Skip to main content

Gear Review: 55 Collection Hard Jacket

Product: 55 Collection Hard Jacket Made in: Barcelona Cost: €480 (US $510)
It’s likely you’ve never heard of 55 Collection; the Barcelona-based leather goods company is relatively small and has only been on the scene for a few years. So, allow me to introduce you to a company that’s making some of the best-looking and unique motorcycle jackets out there at the moment.

Adopting the “non serviam” nonconformist attitude that seems to run through a lot of Spain’s motorcycling culture (check out the crazy/beautiful custom works of El Solitario MC, for example), 55 Collection’s jackets may split opinion because of the company’s willingness to make jackets that are fashionable – that is to say, jackets that have a strong fashion element. The old dudes will decry hipsterism or some such thing. And indeed, I’ll admit that when company founder Aitor Gonzalez offered me a chance to try out one of his jackets I naturally defaulted to the most conservative of his offeri…

The Honda CBF600 is not an adventure motorcycle

Aliona likes the road. The smoother the tarmac the better, thank you very much. I suppose that's not terribly surprising; the Honda CBF600 is really just a detuned CBR600RR, the supersport stalwart that for many people is the very definition of a sport bike. Aliona has been modified to offer a more natural seating position and a throttle that won't make me pay dearly for learner mistakes but she is still, at her core, a bike that was intended to never stray too terribly far from track conditions.

That can be a challenge if you live in the Land of Song. Most roads here in Wales leave quite a bit to be desired. Mother Nature spreads mud, farmers spread manure, and some roads are so pockmarked you're inclined to believe the local council simply hasn't gotten around to fixing it since its being bombed in the war. 

I live on the corner of two roads that are riddled with potholes, ruts, and half-assed quick fixes (just throw some tar at it). The plus side of this is that anyone who doesn't want to lose the suspension of his or her vehicle can't drive these roads any faster than 25 mph, so it makes for a more peaceful living space. But it is hell on my bike. I weave down the road as best I can but still usually manage to hit at least half a dozen frame-rattling bumps every time I ride. Away from my neighbourhood things are often not much better -- especially in the beautiful spaces I want to go.

Case in point: Llanilltud Fawr. It's a seemingly unimportant village on Wales' south coast that 1,500 years ago was a major hub of activity. It was effectively a college town back then -- a place where a number of big names received religious instruction, including St. Patrick (patron saint of Ireland) and St. David (patron saint of Wales). These days it's mostly a feeder community, serving as a place to live for people working at the nearby Royal Air Force base. But it also has a nice (albeit pebbled) beach and serves as a good starting point for hiking a section of the Wales Coast Path. And it is home to the Old Swan Inn, a 900-year-old pub that is one of the best to be found in these parts.

The weather was good a few days ago and I decided to take a quick ride down to Llanilltud Fawr after work. I hadn't ridden since before the wedding and it had been even longer since I'd taken the bike out without Jenn, so it took me a nervous mile or so to adjust to Aliona's agility. It helped, too, that I stopped to put air in the tires -- something I probably would have put off had it not been for an article I'd read that day on RideApart. Each tire was a little low and the difference in handling was notable once I got back on the bike. Check your tires, mis amigos; it's not just manufacturer BS.

I opened up on the smooth, long curve of the B4265. Being a good boy, I never ride faster than the posted speed limit, but there is a long stretch where there are no speed limit signs, so I decided 80 mph was appropriate. While sailing across golden farmland I achieved that fabled motorcycle zen in which the bike and I are no longer so much physical entities but congruous elements of the environment: the reliable Honda engine drone, the rhythm of steady movement, the taste of the air, the glint of sunlight, and on.

At Aberthaw the landscape takes on for a moment the familiar gentle roll of the American Midwest but to my left it was broken by the gunmetal blue of the wide Bristol Channel. The previous days' rains had turned the trees and hedgerows a vibrant green. Everything was right. 

Aliona makes the blind corners of Llanilltud Fawr's narrow medieval streets easier to navigate, but I still moved through town at almost walking pace. Then slowly down Colhugh Street toward the beach. The road is potholed and there are speed bumps every hundred feet or so. The bike was not happy. The folks at Thunder Road have promised me better service next time I head in there; and with each bump I imagined myself getting to find out whether that's true by having to come in with rattled-loose fairing.

When the speed bumps stop the road turns even more potholed and muddy. Then, finally, a turn onto a pockmarked gravel parking lot. I brought Aliona into first gear and had a sudden memory of Steve Johnson talking about the extreme nerves he felt when navigating gravel for the first time on a Harley.

"How hard could it really be?" I thought.

The bike moved off the last bit of tarmac and immediately jerked left. "Ah. Well. That's an interesting sensation." I quickly thought of a YouTube video I had seen of a bloke riding in the snow. His main point of concern was trying to brake as gently as possible, and only with the rear. I took to this method and crawled slowly forward to a spot of concrete where I was able to park the bike and finally take a breath. 

"Well, mental note," I said, looking at the bike. "We won't be taking you off road."

But at least she got me to the beach.


  1. Gravel: You have to experience it yourself to know the butt-puckering terror that comes with the sensation that the bike is going to crash at any second.

    I hear you get used to it and street bikes handle more or less fine, if you can fend off the panic long enough. Obviously, you won't be winning any motocross races on a CBR - but they can handle a bit of gravel road.

  2. What? I'm supposed to be more afraid of gravel than other roads? What else are you son of a bitches not telling me??

    We were in New Mexico, somewhere, Hell I can't remember, on this wonderful long road on Memorial Day weekend. We were looking for a place to pull in so I could pee. Steve took the wrong driveway (right next to each other - easy miss) and we were in someone's long, uphill, gravel driveway. We get to the top, uphill mind you, and realize we're at someone's house. So he simply turns that pack-muled Honda ST1300 around with ease. I stare at him with daggers and think, "Well, I can do it if he can do it. I'm on a Ninja 500 for Chrissake!" I gently put my boots on the pegs and looked where I wanted to be, bending the elbows, and trying my best to keep breathing.

    And I did it, smoothly, effortlessly.

    He only praises me if I ask, and then I get the standard, "You did really well. . ." but I knew I had done well. That's an amazing feeling.

    I love how you show us the intricacies of these efforts that we all face all the time.


  3. Psst, Chris... ixnay on ellingtay ashsay about the idingray in owsnay. ;)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Ride review: Harley-Davidson XL 883 L (aka Sportster SuperLow)

Yes, as a matter of fact, it is like riding a tractor.
That's the criticism so consistently levied against Harley-Davidson motorcycles: that there is something agrarian to the experience. And I can now say from personal experience that all those critics are right. But I can also say those critics are leaving out a key piece of information, which is this:
It's a tractor that hurtles forward with roller-coaster intensity, a tractor that goes really fast, a tractor that makes you feel like Brock Lesnar in a children's ball pit. A tractor from the Land of Bad-Ass, with which you can sow the seeds of awesomeness.
But let me back up a bit...
A few days ago, I decided to take the day off, solely for the purpose of getting a chance to ride around and finally make use of the free breakfast coupon sent to me by Thunder Road. As I was gearing up, I suddenly decided that since I was already heading west, I might as well push a few miles further and che…

Ride review: Yamaha XV950 / Star Bolt

Imitation, Charles Caleb Colton famously noted, is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, the flattery the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 receives from Yamaha's XV950 is enough to make one blush. Put the two bikes side by side, and the inspiration for the latter is undeniable. Yamaha claims its bike has a "new neo retro Japanese look," but that's clearly just nonsense –– lorem ipsom that was used instead of "totally looks like a Harley-Davidson Iron 883."
Certainly the XV950 –– known as the Star Bolt in the United States –– isn't the first example of a Japanese OEM adhering faithfully to the styling cues of America's best-known motorcycle manufacturer. The orthodox members of the Church of Jesus Harley Latter-day Davidson write these bikes off as "wannabes," and tend to be pretty dismissive of anyone who would dare consider purchasing one. But I'm going to commit blasphemy here and tell you that the XV950 is unquestionably the …

Ride review: Triumph Bonneville

"OK," I said. "I want one." "Well, you know, maybe you should ask your wife first." "She loves Triumphs," I said. "Still, Chris. You should give it a think. Go home, discuss it with your wife, give yourself a chance to think clearly. After all, this is one of Triumph's most popular models; there's plenty of stock available."
The voice of reason in that conversation was Drew, the salesman at Bevan Motorcycles. He was doing his best to talk some sense into me after my test ride of the 2014 Triumph Bonneville. I was wild-eyed and yammering like a teenage boy who has touched boobies for the first time. This, my friends, is what the Bonneville does to you. It is an instantly rideable, instantly enjoyable, instantly lovable motorcycle that surprises you in just how good a simple motorcycle can be.

The Bonneville, of course, is a storied machine that's been around in one form or another for 55 years. It is a classic. Partially b…