Going round the world, anyone can do it now… said the 81-year-old Ted Simon in a recent interview on BBC Radio Four (FF to 41 mins). In 1973 when he set off on his Triumph he (admittedly mistakenly) thought it’d never been done before. That honour may go to Carl Stearns Clancy and his 7-hp Henderson Four, some sixty years earlier.
It may have just been a throwaway comment extracted from a long interview, but it made me wonder: is it so? What is the difference between the eras of Clancy, Simon and today’s RTW rider? The machine has existed for well over a century and the human urge to explore is of course ancient.
Anyone can do it now because it’s seen as a less unpredictable endeavour, thanks largely to more sophisticated technology and greater access to information. Just as with sailing across that Atlantic, you can be pretty sure you won’t tip off the edge of the world. Anyone could ride around the world at any time in the last century, but before WWII it would have taken the wealth most commonly gained from a comparatively privileged background to pull it off, as was the case with many adventurous journeys completed in that era.
Because of a number of factors that might be summed up as greater social mobility, many more of us can do and become so many things that we couldn’t do fifty- or a hundred years ago; there’s far more opportunity. Perhaps what Ted Simon really means is that while more do set off to ride RTW than ever, few are managing to articulate it with the values he admires. With its popularity ‘adventure motorcycling’ has become a form of tourism and some think that diminishes the enterprise.
But however you do it, around the clock in 21 days or over several years spending months parked up in one place, especially alone and off your own back, it still takes a form of commitment, endurance and dedication that’s far from commonplace. It’s the same debate about the Age of Exploration being over. Not for me it isn’t.
Just recovering from talking myself hoarse at last weekend’s Overland Expo, a few miles east of Flagstaff. Now in its third year, OX is an event similar to the Horizons’ rallies with talks, round table discussions and panels, but covering trucks as well as bikes and with an Adventure Film Festival hosted by Austin Vince plus rider training, ride-outs and even a GS rodeo laid on by Rawhyde.
Most would agree the new location was a great improvement over last year’s scorching, dusty venue near the Mexican border, but it didn’t stop strong winds on Friday giving some of the rigging a good work out. The weekend weather itself was about right if you’ve just come out of a Brit winter (or Phoenix at nearly 40 degrees for that matter) and was even topped off by an annular eclipse just as the climactic barbie kicked off.
Between talks I was supposed to spend my time at the authors’ and film makers tent, flogging some books and vids alongside fellow motards Gaurav Jani, Ted Simon, Rene Cormier and Carla King who every so often was spotted power sliding a Ural outfit while small children clung on for dear life. Other names I can drop include Tiffany Coates, the enigmatic Andy Goldfine from Aerostich, as well as Aussie outback legends Ron and Viv Moon who do not ride motorcycles.
Austin and I took Ken and Carol Duval’s aged 800 GS out for a spin and wondered how they managed to ride that thing RTW for 16 years; it exhibited some very unnerving steering characteristics.
I may well be there next year flogging the new AMH and talking some talks. Until then here are a few pics sent from my iPad so the layout’s a bit basic.
They came from the four corners of North America.
One of the only Teneres in the US – a Brit reg’d XT owned by US resident, Paul. He’s been asked hundreds of times if he wants to sell it.
Standing room only at the moto end of the show.
Getting some air during the GS rodeo.
Austin Vince, Gaurav Jani and Mike prepare to face the inquisition of the curious.
Ted Simon addresses the throng at the US launch of the foundation which carries his name.
Meanwhile just down the track Al Jesse launches his Big Ass range alongside a Triumph Explorer.
This hefty old luggage suite caught my eye on a GS twin. The Airhawk seat strikes a chord too…
Still standing room only.
A GS gets put through its paces by the Rawhyde posse.
It’s him again demonstrating the optional BBQ attachment on the Jesse Big Ass cases.
About half the 150+ bikes at the expo were GS twins.
The overland paps turn on Ted Simon and travelling pet guru Lorraine Chittock.
A rugged organic compromise between leather and Cordura
Feels more windproof than Cordura
Wax coating feels mucky and soon acquires a grubby, blackened patina where it wears on itself
Leaks through the velcro arm-cinching straps
Soon loses it good looks from new and can’t be washed
Less good in temperature extremes than alternative: stiff when cold and sweaty when hot and humid, but bulky cut enables layering
Heavier than a Cordura equivalent
Abrades less well than Cordura or leather when sliding down a road, although the protector pads are more useful in most crashes
Aerostich Falstaff page. Only sold in the US, as far as I know. This jacket was supplied free in return for Aerostich advertising in my books.
The fittingly-named Falstaff evokes a solid British tradition and is Aerostich’s only waxed cotton jacket, cut to their classic Darien pattern in a dark tan waxed cotton. Inside is a tartan or plaid cotton lining that’s de rigeur with waxed leisure clothing. The Falstaff has under-arm and a back-width vents with water-resistant exterior pocket zips and pockets galore, large and small. I was still finding new pockets weeks after receiving it. I read that the Darien is a baggier and longer cut to Aero’s other popular suit, the shorter and closer fitting Roadcrafter which you commonly zip to Roadcfrafter pants. Like all Dariens there are elbow and shoulder pads and I was also sent a spine protector, but preferring a less bulky jacket, I didn’t take any of these pads on my ride to Morocco. There are four 3M reflective patches too, though you can specify ‘no reflection’ for a subtler appearance. (I read that France now requires riders to have a certain area of reflectiveness on their clothing – hopefully no more than a typical ‘Stich jacket). In fact with Aerostich you can specify any mod you like – with a few clearly labelled exceptions it’s all made in Duluth, MN and they’re happy to oblige. Great customer service plus the cool cataloguis one of Aero’s hallmarks. The size I have is large which weighs about 2.3 kilos or just over 5lbs without the padding. Though I read complaints in reviews about short arms, they were just fine on me.
The Falstaff replaced my 9-year old Aerostich Darien Light. There was nothing wrong with my little-used DL, but I fancied a change and wanted to see what was new and so gave it away a an auction for the Ted Simon Foundation. On the big night my DL scored the second highest bid just behind Ted’s famous Jupiter’s Travels open face helmet. Before the Darien Light I also owned a Darien which is identical but made from a heavier Cordura fabric. I used that in BC on a very rainy ride, but found it a bit too stiff (they say they do give over time). Scanning the web for a replacement in the understated and functional Darien style was much less successful than expected. Obviously there’s plenty of cheap stuff out there, but also too much over-designed or over-priced gear for my taste or wallet. And then there’s this new trend for separate breathable liners that you wear if it’s raining/cold, or not if it’s warm. That means the outer jacket gets soaked or ‘wetted-out’ in rain which makes the inner liner’s job of breathing through it all the more difficult. As it is, I suggest in the new AMH that I doubt membrane type clothing works that well when applied to relatively passive motorcycling; sitting still in the rain at 70mph is less effective in getting the membrane working than hiking up a hill which produces sufficient energy to purge the built-up moisture as the active body generates heat. I suspect this separate breathable liners trend is nothing more than a cost saving measure that’s being sold as a ‘have your cake and eat it’ option, but I’m happy to be corrected on that.
Anyway, after an afternoon’s browsing, on looks alone I think I was heading towards a Dainese Evo or whatever cropped up used in my size on ebay when Aero offered another Darien. I like to keep trying new stuff as it’s good for the book so after some discussion we settled on a Falstaff – an ‘organic’ Darien. So you know, the Falstaff and other gear I get from Aero is a contra deal in return for an advert in my AM Handbook and associated titles. Having worn waxed cotton Belstaff clothing back in the 1970s and avoided it since, I was a bit ambivalent about going down that road again with the Falstaff but hoped things may have changed. My recollection was a robust-feeling material (compared to a regular nylon Belstaff of the era), but with a messy coating that left indoor smears on my mum’s prize-winning wallpaper, felt unpleasant to touch and was not so snug in the cold. This was all just before the Cordura + Goretex revolution in moto clothing. Out of the box the Falstaff looked great – I like that tan deserty colour, what a shame it’s now mostly gone under an oily brown patina. The fit too was just right for me once the TF3 pads warmed up.
A functional touring jacket has to be at the core of your overlanding gear; a place to stash stuff and feel protected from the elements and possible crashes.
On my ride the temperatures ranged from 1°C with snow flurries while crossing the High Atlas, to about 30°C (86°F) on the hotter days down on the Sahara’s edge; days which also coincided with slow riding and pushing the bike through the sands. I also wore heavy leather trousers, and under the Falstaff either the electric Kanetsu liner over a thick shirt, or just the shirt.
Above all I love the array of pockets – no less than a dozen, but you don’t have to use them all. I don’t like to wear daypacks or use a tank bag and so my jacket becomes a kind of ‘ditch bag’ containing everything I think I need or can’t afford to lose. It’s all there in the pockets at hand’s reach, not in a backpack that needs talking off, or a tank bag that needs removing when you’re stray from the bike. I especially like the big ‘Napolean’ pockets inside and out, and just as I was thinking of getting a pocket sewn into the back lining to carry my iPad while away from hotel rooms, I realised there was a huge net pocket inside the back vent which could take a 17-inch MacBook Pro if need be. It’s an Aerostich, I should have known they’d not waste that opportunity! (In fact it mentions that pocket on the website, so RTFM). As expected, the strong initial whiff of wax or paraffin lessened after a few weeks in Morocco, though it took a good few months to go away. It’s just about gone now but if it smelled of warm leather there’d be no complaints here! In Morocco I was deliberately wearing only a shirt plus my Aero Kanetsu electric liner to put it all to the test, and never got chilled except when I got in a muddle with the Kanestu’s switches. Even then I do wonder if a Kanetsu is essential with a chunky Falstaff. Depends where you live and when you ride of course, but if your bike can’t handle the output I suspect a thick fleece and a Merino under layer would still keep you warm – the waxed cotton feels very wind-proof, even if in itself it can’t be described as a cozy garment.
One piste I did in Morocco was a hot day which ended up with a lot paddling and pushing the GS through soft sand. At this time the Falstaff was just too hot and all the vents in all the world, including the front zipped down made little difference with a hot backwind and speeds of less than 10mph. I ended that afternoon with the liner soaked and evaporated sweat encrusted as salt on my shirt. I have to say it would probably have been the same with any jacket, but I have a feeling my nylon Darien Light might have been less sweaty or maybe just less heavy. The Falstaff can feel as hot as a leather jacket. As I neared my destination that evening and got onto easier terrain, I undid the front zip completely and let the jacket flap around and air itself out. By the time I got to my lodgings it and I were almost dry. I do wonder though if something different – more modern dare I say – could line the jacket interior instead of cotton plaid and if, as the blog guy suggests below, it might even be removable for washing, so you don’t get bogged down in washing the whole garment. As it is waxed cotton doesn’t seem to be washable with any detergent, all you can do is wipe it down with a sponge which won’t shift road grime. Something wickable maybe? Cotton is notorious for sapping away body heat when wet and had I had a long ride in colder temps following that sweaty afternoon I might have got really quite chilled. Of course powering up the Kanetsu electric vest would have seen to that.
All of which makes me wonder, does waxed cotton breathe? Intuitively I’d say no and if it does then it’s at the cost of waterproofedness, but Aero and this googled blog post (worth reading, plus his half-dozen follow-up posts) suggests it does a bit, while the chat here says not really. If it does breathe then I’d say not as much as Goretex in optimum conditions and circumstances, but a lot better than a PVC bin bag sealed up with duct tape. I must admit I never felt sweaty on the ride as I’d have done in an impermeable PVC mac, so perhaps it breathes better than I think. Knowing what wax is, I find it hard to see how while retaining waterproof qualities, unless the wax-impregnated cotton fibres swell when wet (like cotton tents supposedly do) to seal against rain, then as it dries a little porosity returns. Interestingly, I’ve also learned that ‘oilskins’ is another name for waxed cotton.
My thoughts on Goretex
Like the blogger, part of my rationale in thinking the Falstaff was a good choice was that unlike GoreTex, wax cotton can be reproofed indefinitely, just like an old pair of leather boots. (Have you tried getting a pair of non-membrane hiking footwear lately, btw? – near impossible). Goretex might work well when it’s new, clean and undamaged, but as far as I know we’re talking about a cling-film-like miracle pore layer bonded onto the inside of the jacket onto which is bonded a permeable inner liner, more or less (left). Although in the middle of a sandwich, once that film gets damaged or the nylon either side gets clogged with body oils or grime, it will let in water for good and/or it won’t breathe like it did.
Goretex seems a short-term solution but you still have to marvel in how WL Gore have managed to so dominate the market in ‘waterproof’ leisure wear, although work wear, I’m no so sure. There must be something to it but I do remember thinking when it came out in the late 70s that the whole ‘condensation vapour out / no water in’ malarkey sounded a little far-fetched and I think the same now.
I really wasn’t keen on buying another expensive GTX jacket, even an Aerostich, that would require washing in special soaps and curing with DWR (surface water repellent) only to know the ‘magic film’ would eventually fail. This is a jacket that I like to think I’ll be wearing on a long trans-continental trip, not a touring holiday. The infinite reproofability of the Falstaff was an attraction and as the chat site above notes, it’s tough (maybe no more so than a 500-weight Darien; Aero say it’s a bit less abrasion proof) but also immune to melt holes from campfire sparks.
In Morocco there were a few showers. Unlike Cordura once it’s lost it’s DWR treatment, water rolls off the waxy Falstaff as off a duck’s back. There seems little possibility of the fabric letting any rain through (but see below), but of course on any garment the stitching is the weak point. I know Aero’s synthetic clothing is finely sealed with taped seams, but I’m not sure how the Falstaff’s panels are joined together and sealed. Maybe the wax impregnation takes care of it. It was on a long day across Spain that I had a chance to put the Falstaff to the rainproof test. Several short spells of heavy rain had no effect but a huge deluge let rip by early evening at which time both lightning and a rainbow where arcing across the stormy sky simultaneously. I turned off into some town to pull on the €3 waterproof leggings I’d bought in Fez (my ageing Darien pants got stolen on the Morocco ferry – I’ll miss those). By the time I turned the bike around the roads were ankle-deep in run-off and commuters were inching through the flood. Back on the motorway the rains pelted against the screen which admittedly largely protected the front of the jacket, but after maybe half an hour I felt the tell-tale twinge of wetness at the more exposed right elbow. Getting to a hotel that night after the 800-km day, I pulled the jacket inside out and the cotton lining of both arms was damp. It had then come through the Kanetsu vest (not turned on) and a thick cotton shirt. Nowhere else had let the rain through, neither pockets or front zip nor even the cuffs exposed by the BM’s undersized hand guards, nor the neck with its suede trim. The front inside lining had soaked up some run-off from the overtrousers. (Amazingly the cheap overtrousers held up and so did my leather boots which I’d waxed before departure and got quite a beating on the dirt in Morocco. I attribute it to wearing thin socks that day which were loose and so are slow to wick in any leaks – or perhaps the well waxed boots just simply worked – like a waxed jacket should…) My theory is that the rain leaked through the sewn-on velcro straps (left) which cinch in the sleeves to stop them flapping, hold the elbow pad in place or to reduce the air gap to keep you warmer. Many bike jackets seem to have this feature now. Without cutting the lining open it’s hard to tell if the velcro seams are glued and taped from behind. It doesn’t feel like it and on the inside of waxed cotton that would be tricky anyway. But if that’s a weak spot it’s surprising Aero didn’t think of it or owner reviews mention it.
In summary, my reticence with the Falstaff is the same as with any waxed garment, the ‘ickyness’ of the weatherproof coating. It’s something you only notice when putting it on, using the pockets or walking around, but you wouldn’t want to slump onto your mother-in-law’s albino calfskin sofa in it. Like leather it certainly steadily acquires characterful creases, unlike a nylon Darien or any other synthetic moto jacket.
Six months from originally writing this, I have to say the Falstaff hasn’t grown on me. I don’t particularly relish putting it on as I do with favourite clothing, because of the feel and appearance of the waxed cotton; that stuff won’t wash off with soap. The jacket now looks like I’ve used it to make several messy oil changes under a car. Waxheads know it’s just the polished wax coating, but some civilians will just perceive you as another grubby biker. Then there was the annoyance of popping a car satnav into one of the outer chest pockets during a downpour – it never recovered. The pocket was wet inside; now I know I should have used an inside pocket, but as you’ll see below, even that is not immune. I’ve since performed a EU-accredited suction test: clamping your mouth around a bit of fabric and sucking. On a plastic bag – full seal of course, no breathing possible; on unpolished parts of the Falstaff like the back, slow suction possible, but slightly more than on my near-new breathable Rab Bergen Event™ jacket. On the grubbier, patina’d front pocket of the Falstaff, notably more suction possible – the fabric here is more breathable and so less waterproof than other sections. Perhaps it all just needs a light reproof on the shiny sections followed by a hair dry, as this article recommends.
I’ve since carefully reproofed the pockets on one side of the front with Granger’s Waxed Cotton Dressing which as expected failed to resort the Aero’s original sandy colour – in fact it’s gone quite dark and shiny, but at least dried to a less waxy mess than I anticipated. It certainly doesn’t look as good and smart as when it was new, but I got the g-friend to give me a damn good hosing (above) and the re-waxed outside pocket was dry inside, the patina’d one on the other side damp. And on the shoulder where I reproofed a bit, the droplets clearly pool on the wax while they get absorbed into the original, unpolished matt, tan section. So reproofing looks like it works but will re-patina and in my opinion ruin the jacket’s original appearance.
In a couple of weeks I’ll be riding back south to London during which time I’m bound to get rained on. More news then but as I’ve written elsewhere, to keep dry from all-day rain, whatever you wear, get an impermeable one-piece riding suit in coated nylon or better still, PVC, like the old style Rukka (left).
A couple of weeks later…
I got rained on. At the end of a cold, 450-mile day, for two hours on the motorway and another two across town the skies let go. I pulled on my Rukka one-piece over my legs which stayed as dry as, same as my boots which I waxed months ago. But within an hour I could feel wet arms, as in Spain months earlier. And when I got back home I found the entire lining of the jacket was wet apart from a small patch in the middle of the back (below).
The inside pocket was wet with my phone and wallet – one place you hope to be dry. My thick merino cardigan was damp but kept the wet off my trunk, but the arms were soaked right through. Exterior pockets that I had judiciously wax-proofed a fortnight earlier also had wet contents, maybe through the zip. The jacket took a day or more to dry. Imagine being mid-trip and having to put on a sodden Falstaff for another long day at 6–9°C. It’s possible that seepage through the jacket’s leaking arms may have spread right across the lining, but whatever the reason, it was soaked inside. Not good.
PS. I’m informed the similar £500 Belstaff Trailmaster comes with a ‘waterproof seam-sealed jacket in light coated nylon‘ … and in the US this Melville wax jacket from Rev’It comes with a removable Hydratex waterproof membrane liner. I believe ‘oilskins’ must work on a certain level but there’s a message in there somewhere.