I have been thinking that I would like to have a more varied range of content on this blog, and a gear review section sounds like a good idea. Through this new section I would like to share with you firsthand experiences, opinions and impressions of the gear I use in my travels, and offer some advice to those shopping around to equip themselves or their motorbikes.
We’ll start with a review of one of my most valued pieces of kit: my IXS riding suit. Prior to my first long trip, I had a pair of Dainese trousers (non-waterproof), a pair of cheap plastic waterproof trouser covers, a Dainese vented summer jacket, a Dainese waterproof winter jacket that can be worn over a suit (perfect to wear to work every day) and a Dainese waterproof winter jacket more suited to travelling. Not that I am a Dainese fan (or of any other brand in particular), but I bought a Dainese back protector insert for my first jacket and by sticking to the same brand I can swap it between them. And there is a Dainese store round the corner from where I live that offers very good deals on end-of-the-season products…
Anyway, while planning the route for the long trip I realised that this was not going to be the usual weekend ride and that I was going to encounter widely varying temperatures and weather conditions, but it was not realistic nor practical to carry two pairs of trousers and two jacket in the limited luggage space that a motorbike offers, so I decided to sell the trousers and winter road jacket and find a 4-season suit.
Most brands offer an all-season adventure jacket and some trousers to go with it in their catalogue, but I quickly realised that most of them are more of a 3-season option – while they all include waterproof and thermal layers that can be removed, very few offer the level of ventilation that is needed in really hot conditions. The only one that seemed to be modular enough to be a true 4-season riding suit was BMW’s Rally suit. I had read glowing reviews about it, but with all the money I had spent on other gear, I could hardly justify its price tag, which was easily twice what other suits cost.
While scouring the internet for a second-hand one that was my size, I found several references to a comparative test carried out by a German riding magazine that put one suit I had never heard about in first position above BMW’s offering arguing that it offered about everything BMW’s did but at half the price. It was the IXS.
I had not heard of the brand before, but a quick search revealed that it is based in Switzerland and they are a big player in the biking world (at that time I was a relative newcomer…). I could not find a bad opinion about the jacket + trousers combo, and the price was very tempting, so I set about finding a shop where I could see and try one on.
It seemed that IXS is not such a popular brand in Spain, and Adventure Riding being a rather niche segment, there was only one shop in my region that had the suit in stock, 50 kilometres away. I went to try it on and it fit like a glove, so I bought it on the spot. Now, what do I think about after three years of use?
The jacket is very adjustable, so it is very easy to make it fit comfortably – the sleeves have a strap with have three pop fasteners on the upper arm and an adjustable strap with a plastic locking buckle on the forearm; there is an adjustable strap around the back at kidney height and a little strap with three pop fasteners on either side at the bottom. The cuffs also have three pop rivets. The trousers have two Velcro straps to adjust the waist.
There are Powertector pads for the elbows-forearms, shoulders and knees. These are not just pieces of plastic or rubber as in cheaper suits, but special impact-absorbing material with CE certification. In addition to this there are a couple of foam inserts in the trousers to protect the hips and a larger, thicker one for the back, which is one of the very few complaints I have about the jacket. I know that some jackets do not include even that, but a proper back protector would be nice, even if it was as an extra cost option. As far as I know, IXS does not offer a specific one for this jacket.
This is one of the strong suits of the jacket – it has so many pockets I have managed to lose stuff in it. At the front there are no less than 10 pockets: two small ones on the chest and two small ones below, on the ribs; these four have sealed zippers. Then there are two huge front pockets that close with a Velcro flap which in turn have two smaller pockets with zippers at the front and two big pockets with zippers to the side which are ideal for my gunner to put her hands in when she’s cold. I addition to all of these, different parts of the ventilation system can double as pockets when closed, taking the total count up to 14 front pockets. To that you can add a big pocket across the lower back of the jacket, one inner pocket next to the main zipper (no need to unzip the jacket to access it), and two inner pockets on the jacket, which are duplicated on the inner side of the thermal layer so you do not lose them in winter. All in all, 18 usable pockets in winter mode and 14, 12 or 10 in summer depending on how you set up the ventilation system.
The jacket comes with a zipper that attaches to the trousers, offering extra comfort in cold weather as well as protection in case of a fall. It can unzip from the jacket and zip to the thermal layer, so it can always be used. The waterproof layer attaches to the jacket with a zipper on either side of the jacket’s zipper, three pop fasteners around the collar and two on either cuff. The thermal layer attaches to the waterproof layer, so it is not possible to wear only the jacket and the thermal layer without the waterproof layer. I have never found this to be a problem, when I need the thermal layer it is cold enough that the waterproof layer is not a bother. The attachment system is the same, two zippers at the front and two pop fasteners on each cuff but only one in the collar.
In the trousers, the story is exactly the same, except for the fact that at the bottom both layers attach using zippers, which I very much prefer to pop fasteners down there.
The thermal layers offer sufficient protection for the kinds of weather I have ridden in so far, including winter in snowy conditions, complemented by a thermal undershirt and a thin fleece in the coldest days. I have not needed to wear anything extra over the legs yet.
As for the waterproof layers, we need to take into account that when it comes to breathable stuff, nothing is truly waterproof, no matter what the manufacturer’s literature says. In this case, the waterproof membrane is detachable, not sewn into the jacket, which means that the jacket (and trousers) will get wet in the rain and even though the membrane underneath will keep you dry, a soaked jacket will feel cold and heavy. It takes a whole day in good weather or a in well heated room for a fully soaked suit to dry, which is something worth taking into account when going on multi-day trips. It is not the same to hang out the suit to dry at the end of a Sunday ride and forget about it, than to get out of a warm, cozy bed in a damp morning and slip on a wet suit. In any case, if it rains hard enough, water will eventually seep in sooner or later. How fast is that? Having had no alternative than to ride in heavy rain more than once, I can tell you that under a high-intensity deluge, it can happen in 30 minutes. In milder constant rain conditions you can ride for a couple of hours before water comes in. I usually carry a cheap plastic rain suit. It is truly waterproof and faster – you have to perform a striptease by the side of the road to put in the waterproof layers of the suit, and it takes a few minutes of fasteners and zippers, so under heavy rain, you are going to be soaked in your underwear almost instantly unless you find cover to do it.
Everything described so far applies to mostly any other decent 4-season suit in the market, but here is where the IXS Montevideo truly shines. Step by step, it can turn into the closest thing to a summer mesh jacket you can find.
First, there are two small vents above the breast pockets.
As the day gets warm, the breast pockets themselves can be removed, leaving two 100x130mm mesh apertures.
To the sides of the breast pockets, and running all the way down to the front pockets, there are four zippers that can be undone for extra ventilation.
Finally, with these zippers down, the whole front of the jacket detaches front the breast pocket flap using a Velcro strip and can be folded back and down into a space behind the front pockets, leaving two 200x140mm mesh openings in the front of the jacket.
The sleeves also have zippers running from 140mm above the cuffs to almost armpit level that open top to bottom, and for really hot days, undoing two zippers the whole back of the jacket detaches from the top in the same fashion as the front pieces and provides a huge 350×250 mesh vent.
The trousers have two small openings at the back, two longer ones diagonally across the upper part of the legs and finally two long vertical ones on the inside of the legs (which are also used to extract the protection pads). To have good ventilation on the legs on the hottest days I need to separate the legs from the bike, another couple of vertical openings on the outer side would have been nice, but I imagine that since IXS has not included them on the new version of the Caracas trousers, they could compromise the effectiveness of the knee pads in case of a fall. That said, they offer better air circulation than most other trousers.
I have ridden in +40ºC temperatures with this setup and as long as I am on the move, the airflow is enough to keep me reasonably cool. Stopping to visit something is another matter altogether…
Durability and fit and finish:
The suit is made of 600D Dynax and 500D Cordura and the trousers of 500D Airdura and 630D Dynax, although this info matters little. What is important is that after heavy use it has stood the test of time very well and looks very little worn out.
All fasteners and zips are of very high quality and after 3 years of use nothing has torn, come loose or fallen off. The only thing that seems to have worn out prematurely in my opinion is the soft fabric sewn around the jacket’s collar to make it nicer to the touch against the neck. Nothing serious, and I can probably get someone to sew a new one in, but still, it does not look good.
Ok, so anything bad?
Just a few little things – the removable breast pockets are totally removable, so losing them is a possibility. I doubt IXS will supply them as a replacement part, so be careful. I lost mine for a couple of months after moving into a new apartment and it does get very cold without them in winter. Fortunately they turned up eventually.
As I said before, back protection is poor, and there is no specific back protector for the jacket, but this is something that affects most jackets, you can always buy a good strap-on protector.
I would like the jacket to have attachments for a water blade as the BMW Rally suit does, and having zippers under the armpits would be nice too. The Rally suit has detachable sleeves, which I personally see no use for on a riding jacket, but you can partially open the zipper for extra ventilation.
Other than that, it is a bit on the heavy side, but you do not notice that while wearing it.
This suit is not for sale anymore, but the second generation version is identical in all respects and has improved on two of the aspects mentioned above: it does offer a water blade as an optional extra and the breast pockets are attached to the suit, so it is a highly recommended purchase.
A very well-designed and durable suit that offers true versatility all year round at a reasonable price. Mine looks and feels as if it is ready to take on several more years of use, and when the time comes I will probably replace it with another one.