BMG Challenger Jacket Review
by Rick K. for webBikeWorld.com
I'll admit it: I'm a Belstaff fan and have been for a number of years.
Belstaff was the "It" brand back in the day...I'm talking about the way, way back, when engineer boots, jeans and a thrift store leather jacket were all we had.
Yep -- add a pair of leather garden gloves and you're good to go.
Save up enough scratch and maybe you could own a Made in England, genuine Belstaff.
That was then. This is now.
The gear hasn't been made in Blighty in some time, and a few years ago the Belstaff brand name was sold to an Italian manufacturer of fashion clothing.
But no worries, mate -- British Motorcycle Gear, right here in the Colonies, has taken up the cause.
They have acquired a large stock of genuine Belstaff inventory, and is selling it via their website (see the Summary table below for the link and more information).
Belstaff clothing is probably one of the best-kept secrets in motorcycling; you don't see the stuff hanging on the racks of every local bike shop, but to a certain extent, that's a good thing.
Those of us in the know like it that way.
Besides, the direct sales approach via the British Motorcycle Gear website has probably kept the prices a bit lower than they would be with the distribution channel sharks taking their cut along the way.
The Challenger jacket is a good example, because it's loaded with features at a reasonable price.
Based on my experience with the couple of rides I've been able to sneak in with the Challenger over the last few cold and snowy weeks, I'd say the jacket was designed with cold and/or wet weather riding conditions in mind, which makes sense, when you think about England's weather.
I can't comment on the Challenger's warm weather capabilities; that will have to wait for, oh about another 6 weeks or so I'm afraid.
But I can say that the Challenger works really well down to about the 40-degree (F) range, which is about as low as I'll go anyway. The jacket is claimed to be 100% waterproof, again something I can't vouch for, because any precipitation coming this way lately has been of the solid variety.
I can tell you that it's very windproof and it offers excellent protection when riding on an unfaired bike in temps that would freeze your jaw shut solid. Or mine anyway...
The very thick-feeling 600 denier fabric probably helps, as does the permanently attached inner liner. I'm not sure if there's a waterproof membrane in between the two, but the outer shell does seem thicker than usual on this type of jacket. This provides a solid feeling of protection -- a good thing.
The Challenger also includes a zippered removable inner thermal liner; it's quilted silver on the inside but unlike most of these zip-in liners, this one also has its own windproof shell on the outside, which doubles the protection from any air that does sneak in through the jacket's thick outer skin. The combination of all of these barriers probably accounts for the jacket's excellent wind protecting qualities.
In addition to the two chest zips, the quilted liner also uses a snap at the neck and two each at the wrists to hold it in place. By the way, it's not just a thermal vest -- it's a full-length item with thick insulation down the arms and thicker than normal, elastic cuffs.
The Challenger shown here is the Belstaff version of the Challenger in size medium. I tried a large but exchanged it for the medium because the large seemed like it was about a U.S. men's size 44-45, rather than the 42-43 I prefer.
Our feeling is that too many motorcycle riders are wearing their clothes too loose; that is, they buy them in the street clothes sizes they're used to, which may give a comfortable street clothes fit but can prevent the armor and padding from doing its job in a crash. I'll wager that almost every rider could stand one size smaller and will end up a lot safer.
In any case, British Motorcycle Gear still has a few of the older Belstaff labeled versions of the Challenger around, and these have a smaller than normal sleeve circumference. The medium shown here fits very snugly on my arms, which actually isn't a problem because it keeps that nice Knox elbow armor and the outer sewn-in padding exactly where it should be.
But my arms are, well, let's just say that my forearms aren't exactly like Popeye's, so the narrower diameter sleeves fit. The Challenger jackets have a normal sized arm circumference, so expect a sleeve fit appropriate to the jacket's size.
The sleeves have two adjustments; one Velcro strap up top and a two-button snap adjuster on the forearm, which should allow any rider to tailor the jacket sleeve to fit perfectly.
The sleeve also has a unique zippered vent, which can be opened up from the wrist all the way to the upper arm. It's backed by the inner waterproofing liner, so it doesn't flow air directly on to the rider's arm, but there are two zippered vents in the back of the jacket and I think the air exhausts out that way.
Remember that I didn't really have the opportunity to try the vents because of the cold weather we've been having lately, but this is one of the reasons I think that the Challenger is designed for fall, winter or early spring use.
The Challenger's styling and its true 3/4 length puts it squarely in the Adventure Touring category, which, in case you haven't noticed, has been one of the fastest-growing segments in motorcycling (up an average of 19% in the "Dual Use" category for 2006 from the numbers I've seen).
Adventure Tourers like lots of pockets, and the Challenger is up to the task. The two top pockets are located on the upper chest. They're "Napoleon" style 8.5" long vertical pockets and they both have dual opening zippers, a nice feature which allows them to be opened from the top or bottom. All of the zippers on the Challenger's pockets have nice, big, webbed fabric zipper pulls that are actually sewn around the loop on the tip of the shorter metal pull on the zipper itself.
Inside the left side vertical chest pocket lives a useful little coin purse with its own zipper. The coin purse is permanently attached to the pocket guts. This pocket also includes a small vertical cell phone pocket with its own Velcro flap cover.
The left pocket also includes a fabric loop sewn on the outer placket. I guess this might come in handy for hooking on a set of keys or maybe a small flashlight or knife? Although I'm not sure I'd trust mine anywhere outside of a zipped pocket, I'm sure someone on a rough tour would find a use for it.
The right-side vertical pocket has another unique feature, a removable ID holder, attached with Velcro inside and which folds out and has a clear cover. This is perfect for holding an ID badge; the dual zippers make it easy to open the pocket, whip out the ID and get through the gate, which can be a problem when riding a motorcycle nowadays with all the heightened levels of security everywhere you go.
The front lower pockets are also a two-in-one. On the outside of each of the big square pockets is a slanted zipper, which uncovers a small hand pocket. The large patch pockets behind these smaller hand pockets have a full-length horizontal Velcro flap with a double fold to enhance water resistance.
There are also two zippered pockets at the bottom of each sleeve, down near the cuff. These would come in handy for holding toll booth change or maybe some visor wipes or tissues, handy in winter weather.
Inside the liner is another cell phone pocket, and a zippered pocket up along the inside of the placket on the left inner side.
And finally, there's a wide external zippered pocket on the outside of the lower section of the back of the Challenger. Good for storing a sammich maybe?
Let's see -- there's more: a big-toothed W&P zipper seals up the front and this one is also a dual opening zipper; the jacket can be opened from the top down or bottom up. This comes in handy when making a pit stop, as the bottom half of the jacket can be opened without having to fuss with the neck. Brilliant!
The front flap that covers the zipper is attached with 6 metal snaps, but the snaps are sewn underneath the fabric on the outside, so no chance of them scratching the paint. There's a seventh snap up at the neck, inboard of the top flap snap. Just at the top of the neck there are two V-shaped darts with elastic fabric that allow the top of the flap some movement to fit various shaped bodies. Very thoughtful.
The neck has a comfy neoprene-like padded collar and a Velcro closure. I wish it was a bit longer, as usual, for my thick neck. But there's also a separate Velcro strap neck adjuster for those with smaller necks.
More Velcro strap adjustments are located at the top of the shoulder, between the shoulder and the collarbone section of the jacket, although I have a sneaking suspicion these are more for style than substance.
In addition to the two-per-sleeve adjusters mentioned previously, the Challenger also has a belt adjustment at the waist, elastic around the sides of the waist AND a four metal snap adjustment belt just under the upper arm! This thing is made to fit, I can tell you that. None of us have ever seen so many adjustments on a motorcycle jacket.
But wait: there's more! A diagonal section of fabric is sewn up on either side of the neck by the collarbone. Each section has a metal grommet inserted, which I think could be used to hang various accoutrements necessary for riding the Tundra.
In addition to the CE-approved Knox armor in the elbows and forearm, the shoulders also include Knox armor and both are covered on the outside with sewn-in EVA foam padding as a backup. These sections are covered with a separate piece of heavy outer fabric for abrasion resistance.
The upper arms have a few sections of sewn-in padding just for good measure, as does the lower back, down by the kidneys and across the back. A CE-approved back protector is available as an option; it wasn't included in ours but I recommend you order this with yours.
I have no doubt I've missed a feature or two here; the jacket is loaded with them, making it a real chore to describe everything. The photos don't do justice to the number of thoughtful features on this jacket, and I'll bet it takes quite some time and labor to put this all together.
The Challenger has many interesting features not found on other 3/4 length motorcycle jackets. The combination of its heavy-weight fabric, the high quality armor and external padding give the Challenger a substantial feel and I'll bet this one will last a long, long time in heavy use.
|wBW Review: British Motorcycle Gear Challenger Jacket|
|Available From: British Motorcycle Gear||List Price (2007): $279.00|
|Colors: Black/Blue/White. Black/Gunmetal.||Made In: Unknown|
|Sizes: XS to 4XL.||Review Date: February 2007. Revised: July 2007|
Note: Item was provided by a retailer, distributor or manufacturer with these Terms and Conditions.
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From "S.S.": "I purchased the challenger from BMG at a motorcycle show here in Houston last fall to replace my very old, beat up, and leaking Kilimanjaro. The pitch seemed good, the price was reasonable, and the brand had received good reviews from other sources. I rode with this jacket throughout Houston's relatively mild winter, lows typically in the mid 30's and season lows in the mid 20's.
This is a warm jacket. I left my electric vest in the closet all winter. With the liner in and a reasonable shirt and t-shirt on underneath I was comfortable down into the low 40's. I like the cuff design. I prefer to tuck my gloves into my sleeves to keep rain out of them (I ride a Sportbike with my wrists below my elbows) and the combination zipper and Velcro lets you put on and adjust the cuffs easily.
I only managed to find rain twice, and then it wasn't all that much or long. The jacket did not leak but I can't say it was thoroughly tested.
The liner does not make an attractive or effective jacket on its own as the Kilimanjaro liner does. Also, the way it fits into the jacket leaves a cold spot right under the zippers.
This jacket may be too warm for the Houston area. The vents are not at all effective as they do not pass through the waterproof membrane. Vented air only circulates outside the membrane, not against your skin. Of course this is also one of the reasons these jackets are considered absolutely waterproof. I started getting uncomfortable around 75 deg F, and here is gets above 75 degrees 9 months of the year.
Now the bad news. The jacket is falling apart. I have had two snap fasteners pull out, including one in the weather flap over the main zipper. The jacket did come with a couple of spare snaps, but the provided spares are a different design from all the snaps used in the construction of the jacket, so to replace them I had to tear apart the seams and replace both sides of the snaps.
The pockets holding the shoulder armor frayed and opened up, allowing the shoulder armor to fall out of the jacket. Both sides did this. I was able to repair the pockets with stitching and seam adhesive. I pre-emptively glued the other armor pocket seams in the jacket to keep them from suffering the same fate.
Bottom line I'm afraid I regret this purchase. If the coat were holding together better I would call it my winter jacket and use something else for the other 9 months of the year. As it is I will probably get the current version of the Kilimanjaro which had a much wider useable temperature range."
Editor's Note: Readers indicate that British Motorcycle Gear is very good about warranties and exchanges, so I suggest you contact them for assistance.