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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Kit Report - Richa Textile Suit

I bought this suit, like the boots mentioned below, in early 2007 when I returned to two wheels and decided to commute to work. Richa are a brand that don't feature very often in magazine tests (I've yet to see a single Richa item in RiDE magazine's kit surveys, for example) but they are the main product line that my local dealership stocks, and so they are local, available, and I can take them back if they go wrong.

I bought the suit in January, so warmth was uppermost in my mind when I was looking. This suit (the jacket is labelled 'Albatross', although I'm not sure if this applies to the pants or not) was basically the only suit that the dealer had in my price range. The jacket is of the usual construction: tough nylon/polyester outer, waterproof drop liner, and thermal inner jacket. Both the drop liner and the thermal liner can be zipped out, and the jacket has zipped ventilation openings, so the suit should be good for all seasons. The pants are similar, but with the waterproof liner bonded in somehow, and the thermal liner removeable. It has CE-approved armour at the shoulders, elbows and knees. It also has thick foam padding over the hips, and a substantial foam back protector. Neither of these are CE-approved, but they feel solid. I'm pretty sure the suit was sold to me as 'breathable', although there are no tags inside to indicate this. However, it is breathable, as many comfortable rides in warm weather can attest.

There was a choice between ordinary pants, which would zip to the jacket via a waist zip, or salopettes, which would not. I opted for the salopettes, as it was January and I wanted the maximum warmth and draughtproofing. The upper part of the salopettes can be zipped off the lower, leaving a pair of normal pants, but as these can't be attached to the jacket (no zip) they would need braces or a belt to stop them falling down. I leave them as they are.

There are plenty of pockets. The jacket has two outside pockets which are useful for your keys, but these fill with water when it rains, so anything that might be damaged by moisture should not be put here. There is a Napoleon packet on the front behind the main flap and I have had no problem with water in here, but technically it is outside the waterproof zone, so care should be taken. It's ideal for a wallet or mobile phone, but... There is a normal jacket pocket on the inside which is completely dry, and also a mobile phone pocket. This pocket is long and thin, so it was obviously designed for a different era of phones. The iPhone will only go in there with a struggle. This hardly matters, as there is a label warning you not to put mobile phones in it in case they fall out. Product Liability lawyers again. The pants have the normal slash pockets which, again, fill with water, but the salopette part has a small zipped pocket which would be ideal for an emergency stash of money or a phone. As it is under the jacket, this is completely dry, but it requires a full strip (almost) to reach it.

The suit as a whole is well-designed. It has a few grey/silver contrasting panels to relieve the monotony of the black and some logos and patches that are retro-reflective, but it could really do with something a bit bolder. There are Velcro straps on the upper arms and waist so that you can achieve a snug fit all round, and these work well. One of the waist straps pulled out of its seam a while ago, but it was only 10 minutes with a needle and thread to put it right.

Overall fit is good, although I went a little too large on the pants. I assumed I would be wearing trousers or jeans underneath the waterproofs, so I chose one size bigger then necessary. In fact, the pants are so warm that I don't wear jeans underneath and the pants are a little too baggy. This means that the knee protectors don't fit as well as they should over my knees: they tend to migrate inwards, which is annoying.

Warmth is excellent. With the (fairly thin) thermal liners in, I can ride my 20-30 minute commute with just a t-shirt underneath, even in winter with frost on the ground. This is quite convenient, as I used to keep a suit in work and just put on a clean shirt, underpants and socks, and then the Richa suit over the top. I changed into the suit at work and Robert was my mother's brother. Longer rides need more base layers, obviously, but even riding for 8-9 hours up to Newcastle at the end of October I only had on a thermal vest, t-shirt and thin fleece under the jacket, and long-johns under the pants. I was warm as toast.

Waterproofing is also excellent, although there is one weak spot to watch for. I once rode to work in a biblical downpour, and was rewarded with a soaking crotch for the rest of the day. It turns out I had failed to zip up the pants properly and had left a funnel for the water to run down and into my nether regions. When I got to Newcastle ten days ago, I was slightly damp in a similar way, and I think I must have failed to 'adjust my dress', as they say, after a pee stop somewhere on the motorway. It can't have been too bad, as I only noticed it when I stripped off in the hotel. But other than on those two occasions, the suit has been 100% watertight.

After a couple of years, the suit had started 'wetting out'. where the nylon outer fabric stops shedding the rain and gets soaked through. This doesn't affect the waterproofing, but it does make the suit very wet and heavy, and you can get quite wet taking it off, or even putting it on the next morning. Last summer, I treated it to a cleaning session in the washing machine with Nikwax Techwash, and then ran it through again with TX-Direct, which revitalises the water-repellent properties. I can't say it's as good as new after this, but it is a lot better than it was. (Note: the instructions on the TX-Direct tell you to ensure that the washing machine is clear of all liquids like fabric conditioner. I didn't bother with this first time, and the product plain didn't work. I did it all again after emptying and cleaning out the conditioner tray, and it worked fine. RTFM!)

I haven't crashed in the suit, so I can't say anything about its abrasion resistance, but it seems to be a pretty tough item and is holding up well. When this one is worn out, I will get another textile suit for sure. Leather is fabulous in all sorts of ways, but for sheer everyday useability a textile suit is hard to beat. And they are a lot cheaper than leathers as well - this suit was £180 for the jacket and £120 for the pants, so you have a full waterproof outfit, suitable for all seasons and weathers, for £300. You wouldn't get much in proper leather for that, and it wouldn't shed the rain either. I'll replace the leather jacket one day, and perhaps even get some leather pants to go with it, but the textile suit will still be there for utility purposes.

Recommend? Well, the Albatross suit is no longer available (this looks like the nearest equivalent, although I see it isn't breathable) but I would recommend Richa as a brand. I rather like the 'Richa' logo across the back of the shoulders, as if I can afford to have my own name emblazoned on my clothing, minus a couple of letters. Not everyone will feel this way, of course, including everyone called Dave. I would certainly buy another suit by them, although next time I might go for something with a bit of conspicuity built in, like this one. Logic - on dry, sunny days I will be wearing leathers or my Triumph textile jacket. The textile suit is for busy commutes, dark nights, wet days and winter - exactly the time I would be looking for a bit of hi-viz anyway. Horses for courses.

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