The single greatest item of motorcycle riding gear ever conceived is misunderstood, made to look bad by the majority of its users and isn’t even fully appreciated by the people who make it. Whether you’re commuting, touring, adventure riding or even dragging knee on the road, there is no finer item of clothing available than the Aerostich Roadcrafter. This is why.
“Remember Gary Sinise in the movie Forrest Gump, playing Forrest’s platoon leader ‘Dan’? By the end of the movie he’d come to terms with his one-leggedness and was able to have a great life. Everyone who is outside of some norm-range goes through this kind of adjustment, including one-piece riding suit wearers who decide that riding more is more important than how they look to people who don’t ride.”
“All due respect to Roland Sands and Aether and all the rest of the fashionable brands of gear…all great stuff…but it does’t help me ride more. If, in order to ride more, I always had to look fashionably hip or correct before venturing out into the world, I’d end up riding a lot less. Better to not worry about looking at myself in the mirror and just doing it. Riding and F anyone who doesn’t understand. Let them laugh or stare. Riding is so worth it for me.”
That was part of a missive Andy Goldfine, the guy who runs Aerostich, emailed me a few weeks ago. He asked me not to print it. Sorry Andy, it was too good.
Full disclosure: Andy and I have never met, but have over the years struck up one of those Internet friendships that are now considered “normal” in 2015. Occasionally I’ll check in with a bit of coverage or a suggestion or a photo of my dog Wiley and every now and then — he seems to have a sense for when I’m feeling low — Andy will email out of the blue to tell me that I’m “wonderful” or to let me know he’s putting a picture of Wiley on the cover of his catalog.
Our friendship is made possible by our mutual affection for the simple act of riding a motorcycle. He gets it, he seems to be under the impression that I get it; it’s a perfect match.
I don’t think that impacts my ability to write about his products objectively. That’s partly because I lack the sort of social graces that allow people to pad truths, partly because his products really are as good as they promise to be, and also partly because the company is honest about its products, warts and all.
And, of course, because the Roadcrafter is the single greatest item of motorcycle riding gear ever conceived.
The gist of the Roadcrafter — which starts at about $1,000 and goes up to about $1,600 with all the custom work described here — is that it allows you to zip-on head-to-toe, race-level protection and total defense against the elements in just 10 or 15 seconds. The one-piece suit achieves that through the use of an innovative zipper system that sees one run all the way from ankle to neck, and other run the length of the opposite leg. You simply step into it, pull it over your shoulders, zip the zippers, and that’s it, you’re protected.
By some freak wtist of fate, I’ve never actually crashed in mine, but two friends have (I’m a compulsive gear loaner), one on the road and one on dirt. Neither one had a scratch on them and neither did the suit.
The big boy Roadcrafter (not the Light) is intended to withstand multiple crashes at sane speeds thanks to a 500D Cordura body and 1000D Cordua panels on the forearms, seat and shoulders — the parts you slide on in a crash. That makes it a great option for day-to-day use, or for wearing on long trips wear you might have an off, then want to continue riding. Or just for keeping for years and years and years, because these things will last a lifetime.
It achieves utter weatherproofness with the help of a Gore-Tex membrane laminated to the shell. You can read more about waterproof/breathable membranes on my new blog about adventure travel in the outdoors. But the basic idea is that, unlike separate liners, the laminated construction allows the suit to repel all water at its surface while still breathing fairly well. And now, with the R-3 version of the suit, fully waterproof, urethane-coated zippers seal out any last little bit of water that might get through.
Zipper intrusion is something that Roadcrafter wearers have always complained about. But, to understand those complaints, you have to understand the Roadcrafter’s users. Traditionally, they haven’t been the most…stylish of people. Fat old men don’t tend to be happy with the way they look so they buy clothes that are too big and make themselves look even worse. Wearing a too-big Roadcrafter results in it bunching up around your crotch when you sit on your bike and those bunches collect standing water, which then slowly seeps through the zipper, soaking your nether regions.
You see, a Roadcrafter isn’t a product you buy off-the-shelf. To get one, you have to order one, often custom made, from the sewing shop in Minnesota. Aerostich itself recommends you size up to layer and to give yourself some room to move, but doing so only results in an ill-fitting suit. What it does manage to communicate well is that, as a high-dollar, lifetime-quality item of riding gear, you shouldn’t expect it to be perfect the first time it arrives in the mail.
The process — and there is a process to buying one — is to figure out your correct measurements (at least have knowledge of your proper suit size, consult Crazy Stupid Love if you’re confused about this) and start there. Wait a few weeks for the suit to be made and shipped, then try it on, ride your bike around in it, and email Aerostich any changes you want made. Send it back, wait a few weeks, then do the same if it’s still not perfect. Using your proper sizing results in a suit that fits. And yes, you can still fit plenty of layers underneath.
The process may sound frustrating and it is far from the instant gratification most of us Amazon Prime subscribers are used to, but the result can be, if you don’t order it baggy, a custom-fitted item of riding gear that will protect you from crashes and the elements for the rest of your life.
That crash protection is something else that Aerostich doesn’t do a great job of communicating. Andy developed its “TF3” viscoelastic foam armor way back in the time before CE standards. And, because it doesn’t do much business in Europe, the small American company can’t really justify the expense of having it certified by that standard. So you just have to take their word that it’s safe. Or that of my friends who have crashed in my suit or the many, many people who have done the same in theirs.
In an unscientific test, the suit’s armor provided plenty of protection while diving off my front porch onto the front lawn. Unlike most motorcycle armor, landing on it feels like landing on a pillow. That’s part of what makes it such a great adventure riding suit — its ability to shrug off crashes.
Of course, this being Aerostich, you have to put in some effort to spec the right armor in your suit. Order the TF3 armor in the elbows, shoulders and knees, then spec the TF5 (it’s slimmer) hip pads, appropriate sleeves for those, the “competition” back pad (huge area of coverage, great sleeping pad) and the Aerostich Chest Impact Pad. This being Aerostich, they’ll tell you that chest pad isn’t compatible with the regular Roadcrafter. It is, just tell them to do what you want, you’re the customer, Wes said, stuff like that.
The other modifications you’ll definitely want are the forward-rotated torso and forward-rotated sleeves. You don’t ride a bike, even an R1200GS, standing straight up and down with your arms at your side. You’re always bent at the waist and your arms are always reaching out in front; so getting a suit cut for that position is what makes it comfortable when it’s actually the right size. So-spec’d the suit will be comfortable on everything from that GS to an Aprilia RSV4. I know, I’ve ridden them all in my Roadcrafter.
If you bend that way, spec the knee slider velcro. The suit doesn’t articulate as well as a leather race suit (nothing else does), but it’s just about enough to lazily drag knee all day and makes the variable weather of a long, sport-touring trip bearable.
The last thing you need to understand is how you need to dress under the Roadcrafter to suit conditions. Conventional wisdom has it that, despite the full-length pit zips, full-width back vent, leg vents and the ability to zip down the front of the suit, it’s too hot for riding in places like the great state of Texas or the godforsaken state of Florida. This is simply untrue.
While short-distance commuters will be able to get away with wearing normal clothes underneath (it’s designed to not wrinkle a business suit), the rest of us need to adapt our clothing to the needs of longer rides. When it’s hot, I wear a heat-shedding Alpinestars base layer underneath and a pair of shorts. Any time I stop, I just zip the suit off and walk around like a goober. In a pinch, put ice packs in suit’s waterproof pockets. Or, buy one of Aerostich’s incredible silk scarves and soak it with water to provide an evaporative cooling effect around your neck, where major blood vessels are close to the skin.
Of course it’s in cold and wet weather where the one-piece suit really shines. Over two-piece designs, it really seals out all drafts while allowing your body heat to permeate the suit’s entirety. Again start with a base layer, this time a heavyweight item, then add fleece sweatpants, a down jacket, a wool sweater and a (dry) silk scarf or balaclava. Unfold the collar to its full height, fulling sealing your neck and you’ll be warm and dry no matter what, promise.
Andy doesn’t think he looks very good in his, but I think I look pretty damn cool in mine. It’s pretty routine for me to stomp into a business meeting or similar while wearing it, invariably soliciting appreciative stares and remarks.
“You look serious,” normal car-driving people will say.
“I am serious,” my Roadcrafter says for me.