For Gear Guide #71 a Roland Sands Tracker Jacket and Tobacco Jeans were put through their paces both on the daily grind and on more enjoyable escapades in foreign climes.
Roland Sands Kent / Tracker Jacket
With off-the-bike fashion becoming perhaps more lorded than impermeability or abrasion resistance the choice of jacket fabric can speak volumes about a garment, the rider and one's mood. A thin, supple nappa leather can suggest the wearer enjoys leafing through design magazines rather than the Machine Mart catalogue, whilst a thick horse hide number with sturdy zips and patches might not be the attire for having tea with your new girlfriend's parents. Then there's waxed cotton. I know Steve McQueen pulled off the Barbour three quarter but for me most people end up looking like over styled pheasant poachers. But that does make waxed cotton an easy choice for blending back into the crowd once you've abandoned the bike.
Choosing a jacket for the recent Yamaha XSR900 press launch presented a bit of a conundrum. I ride to the airport for such trips and when it's 4 degrees in Blighty and 24 at the other end balancing insulation with ventilation isn't an easy equation and walking through an airport with a cow slung over your back is just plain irritating. I plumped for this Roland Sands Tracker, a waxed cotton summer jacket offering style and crash protection in equal measure.
The wax is matt, nearly fluffy in texture which avoids the shiny, clay pigeon chic which I'm not a fan of. The cut is hugging for an American designed jacket, I'm usually medium in everything but wanted the option of breathing and perhaps using armour so picked up a large.
At first I thought I was sporting a lady version as the main zip is operated from the wrong side. I did confer with Chicago Timm and he seemed perplexed, suggesting that this was the 'normal' side for a zip, or zipper in his language. Seeing as his country was invented only a few years ago I decided to ignore his comments and will revert to 'wrong'. The pockets are also wrong. But Roland's design guys might be onto something here. To close the outer pockets you pull the zip downwards, which you'll know is much easier whilst riding rather than the other way around. There's also a clasp inside one of them to make sure keys don't fly out. Although this is clever and well thought out, if like me you ride in many different jackets the mid-ride pocket check will instil panic as muscle memory tells your brain that you've left them gaping open.
There's also handy pocket on the right forearm, just capacious enough for bank cards, some cash and if you're a bit retro and still smoke, some fags. Vapists or whatever you lot call yourselves, sucking on those things that look like Ziggy from Quantum Leap, you're in luck too. There are two giant stash pockets inside that wrap around from front to hip. This jacket is the shoplifter's dream garment, you can literally empty a Tesco Metro into each side without it showing. Oh no! Perhaps this is a hunty-shooty-fishy coat after all, designed for carrying dead animals.
So, arriving in Fuerteventura I felt quite smug sporting a light summer number while the other journos sweated in their bovine bodices. A wry smile quickly turned to frustration after installing the armour. There's a mini back protector, fine. And some shoulder pads, these seem OK too. But the elbow pads took up most of the space where my arms should have been.
I once ate a tin of spinach and have been on a fishing boat, but that doesn't make me Popeye. It would appear that the RSD guys modelled the Tracker on a bulimic yoga instructor, not a biker who's spun a few spanners and swigs ale from a growler.
As this is a valid complaint I'll use it as the excuse as to why I crashed four times on the Fastersons Flat Track experience, having to use my shoulder as throttle control as my right hand had gone numb. The dirt I landed on was made from smashed-up volcano and hard as concrete yet the Tracker jacket barely flinched. I was expecting huge tears and a cross word from personal my wardrobe assistant Gareth Jazz but on closer inspection all I found was dust and a couple of creases, barely even a scuff.
Handily the armour is made-up of 3 layers, so I tore one off for the next day's road riding. Crashing off the top of a volcano at 100 plus mph is unlikely to be particularly comfortable armoured or not, but peace of mind and blood flow to the right hand usually precludes such incidents.
Rant over - the rest of the RSD Tracker is excellent and I've been wearing mine without any armour at all for casual occasions. Nobody has shouted 'PULL!' and I haven't paid for groceries in weeks so that's a definite plus. When summer finally decides to arrive in the U.K. I'll be riding in the Tracker everyday, provided chef keeps spinach off the Bike Shed menu.
Stop Press - Shopkeep has informed me that I've taken such an inordinate amount of time in reviewing this jacket that Roland and his team have already designed a new version, made from British Milerains finest 10.5 oz waxed cotton. It's called the Kent and is available in black, olive green and a dashing dark blue.
As I'm now a Shoreditch resident the council have banned me from wearing textile or leather motorcycle attire. According to the custom code of conduct I must only ride in denim, and by crikey if those seams ain't selvedge all hell will break loose.
Ridiculous as this sounds it does seem like the rest of the motorcycling gear manufacturers have forgotten that many of us use a motorcycle as if it were a bus or Boris bike. We hop on and off different bikes, go to business meetings, ride to meet friends after work, zip to airports for short moto trips and generally need to live in one pair of trousers. And like most other people on the planet, denim is the preferred option. Nobody needs telling that a pair of Levis or Edwins are about as much use as tits on a fish if you end up departing from your motorcycle at speed.
Kevlar and other aramid fibres have lined and been woven into jeans for decades now but strutting the line between protection and fashion is a tricky one that results in most garments ending up excelling at neither. Denim is for working in. Laying a roof, digging a field or herding cattle. Think of denim as a man that can just about multitask. Hard wearing and good looking. Throw in waterproofing, unpronounceable bone protection regions or glow in the dark bits and poor old Mr Denim will fail miserably. Compromise is bound to arise but I reckon a garment should excel in two departments, the combination of which two is up to the rider to choose.
Tobacco Motorwear from the U.S.A. focuses on the first two requisites. Ride safe and look good when you're done. The fabric is from Cone Mills, a North Carolina based denim producer who've been supplying the worlds leading apparel companies since 1891. And of course the Tobaccos are selvedge denim, meaning you'll actually get served at a bar and women won't swipe left on your Tinder profile.
Dave Ackerman, founder of Tobacco, is a passionate guy and has made sure real life tests are carried out on his products. Sending himself sliding down a runway tied to the back of a motorcycle seems to be the method of choice. Cool with me, I'd rather know that Dave's ass was on the line rather than running a patch of Supermegahyperfibre against a bandfacer and counting the results with a stopwatch.
So abrasion wise the Tobaccos work thanks to full Kevlar lining, the proper DuPont stuff and not a cheap imitation. They don't however offer armour pockets, so if that's really important to you check out an alternative pair of jeans in our shop
and save your eyes from the next two shots of mine and Gareth's arses.
As mentioned, myself and the other guys and girls here ride all over town and don't always want to look like a bunch of carpet fitters on a night out with our knees bulging. This prompted myself and Gareth Jazz (Shopkeep) to order a pair, partly as Gareth Max (old man with big beard) wouldn't stop going on about his Tobacco Chinos and how good they were. Gmax has 736 pairs of trousers so we figured we'd take his word for the quality.
I live in East London so was only allowed to order the Indigo Denim, Jazz is form south of the river which legitimised a more risqué choice of Black Canvas. Jazz is very long and a bit fatter than me so there was no swappage to be had and we're stuck with our choices. Tobacco sizing is quite particular so pay close attention to the video on their website. We reckon the cut and fit is spot on for those with a stout thigh yet svelte to regular waist. Not like the European child sizing that some manufacturers have adopted.
As well as banging around town in my pair I took a trip oop North to test then new Triumph Street Twin. This involved a ride to the station, easy, followed by a train ride, boring and a car journey, entertaining. Although thick, the Tobaccos felt every bit as comfy as my normal jeans and my gentleman's equipment didn't overheat. Out on the road there wasn't any uncomfortable bunching behind the knee and the rear of the waistband is the correct height - no cold back or showing one's crack to the riders behind.
By lunch I'd completely forgotten I was wearing protective jeans at all until reminded by the sight of my mates functional
pair of something Italian and fast. We were in the countryside so fashion was less critical but I definitely looked cooler and would have filled a pocket with ladies phone numbers, but had to conclude that phones haven't made it to Leicestershire just yet. The pockets are good and deep though with robust linings that feel resilient to sharp keys, tools etc.
I've since worn the Tobaccos a fair bit and even on days where bike riding wasn't on the cards. There aren't any swirly patterns or naff stitching to highlight you as a biker, just normal, decent quality jeans like folk used to wear. The lack of armour compartments or netted liner avoids the annoyance of catching your feet when dressing and undressing, which might seem like a minor thing but it's another indicator that Dave has thought about every part of these jeans.
If backing the small guy and the use of well sourced materials is important to you then you'd do well to check out Tobacco Motorwear. They manufacture in small batches to keep quality controlled and expand their range via Kickstarter campaigns which so far have been resounding successes. The latest line of ladies jeans is now available thanks to worldwide backing of the last campaign. Check out this video
of a brave woman with a hot bottom.