Aerostich’s latest iteration of its iconic Roadcrafter riding suit, the R3, is not magic. Search the interwebs for reviews of the thing and you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise; I cannot find a single negative take. This review won’t challenge that trend – expect glowing praise forthwith – but because people’s fondness for the R3 can be so over the top I feel it’s important to start with that reality: the R3 is not magic.
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It is not the 100-percent perfect solution for every possible contingency. It is (probably) not the last and only piece of gear you’ll ever need to buy. It is not made of unicorn hair, nor sewn by fairies. Aerostich founder Andy Goldfine, despite the beard, is not a wizard. But the R3 is one of the overall best pieces of kit you’ll encounter, and it may still change your life.
Based in Duluth, Minnesota, Aerostich and its often straightforward products are well known and well loved by folks who spend a lot of time on a motorcycle, commuters and long-distance riders in particular. The item for which Aerostich is best known is the Roadcrafter, a unique one-piece item inspired by the utility and ease of boiler suits. Made of heavy Cordura and lined with Gore-Tex, the Roadcrafter suit is famously durable and water-resistant.
The R3 is the third iteration of Roadcrafter, lighter and with a few more features than the original design introduced 35 years ago. That original design is still sold, by the way, as the Roadcrafter Classic.
Starting at US $1,197 (roughly £935*), the R3 ain’t cheap but most owners (including yours truly) will tell you it’s worth the price. The suit is available in some 61 different sizes, running from 34R to 54L, and is made in the United States (No. 21 on the Democracy Index).
No one is more critical of the R3’s aesthetics than the man who designed it. Andy Goldfine will tell you flat out that his creation is ugly, but justifies its looks by emphasizing its utility. Effectively his argument is: “I’d rather ride more than look cool, and the R3 facilitates riding more.”
READ MORE: Meet the Man Behind Aerostich, Andy Goldfine
But he may be worrying too much. I think the suit looks strangely cool, and to my delight I’ve had a number of women agree with me – namely my wife and all the 20-something girls in my office. These are the sort of opinions that matter to me; five attractive women have told me that I look “badass,” “kinda cool,” and “like a proper world traveller.” Related to that latter observation, the R3 is arguably en vogue (in Europe, at least) thanks to the adventure bike craze. The rugged, pocket-rich textile one-piece suit is not that visually different from the rugged, pocket rich textile two-piece suits that Rukka has made in China.
Arguably, the issue of the R3’s coolness manifests primarily in the wearer, and partially how he or she wears it (more on that below). People who ride a lot are cool, even if they don’t look like Dutch van Someren (co-founder of The Bike Shed CC, who has the annoying quality of being equal parts handsome, likable, and a good rider). And as evidence that Aerostich may be on to something, you’ll find a handful of imitators out there. Consider the BMW CoverAll suit, the Stellar Moto Brand Stratosphere Jumpsuit, and the Hideout Metropole.
The R3 is available in five different colors – black, grey, tan, hi-viz, and orange – with six options for the “ballistics” colors, ie, the reinforced areas at the shoulders, lower arms and lower legs: black, grey, red, pink, hi-viz, and blue. My suit is grey and black. If I had it all to do over again, I’d get tan and black, or black and tan, or black and red, or some other combination that’s a little less “meh” than grey and black. But I had initially acquiesced to the idea of it being uncool, so was thinking in bleak and utilitarian terms. Though, the plus side is that I never feel obligated to clean it of road muck.
To that end, avoid getting a hi-viz suit or ballistics. Hi-viz is highly susceptible to road grime – only a step above wearing white. The R3 will last for years; you don’t want to spend the next decade or so walking around with a color scheme that highlights your grubbiness. If you’re jonesing for visibility beyond the reflective strips that are a part of every R3, just wear an Oxford hi-viz vest over the R3. The vest is easier to wash and costs a hell of a lot less to replace (something you don’t have to do often; my current vest has held up for two years).
The broad range of sizes available is another of the Roadcrafter’s major selling points. It’s not bespoke, but you have a much better shot at getting something that fits than if simply choosing from items offered in Small, Medium, and Large. You can also pay extra for certain alterations; well-fed individuals can add a little room in the belly, for example.
You can get these alterations done by Aerostich from the get-go. Folks in the United Kingdom benefit from the fact that Kate Jennings and her team at Hideout Leather are well versed in making Roadcrafter alterations and repairs.
Ask Andy Goldfine advice on sizing and he’ll suggest a baggy fit, thereby leaving room for moving around. If you’re the sort of person who’s doesn’t like wearing gear this might make sense; the less restrictive something is the more likely someone who hates gear is to wear it, I suppose. But I like the psychological benefit that comes from feeling ‘wrapped up’ in my gear. So, my advice is to get a suit that actually fits (without being restrictive). The plus side of doing this is the suit will look better; think about other serial Roadcrafter wearers like Abhi Eswarappa of Bike-urious, Zack Courts of Motorcyclist, and some guy named Wes Siler. They all appear to have eschewed Andy’s “go baggy” advice and look the better for it.
My suit is a 40L and fits well. There’s still more room in the torso than I need, but it means there’s space for a gilet or heated vest in colder weather. Note that I do not say sweater. The suit has ginormous armor pads that are big and puffy to the point of not moving around. This is what you want, of course – armor is no good if it’s going to shift away from the areas it’s supposed to protect in a crash – but it does limit how much bulk you can pile on when the weather turns poor. That said, I’m able to stay relatively warm with a combination of a Merino wool base layer, Knox Cold Killers wind jacket, and Keis heated vest over the shirt I’m wearing to work that day. This has so far worked in temperatures down to -3°C (26.6°F) on my 40-minute commute.
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Somewhat related, my biggest complaint about the R3 is that it is too narrow at the wrist for me to tuck in most gauntlet gloves. Oxford sent me a pair of its surprisingly excellent Northolt 1.0 gloves, which just barely squeeze in, but my Dainese Universe and Klim Adventure gloves are too bulky; I’m left to tuck the R3’s sleeve into the glove.
In fairness, there are two possible responses to this complaint:
1) I blatantly disregarded Aerostich’s advice to get a 42L, so I’m paying for my vanity with a suit that’s just a bit tight in some places.
2) See the above statement regarding the fact the R3 is not magic. Roadcrafter owners have a strong habit of using their suits in situations for which they were not originally intended. The initial philosophy behind the Roadcrafter, and, by extension, the R3, was to make something that worked well for commuting in warm weather. The idea was to create gear as protective as leather but not as hot or heavy. My insistence on using an R3 to commute in the cold, wet misery of Britain shows that it is an extremely versatile piece of kit but I shouldn’t really moan if it’s not quite as winter-ready as, say, a Dainese Antarctica suit.
That said, Aerostich does describe the R3 as waterproof, which means the company expects you will wear it in the rain, warm or otherwise. So, I feel sleeves that can accommodate gauntlet gloves should be part of the plan. Otherwise you run the risk of having water run down the sleeve into your glove.
Meanwhile, a Roadcrafter is a hell of a lot more durable than just about anything else you’ll find out there, which means it has a greater break-in time. I didn’t really start to feel comfortable in my R3 until I had put a full month of everyday use into the thing. I’ve been using my R3 regularly for a little more than a year and it still looks pretty new. The plus side to this, obviously, is the R3 is clearly going to last a long time. Some owners claim to have held on to their Roadcrafters in excess of 20 years (which certainly takes the sting out of its price tag).
The R3 is made of 500d Cordura, with 1000d Cordura on those vital “ballistics” points. A cool thing about this particular Cordura is that it is American-made – not usually the case. Outsourcing has moved most Cordura production away from its original American home, but Aerostich’s long-standing contract grandfathers the company in to being able to use the same stuff the US military gets.
I have not crashed in the suit nor do I want to, but there is a hell of a lot of testimonial evidence from 35 years of Roadcrafter sales to support the belief that it would perform well. At Aerostich’s HQ in Duluth you’ll find a kind of Hall of Shame of suits that saved their owners’ skins, each with a story of the incident that resulted in the scuffed and retired suit. Notably, none of those suits look in all that bad a condition, despite pretty high-speed slides in some cases.
Frustratingly, you also have to rely on testimonial evidence when it comes to the armor used in the R3 – it is not EN1621-1 rated. That’s the standard by which shoulder, elbow, and knee armor is evaluated in the European Union. The absence of this rating is my biggest bugbear about the R3, because it forces a potential buyer to rely on collective wisdom rather than an independent evaluation. True, that collective wisdom has been built up over 35 years – people have been crashing and surviving in Roadcrafters for longer than the European Union’s even been around to test their claims – but there’s always danger in the ’50 Million Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong’ line of thinking.
Every R3 comes equipped with TF3 Impact armor, which is handmade in Duluth. Consisting of very large sections of viscoelastic material paired with plastic, the armor certainly looks the part and covers a much larger area than the certified stuff you’d find in, say, my Oxford Montreal 3.0 jacket. And, as mentioned above, its size helps it stay in place.
About a decade ago, Aerostich went to the trouble to have its armor independently tested at a lab in England and discovered it was well within the tolerances of EN1621-1. Aerostich doesn’t go for certification, however, because: a) it believes certain pieces of TF armor would fail certain testing methods because it is so large; b) securing EU certification is crazy expensive. Nonetheless, as an unabashed fan of Aerostich who would very much like to see the company operating more in Europe I do wish things were otherwise. Obviously, though, the solution for anyone who’s seriously concerned is to simply buy some Knox armor or the like and put it in place of the Aerostich stuff – easily done since Aerostich’s adjustable armor attaches via Velcro.
Personally, though, I have faith in the Aerostich armor (because it’s so much larger, I actually prefer it) and have added TF3 Impact hip armor and the TF3 Competition back protector to my own suit.
Moving away from armor, one of the things owners rave about is the R3’s weather protection. Aerostich describes the suit as waterproof, but I’m reminded of the observation made by the folks at MotoLegends: “When does ‘waterproof’ not actually mean ‘waterproof?’ When it’s used to describe motorcycle gear.”
I have never had my suit let water in, and goodness knows I’ve ridden through a few showers, but I don’t think I’d rely solely on my R3 if I knew I were going to be tackling long stretches of bad weather. A bike moving at highway speed through rain effectively creates Category 1 hurricane conditions, and putting up with such a situation for long periods of time is a lot to ask of gear. If I know I’m going to be in constant rain for a few hours (riding from Cardiff to London, for example) I’ll bolster my protection by throwing on my Dainese D-Crust rain gear over the R3.
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In addition to being famously durable, and famously water-resistant, the Roadcrafter is also famously easy to put on. I can get in or out of it in about 10 seconds. The main zipper – running from the upper chest to the left ankle – runs counterintuitively from top to bottom. I can’t now remember why Andy chose to make it this way, as opposed to having the zip start at your ankle and run up. He explained his reasoning to me and I felt it was sound, though I’ll admit that I sometimes question the decision when trying to slot the zipper into its space, the top of the zip existing on the edge of my peripheral vision.
If you’re wearing a button-up shirt right now, place your finger between the second and third button from the top. Now look down; that’s more or less where the R3’s zipper starts. Yes, if you tuck your chin and strain your eyes you can see your finger but it’s not easy, nor a position you want to hold for long. Every once in a while my fine motor skills won’t be up to snuff and I’ll struggle to get the zipper into place; with my chin tucked and eyes straining, my patience evaporates quickly.
Here’s the good news, though: it’s a double zip. So once you get it on you can still zip down to allow air flow in hotter months; fellas can zip all the way down to be able to wee by the roadside. If you’re a woman or need to go No. 2, you’ll be better off removing the whole suit and hanging it on the stall’s coat hanger. But, as I say, removing it only takes about 10 seconds.
The collar has a soft lining and can be popped up to cover almost all of the neck, staying closed thanks to Velcro. See the above observation about break-in time. The collar feels uncomfortable and stiff for a while, but things will get better.
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When it’s warm, there are “rare earth” magnets in the collar to help it stay open. This system is better than the snaps you’d encounter on other jackets because it’s a process that can be done one handed, on the move, and in a state of frustration, ie, it’s a system that works when you’re on the bike and suddenly aware of being too hot. In addition to the ability to zip open the torso section of the R3, there are also large vents under the arms and at the back.
I’ve used the R3 in summer heat and cannot think of any gear that performs better, including my mesh jacket. It’s incredibly light and lets in a lot of air when you want it to. The other side of this coin, though, is that it is not very warm on its own. When the weather turns cool you’ll need to develop a clothing system if you want to wear the R3 through winter.
There are six pockets on the on the R3, all accessed from the outside and as water-resistant as they’d be if on the inside of the suit. There are two large pockets on the chest, one of which isn’t terribly useful: the left-side pocket that holds the carabiner (which Andy suggests riders use to hang their helmets). This pocket also has a space to stuff your gloves, which is a feature I noticed Dainese has just added to its Explorer range of jackets. Accessing the actual left-side pocket is a little difficult, though, so I use it as a place to hold my insurance documents.
The zipped pocket on the right side of the chest more than makes up for its opposite’s shortcomings. It is deliberately large enough to hold a liter bottle of water… or, you know, a bottle of gin. Within it is a tiny slot pocket that I use to hold my phone. On each thigh you’ll find Velcro-top pockets almost deep enough to hold an old-school Michelin road map – plenty of room for wallets, phone, keys, and the like.
Close to the right knee you’ll find a zip pocket large enough to hold a wallet or a sandwich, depending on your priorities. Lastly, there is a coin pocket on the right sleeve – there to hold change for toll booths, and placed on the right sleeve to encourage you to take your bike out of gear in such a situation. And if you want more pockets you can use your own. There are hidden zips at each side that allow very easy access to the pockets of your jeans.
I commute every day in my R3, as well as wearing it any time I head to London to catch a flight. The fact I’ve written more than 3,500 words about the thing should clue you in to the fact I’m a big fan. It costs a lot, but I really do feel it’s worth it.
Though, related to cost, I always offer a note of caution to people considering the purchase. I get asked about the R3 quite often, with the heart of people’s questions being: “Is it really worth the money?”
The heart of my answer is: “Yes, definitely – if you use it.”
Consider this: a snow blower is a better tool for clearing a driveway of snow than a shovel. But is it a good idea to buy a snow blower if you live in southern Arkansas? Probably not; you won’t use it enough to vindicate the purchase. The R3 is like a really, really good snow blower. It’s useful, but if you’re not really going to use it regularly you may be wasting money. If you’re Drew Faulkner of Moto Adventurer, you should definitely be wearing Aerostich. But if you’re the guy who lives across the street from me, having taken your MV Agusta out just once in the past eight months, you can get away with owning cheaper gear.
For its part, Aerostich believes owning an R3 will encourage you to ride more, in part because the process of gearing up is easier. Aerostich is so confident of this it has introduced the Ride More Guarantee: buy an R3 (or Roadcrafter Classic, or Cousin Jeremy waxed cotton one-piece), and if you’re not riding more within a month you get a full refund.
As I say, if you use it, the R3 is an incredibly good piece of kit – made in the United States by an incredibly good company. In a decade or so, if/when my R3 starts to look a little worn, I will be buying another Roadcrafter suit; I can tell you that already. The quality of a Roadcrafter is such that the expense feels completely justified.
The R3 isn’t magic, but it comes pretty close.
* If you live in the UK, you should buy a Roadcrafter as soon as possible. The pound will likely tank as a result of Brexit and that will mean the suit will only become more expensive.