No more sweaty T-shirts from the Nixon era… Melling demanded a tight-fitting body suit to swaddle the Olympian physique concealed under his armored leathers.
As MCUSA’s token fat, bald, old wrinkly I do tend to have a very strong affection for things ancient – but I am not like some classic fans who vomit at the mere thought of full face helmets and body armor.
Anyone who truly was there in the classic era – as distinct from being comfortably sat on a couch looking at pictures in a magazine – will tell you that our protective gear was utter rubbish and riders got killed and badly injured as a matter of every day normality. I eagerly await one of the retro nuts’ explanations as to why tarmac is more forgiving when you hit it having parted company with a 1962 Norton than if you come off a 2012 CBR600. Speaking from very personal experience, whamming into the deck always hurts – no matter what you are riding.
This is why last year I purchased a custom made GiMoto race suit through Motocomp, who are based deep in rural England. Malcolm Wootton, the Head Honcho at Motocomp, is not only a businessman but also a racer and a trained engineer who has an obsessive eye for detail. These are important traits in someone selling you a custom suit because, providing you are honest with the person providing the fitting, it is possible to get a whole order of magnitude better protection than an off the peg item will provide.
In my case, I wanted a suit primarily for racing and also for the race test reports I write for MCUSA. Because Malcolm knew that I am not an athletic rider, in terms of moving around the bike to the degree that a top level, modern rider does, I was able to have a simpler suit which had the advantage of being cheaper too.
The Alpinestars Tech Base top layer is designed to provide an ergonomic riding fit, distributing body heat for supreme comfort.
On my classic race suit the 1.3mm leather, the stitching, seams and internal body armor are all identical to the GP suit but there are 30 fewer panels because I don’t need the leathers to follow every contour of my body.
At first, I was shocked at how tight fitting the suit was but I soon became very fond of wearing what felt more and more like an exoskeleton – not restrictively tight but sufficiently so, such that the body armor cannot move around in the case of an accident. Malcolm is really keen on this. He said: “Once you have top quality leather and stitching the key factor in avoiding injury is to make sure that the body armor stays exactly where it is supposed to be. It’s of no value for the rider to have body armor in a suit if it isn’t in the correct place, in the critical period following impact.”
So far, so good – but then came the problem. For the last 44 years, I have raced with a t-shirt under my leathers. In some cases, very fine t-shirts which would, had I kept them, now be worth a fortune. For example, what would you give for a signed Gary Nixon Triumph tee? I had three of them and literally wore them out!
The problem, yes that word again, is that once you sweat under custom made leathers – and even uber-Olympic athletes like me do perspire in the heat of battle – the suit sticks like glue and not even a Gary Nixon T-shirt is going to be enough to get it off.
At first, my inclination was to blame the suit but this theory was somewhat spoiled when I got not merely the personal attention of Mr. Wootton but also Andrea Mazzola, one of the two brothers who owns GiMoto, and who happened to be visiting MotoComp in England. Both suit Gurus were in agreement – the fit was fine, and even my rolls of fat were acceptable – but I needed a Base Layer.
The Alpinestars Tech Base bottom layer has flat lock seams to reduce pressure points, curving to Mr. Melling’s shapely figure.
I knew of Base Layers – and had seen them a long time ago. When we English Majors were having tutorials with Dr. Boardsley, the drama students used to pass outside her study window on the way to the theatre studio. Other than Penny G, who had a distractingly pretty bottom wrapped in a skin tight leotard, we thought that there was little value to be had to anyone from wearing figure hugging, black clothes – unless you were en route to becoming a neglected, orphan lettuce – or whatever Kafkaesque theme the trainee actors were following that week.
Post College – and remember, this is so long ago that we had only just moved from vellum to paper and quill pens were still standard equipment – base layers dropped out of my life until I began to see “athletes” wearing them. Uttering the word “athlete” in my presence is not unlike being invited to your neighbor’s son’s bar mitzvah and bringing a tray of pit barbecued, pork spare ribs to get the party going, so I had no sympathy for Base Layers, or any other form of “Technical Clothing” for that matter: until now, that is.
So, what is the big idea behind the Base Layer concept? To find out I asked Phil Tagg who specializes in technical sports clothing through his company Baselayer UK. Surprisingly, it was a rather interesting subject.
Phil explains: “The big breakthrough for base layers was in the introduction of sophisticated man-made fibers. These are nothing like the standard polymers you see in the fashion industry. If these fibers are used in well-designed clothing, the results can be spectacular.
“They work by a hydrophilic process taking moisture away from areas of the body where they pool. For example, if you wear a cotton T-shirt for sport you will typically see wet patches underneath the arm or in a long, damp streak along the back. Good quality base layers will take this moisture and spread it throughout the garment and on to the outer side. It will then evaporate and cool the body.”
However, all base layers are not the same – even if they look as if they are to the untrained eye. Anxious to join the 21st. century, I headed to my local bike dealer and purchased a top and bottom base layer for what appeared to be a bargain price – and it even came with a label from one of the minor, but not unknown, clothing companies. What could be wrong with this?
The Alpinestars base layer fabric proved helpful when extricating our beloved racing classic from his soiled leathers.
There was a reason for cheap price: it was utter rubbish. The material was clearly no more “technical” than any $9.99 tracksuit from the discount store and it didn’t wick away the moisture as it was supposed to do. Worse still, the material puckered everywhere so I ended up with seams bunched up on my arms and legs. In fact, it was so uncomfortable that after practice I reverted to my much loved t-shirt.
A phone call to Alpinestars’ outstandingly helpful Press Department and a real Base Layer was on its way to me. At $69.95 for the Alpinestars Tech Base Top and $64.95 for the Alpinestars Tech Base Bottom, the Tech Base clothing is not cheap but it really does ooze quality.
For a start, it is cut for racing/sports riding and is supremely comfortable – even for a rider who does not so much have a six pack stomach but more of a water-butt belly. The whole suit slides on like a second skin and feels a delight. For those readers who have muscles to support – which I largely don’t – Alpinestars claims its panels reduce fatigue under extreme stress.
Unlike my first, cheap attempt all the seams on the Alpinestars Tech Base are flat and completely innocuous. The suit really does get rid of perspiration and hanging it on the back of the trailer between practice and the first race, for 10 minutes, was all that was needed to get it completely dry and fresh for a second use.
And now to the big question – did it allow the GiMoto suit to be removed from my manly torso without a tin opener? Yes, it did. The suit now slides off effortlessly and is much more comfortable when in use. Not sufficiently comfortable to turn me into a Jorge Lorenzo threat, but certainly enough to persuade me to spend $135 of my own money.
Welcome to the 21st Century – a time when the world may well be teetering on the brink of destruction but we will all go to our doom in comfort and style.