Every year, the ZLA Awards honor the best innovations in motorcycle gear, and you can see our full list here.
But we also pass the Common Tread megaphone to some of our expert Zillans so they can expound on why certain products won an award or highlight other products that aren’t necessarily award winners but still deserve recognition.
Innovation, open systems and equal protection for women
Co-founder and CEO
What’s important to us? Ultimately, it’s innovation. The products that stand out win ZLA Awards and our applause here on Common Tread.
A helmet is the most emotional purchase motorcyclists make after their motorcycle. Our ZLA award winner for this year is the HJC RPHA 11 Pro.
You get a super-light, well vented, super-quiet helmet that got a complete restyle and comes in under the $400 mark. Looking at other helmets in that category from the likes of Arai and Shoei, where performance meets dollars invested meets safety, we’ve really seen a step forward from HJC. Five years ago, I would have bet you the pink slip on my motorcycle that we would not be raving about a premium, track-oriented helmet from HJC. This year, we saw the retro-inspired Bell Moto 3 and some outliers from Klim and Scorpion, but there was no real clear challenger to the RPHA 11 Pro in terms of value, innovation, user-friendliness, style and protection you can take to the track.
This year, we also saw key leather jacket manufacturers go back to their roots with $500 to $600 leather jackets with classic race and sport styling. The ZLA Award winner was the REV’IT Akira Air Vintage, which is really a full track-spec perforated leather jacket with a toned-down, mature feel and a mixture of technicality and retro style. It’s a really attractive option for the sport-oriented or retro café racer rider. Are we going to sell 10,000 of them? No. But we applaud REV’IT for taking risks, innovating and really trying to look through the corner in motorcycling at a time when many manufacturers aren’t taking enough chances.
The ZLA Award winner for technology is the Helite Turtle Airbag vest. Why do we love it? At a time when Dainese and Alpinestars have built closed systems that are proprietary and very expensive, Helite has come on the market and said, “We’re going to do one thing and do it really well.” It’s a universal-fit inflatable vest with a back protector that’s not going to break the bank. At around the $600 mark, it can be used with every single jacket you have and in every scenario: track day, commuting, adventure-touring, summer sport riding. You’re getting upper torso, internal organ and back protection. The big innovation here is that it’s an open system, versus a closed system with Dainese and Alpinestars. A closed system locks you into one manufacturer and costs more. An open system like the Helite vest works with every jacket you already have and gives you more value for your dollar.
Last up, I want to highlight the Dainese Torque D1 Out women’s boot. In my opinion, it deserves recognition because of its innovation in the women’s category. It’s the most technical track boot for women that we’ve seen since the Sidi Vertigo Lei boots came out years ago. Dainese gave the women’s Torque D1 Out the same technology, new design, airflow scheme and hinged ankle protection found on the men’s version. They gave the women the the same level of technicality the guys get. That’s why we’re applauding Dainese.
Gear that fits and protects
Customer Service Center Manager
As the second female Gear Geek hired at RevZilla, I’ve developed a unique familiarity with the catalog of gear that’s available, particularly for women. I’ve seen the options go from “shrink it and pink it” passenger wear to protective gear that’s actually designed for a woman’s figure. After almost four years, I finally have gear I actually want to recommend.
The first piece to win my vote of confidence this year? The Klim Altitude Women’s Jacket. At RevZilla, we often adoringly associate the word “bomb-proof” with anything Klim. So, their development of the original Women’s Altitude Jacket in 2014 was noteworthy in and of itself. What really stood apart this year, though, were the changes they made and why they made them. Instead of just upgrading features, Klim took feedback from riders who actually wore their gear and updated their 2014 model with those pain points in mind. While no jacket fits everyone, the Klim Altitude is the first “bomb-proof” women’s jacket that I can confidently say fits most women’s bodies and fits them well.
While we’re on the topic of well-fitting gear, let’s take a minute to discuss why it’s important. Your gear must be snug because in the event of a crash you don’t want it moving around. In my opinion, it’s also important because gear that fits and looks good on you typically makes you feel good, too! The recent trend towards more “normal-looking” protective gear is a testament to that.
Finding something that hugs your curves or doesn’t hang loosely on your frame can be tough, but you should never have to go completely unprotected. Meet my next favorite from 2016, the Knox Armored Women's Shirt. I’m going to level with you guys and gals. The first time I looked in a mirror with my armored shirt under my leather jacket I did a little happy-dance wiggle of joy. For the first time, I looked like myself while wearing armor. That said, it’s important to note that an armored shirt is almost always a compromise because there’s typically no abrasion-resistant component. It protects you from impact, but alas, not from the slide. So we should recognize Saint for spotting a need for their Kevlar Merino Double-Kit Women's Shirt with abrasion protection.
A look back at the year wouldn’t be complete without also calling out some brands that are doing it right and thinking about where the industry can improve. REV’IT!, thank you for always offering great multi-season gear with the utmost protection and improving your fit. We guys and gals appreciate it. Alpinestars, you might just be the first to launch an equal number of options (!) for male and female riders. We ladies commend you! To everyone: So many riders want technical gear that’s protective, fits well, and many of us dare to want it to make us feel and look good. Every week I see emails come in from street and cruiser riders who want technical gear that complements their ride. What are you waiting for?
A newcomer to helmets, an old pro at boots
Metric Media Lead
When it comes to helmets I have been stuck in my ways for too long. In an effort to break away from my comfort zone I have spent the past year using an Icon Airframe Pro on the track, a Scorpion EXO-R710 on the street, and I just got my hands on a Leatt GPX 5.5 helmet for off-road use. The Leatt name is synonymous with off-road crash protection, and the GPX is their first attempt at a helmet.
The first thing you’ll notice is the size. Because of the way they design the shell and EPS liner in conjunction with one another, they are able to drastically cut down on the size of the helmet without sacrificing protection. It also has what Leatt calls their 360-degree Turbine technology to protect against low-speed and rotational impacts. Combine all of this with a massive vent scheme and it’s clear that if you’re in the market for a new dirt helmet, this should be on the top of your list of lids to consider. If you prefer an ADV-style helmet, I would recommend the new Klim Krios. While I wish it had better ventilation, it more than makes up for it with the massive weight savings it offers over other adventure helmets.
In our Trends of 2016 article, I discussed an explosion in lifestyle brands offering protective gear that looks like regular clothing, but I would like to single out Bull-It Jeans and Merlin Jackets.
Bull-It Jeans introduced a new, abrasion-resistant material called Covec. While Covec has a slightly lower melting point than Kevlar (572 degrees Fahrenheit versus Kevlar’s 878), it has almost none of Kevlar’s drawbacks. Kevlar fatigues and wears out over time, especially with bending (think knees). Covec doesn’t have this problem and though its melting point is lower than Kevlar, it is still much higher than polyester (392 degrees) and Dyneema (230 degrees). Bull-It’s SR4 jeans provide 5.2 seconds of abrasion resistance and their SR6 jeans increase that number to 6.26 seconds.
Merlin is a company combining Old World style with New World technology to offer the traditional waxed cotton look but with real protection. Instead of relying just on the Halley Stevensons waxed cotton to keep riders dry in the rain, Merlin adds a Reissa waterproof liner. The jackets also include soft, Safetec CE-rated armor in the elbows and shoulders with a pocket for a back protector. You get the look of a traditional waxed cotton jacket to go with that new Bonneville T-120, but there’s also modern protection to keep you safe and dry.
Meanwhile, my TCX X-Helium dirt boots have taken a year of abuse and keep coming back for more. They saved me from a broken ankle or foot twice while riding the Tiger off-road. While I really like their Michelin sole for off-road riding, it’s their Ideal Sole construction they introduced this year in their lifestyle pieces that really has me excited.
The Ideal sole is a combination of a stitched sole and glued sole. TCX stitches the shoe together with a leather last and then glues a sole to the last. This means you get a boot that’s easier to resole with all of the strength and durability of a quality stitched sole. Because the boots don’t have to be restitched during the resoling process, you don’t have break them in all over again. I got an early pair of the Hero Boots and they are extremely comfortable for all-day use while providing real support on a motorcycle. If TCX is listening, I would love to see a pair of the Heros without the zip entry and without the waterproof lining.
Stay tuned for our Turkeys of 2016 article, when I’ll talk about the boots that didn’t hold up.