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Alpinestars Big Sur Gore-Tex Pro Jacket And Pant Review

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Alpinestars Big Sur ADV-touring gear.
Alpinestars Big Sur ADV-touring gear. (Patrick Cox/)

There are two main reasons to spend $1,000 on the Alpinestars' Big Sur jacket: Tech-Air compatibility and bonded Gore-Tex Pro waterproofing. The jacket and matching pants ($700) also feature highly abrasion-resistant fabrics and a host of comfort and fit details. On paper, Alpinestars' top-end ADV-touring gear seems like it has it all.

However, when we travel by motorcycle, we pretty much live in our gear, so ideally it needs to be more than just crash/weather protective—it needs to be comfortable and convenient to wear on (and even off) the bike.

Waist and sleeve adjusters help maintain the Big Sur jacket’s clean lines in spite of a bulky airbag.
Waist and sleeve adjusters help maintain the Big Sur jacket’s clean lines in spite of a bulky airbag. (Seth Richards/)

As is Alpinestars' MO, the airbag vest is sold separately for $1,150 and can be switched between other Tech-Air Street compatible jackets. While there's no getting around the additional bulk and weight of the full-coverage airbag, Alpinestars incorporates it into the jacket in a way that doesn't sacrifice too much comfort or fit on the bike. The jacket's silhouette remains surprisingly svelte by concealing all the hardware inside the articulated back protector. Well-placed stretch panels behind the shoulders and elbows help retain mobility. Still, between the airbag, the stout armor, and the robust fabric, whenever I'd plop down in a diner booth and put the jacket next to me, it'd sit there erect like there was still a body inside. Awkwardly, it made it look like I'd brought a headless mannequin for a date or something.

The jacket features two chest pockets, two large front pockets, a back map pouch, and an inside pocket (which is only accessible by unzipping the airbag vest). All pockets are waterproof except the back pouch.
The jacket features two chest pockets, two large front pockets, a back map pouch, and an inside pocket (which is only accessible by unzipping the airbag vest). All pockets are waterproof except the back pouch. (Patrick Cox/)

For the breed, the Big Sur gear is relatively slim-fit—the pants’ leg openings fit snugly around ADV boots and there’s less bunching through the thighs than on the typical overly roomy ADV gear. Although I’d appreciate more adjustability in the knees to keep the armor in place, the fit is true to size and not overly baggy, at least for my body type.

Gore-Tex is the household name in waterproof breathability, and for many, it's the Big Sur's second major selling point. Some riders prefer removable "trash bag" rain liners, but I'm a big fan of the Big Sur's Gore-Tex membrane, which is permanently bonded between the outer and inner layers of fabric. When I'm on the bike and it starts to rain, the last thing I want to do is pull off the side of the road and take my pants off in the rain to put in a liner. "Honestly, officer. I wasn't flashing the children on that school bus…"

Note: “exhaust vents” on back of jacket.
Note: “exhaust vents” on back of jacket. (Patrick Cox/)

In terms of protection, even without the airbag installed, the Big Sur gear receives top marks. For added durability in high-impact zones, it features Armacor fabric, a weave of Cordura and Kevlar that's both highly abrasion resistant and still breathable. In the shoulders, there's a molded TPU protector beneath the jacket's outer layer that provides impact protection and maintains the jacket's shape (useful, I suppose, for when you want a pseudo-plus-one at your favorite diner). Generously sized CE-certified shoulder, elbow, and knee protectors are included. Thin foam chest protectors and hip protectors are also included, but feel more like stand-ins for the real-deal stuff found everywhere else. Sans airbag, the jacket can accommodate a back protector.

The Big Sur pants feature a large cargo pocket, vents on each thigh, waist adjusters, and generous leather areas that stretch from the bottom of the pant leg to the knee.
The Big Sur pants feature a large cargo pocket, vents on each thigh, waist adjusters, and generous leather areas that stretch from the bottom of the pant leg to the knee. (Aidan O’Dowd/)

While the major selling points are great, some will find the Big Sur gear is too hard-core to be the only set of gear in your closet—or even the only gear you want to wear on a long-distance trip.

ADV gear has to be able to handle whatever weather you’re likely to encounter as you cross state lines. The Big Sur’s Gore-Tex and removable thermal liners handle the cold and wet, but the jacket’s ventilation is inadequate in hot weather.

The smallish front vents and larger rear vents are completely blocked by the airbag, and there are no sleeve or underarm vents to compensate. I wore the jacket in near-100 degree days, which made me second-guess my desire for the ultimate protection of an airbag. Rightly or wrongly, I began to think heat stroke was more of a concern than whatever the airbag was supposed to protect me against.

There are nicely integrated reflective areas on the jacket and pants for nighttime visibility
There are nicely integrated reflective areas on the jacket and pants for nighttime visibility (Aidan O’Dowd/)

The Tech-Air system is activated by mating the magnets sewn into the jacket's placket, which can be frustratingly difficult—at times taking several attempts to accomplish. Once the system is activated, as indicated by lights on the sleeve, it has to be calibrated by walking around or doing a little "airbag jig." While I got pretty good at making the procedure look casual, all too often it meant my riding buddies had to wait to fire up their bikes while I was struggling to get my jacket to function properly. I was that guy.

The airbag’s magnet closure system. The yellow Velcro is supposed to help align the magnets, but I regularly struggled to activate the system on the first try.
The airbag’s magnet closure system. The yellow Velcro is supposed to help align the magnets, but I regularly struggled to activate the system on the first try. (Seth Richards/)

Also, the magnets sit above the sternum, which prevents unzipping the jacket any lower in search of a little more airflow. And even though the collar can be pinned back with (another) magnet, it isn’t quite strong enough to hold it in place with a lot of movement.

Other nitpicks? The jacket’s plastic zipper pull broke after my first long-distance trip. There’s a lot of Velcro, which seems kind of chintzy compared to snaps. And it only comes in black.

The author struggling to use the remaining nub of the zipper pull.
The author struggling to use the remaining nub of the zipper pull. (Patrick Cox/)

Because the Big Sur jacket is so uncompromising in terms of protection, its versatility and convenience have suffered. And it’s not just because it’s an airbag jacket—I have several similarly equipped jackets from both Alpinestars and Dainese that I wear for everyday riding. But If I’m going to run errands or grab a cup of coffee, it’s unlikely I’ll reach for the Big Sur jacket.

But at the end of the day, after thousands of miles on and off road, a dozen mild off-road crashes (with the airbag removed), and untold liters of sweat, the Big Sur gear still looks brand new. I can’t predict a crash, but I can choose what I want to wear in a crash. And that’s why I put so many touring miles in it. I have no doubt its crash protection is its best feature. I just wish it was as versatile as it is high-quality and high-tech.

Armacor fabric on shoulders. Soft-touch material at collar.
Armacor fabric on shoulders. Soft-touch material at collar. (Seth Richards/)

Alpinestars Big Sur Tech-Air Jacket and Pants

Price: jacket: $1,000, pants: $700, airbag: $1,150
Grade: B
Verdict: The best protection comes at a cost in more ways that one. Premium quality and the latest technology are almost enough to outweigh the Big Sur's inadequate ventilation and too-hard-core-to-be-versatile bent. Almost.
Contact: alpinestars.com

If you do any off-roading in South Carolina in the middle of July, wear motocross gear. ADV gear is just too hot for the slow-speed techniques the author experienced at the BMW Enduro Skills Class.
If you do any off-roading in South Carolina in the middle of July, wear motocross gear. ADV gear is just too hot for the slow-speed techniques the author experienced at the BMW Enduro Skills Class. (Patrick Cox/)

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