Read this in the voice of one of those announcers who does movie trailers: “In the far-off mists of time, a man arose. A man with a motorcycle, and a mission. A mission to produce … better motorcycle gear.”
Actually, the year was 1983, and that man, Andy Goldfine, realized that era’s motorcycle gear just wasn’t cutting it for lots of riders, people who wanted all-weather protection, gear that could be comfortably worn over every-day street clothes, or even a suit. Thus was born the Aerostich Roadcrafter, a one-piece textile riding suit that looked more like a ski outfit than something worn by bikers.
This was something wild and new, and it worked. More than 30 years later, Goldfine and Co. are still selling excellent hand-made motorcycle gear, including the latest evolution of his one-piece riding suit, the R3 Light, which is (as the name implies) a lighter version of the standard R3. That’s the suit I tried for the 2018 riding season, in a wide range of weather conditions. It’s not cheap — it starts around $1,600, and mine was valued at $2,095, after various add-ons — but here’s how it worked out.
The R3 Light is constructed of 200D Gore-Tex nylon, with taped seams to ensure no leakage. That fabric is supposedly two-thirds as tough as a standard R3. There is no liner, which keeps weight down. The standard suit has “viscoelesastic TF3” armour pads in shoulder, knee and elbow positions, held in by Velcro.
There is a full-length zipper that runs from ankle to collar on the left side of the suit. On the right leg, a second zipper runs ankle-to-crotch. These zippers are supposed to let you get into the suit more quickly, as seen in the video clip below.
The tallish collar can be rolled down (for comfort or airflow) and secured in place with a combination of snaps, Velcro and rare-earth magnets (they all get the job done individually, but the magnets are especially convenient if you’re doing this at speed).
While you can order your suit to custom fit (more on that later), there are also built-in Velcro adjustments at the waist and ankle. The waist adjustment allows you to tighten the body of your suit for a more streamlined look, or loosen it after you visit a buffet, and the leg adjustment is particularly useful if you have different sets of riding boots you wish to tighten the leg of the suit around.
Buyers can opt for no reflectors (at extra cost, depending which suit you’re buying), but I went with standard trim: a wide reflector across the back, which conceals a waterproof zippered vent, and two reflectors at the back of each leg, right above your ankles, and one on the chest. Some other Aerostich suits come with no reflectors, and they do (arguably) look better, but I figured the extra visibility was worth it.
Speaking of visibility, Aerostich was one of the first companies to popularize that ghastly nuclear neon green hi-viz look, and several of the suits in their lineup can be ordered in that hue. For my suit, I ordered hi-viz shoulder and knee sections, but the rest of the suit in grey. I think this is a good compromise between safety and looking like I just escaped Chernobyl. Actually, I do like the look of the completely hi-viz suits, but I think the grey fabric hides road grime better.
Along with the vent hidden under the suit’s back reflector, there are vents in each armpit, with waterproof zippers. There are no vents on the front of the suit. If you want in-flight cooling, you can open the front zipper up, which flows lots of air.
There are four pockets on the front of the suit: two on the chest, and two on the legs. The two pockets on the left side are closed with Velcro, and the two on the right side are closed with waterproof zippers. There are also two pass-through pockets on the side of the suit, with waterproof zippers behind Velcro closures, that allow you to reach inside the suit for something in your jeans pockets.
Need more pockets? Aerostich offers several add-on accessories for this suit, including pockets held inside the chest of the R3 Light with Velcro. There’s also a see-through waterproof pocket that sticks to the outside of your left leg via Velcro, which some riders like to use for holding a road map, as it allows them to navigate while riding (old-school flight suits had similar designs for pilots, which is probably where Aerostich got the idea).
Another option is a waterproof pocket that attaches to the left sleeve; you could put a map in here, or even written directions, which is what I usually did, but some GPS navigation units would also fit in here.
I asked Aerostich to send me several of the accessories, to see which ones I’d like and recommend. The internal add-on pockets were certainly useful, the see-through sleeve pocket was handy, but I didn’t use the add-on left leg map pocket for long.
Aerostich also sent me TF5 hip pads and a back pad, which are not included with the standard suit, and the carry strap as well; the carry strap allows you to conveniently carry your suit when you’re off the bike, a handy option for commuters.
A couple of accessories I didn’t ask them to send, but maybe should have, are an electric chest-warmer pad for riding in colder temperatures, and waterproof boot covers, which tuck up into the pant legs and roll down when needed. That’s a very clever touch indeed, and is the sort of detail you can find all over the suit, with little bits of ingenuity like pass-through openings in the pockets, which make it much more convenient to plug in heated gear, or run earphone connectors from your pocket to your helmet, if you’re the sort of person who’s into that.
Other accessories available for the suit include knee sliders, a chest impact protector and upgraded TF5 armour, which is rated for higher-speed crashes. There’s even a Velcro chest mount for GoPro-type cameras.
Finally: Although you can measure yourself up with a tape and order an off-the-rack Aerostich suit, the company also offers a fair amount of customization, at extra cost to the customer. I have short legs and a long body and planned to spend a fair bit of time using this suit on my Suzuki RF900R sportbike, so I had them add one inch above the knees, shorten the suit two inches below the knees,, add a one-inch gusset in the body, and rotate the sleeves forward to suit a crouched riding position.
How did it work?
By now you’re getting the idea: there’s a lot to this suit. But does it live up to its expectations? Is it really a reliable piece of all-weather riding kit?
After a season of riding in cold, heat, rain and fog, I can say yes, with one limitation. While the Aerostich R3 Light isn’t quite as heavy-duty as the standard R3, it’s still basically an armoured, road rash-resistant rain suit. If you’re doing something strenuous — pushing your bike to a gas station, wrestling your KLR out of a mudhole, climbing a few flights of stairs — you’re going to get sweaty. However, that’s true of any heavy-duty riding gear, and in many cases, you can get out of the ‘Stich so quickly that if you do have to do some heavy lifting, so to speak, you can actually stay cooler than with even the most vented gear.
Aside from those scenarios, the R3 Light is a very good, all-weather piece of kit for the serious Canadian motorcyclist.
In the first 10 days I owned the suit, I rode around my home in Saint John, New Brunswick, with snow everywhere on the ground and air temperatures below freezing. I rolled up the suit with the carry strap, hopped on a plane, and landed in California, where temperatures were considerably higher, ranging from mid-20s in the desert valleys to mid-teens in the mountains. Then, I flew back to Toronto, and rode from Toronto back to Saint John, back through hundreds of kilometres of cold weather again. Through all this, the suit performed admirably.
I will admit there were times in colder weather when I wish I’d picked the standard R3 suit, as its heavier construction might have kept me a tad warmer. However, if you’re riding in really cold weather, a heated jacket can compensate for the difference, especially if you pair it with some really beefy thermal underwear like the Helly Hansen pile one-piece suit. If temps are just on the cool side, some warm clothes and a lighter set of thermal underwear should be enough.
Because it’s unlined, the suit doesn’t insulate as well as some other equipment I’ve worn (my Olympia AST jacket with reflective liner is still the gold standard). However, because it’s a one-piece with a tight collar, there aren’t any drafts getting in once you’re all zipped up. To my mind, that’s far better.
In hot weather, the R3 Light is not as comfortable as a mesh jacket or even the vented dual-sport gear you can get from competing gearmakers. However, over the summer, I never felt as if I was too hot in the suit as long as the bike was moving. Open all the vents, pull the front zipper down to let some cooling air in, and you will be just fine.
Where the Aerostich suit really proved its value was in wet weather. Even in a dry summer like we had in 2018, I tend to get caught out in a fair amount of miserable weather every year, particularly because even the sunniest day in New Brunswick will often see Saint John stuck under thick fog. Whether I was riding in pouring rain all day or just thick, soupy fog, I never had a leak from the suit all season long. Not once. I didn’t even experience ‘Stich crotch, the fabled leaky crotch seam that was common in earlier Roadcrafter designs.
So, even though the R3 Light isn’t the breeziest suit to wear in hot weather or the warmest in cold weather, it will fill those roles just fine if you plan ahead, and if the weather turns foul on you, you’re already prepared. No pulling over to the side of the road to put on a rain jacket, or even worse, install a zip-in rain liner that always ends up riding up and letting rain in at the waist. The Aerostich suit allows the rider to just smile or frown (depending on your temperament), maybe pull up the neck zipper tight, and ride on into the rain, knowing the suit will keep them dry. Having had many long-distance motorcycle rides turned into miserable feats of endurance solely due to rain, I appreciate this confidence.
The R3 Light is definitely not a cool-looking piece of equipment; it doesn’t have the cachet of a broken-in leather jacket and a pair of hip jeans. But another beauty of the R3 Light is that you can more or less wear whatever you want underneath the suit, and once you arrive at your destination, quickly shed your Gore-Tex skin and you immediately look like everyone else, not some schmuck in a pair of gawky Kevlar-lined pants.
So, in my opinion, there are two ideal customers for the R3 Light. The first is the committed touring rider, the guy/girl who wants to put down long hours in the saddle no matter what the weather conditions are. The Aerostich suit offers convenient all-season protection, and that’s important if you want to cover serious mileage.
The second ideal customer is the serious commuter, the rider who takes their machine to work, to the gym, and to the grocery store. The R3 Light is quick to get into and to remove, and there’s lots of room for normal-looking clothes underneath. Stash a spare pair of shoes on your motorcycle, and you can go from Superman to Clark Kent in seconds.
One final word on my season of experience with the Aerostich. I was very glad I asked for the customized alterations, as the suit fit me perfectly, with even my riding buddies pointing that out. When I got the R3 Light, I put the suit through the dryer’s cold-air cycle with some tennis balls to break it in. It was still a bit stiff after that, but it didn’t take very long before I didn’t notice it at all. Now, it’s extremely comfortable, and I expect it will get even better as I wear it in coming riding seasons.
So what’s the catch? What are the problems with the suit?
There were two things I’d note. First, I think a set of vents on the chest and maybe even the thighs would have made this suit much more comfortable in warm weather. However, I also think those vents would eventually leak, which would remove the suit’s biggest appeal, its weatherproofing. So I don’t blame Aerostich for not including something like that. If you want vents, shop elsewhere.
The other problem is the price. Aerostich sent me this suit at no charge. But, had I paid full price for this suit, plus the accessories and alterations, it would have been valued at $2,095 CAD, according to the CBSA, which charged me $314.88 in HST for the suit when it crossed the border. That works out to just over $2,400 CAD after tax. That is a lot of money, and this suit is probably worth more than most of the motorcycles I’ve owned over my life.
Even if I’d just got an off-the-shelf suit with no accessories or alterations, it would cost $1,197 US or roughly $1,600 CAD plus HST at time of writing. That’s a lot of dough, and if you’re a beginning rider who’s just scraped up enough cash to buy a second-hand Ninja 300, something as expensive as an Aerostich isn’t a realistic bet.
But I think that for some riders — not all, but some — this would be money well-spent, as it’s more than just simple crash protection. The Aerostich R3 Light is a piece of motorcycle equipment that will allow a rider to spend more time behind the bars than they could with other gear.
The Ride More Guarantee on the Aerostich website says it best: “If you try any Aerostich one piece R-3 or Roadcrafter Classic riding suit for one month, and you are not riding more than you did before receiving it, send it back and you will receive a full refund, no questions asked.”
That’s Aerostich standing behind its product, and for the customers I mentioned above (the serious long-distance rider or commuter), the one-piece suit will keep them comfortable and even safer, making it easier to go out on the motorcycle when otherwise they’d stay home, take the car, or take the bus.
Also, remember most of Aerostich’s gear can be repaired, even if you crash, which means you can keep the suit in use much longer than the El Crappo throwaway made-in-China gear that comes in at a lower price, with corresponding quality. It might cost you money to get Aerostich to replace that torn sleeve, but it’s cheaper than buying an all-new suit, and also more environmentally friendly, if you’re into that sort of thing.
So, here’s my conclusion: if you’ve tried a wide variety of other motorcycle gear and found it lacking for all-weather utility, you should at least check out the Aerostich option. The one-piece suits do come with some minor drawbacks and a major price tag, but if you really want to ride more, they’re worth a look.