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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…

Gear review: Oxford X30 magnetic tank bag

If you've ever seen any of the pictures I've posted of my motorcycle it's a good bet you'll have noticed the presence of the Oxford X30 magnetic tank bag in most of them. This speaks to the main feature of the bag: it is so damned useful that it's hard to live without.

That's not to say I don't have complaints. There are a number of things I don't really like about the bag. It's simply that I have yet to come across a superior option.

So, let's start with the positives. Easy to throw on the bike and expandable to hold 30 litres of stuff, the bag comes in handy in pretty much every situation. "Installation," if that's the word we want to use, is ridiculously simple: You set the bag on your tank.

That's it. Wing-like flaps on either side of the bag contain strong magnets that secure the bag to any metal tank, a rubber-like underside helps to keep it from slipping. The bag also has an easy-to-buckle strap that you can loop around your headstock or handlebars to keep it from escaping, but I've had situations where I forgot to secure that strap (such as when I was riding in Scotland) and suffered no ill effects, despite the bag being loaded with stuff.

On any ride more than 50 miles I like to over-prepare; so, I pack into the bag a litre of water, a few breakfast bars, a map, a rain jacket, a baseball cap, sunglasses, spare brake lever, spare clutch lever, Leatherman tool, ear plugs, Allan key, house keys, tire gauge, side stand pad, and two sets of latex gloves (to use as glove liners if its raining heavily). From experience I know that even with all that crap there remains plenty of room to hold a full lunch (sandwich, chips, and orange), a can of ACF50, and a second pair of gloves. 

Unzip the bottom portion of the bag and it can hold double that amount of crap. When I rode up to the Yorkshire Dales last summer, the tank bag and a backpack were all I needed for two days away.

The version of bag I own looks just slightly different than the one pictured above. My X30 has a large soft plastic window running across the top where I can place written directions to where I'm going. Time and experience have taught me to write such instructions as simply as possible because it isn't terribly easy to look down at directions when on the move.

The bag's large main compartment is accessed via zips that are easy to get at even when wearing winter gloves and is incredibly simple to open and close in a rush. This comes in handy in parking garages or toll booths or the like, when someone hands you something (e.g. a ticket or receipt) and you are expected to move on straight away. No digging in pockets, just throw it in the bag and go.

When you get to where you're going, the bag can be detached from its magnetic base and used as a backpack. Somewhat optimistically, Oxford have placed on this bag one of those around-the-chest straps seen on hiking backpacks. It's not comfortable enough for that, but is perfectly acceptable for wandering around a town.

Durably made, the bag is in better condition than almost any other piece of kit I own, despite constant use in all weathers.

That's all the good stuff, but as I say: I do have complaints

I can't help feeling the bag looks like a penis when extended.

Firstly, it is ugly. I mean, woo Lordy, is it ugly. It absolutely ruins the aesthetics of my bike. I realise that doesn't matter a whole hell of a lot when you're rollin' on a Honda CBF600SA, but the look of this tank bag is the motorcycling equivalent of socks with sandals. No, it's the equivalent of wearing socks with sandals and tight running shorts. Whilst dancing to 90s hair-rock band Nelson in your front lawn.

When the bag is extended to its 30 litre capacity it looks even worse. It looks like the head of a penis. Nobody wants that, man. Especially if you're leaning against it when tucking in against the wind.

Secondly, although the bag has held up well in all weather conditions, it offers your stuff little protection against that weather. Water gets into the bag easily when it rains. Oxford provide an allegedly waterproof liner bag in which to place all your stuff so as to protect against such an issue, but I don't really trust it. I suppose it's worked well enough in cases when I've been caught unaware, but in times I knew I would be riding in heavy rain I found it better to wrap all my things in plastic bags.

Thirdly, the bag is causing some damage to the paint. Said damage is very minimal, and outmatched by the damage being caused by the zippers on my jacket and riding trousers, but it is damage nonetheless. I try to tell myself that I don't care all that much, that scratches are a sign you're actually using your bike, rather than displaying it, but, you know, it's no less annoying.

And lastly, like all soft luggage, it is not the sort of thing you can leave on your bike and walk away. Because it has no locking feature, because it is not secured to the bike as a top box or hard panniers would be, I can't just hop off my bike and wander into a restaurant. I have to detach the backpack and sling it over my shoulder. Because it's such an ugly backpack, I'm often left feeling a little silly.

You know, as a motorcyclist, bedecked in your gear, you want people to look at you when you enter a restaurant/bar/coffee shop/Build-A-Bear and think: "Hey look, the cool guy is here."

But then they see me rocking my 1990s-styled Oxford X30 backpack and think: "Oh dear, someone's escaped from the Home for the Mentally Inept."

Still, despite all that, the bag's usefulness and the incredible convenience of being able to have stuff (like a map or water or sunglasses) right in front of me and to hand when I'm on the bike has made it almost indispensable. It feels strange to ride without it.

If you can handle the shame of having the motorcycle equivalent of a fanny pack/bum bag, I recommend getting one.

Dorky, but ready for adventure


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