Monday, June 8, 2015

Olympia Motoquest Guide jacket and pants review

Last weekend's 1000km of riding in Roaming Rally 2015 was an excellent opportunity to assess the capabilities of Olympia's premium DS ride gear, the Motoquest jacket and pants. 

While there's a lot of really good gear coming onto the market in the last few years--especially the Klim products--prices are becoming astronomical for technical garments that in other markets (like mountaineering or skiing) offer comparable materials and construction details for much lower cost. I don't mind paying for good quality. But price doesn't always guarantee quality. It proved frustrating trying to find a good compromise between form and function at a reasonable price. Many of the popular brands I looked into closely (including Rukka, Held, Rev'it, Klim, BMW, Dianese, etc.) offered some great looking designs that on closer inspection were either poorly executed (cheap materials, zippers and fasteners, poor stitching, etc.) or excellent quality but really expensive (I'm looking at you, Klim). Where's the middle ground? Olympia is one of the few manufacturers I've been able to access that offers good products at reasonable prices. Props to them for trying to address both form and function.

So I was excited to finally settle on the Motoquest jacket/pant set, ordered sight-unseen from Canada's Motorcycle (web-only store; great service and dead-simple to arrange returns). None of my local bike shops in Ottawa were able or willing to bring in this gear for me to try on unless I paid a premium. As it turned out, the first set I ordered was one size too large. Although I normally take a 35" pant, the Motoquest 36" was swimmingly enormous and the 34" fit me almost perfectly. Likewise, the XL jacket was huge and a large fits me very well. For reference, I'm 6'-1" and 190 lbs with a muscular cycling physique (larger thighs/buttocks and chest/back, and narrow waist). Most North American motorcycling pants are cut too roomy for me at the waist and too tight in the thighs, and jackets are usually cut for a paunch and gorilla arms. European cuts tend to be too tight for my height and proportions.

For the purposes of this review I'm not going to cover all the features of the Motoquest set. You can read all that here. Instead, I'll cut to the chase of what worked well for me, and what I think Olympia should seriously consider changing. They've got a good product here that could be great with some mods that would not necessarily add cost. Indeed, my suggestions would be to simplify the products in a few critical ways.


Overall the jacket is well made, with good stitching and choice of materials. It looks like it's been thoughtfully designed with rider input, and it shows despite some usability WTFs that I'll cover below.

Looking closer, I was disappointed by the choice of interior padding. It's a cheap, waffle-like expanded dual-density foam like you'd find in a bicycle helmet. Even though it's CE rated, I can't see it holding up to normal wear (like being leaned on) without losing significant protection capability. This got removed in favour of wearing my Fox armored jacket for protection, which fits under the jacket surprisingly well but not with the Motoquest insulated liner (included with the jacket) worn over top. It's also a pain to remove the jacket when you're wearing the Fox; things get hung up and you have to do this ridiculous shrugging dance that attracts funny looks in restaurants. Ahem.

The Olympia back pad is a joke. It may be CE-2 rated, but it's small and narrow and I wouldn't trust my back to it. My Fox suit is CE-2 rated for the back and provides some hyper-flexing protection. If I was planning a longer tour in cooler conditions, I'd probably opt for an aftermarket separate CE-2 back protector with kidney belt, and replace the elbow/shoulder pads with something like D30.

One niggling problem with the jacket is the velcro neck strap. I just couldn't keep it closed. My helmet strap would catch on the tab and tear it open with the lightest contact. Velcro is nice in principle but this is a high-wear area and a solid snap or two (even a magnetic one) would almost certainly work better here. There's also little adjustment possible at the neck given the way the neck is cut, so you're always closing it in the same position anyway. A slightly smaller neck opening would be nice too.

The ample vent panels pose several usability challenges:

  • The front panels have zippers right beside the main jacket zip that I was always pulling by accident when I wanted to open the jacket. The vent zips should be hidden--this is not something you are adjusting on a DS ride as often as opening and closing your jacket. 

  • The breast zipper pockets are too small to hold things like energy bars or a wallet. I only found them useful for earplugs. 
  • Worse, the shape and orientation of the breast pockets (and contents) interferes with rolling down the vent fabric, further reducing the utility of the breast pockets.
  • The arm vents are a beast to open and close, even with the jacket off and on a table. This is because of how the Velcro flaps tuck under the armpit and around the curve of the sleeve. It'd have to be a really hot day before I opened these, and god forbid I had to close them quickly such as if a storm came up. 

My first ride in the jacket was on a cold, blustery March day. Even with all the fasteners and vents closed tight, it felt like the wind was going right through me. While this is great on a hot day, I just about froze on that ride. Fortunately, donning the excellent rain shell included with the jacket (it can be work over or under the jacket) provides good wind protection.

The sleeves are closed with Velcro and create a funny protruding gusset that interferes with gauntlets. I'd prefer to see snaps in this location and some rethinking of how the stitching is arranged so the gussets naturally invert when closed. 


I was originally attracted to these pants because they were one of the few affordable designs that incorporated a leather wear strip on the inside of the thighs. With all the standing and grit that DS riding throws at you, extra wear protection in this area is warranted as the Roaming Rally certainly showed.

Again, like the jacket, the knee pads were made of the same cheap expanded foam stuff in a waffle form. I could not imagine grinding my wet knees into these waffles over hours of riding, so I opted for D30 replacements which were about the same size but confirmed to my knee a lot better.

The knee pad pouch on the inside of the pant see a lot of pressure and wear from the knee. Some kind of soft liner material in this location, instead of thin nylon, would be great to help pamper the knees. It could be a patch of a terry-cloth like material that removes with Velcro. 

The full side zips on the pants make it easy to change and adjust the knee pads. All main zippers on the pant and jacket are chunky YKK models that operate even when full of grit. This is an important detail: cheaper coil-type zippers are a disaster when plugged with mud.

The hips pads are made from a different kind of foam and, although small, are comfortable and unnoticeable when riding. I don't know how much protection they'd offer. Integrated protection for the coccyx and sides of the thighs would be welcome, even if it meant shortening the side-zips.

The mud, heat, and rain of the Roaming Rally over 12-14 hour days of technical off-road riding combined to give my butt a serious case of saddle sores. They were painful and the worst I've experienced despite wearing cycling short liners that have never previously failed me. I'm not sure how much the design of the pants contributed to this misery. However, the following are some things I would love to see changed.

First is the cut of the crotch area. If it incorporated a seamless gusset as shown in a different pair of pants below, it would eliminate one critical seam that can cause chafing.

Second is providing more room in the crotch. Frank and the Beans need some space to move around without getting wrestled by a flat-front design. The nylon fabric provides no stretch in this critical area and that can catch you unexpectedly and painfully when you're up and down on the pegs so much.

Third is to add more belt loops, especially on the side. Wet pants are heavy pants so they're going to sag. You can't connect the pants to the jacket when wearing a full back protector. Suspenders are another option, but they can interfere with back/body protection.

Finally, the legs need to be either wider so they fit over an MX boot, or narrower so they fit into an MX boot without requiring the fabric to be bunched up and cause irritation. If you're DS riding you're going to be wearing a more aggressive boot to provide both a stiff sole for standing on the pegs, and vital shin protection. I can't tell what kind of boot the Motoquest pants had in mind. Besides MX boots, every other boot I've seen at pretty street-oriented and wouldn't last on a typical 50/50 DS ride.


To be fair, the Roaming Rally is an aggressive DS event bordering on an enduro in places. I  pushed the Motoquest gear probably to the limit of its intended use-case. At least half of the 100+ participants were outfitted in full-on MX gear including knee braces, hard armor, jerseys, MX boots and helmets, etc. The other half were dressed like me. So it's reasonable to compare the Motoquest suit against alternatives from the likes of Klim which were quite popular at the event.

Despite my nitpicking and griping I'm pretty happy with this suit and the overall value and quality it offers. I may modify it in a few places (adjusting the legs, cuffs, and neck closure; replacing certain zipper pulls) to solve the most irritating issues. It would be even better to have a conversation with the Olympia designers to help come up with a version 2 that improves on an already great start. Meanwhile, I'll probably invest in some more MX-oriented gear for riding in rougher conditions, where any suit like the Motoquest would be hard challenged to solve all problem perfectly.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ride report: Roaming Rally 2015

The goal: 110 riders in teams of 3-5 navigating 1000+ km through the backcountry of eastern Ontario over two days. About 300 km paved, the rest a mix of remote gravel roads, rough ATV trails, and single-track.

The night before

Teams convened at the provincial park in Kemptville to check in, set up camp, and hear the ride briefing. This was the first organized motorcycle event I'd joined and it was impressive to see so many tricked-out bikes arriving in loud packs. Riders came from as far away as Victoria and there was a large contingent from North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. I saw two women riders; the rest were guys from across the social spectrum. Some rough-and-ready whose sole possession and passion is their bike, some wealthy businessmen with top-end gear and a stable of toys. The endless trails and wilderness of eastern Ontario must've been irresistible to all given the riding restrictions they faced at home.

Bikes covered the full spectrum from several WR250R's set up identically to mine, to DRZ400's, XR650Ls, a few older KLRs, some Huskies, and a ton of KTMs of all sizes. KTM 690's were popular. Our team, the "Filthy Knobs," consisted of me on a WR250R, Rob on an XR650L, and Marc on a KTM350 EXC-F. (Marc's in the red jacket above. Note how clean he looks.) Both Marc and Rob are skilled and fast riders who set a pace at my limit of being able to keep up.

Gear setups were equally diverse: some guys rode with huge hard-cases, some had support crew following (they had trailered their bikes to the start). It seemed like everyone had wacky bungie-corded stuff all over. We took a minimalist approach. I thought my load was reasonably stripped down, but after seeing how little Marc and Rob brought and discussing their ride strategy (basically, ride fast until you drop), I ditched an entire bag's worth of stuff and kept a change of clothes, tent, tools, sleeping bag, energy bars, and first aid. Even then it would've been good to go with less, or at least a smaller tent. Happy to say my combo of Wolfman Expedition bags and a dry sack for first aid and snacks worked well. Rob had ridden to camp with a ginormous pack full of extra stuff for the sag wagon, but only carried a Giant Loop bag and an OGIO Tac vest on the Rally route. That combo seemed to work out pretty well and saved the weight of needing a rack. Hmm... something to consider for future. Since Marc bunked in my tent, he only needed to carry one little dry bag and a small backpack for tools and food.

Here's my load before getting rid of stuff:

Day 1: Kemptville - Prescott - Merrickville - Almonte - Calabogie - Killaloe - Round Lake

Bikes started firing up around 5:30 and by 6:00 we were packed and following the route on our GPSes south to Prescott. Lots of great roads in this area, pretty farms and fields. After breakfast at Angelo's where the 416 meets the 401 (great food!), we hit our first real obstacle: a long water crossing in three sections. This was the real start of the adventure.

Rob stalled out his XR in the second crossing and couldn't restart--he thought he'd watered the engine. The mud was awful and it took all three of us to pull him out.

That was just the warm-up. Right after was a stretch of WW1 shellhole-grade fine mud under waist deep water. Reefing on a bike would push your boots so deep it was almost impossible to pull yourself out or even move your feet without help.

I wanted to take photos but was so covered in mud I couldn't even clean off my glass. ADVRider has some great pics from this section, dubbed "mile from hell". Here's a couple from Lorry at Outback Motortek:

It took teams of 3-4 working together for 30-45 minutes to pry, pull, and muscle each bike through just a few tens of feet of the stuff. And that was just the small bikes like my WRR. Marc got stuck partway and put his left foot down only to discover a hole. He barely kept his bike upright and running and we dove in to rescue it, then him. Later we found his air filter caked with mud on both sides. Amazing he didn't stall out. 

Nipples-deep, in fact:

We didn't know these would be the worst water crossings of the whole ride. They burned up a lot of our precious time and energy. In retrospect, we should've gone around. 

As the rest of the groups arrived and watched us struggle, most opted en masse to turn back and find a road around, even though that meant riding back through the two long water stretches. It's unlikely the big bikes would have made it anyway. Here's a great vid from KTMAdventure Rider:

Now we looped back north through Merrickville. Here I removed about a half kilo of fine silt that had filtered down my riding gear into my boots, where it formed a layer of cement that locked my toes uncomfortably into place. Everyone looked like hell on an otherwise gorgeous day, attracting many stares from locals. 

Past Merrickville, as we headed into a bush section, Marc and I came around a corner to find Rob on the ground, yelling in pain with his bike on top of him. Our immediate worst fears of a broken leg were somewhat alleviated when it turned out that Rob had "only" gotten a serious charley-horse from having his leg squashed between his bike and a branch on the ground. Although there was no broken skin, the subsequent swelling indicated a significant deep-tissue injury and Rob wasn't sure he'd be able to finish the ride.  

By noon on the first day we'd barely covered a third of the day's route. Rob was sore and limping hard, we were infused and exhausted by the mud. A short stop at my house in Almonte (fortunately, right along the route) was needed to refresh ourselves and hose off our bikes. 

With hundreds of kilometers of technical riding left in Day 1, there was no time to stop for pictures now and we decided to cut out a section past Calabogie (which we'd ridden before at other times) in favour of making it to Camp 2 before dark. At Calabogie we saw one guy who'd snapped the trellis frame of his KTM 690 in six places. That one was going back to Austria for inspection.

Finally we hit Killaloe. Nothing open except a pizza joint and the LCBO.

Armed with much-welcomed food and cold beer for later, we set out to find gas because there was no guarantee of refueling for the next stage in the morning. This meant a side trip to Golden Lake, a 50 km detour that hardly seemed worth it given the gas it used up. 

Here's Rob, checking messages. Yes, he’s decked in KTM orange and riding a Honda. He has three KTMs besides this Honda and a Husaberg. Most of the guys who do this stuff have multiple bikes for different types of riding.

By now it was getting dark and we joined several other teams who struggled to find the campground, which wasn't where the day's GPS track ended. Turns out it was a few kms further down the road and named something else. By the time we'd futzed around for gas and looking for camp, we probably could've done the section we missed near Calabogie. But with Rob's leg still aching and already 14 hours of riding in, our earlier decision proved smart.

Camp 2 - Round Lake

Levair's campground had only rudimentary facilities reminiscent of my travels in Africa. And delicious water. After 14 hours of riding it was heaven to simply strip off wet, muddy gear. I'd developed some spectacular saddle sores on my butt which made it painful to sit, stand, or even think straight. Fortunately Rob had an extra container of special butt-cream for just this calamity and it made the pain bearable. 

What a day: A remarkable range of scenery, from early 19th century stone houses on lush farmland in the south, to dilapidated log houses and creaking wood-frame cabins in the north. Southern limestone soils with dense cedar and spruce stands turned to Canadian Shield with maple and oak forest, and eventually to great valleys full of endless golden sand deposited by the retreating glaciers and massive stands of red and white pine. 

Day 2: Round Lake - Barry's Bay - Bancroft - Bannockburn - Flinton - Sharbot Lake - Perth

Gorgeous sunrise. Again we were away before 6:00 a.m., one of the first groups to hit the road. Most other people were still asleep or moving slowly -- clearly still worn out from yesterday. The night before we'd heard of several more riders who'd dropped out because of injuries or broken bikes. Today we rode even lighter, ditching the tent and all extra clothing and unnecessary gear for the support truck. The additional weight loss was noticeable and important for what would turn out to be a more technical ride day with long sections of whoops and rocks.  

Turns out there's an open gas station right beside the campground! It was not visible the night before. After gassing up we immediately hit one of the more challenging obstacles for the day: acres of sand rippled into gentle dunes by the wind, adjacent to what looked like an old WW2-era airstrip that was now abandoned and being taken back by nature. The sand had a delicate crust of firmness on top thanks to a night-time rain shower. Break that crust and your bike flopped all over. Had to ride full-throttle to keep the front wheel floating on top, back wheel shooting a massive roost and precious little thrust. 

Then through pine forests to what seemed like a half-hour climb up a mountain at full throttle on a loose, rocky, twisty trail. Gained about 1500 feet elevation and took air over several bumps along the way. Drilled in the lesson of "when in doubt, give it gas". No time for photos. 

Barry's Bay provided an interesting breakfast of a pancake/sausage contraption. While I'm not normally a fan of gas-station food, this was actually tasty if not filling. 

Later in the day, as we stopped for a burger at a roadside shack, the forecasted storms finally started moving in. First a huge squall line whipped up dust and debris, then torrential rain, hail, and lightning pounded down. Fortunately we missed the hail. No choice but to ride on after the first squall passed. Played cat-and-mouse with the storms for the next six hours, racing along stunningly beautiful old pioneer routes like the Hastings and Frontenac Roads (now all-but-forgotten dirt tracks through dense forest) to reach the end before dangerous cold set in. Got stuck behind a Sienna van poking along at 20 km/h, clearly out of its element and lost, refusing to give way to our bikes. Managed to squeeze past only to encounter a car attempting a 30-point turn on the narrow track a few hundred meters later. Wish I'd been there to watch the Irresistible Force meet the Immovable Object.  

Rain picked up so hard we could hardly see at times. Lightning struck in the fields beside the sheltering tunnel of trees where we rode. Still: throttle, steer, slide, brake…. mostly riding by instinct, trying to keep enough adrenalin rushing to generate warmth needed to make it safely to the end despite being soaked to the skin. Marc and Rob made a game of it, challenging each other to a drag race (Marc won). While I struggled to keep up it was awesome and motivating to watch these guys have so much fun being hooligans despite the miserable conditions. 

Twelve hours after starting out we reached the end of the route at Woody's near Perth. Woody is legendary in the Ontario off-road biking scene. His shop is located on 1000 acres of bush and he had probably thousands of old bikes in a “graveyard” on the property. 

Despite being power-washed by rain for several hours we were still Filthy Knobs. 

One guy arrived with a KTM that had lost its rear axle nut and spacer. He'd jury-rigged a rock, the heath shield from his stove, and some zip-ties to secure the axle in place, allowing him to ride the last 150 km to the end.

Between 6:00 a.m. Friday and 6:00 p.m. Saturday (a mere 36 hours) we'd covered 1024 kms in 26 hours of riding. Big thanks to Rob and Marc for demonstrating awesome riding skills, sharing their knowledge, and being generally patient and fun riding buddies. This trip was a major leaning curve for me and I'm happy to say it turned out well. Only hit one tree! 


My sore throttle-hand:

Socks still stiff from the clay:

Pretty much worn-out rear tire. This was a new Trakmaster II 110/100-18 mounted just before the ride. It performed beautifully, although mine seemed to wear more than others.

Pirelli Scorpion Pro was also new and showing some good wear. Still some life. Not convinced this is the right front tire for me. I ran it at around 21 PSI to avoid denting my rim with the loaded gear. With all the standing turns and pounding rocks in this ride I was pretty heavy on the front end. When I'd run this tire lower it tended to bottom out and I dented the rim. It's amazing how much abuse the front wheel can take! 

Rack showing some serious wear where endless pounding from my bags and pervasive grit sanded through the powder coat: