The Road Trip, Part 2: Let's talk about gear

Mike Vaughan
Publish Date: 
Oct 8, 2013
By Mike Vaughan

MY 2013 CROSS-COUNTRY ROAD TRIP IS NOW OVER. It ended up covering 10,373 miles and 25 states, with 59 days on the road, one oil change, one new rear tire and tube, and one chain.

As would be expected, on the western half of the trip traffic densities were much less than the East and South, even on the freeways, with the exception of the I-5 through California. The only close call I had was on Lyndale Avenue, leaving Ducati of Minneapolis, when a delivery truck driver decided he needed my lane so he could make a left at the next intersection – but the light quickly changed and no harm was done.

Circa 1974: You'd think a motorcycle OE would have some road riding gear, but nope!

The weather for the most part was excellent, with most days being sunny and bright. I think I only hit rain six times and only on three of those occasions did I need a rainsuit. There was never any serious cold that couldn’t be handled with a liner, a vest or a sweatshirt under the jacket.

I have to confess that over the years my gear hasn’t kept up with the latest and greatest technology. When I started to do some serious riding back in the ‘60s, about the only garments available were leather jackets. They were great for keeping the wind out and saving your hide if you hit the pavement, but not so good in dealing with rain and snow. You could, of course, buy a Barbour suit, and they were great for keeping you warm and dry, but not much good in a slide across the bricks.

At the time I didn’t have the money and thus relied on a motley collection of skiing gear and war surplus items which I would layer on until I could barely move my arms. In retrospect, they didn’t keep me very warm or dry, or provide any abrasion resistance. In those years, crashing was the furthest thing from my mind, so in reality abrasion resistance didn’t make much difference to me. We’re all six-foot tall and bulletproof when we’re young.

In 1974 I went to work for Kawasaki. You’d think a motorcycle OE would have some road riding gear, but nope! If you rode off-road, you had jerseys, pants with pads and gloves with little rubber protective strips. A chest protector or shoulder pads were available at a reasonable price from an aftermarket vendor. For road riding, nada. No boots, no heavy jackets, no leather or fabric pants, no gloves. They did sell a knockoff leather Members Only-type jacket, and a lot of guys, including myself, made that our primary road riding jacket.

For cold weather riding I added long johns and a snowmobile suit, and a pair of Fast Lane boots. In the mid-1980s I acquired a Rukka rainsuit, a Firstgear leather jacket, and a Widder electric vest, chaps and gloves. This gear lasted me through the ‘90s, and it worked pretty well but it was bulky to wear, bulky to pack and took about a half-hour to put on.

In 1998 I went to work for Triumph, and boy, did they have gear. Jackets in leather and fabric, and eventually mesh. Leather and fabric pants, gloves -- you name it, Triumph had it, and I bought quite a bit of it. (Contrary to popular belief, at least with Kawasaki and Triumph, other than an occasional T-shirt or ball cap, nothing was free; employees bought it at dealer net.)

The Triumph gear was great, sturdy, functional, good looking, but pretty single-minded. If you bought a fabric riding suit, it was waterproof or darn near so, and it would definitely keep you warm – and there hangs the problem. At the time, none of the fabric garments were vented. If things warmed up on your ride, you could take out the liner and unzip the front, but that was it. If you were wearing the pants, you just suffered or took them off. (continued)