the Beemer’s. That 21″ front wheel was rolling over stuff surprisingly well! I don’t think I’ll be doing trails with this bike, but it’s good to know what it’s capable of should my adventures take me through some technical riding.

Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid

Marilyn and I did finally do a day trip yesterday, down to Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont. I’m back to work in a week so I said it was now or never. Unfortunately, now was 34C and it required all of our tenacity to get through the day, especially the border crossing that had us sitting in idling traffic for about an hour. Brutal.

The shape of things to come?

The silver lining to the end of summer always is that the best riding in Canada is in the fall, when the leaves have turned colour and the temperature has dropped. There will be some more club rides and day trips and maybe an overnight if my son is available to dog-sit. The Triumph Tiger is a blast to ride, and fingers crossed, so far there has been no indication that we’ll have to wear masks again in class, so my work will be relatively back to normal. I have a lot to be thankful for, and a big east coast trip to plan for next summer.

Let’s Talk About Gear

The first in a series of posts on my riding gear. In this one, I discuss my touring gear.

I’ve had a few queries about the gear I use, usually from someone about to set out on a similar long tour, so I’ll devote a few blogs to the subject. This one is on what I wear when touring. In the next, I’ll talk about my off-roading gear. I’ll then cover my camping gear, and round out the series on navigation apps and other equipment I carry on the bike.

Let’s move from head to toe.

Helmet

The first time I bought a helmet, I had no idea what I was doing so relied on the salesperson. Unfortunately, she put me in the wrong helmet. She would put a helmet on me, wriggle it from side to side, say “Too big,” then put on a smaller one. Eventually she had me in an XS which, yeah, fit side to side, but within half an hour at my first class had created a pressure point that felt like a nail was slowly being driven down though the crown of my skull.

I’m surprised that head shape is not emphasized more than it is. It’s the starting point of finding the right helmet, but rarely talked about in reviews or explicitly mentioned in product descriptions. I have a long-oval-shaped head, so after a little research, I bought an Arai Signet-X as my touring helmet. I know there are cheaper helmets, but when one’s brains are at stake, I don’t mind paying a little more. I need all of what’s left of mine. The Arai brand speaks for itself, but I like that the helmet is Snell rated and comes with a Pinlock visor; I’ve never had any issues with fogging. I replaced the original visor before my big tour with the pro-shade visor, which is great, but I still find myself shading my eyes with my hand when riding directly into low sun. My next helmet will probably be an ADV helmet with a peak like the Aria X4. I know the peak will create wind noise but I suspect it’s worth it for the speeds I usually do.

Arai Signet-X

Helmets are extremely personal, so the only advice I can provide is to get one that feels right for you. Just bear in mind that, according to The Hurt Report, 1/5 of all impacts on a helmet in an accident are on the chin. And if you don’t know if you are a round, intermediate oval, or long oval, ask someone to take a photo of the top of your head. It will narrow your search and potentially save you a mistake like mine.

Neck Brace

A lot of people, even motorcyclists, ask me what that thing is around my neck. The neck brace was designed by Dr. Chris Leatt after he saw one too many riders die or become paralyzed from the neck down. There is a great interview with him on Adventure Rider Radio, if you’re interested in the origins. Otherwise, all you need to do is look at this independent study to be convinced that neck braces make a significant difference in preventing cervical spine injury and even death. It does that by stopping your helmet from rotating beyond what your neck can withstand and by transferring those forces down through your skeletal structure. Once I have it on (and properly fitted), I forget that I’m wearing it; it doesn’t obstruct my head movements at all, such as when I check my blind spot.

What about an air vest, you ask? Doesn’t it do the same? Well, yes and no. According to Dr. Leatt, there is a difference in safety, and I’m not going to try to explain it but will refer you again to the ARR episode in which they cover this subject, also speaking to the head of safety at the Dakar Rally, which recently switched from mandatory neck braces to air vests. (Incidentally, many riders were not happy with the switch.) I’m not going to advocate against air vests. I think if you are wearing either a brace or a vest, you’re ahead of the crowd. I personally decided against a vest because it’s another layer in the heat. And do they all have to be the same colour as piss after you’ve taken your Vitamin B complex?! Let’s have some air vests that look a little more cool, please.

Leatt STX neck brace

I bought the Leatt STX; the wider scapula wings do not conflict with back armour or an aero hump if you’re rockin’ full leathers on track days. Yeah, neck braces are pricey. There’s a lot of R&D that goes into them and I guess they are still a niche market, but like most of my gear, I bought it significantly reduced (like 50% off) once the particular model became discontinued. I now make it part of my everyday gear, even when commuting to work. I’d hate to have some bad luck on the day I leave it sitting at home.

Upper body

After some trial and error, I decided to go with a layering system when touring. For one, I didn’t have $1,500 for a Klim Badlands Pro jacket, and two, it weighs a ton. At first I bought a Klim Traverse jacket and tried that. It’s Gore-Tex, which is great because you don’t have to watch the skies but can ride through rain or shine uninterrupted. But Gore-Tex is hot! Yes, it wicks sweat, but it doesn’t allow much air flow. I was imagining the stifling-hot days of midsummer and decided to buy the best mesh jacket money can buy, and in my opinion, that is the Klim Marrakesh.

Klim Marrakesh

I have to admit, the Marrakesh is nothing to look at. Plain Jane. For some, that might be part of its appeal. Who wants to look like a Transformer character in an action animation? But put one on, and you will not want to wear another jacket again. It is my most comfortable riding jacket. Perhaps it’s my most comfortable jacket, period. That’s because the Marrakesh is all about the fabric: a 1000 denier 4-way-stretch mesh that breathes, stretches, and protects. Just a little hi-viz is all that is needed, and it has D30 armour in shoulders, elbows, and back. Okay, the armour is Level 1, not 2, but I decided to sacrifice a little on safety for the sake of comfort, with the compromise of upgrading the back protector to Level 2. I was very happy that I went with this jacket when I got into the midsummer heat that followed me all the way up to Dawson City.

Okay, it’s not waterproof, so I had to carry a rain outer layer in my tank bag. (Klim says the material is “hydrophobic,” which does not mean afraid of the water but water repellent.) There are plenty of good light rain jackets to choose from and they will all do the trick fairly inexpensively. I bought the Scott Ergonomic Pro DP Rain Jacket. This outer layer was helpful not just in the rain, of which I didn’t get much, but also when I just wanted something to break the wind.

Underneath, I had either a light athletic shirt if it was hot, or a merino wool base layer if it wasn’t. I also kept in my tank bag, or somewhere quick at hand, a good quality (800 fill) down vest. It saved me many times on and off the bike. It packs down into the breast zippered pocket to about the size of a mini football (remember those?) and did just the trick when I needed a little something under the jacket in addition to the merino wool base layer or around camp when the sun went down. Doing without the sleeves meant it packed down smaller, and if you keep the main organs warm, the extremities will be too. The Microtherm 2.0 down vest from Eddie Bauer has become my favourite piece of touring gear.

I had one more layer, if needed—a good quality polar fleece jacket. This also doubled as my pillow at night when folded or rolled. So between the different base layers, the fleece, the vest, and the wind/rain breaker, I had lots of options for the varying conditions; I could ride from single digits to 35C, rain or shine.

Lower Body

I decided to go with Klim Carlsbad pants, which are Gore-Tex, but you don’t get much airflow over the legs anyway, and who enjoys pulling on rain paints by the side of the road? It’s one thing to pull on a rain jacket and another to remove boots or deal with zippers halfway up your legs. The Carlsbad pants do have some decent venting, so when my nether regions feel a little hot, I just stand up on the bike for a few seconds to air them out, so to speak.

Klim Carlsbad pants

One of the reasons I like Klim is that the Gore-Tex is in the outer layer. With other brands, it may be an inner layer, so you may stay dry, but the clothing still gets soaked and, aside from being heavy, may take days to dry out completely. I also like the D30 armor (Level 2) in knees and hips (removable so you can wash the pants periodically), and the little Level 1 tail-bone protector.

Underneath, I wear soccer shorts with a mesh liner. They double as swimming trunks (to borrow vocabulary from my dad’s era), dry quickly, and, ah hem, provide some freedom for the boys. I never needed anything else, but I have worn thermal underwear (i.e. long johns) in early spring and late fall riding here in Canada.

So layering on top, vented Gore-Tex below. It was a good combination that worked for me.

I should add that I’m not sponsored by Klim (I wish!). I just find they make the best gear, and motorcycling is so important to me that I’m willing to pay a premium for their gear. But as I’ve said above, I never buy full price. I spend part of the off season researching and window shopping, and when the item I want goes on clearance, I pounce.

Boots

Like the pants, I went with Gore-Tex boots that I could ride in rain or shine. No dorky-looking overboots, no plastic bags inside the boots, no waterproof socks—just a really good pair of Gore-Tex adventure boots. For me, that is the SIDI Adventure 2 boots. These are amazing, and not just because they look so cool! (When I first showed them to my son, he said, “Dad, these are Batman boots.”)

SIDI Adventure 2 Gore-Tex Boots

Adventure riding is all about compromises, and a good quality adventure boot like these offers a balance of protection and comfort. I’ve had the bike come down on my foot in an off-roading off and literally walked away from it, and I’ve climbed mountains and walked for miles around town in relative comfort because they are hinged. I know some will say only a motocross boot provides adequate protection, but for touring, you need something you can walk in. You also need something with a good tread in case you have to push your bike out of mud. The buckle system of SIDI boots is unparalleled in the industry. If you have a particularly wide foot, you might want to look at the Alpinestar ADV boots; I know Lyndon Poskitt recently switched from SIDI to Alpinestar Toucans because he found his feet were a little cramped in the SIDIs. Like the helmet, boots are all about fitment, so not gear to buy online.

The SIDI Adventure 2’s are a premium item but will probably be the first and last pair I’ll ever buy; you can get the sole on these replaced by your local cobbler when they wear out.

Socks

While we are down here, let’s quickly talk about socks. I wore one pair pretty much the entire tour. They are actually not motorcycle gear, per se, but athletic compression socks from The Running Room here in Canada. Compression helps with blood circulation over those long days, and the height (over the calf) prevents chafing at the top of the boot. They are also anti-bacterial and wicking. There’s no point in wearing a Gore-Tex boot over a nylon sock.

For cold or wet weather, I have a pair of Pearly’s Knee-High Possum Socks. Possum, you ask? Yes, Pearly’s has managed to turn road-kill into a business. Each strand of possum fur apparently is hollow inside, creating a dead-air space that is unmatched for insulation and warmth with the exception of caribou hide, which shares the same property. If that were not enough, Pearly’s has woven it with merino wool, resulting in a wool that is pretty special. They are also a premium item and it took me a few years to pull the trigger on these babies, but there’s nothing more comfortable or warm for cold-weather riding.

Gloves

Finally, let’s move to the other extremity. It may surprise you, but I went minimalist with my gloves: only one pair for the entire tour. If a pair of deerskin gloves is good enough for Pirsig, who writes about them in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, they’re good enough for me. I have a pair of BMW Gore-Tex insulated gauntlet gloves for cold weather riding, and a short pair of Five Stunt gloves for summer riding, but for the Epic Adventure Tour, I took only a pair of Aerostitch Touchscreen Elkskin Ropers.

Aerostitch Elkskin Ropers

Why? Mostly for comfort. Like the Marrakesh jacket, once you put these on, you will know why. They are super soft and super comfortable, yet provide sufficient abrasion protection in an off. I have heated grips so rarely need an insulated glove, especially for summer touring, and Elkskin, unlike cowhide, can get wet without drying hard. In fact, on a hot day, if you wet them and wear them riding, they will shrink as they dry and mold to the shape of your hands on the grips. Neat.

Aerostitch do a good job with these gloves, still handmade in The USA. There’s touchscreen thread sewn into the thumb and fingertips of the first two fingers, and a visor squeegie on the thumb. They may feel a little bulky compared to the thin leather of other gloves, but the dexterity they provide is adequate for touring, and I suspect they will last for years and years. In fact, like wine and some women, they are one of those items that gets better with age.

Conclusion

Adventure touring requires that you be ready for all kinds of weather yet minimalist because you’ve only got so much room on the bike. This is what has worked for me. What are your preferences? Did I miss something? Let me know in a comment below what your favourite piece of touring gear is and why. I’m always ready to learn, and we Canadians need something to keep us occupied during the long off season.