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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them









How High-Tech Clothing Improves Your Ride

Thow away those cotton T-shirts for goodness sakes!

By Margie Siegal
1/9/2006

The secret is out! Motorcyclists are discovering a secret that for the last decade was shared only by outdoor enthusiasts. It's the secret of high-tech clothing -- clothing made of technologically advanced fabric. New advances in textiles technology have produced fabric that wicks moisture away from the body, helps to regulate body temperature, and eliminates chafe.

Cruiserworks' Powerwick mock turtleneck is soft, lightweight and makes a good first layer on cold or hot riding days. We tested this shirt and found it to be extremely comfortable doing what it's supposed to do, wick away moisture.
Cruiserworks' Powerwick mock turtleneck is soft, lightweight and makes a good first layer on cold or hot riding days. We tested this shirt and found it to be extremely comfortable doing what it's supposed to do, wick away moisture.

A great deal of this fabric technology was originally developed for astronauts and the military. It was quickly adopted by runners, skiers, backpackers, and mountain climbers. Motorcyclists who also engaged in these sports soon started using their gear for motorcycling finding that it improved their riding comfort and safety.

The ultimate fabric for temperature management: BMW's Phase Change jacket developed with Schoeller PCM paraffin capsules that react to changes in body temperature storing heat energy and releasing it in measured doses. Maintains body temperature within a pleasant range.
The ultimate fabric for temperature management: BMW's Phase Change jacket developed with Schoeller PCM paraffin capsules that react to changes in body temperature storing heat energy and releasing it in measured doses. Maintains body temperature within a pleasant range.

BMW is taking the lead in developing gear with these special fabrics. "We at BMW felt our performance clothing line was a natural progression from our riding suits," explains Joan Horst, BMW Riders Apparel Specialist. "We found that the cotton shirts people wore under BMW riding suits could seriously interfere with the wicking action and breathability of the suits. Why wear a wicking riding suit with a soggy cotton T- shirt underneath?" 

BMW's Phase Change pant goes with the jacket above. Makes an ideal first or second layer. Comes in unisex sizes.
BMW's Phase Change pant goes with the jacket above. Makes an ideal first or second layer. Comes in unisex sizes.

The problem with non-motorcycle performance gear is that it isn't designed to work with how your body moves on a motorcycle, or to be compatible with your protective outer layers. Tops pull out of pants, sleeves ride up, and socks aren't long enough to come up over the tops of motorcycle boots. Performance clothing made for motorcyclists is designed specifically for our sport, just as running gear or mountaineering gear is designed for those sports. 

Aerostich Polartec fleece pullover worn usually as the last layer, right under your riding jacket. When not needed, can be stuffed small into a saddlebag.
Aerostich Polartec fleece pullover worn usually as the last layer, right under your riding jacket. When not needed, can be stuffed small into a saddlebag.

Technological clothing for motorcyclists is intended to keep you dry and comfortable over a wide temperature range under your riding suit and boots.

The typical rider dons two or three layers: underwear and socks, shirt, leather or fabric pants, sweater or sweatshirt if it's cold, and jacket or riding suit. You can make the layers under your leathers work harder for you by choosing fabrics with the right properties for the application.

In the summer, you want moisture wicked away from your skin as fast as possible. Cotton fabrics are not a good choice in hot weather. Cotton absorbs moisture, which can soon make you damp and miserable under your protective outer layers. Microfiber underwear wicks moisture away from you, increasing your comfort level.

As the temperature drops, heat retention becomes more important. A good layering system can add months to your riding season. Here again, cotton is not a good choice. Cotton does not retain heat well, and if cotton clothing gets damp, there is a risk of hypothermia. Modern long underwear excels at heat retention while keeping you dry. Some types of fabric, such as TLTec2 Windblock fleece, incorporate a windproof and water resistant barrier, further conserving heat.

BMW's Function Fleece ladies jacket is 100 percent microfleece polyester. Windproof, but breathable. Makes an ideal second layer.
BMW's Function Fleece ladies jacket is 100 percent microfleece polyester. Windproof, but breathable. Makes an ideal second layer.

"We designed our clothing layers to be comfortable through a wide range of temperatures," explains Joan. "We know that people will ride from hot valleys to the top of cold mountains, and we don't want them to have to stop and add or peel off clothing. Our Schoeller ComforTemp phase change undergarments are designed to be comfortable from freezing to 75 degrees."

Synthetic microfibers are not your only choice for long underwear. That old standby, wool, has been reengineered for the 21st century. Merino sheep are specially bred for their luxurious soft fleece, which is spun into stretchy, non-scratchy yarn. Modern processing makes the yarn unshrinkable and machine washable. Unlike cotton, wool has good wicking ability and does not lose its ability to keep you warm if it gets wet.

Smart socks! The top pair is Smart Wool, a brand that can be bought at any outdoor enthusiast store. The other two are CoolMax riding socks. We bought ours from Cruiserworks. Makes all the difference!
Smart socks! The top pair is Smart Wool, a brand that can be bought at any outdoor enthusiast store. The other two are CoolMax riding socks. We bought ours from Cruiserworks. Makes all the difference!

One of the best uses of wool is in socks. Some manufacturers make socks from a Merino wool/nylon blend that really cushions your feet. Other manufacturers add a wicking polypropylene to the mix, adding to the moisture management ability of the socks. Other performance socks are made entirely of synthetics. The new generation of wicking synthetics not only cushion feet and keep feet dry, but are engineered not to chafe, making it less likely that you will get blisters during that impromptu hike.

While performance underwear can make very handsome tops for daily wear, (Joan says a lot of the women in her office wear the BMW longjohn tops to work) shirts and pullovers in performance fabrics provide a style choice in warm weather and a second layer in colder weather. Click here for more info.

Cruiserworks has a line of Powerwick shirts intended to keep you dry and comfortable over an extended climate range. Powerwick shirts come in both mock turtleneck and T-shirt styles in men's and women's sizes.

Aerostich makes a variety of fleece jackets, pullovers and pants in two different weights of material in unisex sizes. This polyester fleece is warm, very light, packs down small and dries quickly. It is perfect for extended road trips where you may expect to meet a variety of conditions.     

Margie Siegal is a freelance writer who contributes to regularly to some of the major motorcycle magazines.      

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