Embark on any kind of long ride and you’re likely to encounter four seasons in one day; even the basics of riding up and down the Alps can take you from warm sunshine to snow-lined roads and low fog. There’s no riding suit in the world that can deal with those extremes and still be practical off the bike, but there is a way to stay comfortable, dry and protected, regardless of what’s thrown at you: layering.
Layering has worked for hiking, skiing and climbing for years and motorcycling is no different. Plus the real bonus is you can mix and match your layers to the conditions and wear them off the bike.
- The base layer is the most important, as it needs to keep the skin dry: vital in all conditions. The importance of a non-cotton base layer cannot be stressed enough: cotton can absorb up to ten times its own weight in water/perspiration and takes forever to dry. Go for merino wool. It’s expensive, but it’s a superb temperature regulator, naturally breathable and resists bacteria. We go for Icebreaker gear – it’s great quality. Try a 260 gm mid weight with sleeves when its cold and a 150 gm light weight T-Shirt for when its hot, like the one Kevin is wearing on our last Africa tour
- The mid-layer traps warm air next to the body, the logic being if your core is warm your extremities will be too. It can be wool, polyester fleece, down, or synthetic. We usually go for super-lightweight Primaloft insulated jackets, as they are very lightweight, easy to care for and comfortable. Kevin loves his new Rab Microlight jacket and its going to be perfect for riding across the chilly Tibetan Plateau on our epic Asian motorcycle ride, London to Beijing! Its multi-functional too as it can be worn off the bike to go out for a beer. If you do really suffer from the cold, you can always consider a heated vest – if we know it’s winter riding, then we use the ones from Keiss.
- Next comes the motorcycle layer. Steer clear of the black-and-grey-with-detachable-liner and go for something adventure-focused. Ditch the inner waterpoof liner, as having it on the inside means the outer can get soaked (and you’ll never dry it if you’re in humid temperatures). Chuck the thermal inner too, your mid-layer will do the same job. Go for gear with good venting. When it’s hot, wear just the T-Shirt base layer and open the vents, when it’s cold, close them and add the mid-layer.
- If it’s very cold or wet, the final waterproof outer layer keeps you dry and acts as a barrier against wind. Go for a good quality ‘technical’ fabric like GoreTex, as they tend to be better at keeping out the rain and are breathable. A separate outer layer also gives you a waterproof jacket to wear off the bike too.
We advise going for a flip-up helmet for travelling, as they give you the ability to interact with people more easily. It’s much easier to take a drink, take a photo or just identify yourself at a police checkpoint. We change our visors to the double-glazed variety to prevent misting, and carry a spare in case of scratching/damage. We love the new Touratech Aventuro Mod – take a look here.
Fill the gap between the helmet and jacket with a good neck tube, and take two pairs of gloves. We prefer to ride in a motocross type. They’re not warm (hence heated grips and hand guards) and they are not waterproof (hence two pairs), but they give great feel and have decent protection.
We both wear motocross style boots – the Sidi Crossfire 2 are our favourites and we also use the Triumph Alpine Star. Buy big to allow for thick socks. And if they’re not waterproof, buy some socks that are, like Sealskinz!
And as we always say – there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad kit! We’ve been tucked up dry and warm, even in heavy rain and freezing temperatures and have managed in temperatures over 40 degrees and all by using the system above – just one set of motorcycle gear with the layering system.