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What is it with bike gear?

I’ve recently bought three pieces of bike kit; a top of the range helmet, a mid-priced pair of boots and a low cost “techno” thermal top.

All three have flaws that really should have been sorted out long before they ever went to market.

The top first. I wasn’t expecting much because it’s a budget biking line and I bought it in a clearance sale for a pittance. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised. On a freezing and damp ride to Wales on Saturday, it kept me warmer than I expected.

The bit that didn’t work was the neck closure. It’s just angled completely wrongly and any attempt to do the zip up would soon have had me going blue in the face. But, given the price and the effectiveness of the rest of the garment, I shrugged my shoulders. But surely they tried the top on a few people or even dummies to see if it fit – then again, maybe the dummies didn’t go blue in the face.

Seriously though, if I can buy a shirt in a clothing store and it fits out the packaging, why not motorcycle gear? Human anatomy doesn’t change.

The boots had to go back though. The first and only time I tried to wear them on the bike, I got 100 metres up the road before turning round and parking up again. I simply couldn’t change gear. Trying them on in the shop was fine – they fitted snuggly, I walked up and down and they felt stiff, in the way of all new boots, but reasonably comfortable.

On the bike, it was a different story. Whilst the boots flexed across the base of the toes for walking, when you change gear, they have to flex at the ankle. The combination of plastic armour, and a huge and very effective velcro closure of the flap over the ankle zip effectively prevented any movement, rendering the boot completely rigid like a ski boot.

By contrast, my trusty Altbergs use three tabs to tighten the boot, with the gap between two of the tabs exactly where the boot needs to flex at the ankle.

Did no-one try to change gear in these boots? Did no-one look at the existing boots and work out why they are the design they are before putting these things on the market?

Finally the helmet.

I’ve been looking for a replacement for my trusty Airoh for a while, and trying on virtually every flip front I could find. I’d have been quite happy with another Airoh, because it’s light, comfortable and fits even if the quality of the cheekpads isn’t all it could be – removing them to fit the mic for the radio into the space behind them has broken the plastic base of both of them. But I couldn’t find a stockist.

So eventually, I settled on the Shoei Multitec – the price dropping £40 last year was the final incentive and I ordered one up.

First impressions weren’t great. The first time I wore it, I managed to scratch the paint. Some models (black and white for example) have the colour impregnated in the resin, but the silver is painted. I’ve no idea how I did it – I certainly didn’t drop it or anything like that, but scratched it was. The finish is actually very slippery too – it IS easy to drop the Multitec taking it on and off and rather embaressingly I actually did that in a dealer’s showroom – it kind of squirted out of my hands as I was removing it.

The second problem was that the visor misted up at the drop of a hat on a warm day. I’ve not had a helmet do that for 20 years. Opening the chin vent had next-to-no effect. There’s a lever on the side of the visor mechanism I eventually determined opened the visor half a notch, which is clearly the “demist” setting, but it does nothing that raising the visor one notch on the ratchet doesn’t do – it’s just an added complication rather than anything useful. And of course, with the visor partly open, water runs down the inside of the visor.

Onto problem three; the trainee couldn’t hear the radio. “Fit the whisper strip” was the advice from other owners. It’s in the box, so I fitted this little faux-leather collar round the bottom of the helmet and noticed marginal difference. Perhaps there was a bit less wind-noise in the helmet to muffle the radio, but it’s debatable without putting a decibel meter on the radio at the other end.

Then I used the helmet on a long run up the motorway. Even with a decent set of earplugs, I got off at the other end with tinnitus.

The reason? It’s incredibly noisy and produces a constant roar, which of course is why the trainee can’t hear the radio – at lower speeds I hadn’t noticed the problem but the mic picks it up.

I can’t seem to find a specific source.

With most lids that produce a whistle or a hum, you can use a hand as a deflector and find the problem.

Some helmets we used at the training school for a while produced a trumpet-like sound when you turned your head which was down to the sharp edges of the visor trim acting as musical reed at a certain angle – by turning my head back and forth and putting a hand over the offending bit of the helmet I could see where the problem was (doing something about it was another matter!).

Looking at the Shoei and comparing it with the Airoh, it’s a fussy design, with lots of nooks and crannies in the chinpiece design, as well as a big gap between the visor and the sidepod either side near the visor hinge, and huge pieces of plastic stuck on the top as part of the venting system.

I’m sure that it’s all those bits and pieces that interfere with a smooth airflow and cause the roar. By contrast, the Airoh is about as smooth as a flip front can be.

It’s interesting to note that with earplugs in and the helmet on, the sound insulation is actually rather good – it’s good enough to make a television in the room almost totally inaudible when you pop the lid on. You certainly can’t hear conversation unless the person standing next to you raises their voice and you listen carefully.

It’s good enough to make me wonder if the designers realised they had a serious problem when they produced the first batch of prototypes – but rather than go back to the drawing board and sort out the aerodynamics, they attempted to fix it by insulating the wearer from the racket.

After all that, the fact the visor mists up at the drop of a hat is a minor issue!

For now, I’m going to have to re-think my helmet strategy. A couple of days later and I’ve still got mild tinnitus.

I’m not going to wear the Shoei on any more long rides – it’ll be used for my normal training routine which is much more stop/start and at lower than motorway and fast A road speeds, and I’ll continue looking for something I can use for longer, faster rides.

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