Friday, May 29, 2015

Alpinestars Andes jacket review

Earlier in the year I went looking for a replacement for my winter jacket as well as something suitable for 3 season touring for future ride plans and read numerous reviews then tried on many jackets before quite by chance I came across the Andes jacket from Alpinestars.

Being in Japan I initially thought first I should try the local Japanese brand rider apparel. I looked at Kushitani who here sell a limited range of textile items as well as their famous race suits. RS Taichi, Rough and Road and Komini are leading Japan brands however sizing on stock here the arms are too short for me.

I had the Rev-it Sand jacket in mind but upon inspection I was not keen on the 3 layer system. Ok you can zip in a jacket rain liner but what about the pants which I intend to update also, do you stand on road side in underwear to put the rain liner in? I moved on and looked at the jackets from some big names such as Klim. Made from similar materials, in China, yet priced at $1400 which seemed excessive. Then I noticed Rukka jackets at a silly $2000. I can justify spending extra to get better quality or style but knowing the base price would be about $20 for all these jackets made in China or Vietnam I would feel gullible to pay $1980 markup.

Anyway finally I came across the Andes jacket at $240. I would have preferred a non brand name because to some even Alpinestars is seen as a status brand and I dislike the whole elitist thing but actually their prices seem always not far beyond regular brands despite being much more famous. This is a 3 season waterproof jacket with a quilted removable winter liner and waterproofing provided by Alpinestars version of Gore-Tex built into the shell called Drystar. People on the net say genuine Gore-Tex is superior but I am not convinced. It’s like saying genuine Velcro is superior to regular hook and loop fastener. So what you have is a waterproof jacket with breathability thanks to the type of waterproof liner but with a downside of limited venting.

 

Alpinestars have done a few things to try address this. They have installed two upper chest intake vents and one rear exhaust vent that draw in and vent out air at a much reduced volume than if there was no liner. In my ride tests the affect of these seemed to be small but Update – these vents actually flow more air than I realised. When riding a naked bike in the cold I had to close them because I could feel the cold air entering from them so they do work but not total free flowing. It is a pity then that there is not one of these vents on each arm which would go a long way to getting some air into the area that in my experience is the first to heat up when moving slow.

Next the main zipper external storm flap is two piece and the upper 1/2 can be clipped back to allow air to flow easier into the upper chest area with the zip lowered, which then assists the rear to vent. The collar can be clipped back also to provide air flow to your neck and the wrists are fitted with hook and look/Velcro rather than snap on clips so it is easy to control air flow up your arms when wearing the jacket over your gloves.

On my recent Japan tour I went from a cool and windy morning to a warmish day at the ocean on into the central mountains of Japan and high up to snow then back down again in the course of a day and I had no trouble to regulate the inner temperature. It will no doubt hit a point where it gets too hot for the jacket but I was surprised how well it did in the middle of the day as long as I was moving. I could probably with the liner out use this jacket up to the point where I reach for my full summer riding outfit if I needed to. I have used similar before that way and it is ok as long as not going to be in traffic too much which is where you bake on warm days.

Now as for cold weather performance that is ok except the collar does not seal so well, some of the problem is the weak velcro on the collar wrap around portion which fails to keep in in place, the other issue is the inner flap ends below the collar flap leaving this area with a gap that air can enter. This can be fixed by using a buff/scarf to a certain degree or a neck gaiter. The rear of the collar can be clipped down for summer of raised which stops the back of your neck from being exposed to as much sun and getting burnt (but I would still apply some sunscreen there). The collar is plush and not scratchy like some jackets. The length is extended and you can attach to Alpinestar pants with a zipper provided to seal in the warmth. There is a quilted liner and good sized inner and external storm flaps. I was snug as a bug riding in the alps here using good base layer and I am sure with tech mid layer you could ride in very cold temperature.

Above jacket is fitted to my old drystar pants.

I normally have never worried about pockets on jackets too much but recently I started to want a better system than the usual one pocket either side layout. The Andes has two chest vertical zip pockets which for me are ideal for putting tollway tickets and a credit card in for easy gloved access at toll booths. Then there is the two oversized lower front pockets that have storm flaps and waterproof zips. I can easy fit my not so compact Lumix LX100 camera in one of these pockets when it was much too big to fit any other jacket side pockets. (update these are 100% waterproof as tested in Ireland) You have a rear over sized pocket to hold the jacket liner if your motorbike has no storage and the usual inner phone size pockets as well. But the new front pockets are the ones I find most useful, items in there do not make the jacket tighter like they would side pockets.

As it warms up then jacket over gloves with the Andes allows you to control the temperature with a little air up the arms and the velcro cuffs on the Andes work well for that extending the usage. Over my initial four days touring with the Andes jacket I encountered a real mix of temperatures and weather. Spring warm sun but cool air situation is hard to manage on a bike. You can heat up very quickly if you are not moving and in traffic you want to not be idle too long in sun or the jacket will turn into a sauna but in those conditions it is very hard to get the perfect jacket because once moving and back into shadows of trees in valley then you will want a sealed jacket. The jacket coped with the mixed conditions well. As far as materials and construction as far as I can tell it comes with the same sort of features and high strength textile materials as its rivals. I had a excellent first tour in Japan using this jacket.

Update – well I found a small issue with the Alpinestars Andes jacket. When riding in rain it can leak just below the collar area, at the front where I have drawn the red arrow because the inner storm flap ends a little low to the collar area. Also the flap that the collar has does not seal well. The collar flap is separate to the inner storm flap so it can be pulled back to allow air flow when it gets warmer which works well but in doing so it maybe has lead to this problem. The velco on the flap that attaches to the collar is rather weak and the flap often detaches itself while riding. The arrow is where the inner storm flaps end.

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Revised thoughts about the jacket. Minus points for the above issue but it may yet end up being ok if I get a good workaround. I have now ordered a neck gaiter item (will post up when I have it) and if that is all that is needed to have with me when it rains heavy then despite the flaw it probably still represents reasonable value.

I can’t say I like the colour much. Grey is a poor colour choice for safety as the colour blends into urban environment background too easy as well as not standing out against grey road surface backgrounds. A simple solid colour would stand out more, I wish I had purchased a hi-vis version but hard to find anything hi-vis here in Japan where the look has not caught on. The rival brands have done a much better job at the adventure styling than Alpinestars. The Revit Sand jacket and the BMW adventure jacket look better but ultimately if I can make it work then I’ll gladly have the money saved over looks. Below I am wearing the matching pants which I review elsewhere in the blog.

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Further update. I have my neck gator, it is an waterproof item from the Swedish company Halvarssons which I have read people found successful for this sort of problem (or general neck area water leaks) on other jackets so I will see how it goes.

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Update – No luck. Even with the neck gator on (which is excellent in the cold,much better than my Buff scarf) some water managed to enter at the collar front then work itself down which I suppose I should have guessed would happen but anyway I wanted a good gator for winter in Japan so that was already on my shopping list.

In New Zealand the jacket also leaked. I was chatting to the bike rental shop and he said it is often about how the jacket fits. At this stage the only thing I think I can do is improve the velco tab which is very weak but you can see the inner storm flaps ended below this so water hitting the lower neck area will enter here. Perhaps I can add a small flap to sit below that neck one to sit above. 

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Above the offending tiny bit of velcro that struggles to hold the collar closed. The photo is deceptive and looks like the inner storm flap goes higher on the right then it really does but this actually stops well below the collar which then leaves all there exposed to water penetration. Below the inner pocket is not waterproof with the goretex being behind this which is a shame.

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Come back for an update in the future on this but for now need to use a rain suit on heavy rain days but the answer might be minor fix.

I have completed another two tours in this jacket. One in cold weather where it worked well but I used my rain suit on a heavy rain day and one in variable conditions where temperatures ranged from a low of 10 degrees in the alps to 30 degrees on the sunny days and while not designed for temperatures that high it was acceptable long as moving but where it really works well is handling the changes in temperature below this. From 25 degrees down you can control things nice and from about 15 degrees down put the liner in and be good to single digits where a thermal base layer will let you go down to about 5 degrees at which stage you may need additional mid layer. So it is very versatile and very comfortable too. I find I am reaching for it every ride.

I sewed a 10c bit of extra velco on to the neck strap and now this stays in place better. (yes it is bot loop just the photo makes it look different) I am not much at sewing but combined with the adhesive back it is staying in place so that is all that matters.

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Now just the small leak spot which if I could work out a simple fix then this jacket is about all I need for 3 seasons and since summer in Japan is monsoon then it could be all I need year round here.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Noto Peninsular Japan

I have not been able to do much motorcycle riding in Japan this year. The weather has been cold with rain for months. Last year was apparently an odd one with low rainfall but this one seems wet so far. Seems in Japan there normally is no dry season.

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I made a small graph representing a year of averages (click to enlarge). Basically winter season is too cold to ride due to snow and ice. Then as it warms you get a nicer period in Spring, end of April first weeks May. Then the rain increases. Summer tends to be wet monsoon rains with a slight easing in August if no typhoons. Then we head towards cooler shorter days with another small window in autumn of less rain around October. Already it is getting cold by then, maybe too cold in Hokkaido to ride and then winter arrives again.

Now we are in Spring the rain has briefly cleared so I decided to go for a small tour before Golden Week national holidays which is an insanely busy time to go anywhere in Japan. Some of the high mountain passes are still closed with snow so I had an idea to revisit a few of the roads I liked around Nagoya which I hoped would be clear on my way to the western side of Japan to the Noto Peninsular – just to see what was there.

One thing that attracted me to trying a touring motorcycle this time was the idea of good weather protection and on that point I am very happy with the FJR which manages the riders exposure to rain and cold well. After years on naked bikes I love having a windscreen. It can however be too large a motorcycle to enjoy in Japan. I just had the oil changed and new tyres fitted. Pirelli Angel GT’s. This is the third different brand to try on the FJR with hopes that these will perform more consistently as they wear – a design feature claimed by the manufacturer – since the bike steers so heavy on worn tyres. More about the FJR1300 can be found in my detailed and ongoing test and review.

I rode via Mt Fuji and was rewarded with some excellent views.The vegetation is still recovering from winter so lacks colour but I could enjoy late cherry blossoms in the higher area in lieu.

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