This guest post was kindly contributed by the Gear Doctor: Dr. Sean Michael, professor of outdoor product design & development.
One Suit to Rule All Seasons
Despite our raging about “cages,” most ADVriders secretly, if not overtly, strive for at least a modicum of the climate-control comfort that passing motorists enjoy. And why not? Debilitating fluctuations in our 98.6°F baseline can lead to fatigue, or at least grouchiness.
If the Holy Grail of the do-it-all bike is mostly mythical, the notion of all-conditions riding gear is harder to be agnostic about. Riders yearn to be unfettered by the rise and fall of the barometer. KLIM, in recent years, has helped make that dream seem possible.
For 2020, the Rigby, Idaho, brand doubled down on striving for the Holy Grail of one suit to rule all seasons. The result—the Baja S4 and Enduro S4 combo—is an armored mesh jacket/pant intended to be paired with a matching set of weatherproof shell components, and, importantly, with the system’s mesh glove.
To be sure, layering for weather goes back at least as far as Otzi, the “Iceman,” whose freeze-dried remains gave archaeologists (and gear designers) a glimpse of the most fashionable outdoor clothing in Europe circa 3,000 BCE. From furry base garment to water-shedding outerwear, this mountain man knew that layers work. What KLIM has done to improve on Otzi’s garb, not to mention offerings from many modern competitors, is create an engineered multi-piece system, including gloves.
Owners of earlier KLIM mesh wear (e.g., Induction jacket) have raved about the breathability. Their enthusiasm, however, was also evidenced by the work-arounds they put up with. One owner remarked, “Awesome jacket for high temps. I was reluctant to take long trips on it because it flows so much air that if the temps drop too much it is not warm enough but I’ve started taking a Gortex [sic] shell with me that I can actually wear under it (so it doesn’t make any noise in the wind).”
Not that KLIM forced buyers to find their own shell for the Induction. There was always KLIM’s Gore-Tex Overshell. But the latter was sized to fit the cut of the uber high-end, almost-concept-piece Rally Air. In contrast, the Baja/Enduro is meant for a far wider range of riders, and reflects the company’s latest garment design.
From the Designers
To understand the intent of the Baja/Enduro kit, I mothballed my Gen2 Badlands suit for 2020, and went 100% Baja/Enduro. For the maiden voyage, I pointed the Beemer north, jumping from the mighty Bear River’s drainage to the mightier Snake River, nipping Wyoming in route to KLIM HQ. It was time to get into the suit’s DNA.
Robert Keathley, KLIM’s long-time director of design and innovation, had corralled the suit’s other chief designer, Kelsey Runge, so we could talk (tech) turkey. What had they set out to achieve when the project began in 2018? If the garment rack at your house reveals a never-ending search for the ideal moto wear, you’re not alone. Putting an end to sagging closet rods and dust-coated apparel lay at the heart of KLIM’s project goals.
Because most all-in-one gear tends to resemble a Swiss Army Knife—serving many situations, but only performing so-so—KLIM intended for the Baja/Enduro combo to excel at both broadening a rider’s comfort range and handling harsh conditions at either temperature extreme. Solution: mesh for heat, waterproof soft shell for cold/wet. The rider customizes the warmth level via layers worn under the suit.
For riders who travel through a spectrum of conditions, this preconfigured suit+shell strategy makes sense. It extends the climatic limits of a single suit, and avoids the haphazard fit that comes with adding an up-sized shell. But this design strategy has an upside beyond fit. Gore-Tex, for all its wonders, performs best in cooler temperatures. And mesh, for all its cooling capacity, gets cold fast when the sun goes down.
Living with Mesh
COVID aside, 2020 served up prime conditions in northern Utah for ride testing the Baja/Enduro. Fittingly, one of the first rides wearing the Baja/Enduro went from snow flurries to 91°F in under three hours. What’s more, while I was testing the suit, Salt Lake City recorded the hottest August in 146 years. And yet, with a flick of the left blinker, and 20 miles of canyon climbing, the bike’s digital thermometer dipped to the mid-40s on morning rides into the Wasatch Range.
While these climate swings are nothing extraordinary, they’re essential for assessing how adaptive a clothing system is, as well as its flaws. Since last March, I’ve worn KLIM’s new suit for about 6,000 miles, spanning six months and as many states. Roaming from Death Valley to the 10,947-foot Beartooth Pass, I was able to live in it across a 90+ degree range of temperatures. Although snowfall and drizzle were part of those miles, serious rain is harder to come by in the Intermountain West. Thankfully, Kohler offers an on-demand deluge.
Before getting into how the suit performed, it’s worth mentioning a problem with moto gear and cooling. Evaporative cooling requires air movement. Air movement means holes (big ones you zip open, or thousands of tiny ones). And holes mean less protection. Combining cooling and protection requires data-driven design and unique fabrics to address this dilemma.
While a PTFE membrane suit like the Badlands relies on substantial pass-through venting via strategic zippered openings, the Baja flows high cfm through the majority of the garment via mesh. Guiding the suit’s design is KLIM’s “comfort-mapped mesh chassis.” That’s marketingese for a very legit and anatomically-driven layout of Schoeller Dynatec mesh. Dynatec and numerous other fabrics are assembled strategically, and illustrate how refined technical moto apparel has become since the first simplistic all-mesh garments. Unlike so much motowear, the Baja responds to movement with little perceptible resistance, thanks to the stretch in the Dynatec and other materials in the Baja.
In the Furnace
Riding for several days last summer in the California-Nevada-Utah Great Basin put the effectiveness of KLIM’s mesh mapping through a good shakedown. Bombing east down Hwy 190’s sinuous, smouldering pavement, we were buzzed from behind by an F-22 from Edwards AFB, showing what fast really looks like, and briefly making my riding partner and me forget the Panamint Valley’s heat. In reality, even the steadily climbing triple-digit temps in the shimmering basin felt remarkably mild.
What better spot, I’d thought, than Death Valley for testing a mesh suit? And, as if ordered by the Great Gear Tester in the Sky, just past Stovepipe Wells, a lone flagman waved us to a halt atop freshly paved asphalt. Engines off, there we sat, pondering the thirst of 18th century miners digging in the alkali soil (or 21st century flagmen), and imagining the pilot truck far down the road. Surely KLIM’s design team planned for such eventualities?
I’d be less than honest if I said the suit’s comfort was “as expected.” In those temperatures, you expect to suffer. But in a tech t-shirt, Leatt AirFit body vest, E1 and Alpinestars mesh mid-boots, even those oven-like conditions weren’t debilitating. Although I drank freely from the Camelbak suspended in the Baja’s sleeve, I wasn’t relying on an evaporative cooling vest for comfort*. It was just me, the latter garb, and the Baja over top. Twenty-some minutes later the pilot truck arrived, promptly got stuck in the sandy shoulder, and entertained us for 10 minutes more before guiding us to safety. The temperature: 112°F.
Free again. Bound for Badwater Basin, another Top Gun wannabe celebrated our own flight with passes so low it was obvious they were a little jealous. If not for their speed (the planes, not the bikes), I think they could have distinguished the LC from the Shift Cam. But apparently, they’d seen enough. Soon we reached -279 feet elevation without our USAF wingman. Temperature: 115°F.
Caveat emptor: what you ride, and how you ride, is as important as the weather in evaluating how moto gear works. Why?
The microclimate a rider exists in is largely defined by her/his bike’s wind protection, coupled with the engine’s radiant heat. For instance, atop my beloved Red Barchetta, a GSA, heat-shedding cylinder heads and the elephantine tank/shrouds mean my legs rarely experience wind-driven cooling/freezing. When on my narrower KLR705, wind and precip protection are needed sooner and more frequently.
The take-home message? Static air is the bane of mesh gear. Evaporative cooling is undermined when anything—windscreens, chest protectors, excess fabric layers—inhibits air flow from carrying heat away from body surfaces. As a result, the Baja system was guided by 3D analysis of the interface between predictable air flow pathways and accessible body surfaces. For instance, the pants and jacket situate pockets to maximize mesh in the identified critical areas.
Unlike the Badlands, or similar zip-vented suits, the Baja has only one air flow setting: wide open! In my experience on a GSA, however, the Baja pants never really get terribly cool thanks to the bike’s wind protection and ambient engine heat. Conversely, the Baja jacket sees noticeably more air flowing through. The exception? The positioning of the (quite functional) main pockets mean your lower stomach—an area known to receive less air flow—has multiple layers of fabric that resist cooling.
Need a bit more air? Hoist your arse off the saddle, poise on the pegs, and an instantaneous rush of refreshing flow passes through the jacket and thighs/crotch of the Baja pants. On fully screened bikes this change of venting is most stark. The Baja jacket also benefits from free-flowing air that can enter the sleeves via the open cuff. However, this depends on your glove’s design.
After a year using the matching Baja S4 gloves (size XL), they’ve become my favorite pair. In hot weather, their cuff assures that air can flow into the Baja jacket’s sleeves. Their mesh and vented rubber armor effectively provide valuable cooling, and their excellent pre-curved form means they virtually pop onto the hand. The fit and materials improve tactile sensations, leaving no doubt what buttons and switches are being felt. The “Mult-E Touch” construction also allows reasonable touch screen operations. When wet, they dry as quickly as one could hope, with the fit changing minimally. Surprisingly, they also can be worn across a range of conditions. With heated grips and a set of Hippo Hand Alcans, I comfortably wear the Baja gloves sans over-gloves down to 40° to 45°F. With Giant Loop’s Bushwacker hand guards, I wear the Baja alone down to 55° to 60°F.
In the West we’re fond of saying, “Yes, but it’s a dry heat.” True that. Still, if you want to know how a mesh suit works, summer in the desert is where it’s at. For instance, if you want to know how sticky or comfortable a liner is (the Baja makes you forget how sweaty nylon lining gets), go to the desert. And not just for the heat. In this country, you only need to wait for the sun to go down to watch the mercury plummet. And when it does, the Baja goes from impressively cool to impressively chilly.
When the Temp Drops
The Baja system has its warmth limits, and those limits will vary by body type, layers worn beneath, and humidity. In dry climates, my lean body is ready for an insulating layer at about 60°F when the Baja is worn over a tech t-shirt and Leatt’s dense foam AirFit vest. With only the t-shirt base, that number is about 70°F.
Adding and stripping layers beneath a main jacket is a hassle, and hassles are what quality gear should eliminate. Surprisingly, some companies expect you to add their water-resistant layer under their main jacket. More logically, I would say, KLIM tackled the problem by carefully sizing its shell pants and jacket to be quickly zipped on over top. When I visited the chief pattern maker at KLIM a few years back, she discussed how precisely they approached sizing, showing how they use Gerber patternmaking software to control fit. Their digital models of riders are the other half of how KLIM establishes sizing options for different builds.
For myself, the Tall options in both the Badlands and now Baja/Enduro make exposed wrists and ankles a non-issue. The length of the suit’s pieces fit very well together, with one exception—the Enduro pant’s cuffs fall a tad shorter than the Baja’s. This tends to expose about 1.5 inches of the latter. Given its abrasion-resistance, this may be a good thing, but will mean more wetting of the Baja’s cuff.
In terms of when to add the Enduro shells for more protection, it’s natural to imagine putting on both the Enduro jacket and pants simultaneously. But that’s not been my practice. The BMW’s waist-down wind protection means I sometimes grab the jacket to pull on at a quick stop, leaving the pants stashed in a bagel bag-sized roll within the top case. This isn’t to say the Enduro pants are slow to put on. KLIM designers baked-in weather resistant YKK full-length zippers. The 2-way zippers make the on/off routine simple.
For layering up below about 55°F, the Schoeller cloth Enduro suit isn’t warm enough over the Baja for my BMI. A faithful old lambswool sweater, a thin puffy, or (more flexibly) Warm-n-Safe’s electric jacket worn underneath, however, extends its range significantly. The suit’s girth in key areas (e.g., quads, butt, chest) is athletic without being restrictive. The chest, however, allows more flexibility to add layers than do the arms.** Lengths are generous in the jackets, while pants are offered in various options (Baja: Short, Regular, Tall; Enduro: Regular, Tall). And if the sun comes out? The pit zips on the Enduro jacket make it easy to modulate warmth.
Alpinestars SMX-1 R Vented Boots
Moto footwear receives less attention than garments when summer rolls around. Sometimes that means a choice between inadequate protection and overheated feet. Alpinestars is among a small cadre of boot manufacturers that offer vented/mesh models, and their number of SKU’s may be the most diverse. Curious how hot-weather boots work with KLIM’s latest meshwear, I wore a pair of SMX-1 R boots for six months during the Year of the Pandemic.
If balancing breathability and protection is a challenge in apparel, it’s even trickier in boots. Our feet basically need full-wrap armor. Alpinestars addresses this by offering “shoes” (i.e., hightop’s), mid-length, and full-height boots. The SMX-1 is decidedly not an ADV boot. Its street-oriented design does give a sense of what riders can expect in a warm weather urban shoe, such as runs to the store, work or coffee shop.
Alpinestars builds the popular SMX-1 R in a huge range of sizes. Given their generous cut—I sized down from a 49 to a 48, AND added an extra insole—even NBA stars can find a pair to fit. That said, they slip on snuggly, and the inner zip closure and dual Velcro straps make for a quick on/off that still feels relatively secure.
On a GSA, feet don’t receive high air flow, and so the perforated/microfiber body of the SMX-1 struggles to take in cool(er) air. Drop your toe down, and the fresh air immediately increases. While these boots aren’t breezy cool, they are perceptibly less hot than hefty “adventure” branded boots, many of which incorporate waterproof breathable membranes. Alpinestars plays in that product category, too, but built this minimalist model to complement but not replace full-protection boots like the Toucan or Corozal.
For walking, I’d give the Alpinestars a 7 of 10 on the International Moto Boot Comfort Scale, and higher still for its shifter feel. With nondescript TPU armor in key areas, the all black SMX-1 transition easily rides to work, the pub, and many places a full-featured boot will have your calves sweating. On the pegs? It’s a surprisingly firm and grippy out- and midsole.
*On several rides, I used a HyperKewl Sport cooling vest under the Baja jacket. It’s so effective that my torso felt downright pleasant in temps from the mid-90s to the lower triple digits. Unfortunately, the evaporation rate is so rapid, and the Baja so effective without it, that I tend to keep the vest as a back-up plan. Stuffed into twin 1-gallon ZipLoc bags, it stays soaked and ready to help lower my core temp if needed.
**The author tested the suit in XL (both jackets) and 36” Tall (both pants). He is 6’ 3”, 36” waist, 44” chest.
Quirks and Qualms
As much performance as KLIM baked into the Baja/Enduro kit, I’d hate to think of their design team sitting around bored, having satisfied every rider’s dreams. To that end, there are one or two aspects some will find lacking. First off, the Baja is fitted with Level 1 D30 armor due to its enhanced breathability. The pants also don’t include a tailbone protector. With reduced protection but clearly better air passage, for many buyers the trade-off will make sense.
Second, it bears repeating that this suit is designed to operate as a system. Unless you’ll always use it in 70°F+ temps, you’ll at least want to carry an over shell, and the 4-way stretch Enduro is a really good one. The added layers mean added expense, as well as requiring a place to stow the added garment(s). On the other hand, either Enduro shell can serve double-duty off the bike when you need wind or rain protection, and features a cut that easily fits over other gear. Plus the hidden hood on the Enduro jacket fits well when off the bike, doubling as a pillow case into which the rest of the jacket can be stuffed.
Lastly, in repeated 15-minute shower tests, the Enduro jacket didn’t exhibit the water protection that’s needed. To detect any infiltration, I worn a cotton long-sleeve Oxford dress shirt. In each repeated test (which followed drying out of the garments), water got past the upper segment of the chest zipper. By comparison, the Enduro pants show no water penetration. This may simply be a quality control issue with the jacket I have, and has been referred to KLIM’s warranty department. On average, the garments only gained a few ounces from surface absorption of water. The 26 oz pants weighed 31 oz when wet. The 33 oz Enduro jacket weighed 41 oz after shower sessions. The suit fully dried (based upon weight) in less than three hours in the shade.
If you are a water bladder user, the hose routing is somewhat unintuitive. It’s designed to permit routing either over or under the shoulder/arm. I ran an older Camelbak 100 oz. It worked fine, but I’ll admit to fiddling with it a lot before finding a decent hose routing. The Hydrapak from KLIM may resolve this. [Warning: Evapotranspiration with a mesh suit worn in hot (and especially dry) conditions can lead to debilitating dehydration. It is important that fluid intake be adequate and continuous. High speeds amplify this concern. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are life-threatening conditions for riders, especially in remote locations.]
The Verdict: Good, Great or meh?
Having grown accustomed to KLIM’s warmer, more substantial/stiff Badlands suit, I found the company’s new mesh/soft shell system offers a different feel and function. Lighter, slightly shorter (torso), and less restrictive, the mesh Baja S4 feels freeing in comparison. Its comfort range is greater, and its uses more versatile. With a range of sizes and strong ergonomics, it’s also going to fit a lot of riders well. The system is smartly equipped, with functional pockets and numerous features that make it a pleasure to wear.
Is the Baja S4/Enduro S4 the only suit you’ll ever need? If you ride in the heat, but prefer integrated CE-rated protection rather than separate armor, KLIM has clearly developed a system that combines rider comfort and versatility to handle year-round riding. And for 2021, it doesn’t have a lot of competition.
About the Gear Doctor: Dr. Sean Michael (“Right Turn Clyde”) has been designing, abusing and testing outdoor gear since the 1980s. When forced to get off the bike and work, he’s a professor of outdoor product design & development at Utah State University, a product consultant, and a frequent instructor at Overland Expo.