Olympia Switchback Jacket Review

The Olympia Switchback jacket was a number of firsts for me: first mesh jacket, first internal weather protection and first hi-visibility color garment. I used it on an extended 7000 kilometer trip in Japan where the weather conditions ranged from temps and humidity in the 90's in southern Honshu to mid-60's and rain in Hokkaido, including altitudes over 3000 meters to the top of some of the volcanoes.

While in Hokkaido I had the opportunity to meet Kevin and Karilea, the owners of Olympia and designers of their product line, and was able to get a few insights into their approach. Kevin and Karilea had extensive experience in the clothing industry before starting their motorcycle apparel company, and have added a strong focus on the fit of their riding gear to the basic protective functions.

I had to order the 4XL size in the Switchback being a, umm, burly guy five feet ten inches tall. For reference, I usually wear a size 54 US jacket and my sleeve length is 35 inches. After trying it on, I think Olympia has figured out that there are a lot more, umm, burly guys out there interested in large sizes than tall guys with athletic builds. Smart thinking. The fit around the shoulders and torso is good for me and the sleeve length is only slightly long, not as long as I would have expected for the size. The hook and loop cuff adjustment takes care of this. Importantly, the good fit also means that the protective armor is in all of the right places when the jacket is on.

This leads me to my only criticism of the Switchback. The back protection armor is a series of connected plates rather than the more common single pad. This is excellent in theory, allowing more freedom of movement and comfort and, I would guess, potentially offering more protection because of conforming to the rider’s natural spinal shape. However, in the Switchback the pocket holding the armor allows it to slip down to the bottom of the pocket while riding, where the bottom three plates then curl into a roll in the small of your back. Olympia needs to figure out a way to hold the back armor in its intended position. I will probably install a patch of hook and loop tape in my jacket to prevent the slippage.

The Switchback is excellent in hot weather. The large black areas on the front of the jacket are entirely mesh, including the inside of the arms. The back is also entirely mesh except for the strip down the center where the armor pocket resides. I wore it with a long sleeve sweat wicking undergarment in the hottest weather and have never worn a more comfortable jacket in these conditions. Because it does flow through so much air at even low speeds, you need to pay special attention to keeping yourself properly hydrated. The liner works as it should, keeping the rain out, but it also inevitably prevents perspiration from evaporating so you end up pretty damp anyway. I don’t know of any rain protection that doesn’t have this effect besides Gore-Tex and that comes with a pricetag. As it stands, my experience was preferable to the wind-chill hypothermia that can occur with direct exposure to rain at even at low speeds and warm temperatures. The liner is not insulated at all so if it is used in cooler temperatures a thin fleece or similar garment should be worn underneath the liner.

The Switchback has a number of attractive design features. The neck has a tab closure at the collar, and there is a patch of hook and loop on the inside to hold the tab in place if you don’t want to close the collar. There is also a tab strap with a snap closure at the bottom of the zipper that takes some of the stress from the seams holding the zipper ends, which is often the first place the stitching on a jacket will fail. All tabs and zippers on the outside of the Switchback have sizeable rubber grips that work well for gloved hands. There is a zippered breast pocket on the inside as well as a dedicated pocket for a standard size cell phone. Larger phones and pda’s won’t fit and the pocket is not waterproof.

A last word on the color selection: I chose the eye-catching (not to say retina-blistering) neon yellow. To my eye it is as much light green as it is yellow, but whatever you call it my experience is that the color gets the attention of car drivers. I have been a skeptic about hi-viz colors but this jacket made me a believer. My experience with other jackets (mostly black) has been that a driver coming out of a parking lot will be glancing from place to place looking for a break in traffic and you are never sure that you have been seen. With this jacket it almost always happens that you will see such a driver staring straight at you as you approach. Not a reason to be less cautious certainly, but it could make all the difference.

In terms of value for the dollar, I think that although the Switchback is priced higher than a number of the other offerings, the quality and features justify the price. My jacket stood up to thirty long riding days in all kinds of weather, which might be equal to two ordinary summer seasons for a weekend rider. After a wash to remove the road grime and bug splatters when I got home, the jacket looks great and has no visible wear or deterioration anywhere. Highly recommended.

- Karl H.

Karl started riding about 45 years ago during his junior year in college as a way to get back and forth to campus. It was a 125cc Benelli, and when he discovered you could wear the rubber off the bottom of the foot pegs, he was hooked. After that came a Kawi KZ440 LTD, a Suzuki GS1100E on which was mounted a full Pichler fairing to make it a roll-your-own sport tourer, a Honda Valkyrie Tourer (the first Siete Leguas), a BMW R1100RT, a Triumph Tiger 990 dual sport, a Triumph Rocket III, and a BMW R1200GSA,(the current Siete Leguas). Karl resides in Belmont, California.