Overview. Riding around S America, you will experience all extremes of weather: in Patagonia, it rained constantly for three days: I’ve ridden through snow storms in the Peruvian highlands; in NW Argentina in January temperatures reached into the forties (celsius) and even the wind was hot; and an early morning ride on the Altiplano will have you freezing in sub-zero temperatures. Picking you clothing to cope with it all is therefore a challenge. I opted not to go for all-weather outer clothing, instead opting for gear which would allow me to stay cool in the heat and taking the minor inconvenience of needing waterproof outers in the rain.
Riding Jacket. I chose the REV’IT Sand Jacket, as I wanted good ventilation, and a jacket which wouldn’t break the bank. It’s been the perfect jacket for a journey through South America: cool enough in the Atacama Desert summer, warm enough with the waterproof inner on the Bolivian Altiplano in the early mornings, and sufficiently rain-proof with the inner fitted. When I’m expecting heavy rain, I wear my Goretex jacket over the top. After 18 months of persistent use it was a bit faded, but otherwise still fully functioning. Nevertheless, I took the opportunity during a visit back to UK to replace it with the REV’IT! Sand 2, which is even better than the original. Even if I was offered a top-of-the-range Goretex jacket, I’d still choose the Sand 2 to do this trip.
Riding Trousers. I started the trip with a pair of Richa Spirit trousers which I use in UK. Fully waterproof, very breathable, but unventilated, they were a blessing in the cold and wet Patagonia, fine in the temperate regions of central Chile and Argentina, but way too hot when I reached the Atacama and NW Argentina in the summer. So I swtiched to Klim Dakar ‘In the Boot’ Pants. Tough, padded, very comfortable and most importantly sporting a 20 inch ventilation zip, they were perfect in the heat of the summer. But surprisingly, they have also been very comfortable in the Peruvian highlands if I wear my Icebreaker tights beneath. They can handle a shower, but when it really rains I use a pair of cheap waterproof over-trousers that I bought in Santiago. Takes a five minute stop, but works perfectly. A year and a half on and I won’t consider changing them for anything else (except for another pair which aren’t red!)
Helmet. I use a Shoei Hornet with the visor removed and goggles in its place. I removed the visor because the Tenere can create a lot of buffeting coming up through the tank past the forks, and I found the open visor really accentuated this. Goggles have been a blessing on occasions where vehicles are kicking up a lot of dust, but they aren’t so good in the wet. I’ve been very happy with the Shoei: it’s showing the wear and tear and the shell (white) is starting to discolour a bit due to the sun, but it is super comfortable, easy to clean and I’m now a convert to peaked helmets. My only complaint is the plastic screws that hold the peak on kept breaking when I dropped the helmet (which will inevitably happen when you on the road day after day), so I’ve replaced them with metal ones.
Boots. Finding the ideal boot was not so easy. I wanted good protection for riding off-road, waterproofness, comfort and grip when walking and something that would be warm in the cold and cool in the heat. At the start of the trip, I opted for a pair of W2 Adventure Boots, at a mere £140. They were superb – very comfortable both on the bike and when walking over for several kilometres, and offering fairly good protection. After 18 months of near constant use, one of the soles began to come away from the uppers. My only criticism is they lack armour around the ankle and the shin guard is a bit too short, leaving the top of my shin exposed. Therefore, I have swapped to a pair of FORMA Adventure Boots. They are similar to the W2s, but critically for me the extra height of the boot now means I no longer have a gap between my knee pad and the boot – which is exactly the point my pegs hit me in the shin! Whilst still very light and comfortable, I feel better protected throughout the boot than in the W2s. After several thousand kilometres riding in the Formas, I’m a big fan.
Knee Pads. I use Force Field Limb Tube Knee Protectors. Originally I bought them so I could ride in lightweight trousers if the weather got too hot. Now I need them because the Dakar Pants don’t have integral kneepads. I only notice them in the hottest of weather, when the proximity to the skin and make things a bit sweaty! I’ve crashed a couple of times and landed directly on my knee – ample protection and felt nothing. Still going strong after two and a half years, although the straps are now losing a little bit of their elasticity.
Gloves. You need two pairs of gloves here – for the cold and the heat – although the cold-weather gloves rarely get used. Initially I was using Klim Dakar Gloves – very cool in the hot weather and very comfortable, but I wouldn’t want an out-stretched hand to hit the tarmac at speed. So I’ve switched a pair of REV’IT! Sand Pro gloves – more protection, a little warmer and thus even more versatile, and for me they are a better fit with longer fingers. For the cold and wet, I use a pair of REV’IT Phantom GTX – leather and Goretex, they are not full-on winter gloves but as a result they are not too bulky either. With heated grips and Barkbusters to keep off the wind, I’ve not had cold hands except for early mornings at 4000m+.
Under Clothing. As the trip has evolved, I have become a disciple of Merino wool – cool in the heat, warm in the cold, and you can wear if for days and days without it becoming smelly. I now have Icebreaker tights, long and short sleeved t-shirts and even three pairs of underpants. I’ve also been using a couple of Rab MeCo t-shirts, which are not 100% Merino but are more robust. Once you’ve got used to Merino, there is no going back!