Aerostich Roadcrafter Suit
article by Ian Johnston
In April of 2002, I finally took the plunge and spent $700 on an Aerostich Roadcrafter riding suit. I had previously used a few different combinations of riding apparel, including a Teknic textile jacket, First Gear Street Pilot leather jacket, Joe Rocket textile riding pants, and Teknic (I think) textile riding pants. These are all fine, but had a few deficiencies -- the Teknic jacket didn't have any vents, and was unbearable in summer. Both pairs of riding pants weren't particularly water repellent, even after Scotchgarding. The leather jacket, while otherwise ideal, wasn't at all waterproof, and required a secondary jacket when it started raining.
After going through all of this, I realized that I was riding enough to justify getting the right tool for the job. By all accounts, the Roadcrafter was it, so I called up Aerostich and placed my order. 3 or so weeks later, I was stepping into my new suit for the first time.
Dealing with Aerostich-the-company
I first ordered a 46 long suit, since my chest size seems to be around 44-45 inches. When it arrived, it was fine looking, but a bit tight, particularly along the length of my torso. I called Aerostich back and explained the situation. With a minimum of fuss, I got instructions on sending the suit back, and a promise that I was at the head of the queue for getting the new (48 long) suit made.
Sure enough, about two weeks later, the new suit had arrived and was the correct size (a bit baggy around summer clothes, but with enough room to layer in winter clothes). My actual interactions with Aerostich were quite pleasant.
A full-coverage suit with long zippers
Getting into a Roadcrafter suit is a strange experience the first few times. You stick your right leg into the suit first, followed by your right arm. Then you put your left arm through the left sleeve, and grab the top of the zipper that starts at your throat. Align it with the mating zipper half, and zip it all the way down from your throat to the inseam of your left ankle. It feels weird to zip down instead of up. While you're doubled over, zip the right leg zipper from your crotch to the ankle, also along the inseam.
Due to its zipper design, there's no problem having your boots on before you get into the suit. It's really as simple as getting dressed in regular clothes and boots, then zipping the suit over them. It's quite impressive.
Once you've got the suit on, you can adjust it to fit properly. There are velcro tabs on the ankles, waist, and wrists, which are set-and-forget adjustments. The wrists have zippers that allow you to widen the cuff and zip it back down without readjusting the velcro (very nice).
Aerostich isn't lying when they say this suit is full of pockets. There are 7 sealable pockets -- one on the right wrist, one inside the right chest, one long (like, 1.5 feet long) outside the right chest, a small one outside the left chest, one near the right knee, and one each on the left and right thighs, in "front pocket" position. The left chest, inner right chest and thigh pockets close with velcro, and the long right chest, right knee and wrist pockets close with zippers.
However, the pockets aren't really all they're cracked up to be. Fill any of them up with more than a few keys or pieces of paper and you quickly discover that they're designed to lie pretty much flat. I've got a pair of sunglasses in a 1 inch thick case in the left breast pocket, and it's almost uncomfortably full. The same holds true of any of the other pockets. Forget about leaving anything bulky in any of the pockets.
There are also two velcro attachment points for "accessory pockets" that Aerostich sells: one on the left wrist, and one on the left thigh. I've never used them, so can't really comment, but it looks like a good idea. The only real downside is that looking all the way down to your left thigh as you're riding (the accessory pockets are clear, for map use) takes your eyes away from the road for a really long time.
Although not technically a pocket, the interior-access slits in the sides of the suit basically fall into this category. The Roadcrafter has a 12 inch long slit cut in each side, right at the hip, which is closed with a zipper and covered with a velcroed flap. The purpose of these openings is to allow access to interior pants pockets. This ends up being not only handy but necessary, since the alternative is to take the suit halfway off to get to your pockets.
Armor and protection
The Roadcrafter comes with armor in the knees, elbow and shoulders, and you can buy hip and spine armor for another $90. The armor is made of something they call TF2, which is a thermoelastic material that's soft when you're just wearing it, but hardens and absorbs energy when impacted. It seems to work with minimal testing (ie, slamming a fist into one of the pads). I'm happy enough to never find out how it works in a real crash.
The pads are actually made up of a layer of TF2, with a smaller area of hard plastic of some description that provides additional abrasion protection. The TF2 layers are shaped to fit in their respective areas, and removing them or reinserting them for washing is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Instructions are included on how to deal with the pads.
The suit is made entirely of nylon for the outer shell, utilizing a relatively lightweight fabric for most of the suit, with panels of heavy-duty ballistic nylon in areas that are more likely to be abraded should you fall off your bike. Aerostich claims that they've never heard of anyone wearing all the way through a suit in a crash, and that the ballistic nylon is at least comparable to leather for abrasion protection. I don't know to what extent I believe that, but I'm willing to trust myself to their suit, so I obviously believe they're worth something.
Waterproof and comfortable
The company claims that the Roadcrafter suit is waterproof, and I can tell you that it's pretty much a true claim. The only possible weakness is at the crotch, where water has a slightly easier time getting in, due to convergence of zippers and the end of the zipper flap. Of course, if you don't waterproof the suit after every washing, you'll discover that the waterproof claim is somewhat less true. It does have GoreTex in the liner, but it becomes much less effective if the fabric is soaked with water.
The suit is cut to be comfortable when riding, and it is. Assuming you've got the right size (remember to order a size or two bigger than you think you need, if you're planning on using it year-round), the suit doesn't get in the way at all. I think Aerostich has a modification you can ask for to lengthen the torso a bit, which would be a necessary change if you ride a real sport bike, all tucked down over the tank.
Warm and cold
One area where Aerostich makes no real claims is in heat regulation. The suit has vents, but they take a back seat to safety. The suit has no insulation, removable or not.
In summer, the suit is pretty hot. It's got vents in the underarms and across the back, but they're not terribly effective unless you're going freeway speeds. The interior-access slits in the hips can be left open, but they don't seem to make any difference for me. Theoretically you can zip open the legs a bit and snap the cuffs shut, and leave the front zipper down a few inches, but these changes seriously impair safety. I've decided that I'll just be warm in summer.
In cold weather, the front of the chest is surprisingly cold. I haven't yet decided if it's leaking air somewhere, or is just the area that gets the most wind blast, but that's the coldest area of the suit. Some kind of wind-deflection bib worn under the suit would probably be the best solution, but I don't tend to ride far enough or fast enough for it to be a serious problem. The rest of the suit is pretty well protected, as long as you've got some insulation on underneath. This would obviously be much less of a problem on a bike with a full fairing.
The correct solution to the cold problem is a heated vest. If I rode longer distances, I would already own such a vest. It's just the best solution, since it keeps your core warm, which in turn keeps the rest of you warm.
And 8 months on...
After living with the Roadcrafter for 8 months of nearly daily riding, I still like it a lot. The main problem I've discovered with my Roadcrafter has been what to do with it once you arrive somewhere. I keep a little nylon strap in one of the pockets so I can roll it up, but the resulting roll is two and a half feet long and a foot in diameter. If I don't have space to roll up the suit, it ends up being a big floppy mess to carry around.
The left shin panel of ballistic nylon has been slowly separating from the suit, and I'm probably going to send it back to get that repaired. The lowest piece of velcro holding the front flap closed has basically rolled up into a ball of fuzz, and apparently this is a common problem with these suits. I think one of the pieces of lining was starting to rip out a little bit. But overall, for a hand-made suit like this, these aren't big problems.
The ultimate test is whether I wear the suit every time I go riding. Is it comfortable enough? Does it impair my interest in riding because it's hard to get into? The answer is that I wear it every time I go riding, and that I don't avoid riding because of it (in fact, I probably ride more because I have it). This is a great suit with a few weaknesses that are either unavoidable or too small to worry about.
In the final analysis, I would happily recommend getting a Roadcrafter suit to anyone who asked me. The $700 entry price is steep, but I realized when I bought my last set of riding gear (leather jacket and textile pants) that I had spent over $700 on the combination. If you decide to get one based on this review, spring for the extra $90, and get the hip and spine armor. How much is your body worth?
And almost three years on...
It's now October 2005, and I've been wearing my Aerostich almost daily for nearly three years.
Right around the time my two-year warranty was about to run out, I started to notice that some of the zippers and velcro were going out. I got Aerostich to send me a new set of zipper pulls (all that was necessary), but declined to send it in for the velcro.
The velcro tab which holds the neck closed is now functionally useless. Aerostich wants $10 "per piece" to replace velcro ($10 for the hook side, $10 for the loop side), plus shipping. Since the majority of the velcro in my suit is on its way out, I'd be looking at around $200 in velcro replacement alone, so I'm going to do it myself, as I'm handy with a sewing machine. Note that these are not failures of the suit, this is just what happens with velcro.
The rest of the suit is holding up just fine. There are no more fabric separation issues. The Ultrasuede on the collar is starting to pill up a bit, but it's easy enough to pick those off, and then it feels just fine (even with the pills, I don't notice it unless I'm looking at it). The fabric seems to have acquired some permanent stains, but I also don't wash it very often, to minimize fabric damage.
My normal procedure now is to wash it about every 6 months, which involves washing once with NikWax Tech Wash, at least once (twice if I feel I have the time) with just water, to rinse the soap out, and once with NikWax Wash-in waterproofer. Any detergent present in the suit at all ruins the waterproof coating. After washing and drying, I hang the suit up in the garage and spray it down with a can of ScotchGard Heavy Duty spray (red can). One can is usually good for about 1.8 coats, so the second coat concentrates on the weaker areas, which is on the arms, chest, and upper thighs (where water hits with force, basically). The suit then has to dry overnight, and smells like a chemical plant for a few days afterwards. A waterproofing job typically lasts 2-3 months before water starts soaking into the arms.
I still wear the suit 80% of the year (with a mesh jacket and pants for when the temperature is over about 80°F). It's still very comfortable. I haven't put it through the ultimate test, and don't expect to, but I still trust it to protect me as much as a suit can.
I recently replaced the Aerostich back protector with a Bohn model specifically designed for the Roadcrafter suit. Its velcro tabs don't quite match up with the velcro in the suit, meaning that it looks like it's always pulling off its velcro a bit. Otherwise, I like the Bohn, and would not spend money on the Aerostich back pad again. The Aerostich-made model is fine, but doesn't appear to be as protective as the Bohn. I would much rather have the Aerostich pad than nothing, but I recommend the Bohn if you're concerned about safety.
I wouldn't trade the Aerostich for anything else I've seen, including the similar suits which have recently come out (I'm guessing Aerostich's patent ran out). Yes, they're cheaper, but I've been so happy with the suit and with the company that it's quite probable that my next motorcycling suit will be another Roadcrafter. That said, if you have $350 and want a suit right now, the Fieldsheer Roadcrafter-alike my friend Jesse has appears to be well made, and it's a great choice if it'll keep you wearing it every time you ride.