River Road Balaclava
River Road Balaclava Review
| Owner Comments (Below)
by Chris B. for webBikeWorld.com
Editor's Note: A balaclava (aka balaclava helmet) is
defined as "a cap that is close-fitting and woolen and
covers all of the head but the face."
I did some research to try and find the origin of the
word, but to no avail. However, I did come across
some interesting British history regarding the
Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean war in 1854.
Apparently, knit wool Balaclava helmets were sent to
the soldiers fighting that war by the folks back home.
The Balaclava pattern has been used as a head covering
for centuries, probably because it makes sense to cover
the head and neck as a way to keep warm.
It's a little late in the season here in the northern
hemisphere to be thinking about Balaclavas for winter
motorcycle riding, but don't forget that our riding
colleagues on the flip side of the 0th
parallel are just about to begin their winter, so this
one's for you...
If you only ride in weather hot enough for jeans and
a T-shirt, this article’s not going to interest you
much. But for those year 'round riders like me
that have trouble getting through a day or week without
riding regardless of the outside temperature (or if you
would simply like to extend your riding season into
cooler weather) then you may want to continue reading.
Anyone who has been out in the cold on a windy day
knows that without the proper clothing you can get
really cold really fast. However, activities like
skiing, hiking or chopping wood cause the body to
produce heat, which makes it much easier to tolerate the
cold with lighter clothing.
The problem occurs when we’re sitting on our
motorcycles, riding in the cold and the wind. No
activity means little extra body heat, and the heat
that's left is mostly being dissipated in vast
quantities at a rapid rate with the head being the
biggest contributor to the loss. Besides being
bloody uncomfortable, it’s also dangerous!
If not prevented, hypothermia can quickly overcome
the rider, depending on body weight, body mass, and road
speed (aka wind chill). Two of the most common
symptoms of hypothermia are slowed thoughts and slowed
reflexes, both of which can be deadly while riding a
So it's important to have good insulated gear, to
dress in layers using good quality motorcycle wind
blocking clothing, or to use some heated gear like the
heated jacket liner or the
vest. I made the plunge a few years ago and
bought Gerbing’s Ultimate Suit which works well for me.
It's important to try different types of clothing to
find a combination that will keep out all of the drafts
that can creep in and defeat the many layers of clothing
you’ve managed to pile on. The biggest source of
drafty cold air is around the rider's neck.
air can travel right down your back and chill you to the
bone, despite wearing enough clothing to look like the
Michelin man's long-lost twin brother. I can tell
immediately whenever I don’t have things sealed up
properly because the cold air seeps in like water
through a broken seal.
The best solution I’ve found for keeping my neck and
head warm is in the form of a Balaclava worn under my
helmet. A good Balaclava fits over the entire
head, leaving only the eyes or face uncovered. It
should extend down over the neck and continue onto the
chest and back for maximum protection.
I’ve been using one for the last few years that uses
a material labeled as “Windtech” for the neck and thick
spandex for the part that fits over the head. It
is both stretchy and comfortable, but I still seemed to
have a cold spot right across the base of my skull.
I hadn’t explored many other options until one cold
day when I stopped by my dealer and got to talking with
another cold weather rider. He said he’d found
another product that cured that problem for him.
It’s made by River Road and is of the same configuration
as my Balaclava, although it's constructed from
different materials. Perfect!
I went back the next weekend and bought one, put it
on and tried it out on the way home. I initially
found it to be quite tight across my mouth. If I
pulled it down to rest under my chin, when I moved my
mouth it rode up over my lower jaw and got stuck across
my mouth much like a horse’s bit.
According to the photo on the box that it came in,
It’s actually supposed to be worn over the mouth and
nose, leaving only the eyes exposed. The next
thing I noticed as I picked up speed was the lack of
insulation for the head/skull area.
My old noggin
was quickly becoming chilly and my ears were also
getting cold, even wearing a full-face helmet on a
motorcycle with a full windscreen.
Once home, on closer inspection I noticed the fabric
over the head is a thin but heavily perforated “Coolmax”
material. That would explain why my head was
getting so cold.
The material that covers the neck
is claimed to be made of “comfortable fleece …
windproof/breathable” and it seems to do a good job of
blocking the wind, but the material does not extend far
enough down into my jacket on the back to maintain a
proper seal unless I keep my head still and don’t turn
it from side to side (see photo, left).
I don’t know about you, but
I’m continually moving my head back and forth as I scan
for traffic and road hazards.
I laid the two balaclavas side by side and did some
measuring. I found that the flaps were the same
length at the front where they extend onto the chest,
but the rear flap from the River Road product was a full
4 ½” shorter than my old Balaclava, thus explaining the
easy loss of a seal at the back of the neck.
If you’re looking for a solution to keep your head and
neck warm while riding in cool/cold weather, a Balaclava
is probably the answer, but the River Road product comes
up short in performance and insulation.
Although it claims to “protect head and neck from the
cold wind”, my opinion is that the material used
does very little to retain the heat in my head and the
short flap on the back fails to keep cold air from
streaming into the back of my jacket.
In my opinion, all it needs to be a great product is
a warmer material over the head to hold in the heat, and
about another 5" added to the rear flap. It can
also use a more flexible material over the mouth that
provides some stretch, which would make it less
confining and restrictive. Keep these tips in mind
when you're looking for your next Balaclava.
Review: River Road Balaclava
Retail Price: $34.95
Comments: Needs better insulating material over the head
and a longer rear section to keep out the cold air.
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From "J.A." (4/10): "I personally won't ride in less
than 15C (50F) weather with out using my River Road balaclava under my
helmet (review), with a partial windscreen.
The coldest that I have ridden is 2F and while many parts were pretty cold
my head was not one of them. The material does give enough to allow
you to park the lower opening below your chin for a drink or snack and yet
covers the chin and even the nose which is nice for really cold rides.
As to the back of the neck being occasionally exposed because the (tail) of
the balaclava is shorter I have to agree with you that during a two hour
ride I sometimes find that after moving around a bit in the saddle that the
back has moved up enough to allow a cool breeze across my back, usually that
is a good time to take a break anyhow.
All things considered I am still very satisfied with the value and
performance of my River Road balaclava."