Sunday, March 4, 2018

Klim Carlsbad suit and other goodies

Although I have an actual suit of medieval amour, it's heavy, prone to rust, and looks silly on the bike. As I've evolved towards ADV riding over the years, I've tried a number of different pant and jacket combos, looking for the optimal suit that ensures reasonable skid and impact protection for the ride to the trails, as well as high ventilation, armor, and flexibility for the heat and abuse of low-speed riding on technical trails.

At one extreme are suits like the Klim Adventure Rally. They offer remarkable protection and other drool-inducing technical features, but they are also heavy and stiff by the very nature of these features. My little WRR doesn't even have the horsepower to move this suit! At the other extreme is pure MX year, characterized by hard armour and loose-fitting overgarments to maximize protection and ventilation, at the expense of weather resistance. It's great stuff to wear trail riding on a hot day, but not so great at highway speeds in a rain storm. Somewhere in the middle lies the ADV zone, where versatility and quality of riding apparel are perhaps more important criteria in choosing compromises. Fortunately, this is a market segment that's garnering improved gear selection and quality each year.

What not to wear
Many long, uncomfortable days of three-season riding and misplaced optimism have taught me to rule out certain options from further consideration:
  • I'm done with jackets and pants that rely on zip-in layers for waterproofing. They may be fine for long-distance touring, where perhaps you're not moving around on the bike much and not stopping frequently. But for my style of riding--on fire roads and rough trails, with stops sometimes every few minutes--it's simply too inefficient to fuss with multiple layers. They're hot and restrictive--especially when muscling a loaded bike through mud on humid summer days punctuated by rain. All that extra fabric absorbs water and carries mud, impedes drying, and takes up precious space when not being worn or when drying out at camp. I've usually ended up removing the suit's armour and relying on a pressure suit to allow riding jacket-less, but this leaves you stuck with at least two bulky external layers to stow, and a third if the pants also need a zip-in waterproof liner.
  • Pressure suits are hot. I've been riding with a Fox Titan Pro, and overall have been pleased with it. It's relatively comfortable, the armour sits well, and the kidney belt and hard back provide some welcome support and CE-2 protection. However, after a few seasons the fabric became stretched out and the fuzzy size of the Velcro no longer held. I was able to squeeze another season out of the suit by running it through the sewing machine to take up some of the bagginess and replace the Velcro, but the writing was on the wall to replace it. Also, it was not compatible with the Leatt GPX neck brace that's been gathering dust since I bought it a few seasons ago. No point in having a brace if you don't wear it--especially now that I'm doing longer trips to more remote areas, where enhanced protection is prudent. 
  • Knee pads are simply not enough protection. A few months ago I banged my MCL in an innocuous spill while riding my fat bike in the snow. Although my knee has mostly healed, the residual twinges are an important warning that a serious injury may be only a minor tweak away. So it's time to upgrade to full knee braces.
  • From my road and mounting biking experience, I'm a firm believer in reducing the overall weight of rider, bike, and gear to improve handling and comfort, thereby reducing fatigue and improving safety. I maintain a rigorous fitness regime to build core strength and endurance, reduce my body weight, and ensure lots of energy to ride (pedaling or motorized). So that leaves the bike and gear. Having long-since paid my dues with lower quality and heavier gear, I'd now rather save up and pay a bit more to have fewer items of better quality and reduced overall weight, than have a bunch of almost-but-not-quite-right gear that's heavy and bulky while offering no other additional benefits. 
So, what to wear?
Obviously there's no one, perfect solution. In fact, common ADV riding scenarios pose contradictory gear requirements. One solution is to spec a complete suit for each set of requirements. So, if it's a hot day, mesh jacket and pants may be ideal. If it's raining, wear a waterproof suit. But that's not practical for long or shoulder-season rides when conditions may vary wildly. The other solution is more of a buffet approach: choose gear components suited to a range of riding styles, and then combine them in a layered system while eliminating redundancy. This latter approach is what I've found to be more practical for me, although to make it work requires more investment than I've given it up to now.

Jacket and pants
As a basis for my new system, I decided that the best approach to minimize overall weight and layers is to bite the bullet and choose a jacket/pant combo that is guaranteed waterproof in one layer. After looking at countless options I arrived at the Klim Carlsbad suit, which is aimed squarely at the ADV market and offers a looser fit than touring gear and lighter-yet-rugged materials compared to the Klim Adventure Rally end of the spectrum. It's not cheap, but online reviews are overwhelmingly positive and hopefully it provides many years of good use. Initial testing also suggests that my neck brace will work just fine worn over the jacket.
Armored vest
The Carlsbad comes with D30 armour in the back, shoulders, and elbows, although I've decided to remove it in favour of a Tekvest Rally Max vest. While I haven't received the vest yet (should arrive soon!), I expect it'll fit both under and over the Carlsbad jacket. The Rally Max alone will serve as my outer layer in hot weather, and mid layer in cooler weather with the jacket over top. LostInPA over on ADVRider has posted a good discussion about different armour combinations, and I relied on his thoughtful observations in making my own decisions.

Base and mid layers
For my base layer, I'm experimenting with a couple of options. One is a Dainese D-Core Armor shirt, which combines a seamless compression shirt with removable CE armour in the elbows and shoulders. For really hot trail days, I plan to wear just an Under Armor compression T-shirt and elbow pads.

As you can see in this photo, the Dainese shirt (here a men's large) looks unfeasibly small compared to the Carlsbad jacket (Large) and my favorite T-shirt. But it stretches remarkably well and fits very comfortably,  holding the armour in just the right places and promoting the guns.

In hot weather, I'll wear a Klim Tactical Jersey over the base layer, then the Rally Max vest and optional neck brace. Together these layers provide armour, some abrasion resistance and, importantly, sun protection. Although it's hard to see in pictures, the Tactical is surprisingly heavy and is made from some tough open-weave material, almost like seat material for patio furniture. It's highly breathable and incorporates some minor padding in the arms that will help to subdue the sting of hitting branches, but won't provide any serious impact protection in a fall (I'll be wearing elbow pads). Also, this is a long jersey--well past my crotch--and is meant to be tucked into the pants to ensure mobility over the seat.

For extended cool or wet days, it may be easier to just slip the D3O pads back into the jacket and forgo the Dainese shirt or separate elbow pads. It all depends on how trail-washable (and comfortable) the Dainese turns out to be.

Knee braces
I'm leaning towards the Pod K4 based on their light weight and excellent reviews for comfort. I'm skeptical that the patella guard will withstand frequent kneeling, and concerned about fit, both on my athletic cycling legs and under the Carlsbad pant.
Other goodies
A few cold nights last season motivated me to upgrade my summer sleeping bag from the well-used but still serviceable cheap bag I bought 20 years ago and lived out of for half a year while trotting around Africa and the Middle East with my wife. The new MEC Draco (0ÂșC) offers excellent value, comfort, and performance in a small, lightweight package. I opted for a synthetic fill because it tends to withstand being wet better than down, although if you have deep pockets, there are some excellent down bags which shave more weight and are more compressible if that's an issue. The Draco compacts very well from it storage bag, taking up about a 1/4 of the space in one of my Wolfman panniers.

In preparation for travel to remote areas, I've been concerned about ensuring adequate power to charge my phone, headlamps, cameras, GPSes, and emergency locator in the event that something croaks on my bike's electrical system. Anker makes some excellent solar chargers, including this 21W fold-out panel which provides plenty of juice to charge a battery pack (here a 10000 mA/hr unit, also from Anker) that I can in turn use to charge devices when the sun isn't shining. This panel can be slung across the back of my bike or tent, allowing me to charge devices without having a wire strung to the USB port on my handlebars.

Once the spring rains wash away the road salt, I'll be out testing this new gear and reporting on how it performs. 


  1. Interesting choices, I have the klim adv badlands and yes heavy and stiff but good venting. I am interested to hear how your light weight gear set up works. I am looking at CTI or leatt braces for similar reasons..

    1. I haven't had a chance to test things yet, and still waiting on my Tekvest 2 months after ordering it. I ended up getting the Alpinestars Fluid Carbon braces. Nice low profile, and they fit under the Klim Carlsbad pants, but it's a bit tight with knee bent. Hopefully once the pant break it a bit, things will move around more easily. A baggy MX pant would be no problem.