by Bill C. for webBikeWorld.com
The Spark motorcycle underwear is very soft and comfortable with impeccable tailoring and details.
The excellent Dryarn fabric transfers moisture without trapping too much heat.
I reviewed a selection of Spark windproof underwear (review) designed for motorcycle use in the heart of winter, 2009.
I found all of the Spark items to be very well made with soft fabrics that are comfortable to wear and which provided excellent functionality.
So I jumped at the chance to review the Spark Diablo and Carbon shirts, although I'll have to say that their intended purpose is a bit vague.
Spark states that the shirts are designed to "maintain the body's natural temperature and protect from heat and cold".
I'm not exactly sure what this means, but the darn things are so comfortable that I've taken to wearing them around the house, even in the hot summer weather of 2010.
OK, so the air conditioning is on, and my wife thinks I'm nuts, but I actually feel cooler wearing these shirts than I do in a cotton T-shirt.
I also conducted what I think is a substantial amount of research, using three different motorcycles and different combinations of jackets and pants to compare the features and function of the Spark Diablo and Carbon shirts with the LD Comfort underwear (review).
Spark shirts are made with a textile called "Dryarn", claimed to be "the lightest fabric in nature".
Dryarn is made by the very large textile company Aquafil, who states that the fabric has "a unique insulating power, even greater than wool, so is inclined to maintain the body's natural temperature and protect from heat and cold".
Aquafil, also claims that Dryarn has 8 times better moisture expulsion rates than polyester and 166 times better moisture expulsion rates than cotton.
The Dryarn material is also claimed to be naturally resistant to "bacteria, mildew, moths, insects, and other micro-organisms".
The Spark Diablo shirt differs from the Spark Carbon shirt in that the Carbon shirt also contains carbon fiber threads.
The Carbon shirt contains 3% carbon fiber and it is one of the only shirts made with this material, which was done for its abrasion resistance and insulating properties.
The Diablo shirt also contains the "No-Shock" anti-static fiber, produced by Ascend Performance Materials, which is claimed to minimize the buildup of static electricity to help prevent dirt buildup.
The thicker fabric and different cut of the Carbon shirt makes it slightly heavier than the Diablo. The fabric used in the Carbon shirt is about 0.2 mm thicker at 1.2 mm, compared to the 1.0 mm thick fabric used in the Diablo.
The Diablo shirt in size XL/XXL (equivalent to a U.S. size L/XL) weighs just 138 grams, while the Carbon shirt in the same size weighs 177 grams.
This compares to 240 grams for the size L short-sleeve LD Comfort shirt.
Not that any of these weights make that much of a difference when the shirts are being worn, but it is an indication of the thickness of the fabrics.
The Spark shirts are very finely tailored, with beautiful seams and stitching where the cuffs, hems and collars meet the body of the shirts.
It's surprising to see this much effort put into the style and construction of what is basically an undershirt, but it's definitely appreciated.
Both of the Spark shirts were apparently manufactured on computer-controlled knitting machines in as few sections as possible, a specialty of the Italian textile and clothing industry.
The Spark logos are knitted right into the fabric itself, as are the designs and graphics, such as the black flames (or tribal patterns) seen on the Diablo shirt.
Even the size lettering and material contents is knitted directly into the fabric rather than printed on a separate piece of material or inked on to the shirts.
The Dryarn fabric must have a touch of Lycra or other type of elastic textile woven in, which gives the shirts a snug fit.
The Dryarn material is extremely soft and the combination of the thin fabric, the light weight and the elastic makes these shirts very comfortable to wear.
They feel very sheer and light, almost as if you're wearing nothing at all.
Repeating some of what I wrote in the LD Comfort review, the Spark Diablo and Spark Carbon shirts just feel a lot better right from the start. The finely woven, super-soft fabric fits like a second skin.
My feeling is that the Dryarn textile used in the Spark shirts has noticeably better performance in hot weather than the thicker fabric used in the LD Comfort gear.
There is a big difference in the amount of heat that is transferred away from my body, especially at lower speeds, when wearing the Spark shirts compared to the LD Comfort shirt. The Spark shirts definitely feel more comfortable and cooler.
They both transfer moisture but I can feel the moisture transfer when wearing the Spark shirts; when the air hits the shirt, it actually has a cooling effect.
This is very noticeable, for example, when I get off the bike and peel away my motorcycle jacket. The air hitting the Spark shirt immediately pulls the moisture and I feel a definite drop in temperature.
LD Comfort indicates that their clothing may not work well in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, while Spark says that their clothing is designed to help regulate the rider's body temperature in either hot or cold weather.
Although the Spark shirts can make me feel slightly hotter than when I'm not wearing them (under a jacket), they are noticeably cooler and I can live with wearing them even in 95+ degree temperatures.
So I'd say that the Spark shirts transfer more moisture and do not lock in as much heat when compared to the LD Comfort shirt.
The effect is especially noticed at lower speeds. Low speed is where the biggest differences and the weaknesses can be found in this type of manufactured textile motorcycle underwear.
At higher speeds, where the wind and the jacket's venting system can do its job, the moisture is pulled from the body and into the fibers of the poly undershirt.
But slower speeds, with less air flow, can really build up the heat, making the LD Comfort shirt very uncomfortable. While additional heat buildup is noticed when wearing the Spark shirts, the effect is minimal.
I'm still not 100% sold on the idea of wearing this type of underwear for motorcycle riding in hot weather. That said, cotton is miserable stuff once it gets wet.
But I do think the Spark undershirts, with their very light weight, thinner materials and Dryarn fabric, are much better at controlling moisture while minimizing the amount of heat buildup, compared to the LD Comfort clothing.
|wBW Review: Spark Diablo and Carbon Shirts|
|Manufacturer: Spark (G.P.R. srl, Italy)||List Price: Diablo - $52.00. Carbon - $69.00|
|Colors: Gray with black trim.
||Made In: Italy|
|Sizes: XS/S, M/L, and XL/XXL||Review Date: September 2010|