It wasn’t that long ago when riding gear was defined mostly by one material: leather. Early synthetic gear was often coarse, stiff, bulky, and barely breathable. But we’re in a golden age of gear now, with a wide selection of fabrics and styles available to suit most any ride. Klim and W.L. Gore & Associates (creator of the GORE-TEX brand) are key players in today’s riding gear revolution, and over the winter I had a chance to take a deeper dive into the brands’ technology, fabrics, and gear.
What Exactly is GORE-TEX?
GORE-TEX is a thin white membrane of expanded PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), or ePTFE, that is waterproof but also breathable, with holes big enough for air and water vapor but too small for water drops to penetrate. It’s about as thick as a piece of paper and extremely light. You never actually see it on gear that you buy, but every piece of gear with GORE-TEX has the brand’s tag attached. The company’s main patent for ePTFE expired in 1997, and there are competing products in the market, but that’s just part of the story.
GORE-TEX is the key layer in the multilayer sandwich of many modern waterproof fabrics. The outer layer, or “face fabric,” provides the style and abrasion resistance for motorcycle gear and is treated with a durable water repellent finish. The inner layer is the liner, which provides the feeling against your skin. Between them is the GORE-TEX.
Creating a waterproof and breathable piece of riding gear is not as simple as buying a bunch of GORE-TEX and stitching it together, though, because any mistake in the design and production process (such as a poorly taped seam or bad boot design) can lead to leaks. Gore, headquartered in Newark, DE, is quite selective about whom they partner with, and it took Rigby, ID-based Klim years to become a partner.
On a tour of the Gore facilities, I got to see some of the testing labs that Gore and Klim put the gear through, including a rain room where they can make it rain at up to 3 inches per hour and simulate rain hitting a moving motorcyclist; an environmental chamber where the temperature can range from minus 58 to 122 degrees, humidity of 5 to 98%, and 120 mph airflow; and test benches where fabrics are constantly rubbed and boots and shoes are constantly flexed in water to see if holes form. Klim boots, for example, have been flexed 200,000 times without leaking.
Klim 2020 Lineup
After a day of learning all about GORE-TEX, it was time to see the new 2020 Klim gear. The latest items from Klim are high-tech but don’t necessarily feel like it. Fabrics feel great in the hand—soft to the touch and not overly stiff—with some jackets exhibiting a tight, fine weave that you’d see in jeans.
Elsewhere throughout the lineup, Klim goes to great lengths to choose fabrics and threads for different parts of the gear, incorporating tougher fabrics in high-wear/impact areas like knees and elbows, and thinner, lighter, stretchier fabrics elsewhere. Klim gear comes with a five-year crash warranty (learn more at www.klim.com/gear-protection-guarantee); analysis of crashed gear helps Klim improve future products.
Most interesting of Klim’s 2020 product lineup is the Ai-1 Airbag Vest. Klim partnered with French company In&motion, which has been developing wearable airbag technology. The vest consists of an embedded, inflatable airbag and a CE level 1 back protector that carries the inflation cartridge as well as the brains of the system, a box measuring approximately 6 inches by 3 inches. This control box (the In&box) contains a small computer, battery (20 to 25 hours per charge, 500 charges total), a six-axis sensor, and Wi-Fi and GPS antenna. The vest can be worn beneath a riding jacket.
Unlike other systems that rely upon a tether to detect when a rider is being separated from his bike and to deploy the airbag, the Ai-1 relies upon its sensors and its growing database of riding data to detect an imminent crash. The In&motion system has logged 5.6 million riding miles and 400-plus crashes/near crashes on the track and street to develop its mathematical model of what a motorcycle crash looks like. If you are riding and the sensors detect a condition that matches this model (in other words, to the system, it looks like a crash is imminent), the airbag will deploy, reaching full inflation in less than 60 milliseconds. Replacement inflators are $99, and the vest is suitable for up to three real-world inflations before it is recommended to purchase a new one.
Every time you return from a ride without a crash and recharge the control box, ride data gets uploaded to the In&motion servers, and software updates are downloaded; this additional ride data helps In&motion further refine its mathematical model of what a crash looks like and reduces the chances of false positive inflations. As it stands, In&motion boasts that the system is already quite good; nine reported false alarms were all near crashes: three off-road, three collisions with a car where the motorcyclist did not fall, and three “uncontrolled wheelies.” At this point, the Ai-1 is not intended for off-road use, or stunting, apparently.
The Ai-1 Airbag Vest retails for $399.99. The In&box, the brains of the unit, can be purchased for $399.99 or via subscription plan for $12 per month or $120 per year. The subscription options include automatic updates to the latest crash detection algorithms. When paired with the latest Klim adventure riding suit, it’s one of the most comprehensive crash protection systems in the industry.