Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Roadcrafter Diaries

Becoming a staffer at Motorcyclist came with a great perk. Andy Goldfine, at Aerostich, comped me a one-piece Roadcrafter suit. 

If there’s one thing all professional motorcycle journalists have in common, it’s that when we’re not riding for cameras, our default outfit is an Aerostich Roadcrafter.

Mine even came with Velcro patches to attach knee pucks. I remember someone asking me, “Do you trust it enough to ride it on the track?” and I was, like, Dude, this suit is better protection than any leather suit. It felt bombproof and—15 years later—it’s proving Andy’s claim that the only flaw with the original Roadcrafter is, he only ever sells one suit per person, because they last forever.

My favorite Aerostich story happened soon after my suit arrived. I lived in San Diego and commuted up to the Motorcyclist offices in Hollywood two or three times a week. On the way up, I usually stopped for coffee at San Juan Capistrano, which was the last place for a break before entering the maelstrom of Orange County traffic.

One day I was sitting in the coffee shop there, going through some ride notes for an upcoming story, aware that two attractive women sat at an adjacent table. They looked like—and turned out to be—a mom-and-daughter.

The 20-something leaned over and interrupted me. “Excuse me but we were wondering,” she asked, “Are you some kind of fireman?”

“No,” I deadpanned. “I’m an astronaut. I was on a training mission and splashed down into the ocean just nearby. This is my survival suit. I’ve called for pickup and within a few minutes a NASA helicopter will arrive to collect me.”

She totally bought it, and I could’ve kept it going but I then told them the truth. The 20-something was nearly as interested in my real job, but I found myself thinking, I want you to shut up so I can steer the conversation to your mom, who’s closer to my age. Anyway, the mom didn’t seem to have any interest in motorcycle journalists. Too bad I wasn’t really a fireman, I guess.

Notwithstanding that one time it sparked a conversation with attractive women, it’s about as stylish as… well, I don’t know what. I have an ex-racer friend who also defaults to a Roadcrafter for around-town rides. One day I met him at a hip cafĂ©. We both arrived in Aerostich.  I greeted him by saying, “You realize we’re wearing the only gear that makes it possible to ride up on a KTM 990 Adventure and a Bonneville and not be cool.”

Well, I can tell myself that functionality counts for something. It’s a bummer for Andy that like pretty much all motorcycle journalists, when the cameras come out I usually swap gear for something more photogenic. As a result, he doesn’t get anywhere near as much press as his Roadcrafter suit deserves.

One reason I half-expected Andy and his company to get some press during the last election cycle was that with all the talk of "bringing manufacturing jobs back" to the U.S., Aerostich is a company that never gave up on American manufacturing in the first place.

My Roadcrafter one-piece suit now sells for $1,200-something. I don't doubt that Andy could cut that amount dramatically by outsourcing his manufacturing. So why doesn't he do that? Having chatted with him about it, I'd say a big part of his decision to keep manufacturing right in his Duluth MN factory has to do with a belief that it's the right thing to do, even if the steep final price of his product costs him sales and in spite of the fact that outsourcing would likely make him personally wealthy. Since Roadcrafter suits are extensively customizable, I'm sure it helps to be within a coupl'a time zones of most customers.

One thing I'm dead certain of is this: While it's definitely possible to make a great product in China (BMW assembles some vehicles there) the quality of my Roadcrafter is outstanding in large part because it was almost entirely made by one skilled American craftsperson who earned a living wage for doing so in a corporate environment where 'Made in the USA' reflects the pride of the person and values of the company.

After two years of jingoistic political sloganeering along the lines of, "Bringing manufacturing jobs back" and "Making America Great Again" I find myself thinking, if you're gonna' try that, please consider Aerostich's example: Make "Made in the USA" synonymous with uncompromising quality, let the price fall where it will. The average rider's cost-per-year is cheaper, in Aerostich, than it is in some made-in-Thailand jacket that will need to be replaced before the end of its second season.