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Off Piste: A Ride Across America, Part 2 of 5

Leather and canvas; a look at the gear we wore on our motorcycle ride from NYC to LA

by Graham Hiemstra in Travel on 15 October 2013

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Just one month ago we kicked off from the streets of Brooklyn with 3,700 miles ahead of us. Ten days later we arrived by motorcycle in Los Angeles with some sore arses and a few new stories to tell. Yesterday we introduced the bikes and bags that kept us on route, and today we continue with the week-long rundown with an overview of our favorite riding gear. From boots to protective gear and leather gloves, the following is a closer look at what we wore every day without fail, and a survey of how it handled the real road test. Stay tuned for a look at our choice of camping essentials coming later this week.

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Biltwell Gringo Helmets

More "Easy Rider" than modern adventurer, the Biltwell Gringo helmet is as classic as it gets. And, when considering a trip such as ours, we opted for simple aesthetics and timeless style over the tech-laden alternatives. The sleek design has been around for decades, but not until just recently has it received the official DOT-certified sticker. Now, thanks to some crucial safety developments in internal design, the helmet is ready for the road and those with a disposition toward classic motorcycle culture couldn't be happier. The newly reintroduced Gringo sports the same good looks with a lighter weight and comfier fit—two things that make a big difference at long distance. Even after six to 10 hours in the saddle, the Gringo wasn't a bother—save for a bit of road noise and broken clasp or two on the requisite bubble shield. As far as we were concerned, the Gringo was really the only choice for the job. Find more from Biltwell.

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West America + Woolrich Jacket

We first introduced the West America + Woolrich jacket earlier last month, along with the announcement of the entire collaboration collection designed by Jordan Hufnagel and James Crowe. While CH generally avoids covering the same thing twice, we were lucky enough to receive one of very few production quality samples to test. And, after multiple trips and a few thousands miles, we couldn't have been happier with the results. The heavy waxed canvas shell stood up to everything that was thrown at it—motor oil, bug brains, road grime, and even some road gravel thanks to a few mishaps in West Virginia. In the end it only developed a nice patina, one deserving of an exposé on ACL. The clasp pockets came in handy for carrying everything from my Contax T2 to a trusty pocket-knife, all the while being wide enough to be accessed and re-clasped by gloved hands. The throat-latch was key for keeping cold air out on frigid mornings in the Northeast and bugs out everywhere else.

Even after taking a beating over the first 3000 miles the waxed coating held up during a few unexpected New Mexico rainstorms, repelling a lot of water and drying within minutes. The only aspect that could be considered a downside is the lack of built-in armor. Unlike the Icon 1000 Akorp Jacket and the Roland Sands Enzo, the West America + Woolrich jacket is built for versatility. To be safe the Aplinestars S-MX Protection Vest was worn underneath every step of the way. While looking like the Bionic Man took a bit of getting used to, physically the armor was hardly noticeable while riding. And when your whole body has gone numb from extended time in the seat, it's best to know that should something go wrong, at least your vitals are protected. (Thankfully we never had to find out what would happen to everything else.)

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Roland Sands Enzo Jacket

Although the leather jacket is one of the first things that comes to mind when considering motorcycling attire, it's often difficult to find one without extraneous zippers, patches and other over-design elements—which made deciding on the Enzo Jacket from LA-based custom motorcycle and apparel designer Roland Sands that much easier. The clean, classic design delivers just enough utility without going overboard. Plus the well-oiled leather was exceptionally soft and smelled great—to the point that it doubled as a pillow for a few nights before being entirely covered in bug guts. Break-in only took a few days, with the jacket falling nicely against the body even with elbow, shoulder and back-armor installed. Weight-wise, the medium insulation was enough for cold mornings without being overwhelming once the temperature rose.

With such a refined design, the only bells and whistles seemed pretty useful—an adjustable waistline helped dial in the fit, oversized zipper pull-tabs were helpful when wearing gloves and large mesh interior pockets were great for stashing gloves and other essentials during quick stops. The snap on the throat-latch was a bit finicky though, and made closure all but impossible when wearing gloves and not looking in the mirror. Find more details at Roland Sands.

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Deus Ex Machina Belted Gloves

As the preeminent purveyor of vintage-inspired motorcycle culture and all things that come with it, Deus Ex Machina is never far from mind. We shot for a custom bike, and landed a pair Belted Gloves, which was just as well, as we were genuinely curious to see how they'd hold up when actually put to the test. Coming from a brand that that seems to peddle an aesthetic over all else, there was a fear that they'd underperform. In fact, they held up better than those from some of the industry's shining stars. The supple leather took a bit longer to break in than I had hoped but once enough dirt, sweat and oil had soaked in, they fit like they were made to measure. The lengthier cut was useful during rainstorms, as it kept water from rushing up my sleeve, and because the gloves lack a liner (they're constructed of a single ply of leather) they dried quickly and allowed for full digit articulation. For an unpretentious, vintage look and overall solid construction, the Deus Belted Gloves aren't a bad choice. Check Deus Ex Machina online for more on all things motorcycle.

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Icon 1000 Beltway Gloves

Compared with the bare-bones Deus Belted Gloves, the Icon 1000 Beltway Gloves are on the other end of the spectrum entirely. Rigid with armor and reinforced leather, the sturdy gloves definitely gave the impression that, should things go pear-shaped, you'd still be able to count to 10 afterwards. Unfortunately because of this high level of protection, the gloves were actually a bit too insulated for the south and took a while to break in, delivering some rather uncomfortable hot spots in the meantime. Once the process was done though, it was nothing but confident cruising. Find more details on the Beltway Glove from Portland's Icon 1000.

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Broken Homme James Boots

We tend to be partial to Red Wings and Danner around here. But after day one in the James Boots from LA's Broken Homme, my mind was changed. Out of the box, the American-made boots fit like I'd owned them for years—the break-in period literally lasted just minutes. And with a Vibram sole, the boots remain lightweight, which—when you're in a pair for 12+ hours a day—can make all the difference. Plus the buttery soft leather was both notably comfortable and aesthetically attractive. Long, sweaty days spent kicking pedals and cold nights trouncing through dirt, grass and gravel put a licking on the leather and sole, but did little lasting damage. To put it simply: The James Boots were the only shoes packed for the entire 10-day trek. Visit Broken Homme for more information.

Images by Hunter Hess. For a closer look at our gear selections see the slideshow. And be sure to see Part 1 to check out the bikes and bags that made the trip possible.

Off Piste encourages exploration. With each feature we'll introduce the people, products and places that make life outside the city possible and life in the city more down to earth.

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