06 December 2010

Impressions: Long Term Gear Review.

Over the course of the year, I bought a lot of gear.  I took advantage of closeout deals to replace things and buy things I wanted for a while but didn't think I needed until this year.  Gear includes stuff for me (like motorcycle specific boots, a new helmet, and jacket) and stuff for Baby (like luggage).  I'm not going to include farkles, like the exhaust, levers, or frame plugs, because for the most part I don't need to live with them to know if I like them.  I decided to wait until I spent some time with my new gear before posting my long term impressions.

I never expected I'd buy so much stuff or that I needed to!  Where to start?  We'll start where I started, Vega Boots and HJC Helmet.

Gear for me.
Vega Touring Boots:  I got them on sale at Competition Accessories in February. I decided to give them a try to see if I really needed to replace the Stanley Steel Toe work boots I've been riding in since 2004. They were about $50. They are leather and have a protector across the top for the shifter. They got their first real test on the Savannah Trip with Daddy. It didn't take them long to break in and get even more comfortable ! I brought my sneakers for the trip because we planned to walk around and drink beer all St. Patrick's day. Turns out, I didn't need them. The boots were/are more comfortable than my sneaks ever dreamed of being! Unfortunately, they have a soft rubber sole that didn't get along with my beautiful Racing Pegs. The pegs dug up the soles and my aggressive riding scraped the toes pretty good. These are great Touring Boots but not Sport Touring Boots. If I had room, I'd ride to the good roads in these, then change to a more sporting boot for the good roads.

If you don't have an aggressive riding style, I'd definitely recommend these boots. I wish they made a sportier boot in my size because I wouldn't hesitate to buy it. These boot are a great value and worth their full price. If you decide to get them, wait for a sale because they seem to go on sale about every other month.

HJC CL-SP Helmet:  I got this on sale at the same time as the boots. I chose it for it's color and price. I'd tried on the CL-SP at the local bike shop and the fit seemed to be fine. Unfortunately, riding with the thing proved difficult from the start. It never sat on my head right and there were times when I was constantly adjusting it. At first I blamed it on the collar of my new cold weather jacket, but as the year warmed and I changed jackets, the problem persisted. The field of view was not as wide as with my previous helmets. I could see the sides and top of the liner in my peripheral vision. As the weather got hotter, so did the helmet. The vents were basically useless. I don't want to remember how loud it was. As I think about it, I can't decide which I complained about more, the loudness or the fit. I think the noise was first with fit a close second. By the beginning of October, I'd accepted my mistake and began shopping for a new helmet. I just don't know what to do with this one.

It isn't all bad. I love how easy it is to remove the shield. The gear mechanism is perfect and even gives you an option to lock the shield closed. I don't know why you'd want to, but you can. I always buy a smoke shield but with this helmet, the smoke shield never fit as good as the clear one. In the rain, both shields leak. I still don't know where the water is coming from!

If you have a slightly round head like I do, avoid this helmet because it'll never be comfortable. I was willing to live with those flaws until the last trip I took with it when the helmet was so heavy by the last day. I can't recommend it, not just because of the fit. Leaking in the rain, ill fitting replacement shields, and the weight make this helmet not a good buy no matter what the price--and I got a good one. I hope all HJCs are not like this one!

Firstgear Monarch Jacket:  I got a steal of a deal on Closeout for this Jacket. It was such a good deal, I wish I'd bought 2! I probably should have gotten a size smaller but it still fits pretty well. The jacket has a bunch of adjustable options--at the waist, near the arms--that you can adjust it to fit your body style. It comes with a liner that is fleece on the inside and nice and warm. You can wear the liner around as a jacket when off the bike and no one will know it's just a liner. There are a lot of pockets too, on the liner and the jacket. Inside, there's one for your cell phone and another one that is pretty big for anything else you want to put in there. There are also two (i think) zippered pockets of pretty good size near the zipper. The outside pockets are huge and one as a grommet in it so you can pass the wires from a heated vest to the controller in your pocket. There are also snap close pockets that are pretty big and a small money pocket on both of the sleeves; on one side near the shoulder and the other side near the wrist.

It's got vents on the upper body and back that work pretty good for warmer days. I don't like to wear this jacket when it gets hot, but that's when it's Georgia Hot (humid) and might not be true for other locales. There is armor in the shoulders and at the elbows but the jacket doesn't feel all that heavy. It also has a hood in the collar for rainy days that helps keep water from running inside the jacket.

My only complaint is that it rides up a little, but I believe that is because mine is a size too big. I can cinch it some to fix that but I haven't had the patience to get it right yet. All in all, I'd definitely recommend this jacket at whatever price you can find it for. Mine is the 2009 style, but they make a different style on the outside but the rest is the same.

Alpinestars Alloy Gloves:  I got these for my birthday at the FZ1OA Rally in Deals Gap. The best price I found was at the Deals Gap Resort. I needed to replace the leather perforated gloves I bought the day after I got Sam. I don't even know the name of those gloves but they had gel padding in the palm and were very comfortable. I wanted to get some leather vented gloves with armor and these fit the bill. They are the most comfortable gloves I've worn and you can feel the air on your hands even on the hottest days. I don't have a single complaint about them! They are worth the money what ever price you find. They appear to be very durable so I don't think I'll need to replace them any time soon but if I did, I'd definitely get another pair.

Frank Thomas Venus Boot:  After spirited riding early in the year, I decided to look for a more sporting boot. The Venus Boot hit the market about the same time as I started shopping for boots and based on specs alone quickly became a contender. A woman with small feet has a limited choice when it comes to sporting boots. I wrote a whole post about the search, so no need to go into it again.

It seemed to take forever for these boots to break in!  After my first day long ride, TheMomma said I was walking like my feet hurt.  They didn't hurt, exactly, but they were tired and I couldn't wait to get out of them! After the Camping trip--or was it before?--I bought some Dr Scholls gel inserts and man what a difference!!!!  They still needed to break in but my feet weren't so tired.  Sometime during the Camping trip, those suckers broke in!!  For me it was the highlight of the trip because the bike wasn't tuned right (stupid K&N air filter) and the helmet seemed to be getting heavier each day.  But by the Sunday ride home, I was no longer considering testing Cycle Gear's 30-day no excuses return policy.

The Boot is vented but I really can't tell unless I stick my feet out then they have excellent air flow. These boots get more and more comfortable each time I wear them but they are not a good walking around boot, like the Vegas. Since they're not supposed to be, I won't hold that against them. I've worn them in the cooler weather and so far I haven't gotten cold feet. I haven't decided if I should wear them in really cold weather yet but I have the Vegas for that and I'm working on my technique so scraping toes happens less frequently than earlier in the year.

I definitely recommend this boot. It does what it's supposed to do and, once they break in, you don't even notice them. They've gone on sale for the holidays but it's the first time I've seen them at a price lower than SRP. It doesn't matter much, SRP is reasonable and these boots are a great value because you get more than you pay for.

Gear for Baby.
Fieldsheer Expander Saddlebags:  I decided to get these when I bought the bike but delayed buying them until I really needed them. That turned out to be for my first trip with Daddy. Unfortunately they didn't arrive in time for that trip but I did get to use them the next weekend for the Twisty Butt. I got a good deal on closeout from Newenough.com and sent my old Nelson Riggs to a guy on the left coast that I read about on the ST.N forum.

The Expander's have large pockets on the outside so you can store stuff that you want to get to quickly but isn't too big. To load them, there's only one zipper so you have to be careful about how you put stuff in. But once you get started, you can put a whole bunch of stuff in there before you need to think about expanding them. Expanded you get a lot more room and have to be disciplined about not carrying too much stuff (see pic). For my first real trip with them, the FJR Appalachian Camp Meet, I got a little carried away and brought too much stuff. I did better for the FZ1 Rally and didn't need to expand them until I packed to leave!

They have velcro straps and include neoprene sleeves/pads to protect the bodywork. There are several straps included to attach to the bike and the tail bag. When you put it all together, it creates a nice system. The only drawback is they don't work well without the tail bag, but that may have been user error. If you can find these, I'd recommend getting them.

Fieldsheer Contour Tankbag:  I got this bag for the summer when I discovered my Access bag wouldn't hold the water bladder. It was another closeout deal, this time from Competition Accessories that I bought when I purchased my tires. I bought it with the strap base but later purchased the magnetic base for it. I just couldn't figure out the strap mount. This bag is humongous! It expands to a size larger than I think necessary for a tank bag and has hard sides that velcro in place when it's expanded. But it also has a base (sold separately) so it can be used as a tail bag. Just like the Access bag, it separates from the base so you can just unzip it and take it with you. That's one of my favorite features. There's also a hard rubber thing thats called a buddy lock system that I use for my 2 way radio.

The magnetic base is super strong, just like the Access base, and never moves! Because of it's size, I have to be careful how I put it on the tank but all in all I'm pretty pleased with it. There are three outside pockets, one in the back (near the gauges) and two different sized ones on the sides. The stitching has come loose from the top of the left pocket but I keep that side pretty loaded with the wires for my electronics so it's not a big surprise. I wish it hadn't but I ain't gonna complain. It hasn't become detached and doesn't look like it's ready to so I won't worry about it. If it gets worse, it can be fixed with a needle and thread.

I haven't made up my mind about this bag. It's really big, maybe too big for what I need. Recently, I've seen the Eiffel on closeout for super cheap so I might get that one to see if I like it better. If I do, I can convert the Contour to use on top of the rear trunk. If you want a big ass tank bag, this is the bag for you! I definitely recommend this bag even though I'm not sure if it's the right one for me.

Motorcycle Travel Trunk:  I'll admit this was kind of an impulse purchase. I had an idea in the back of my mind when the deal for these sprang up and decided go ahead and pull the trigger. It took me a little while, but I got it mounted up the way I envisioned it. I can't really compare it's quality to the more expensive ones because I've never had one before. When it arrived, the latch was broken but Sears customer service didn't seem to know anything about the product they sold. I just glued it with Gorilla Super Glue rather than deal with their difficult process. If I bought another one, it wouldn't be from Sears but you can get the same case from JC Whitney so I wouldn't have to. The "repaired" latch is holding just fine so that I hardly think about it any more. My biggest problem is remembering to take the key out.

I do miss the pockets that the Expander Tail Bag has because they make it easier to organize the bag. Right now, there's stuff just laying in the bottom that I'd like to have in pockets so I can use the main part for something else. I bought a small tool bag  to hold stuff in an attempt at some type of organization but it really isn't that much better because of wasted space.

My helmet fits, on it's side, but with nothing else inside the case. I guess I should have gotten the larger one if I wanted to store something other than my helmet in it.  It comes with tacky orange/red looking trim that is easily fixed with a can of Krylon Fusion. It makes the bag look a lot better. It also has a maltese cross emblem that I removed right away in favor of anything else. I think I'm going to work on putting some storage pockets or netting or something in the top to make better use of the available space. I didn't get it to store the helmet in anyway.

I like having storage with the cleaner look on the tail but I still don't know about the trunk. For the price I got it for, I'd get another one but for SRP there's no way in the world I'd buy it.  I'm glad I got it for what I did because if I'd spent more money I'd be truly disappointed.  That said, I'm pretty sure it's not just that specific trunk, but trunks in general.

Zero Gravity Sport Touring Shield:  I got this from ebay for less than half price and free shipping! I bought it basically to know what all the hype was about with people complaining about the air off of the fairing since this is my first non-naked bike. Sam is truly naked, no 3/4 fairing, no nothing but the handle bar mounted screen I added. I didn't know how much air I was getting until I got this shield. It even made the HJC seem not so loud. It was still loud, just not as loud with the shield.

I also felt the improvement in airflow. The taller shield moved the air so that it hit the helmet's vents better. The fins seem to direct air onto my hands too which is nice when it's warm. The only drawback has been with the winter addition of hand guards because they contact the shield and prevent lock to lock steering. When I first got it, I didn't like the naked edge on it or the clear bottom that shows the back of the gauges. I fixed the naked edge by adding fairing trim (I got that on closeout too so it's not the color I want but it does what i want it to) and I fixed the exposed gauges by not looking at them. I think maybe some tint might hide them and have found some spray that I plan to try.

If I can find a good deal on another shield without the fins I'd get it for winter riding. It would have to be taller before I considered it though. I really like this shield and think it's a great buy even at SRP.

Vega Touring Boots.  Buy, they're worth full price.
HJC CL-SP Helmet.  Do not buy.  Hell, don't even accept a free one.  I wouldn't spend anybody's money on this thing.  (Anybody want mine?  It comes with 2 smoke and 1 clear shield, you pay shipping.)
Firstgear Monarch Jacket.  Buy, it's worth full price.
Alpinestars Alloy Gloves.  Buy, they're worth full price
Frank Thomas Venus Boot.  Buy, they're worth full price.
Fieldsheer Contour Tank Bag.  Buy, it's worth full price if you want a big ass tank bag.
Fieldsheer Expander Saddlebags.  Buy, they're worth full price.
Motorcycle Trunk.  Buy, but only if you find a superb deal.
Zero Gravity Sport Touring Screen.  Buy, it's worth full price.

All in all, I've been pretty happy with my purchases throughout the year. Most of them I would replace with the exact same thing if they need replacing. The HJC Helmet was replaced today with an Xpeed XF706 Phoenix helmet!!!!!! I'm glad buying all that stuff is all over and am looking forward to riding more than shopping and buying and waiting.

Thanks for reading,

patrice, theWolfTamer

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