To keep things interesting for the recent Snow Quake, I decided to ride to the Italian Alps on the old Sportster I was going to race there. I'd carry my ice racing wheels with tyres borrowed from Co-Built Geoff, fastened to a special carrier made by Survivor Customs. Super James Cox made this film of the sub-zero ride Europe.
After leaving England, the ride itself, through France, skirting Reims, Dijon and Annemasse, saw us stop at Chamonix before heading through the Mont Blanc tunnel for another 280km of Italy. The temperature never rose above zero. I’d previously fitted a smaller Lowbrow petrol tank to make the Sportster slightly more attractive. I didn’t know how much the bike would do to the tankful, because the bike had only done two DTRA Hooligan rounds in the time I'd owned it. It turned out to be about 65-75 miles at autoroute speeds. I’d converted the bike from belt to chain with the only sprockets I could get hold of at the time and it struggled to pull top gear up some long hills. I was on the bike from 6.30am until 8.30pm, on day one, and from 11am till 6pm the next. Then, after arriving in Italy, without even getting out of my riding kit, I changed the wheels, with some help from a bunch of DTRA racers who were at the hotel. I was ready to race it the next morning. The bike sat outside a hotel in Chamonix for 12 hours in temperatures as low a -15C and started first time the next morning. It impressed the life out of me.
I used all brand new kit supplied by Icon Raiden, the Portland company' adventure riding sub-brand, for the ride and the race.
I wore the Icon kit over layers of thermals, a thick Fjallraven shirt and an old Endura winter cycling shirt and an Aerostitch heated waistcoat. When I first tried on the DKR pants, I thought they were too big and too baggy, but realising they were designed to be more of a snowboard fit, than European slim-fitting trousers I was used to, I tightened up all the adjusters and they were comfortable. They have huge zips up the inside leg to make it easy to get them on and off over the bulkiest boots.
The DKR jacket is a fuss-free design, but with lots of nice hidden touches. I liked that the neck fasteners had options to snap over a neck scarf or the old Icon 1000 fleece bandana I wore with a thing Sideburn x Holy Freedom neck tube, without strangling me. The cuffs are big enough to pull over bulky gauntlets. There are enough pockets without having too many and padding around for minutes trying to find ear plugs, key, toll ticket... There's a visor cleaning cloth, on a mini bungee in one pocket and even a tiny St Christopher medal stitched into the inside pocket. It was warm, draught free, but it never rained so I haven't had an opportunity to test its waterproofing yet. I'll keep you posted.
My hands go dead in minutes, so nothing was going to stop that happening, but the Alcan gloves did feel good and the insulation helped up to a point. I also fitted the bike with some old bar muffs (over barkbuster0style handguards0 that I'd had in my shed for over ten years. Only a couple of times in the 900 or so miles did my fingers go dead.
The Field Armor boots were superwarm and sturdy. I'll be honest, they're not my favourite style, I prefer the simpler and taller Raiden DKRs or Icon's perennial Elsinores, but I can't fault the Field Armors. All day comfortable and insulated me from standing on ice for nine hours straight without my toes going numb once.
Now the helmet. I've never used a Variant or any of the dual-sport, visor and peak types of helmet, before this trip but I'm a convert. I'm a medium in Japanese helmet, but small in Icon. I've been racing in a full-face Icon AirFrame Pro for over a year and only have good things to say about it. The Variant is the same quality, a fussier shape, but the opaque polycarb visor and spoiler system looks modern. I can see the appeal of the retro MX helmets, but I don't want one. I've seen racers take out 2in steel poles with Icon helmets and they've been kind of smiling as the ambulance took them away. I haven't tested my Icon lids that way, but I do trust them more in a way no one can trust some of the 70s repro helmets I've seen. Why am I pussyfooting around? Ok, I mean the Simpson M50.
A reader said he couldn't stop his Variant's shield misting up, but I used the old trick of smearing neat washing-up liquid on the inside, letting it dry, then buffing it off and I didn't have a problem with misting. I rode with it up when I was negoatiating a town that hadn't been salted and was solid black ice (on well-worn Maxxis DTR1s, not clever), and by the time I put the visor back down it had frozen on the inside. Ice chips thrown up on the track stuck to the shield too, but that would have happened to any full-face.
As far as the Raiden kit goes, it's definitely, so far so good. I'm going to given the whole outfit some stick on Mablethorpe beach next time I race there. Then I'll tell you how waterproof it is.