Style, meet substance

Aether Apparel Divide Motorcycle Touring Gear Review: Style for the Long Haul


July 24, 2019 Cars : Motorcycles By Photo by Anna Wyckoff
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Ah, the travails of finding decent motorcycle touring gear. While track day junkies manage to look like badass leatherbound ninjas from the future, long distance riders usually come off more like construction workers in a 1970s B-movie about asteroid miners. There’s something intrinsically unsexy about jumpsuit-style ballistic nylon.

To fill that troublesome void, Palmer West and Jonah Smith went from producing indie flicks like Requiem for a Dream to forming Aether Apparel, a Melrose Boulevard-based outerwear company that seeks to strike a sweet spot between strict function and sleek form. Aether’s Divide motorcycle jacket ($995) and Divide motorcycle pants ($695) are the brand’s latest salvo at the predominantly dreary motorcycle touring genre, so I spent several hundred miles road-testing the armored set to decide if they’re worth the steep price of entry.

The Good: Visually, Aether’s understated ethos pays off in spades: there’s no garishly contrasting outer panels or cheesy textures, and enough Velcro tab cinches on the jacket to ensure a trim fit. That sense of intrinsic cool puts them several steps ahead of competitors whose motorcycle gear looks, well, more like motorcycle gear than minimalist outerwear.

Who It’s For: Style-conscious long distance motorcycle riders who don’t mind paying a premium for a functional jacket/pant combo equipped with abrasion resistance and proper, CE-certified armor.

Watch Out For: I’m 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, and I usually fit squarely into medium-sized moto gear. Aether’s website describes the Divide jacket and pants as fitting “true to size,” so I was surprised to find the mediums longer and baggier than expected, especially considering the brand’s modern ethos. A friendly salesperson at Aether’s LA flagship swapped those pieces for a small — one of the first times I’ve found myself scaling down for a proper fit. (At least the customer service was outstanding.)

Alternatives: Aether’s most direct competitor is Dainese, the Italian brand that also occupies the rarified, pricey space where functionality doesn’t kill style; their Gran Turismo jacket ($1,100) and pants ($700) have a more colorful, technical look than the Aether Divide, but also offers a bit more climatological versatility due to the larger vented zippers. Klim’s Adventure Rally jacket ($1,700–$1,800) and Badlands Pro pants ($700–$720) demand an even higher price of entry, but are considerably more complex, with a three-layer shell and built-in hydration system that make them worthy of round-the-world rides; subsequently, they look the part as well. Alpinestars’ Revenant jacket ($950) and pants ($650) take the long-distance theme seriously, offering an available Tech-Air airbag system for an added $1,150; their Gordon Drystar Overcoat ($400) is more philosophically similar to Aether, though not quite as stylish.

Review: Motorcycle touring gear is best evaluated under trying circumstances, hell-or-high-water extremes that make for stories you’ll tell your grandkids. The winding backroads between Los Angeles and Solvang aren’t exactly the stuff of Camel Trophy lore, but a rookie mistake did make for some unexpectedly challenging (and embarrassing) test conditions: pushing my borrowed Honda Africa Twin uphill for half a mile and waiting two hours for a roadside services to deliver a splash of fuel. (Note to self: Honda’s onboard computer is eerily accurate at estimating range.)

While waiting for help, I had plenty of time to ponder the fact that an unseasonably warm spring day isn’t exactly the Divide’s optimal environment: sturdily constructed with Gore-Tex Pro and fully seam-sealed for wind and water protection, the Divide lineup is best experienced in motion, perhaps in the rain — but most definitely not in warm conditions. Aether also sells the Mojave jacket ($550) and pants ($450), which are more breathable and incorporate considerably larger vents but lack waterproofing.

While the Divide’s zippered armpit and back vents offer some airflow at a stop, my attitude improved after I hit the road again and began soaking up the breeze along the heavenly twisties of Highway 33 which link Ventura, Ojai and the Santa Ynez Mountains. When night fell on the return ride, the wind insulation ensured comfortable climes despite the cool desert air.

At speed, the jacket and pants offer enough roominess not to feel cramped or too snug — in fact, the pants are surprisingly spacious, considering Aether’s fashion-forward sensibilities. There’s not enough extra fabric to cause flapping at speed, though the fit also isn’t as tailored as some of Dainese’s offerings. The lamb leather lining at the jacket neck adds a bit of substance to the textile panels, as do the leather panels on the inner thigh for added grip.

There’s no shortage of pocket storage: I counted five compartments in the jacket, and another five in the pants. Though several are slickly integrated with folding flaps that snap shut, the waterproof setup feels like overkill when you’re just trying to grab your cell phone to switch up your Spotify playlist. But devise a system for yourself — cell phone on zippered inside pocket, wallet in an outside pocket, house keys on the other side, snacks in one of the pant pockets– and the setup is versatile enough to accommodate most needs for long-haul riding, assuming you remember where you put everything.

It wouldn’t be proper motorcycling gear without abrasion-resistant construction and armor, and Aether appears well-equipped to handle wrecks. (I didn’t test that firsthand.) The Divide jacket ships with a stack of rubbery pads of CE-certified D3O polyurethane armor that fit to the chest, elbow, shoulder and back, while pants get the padding at the hips and knees; all of it is secured in place with sturdy Velcro tabs.

According to Aether, the material is rate-sensitive, meaning it changes viscosity depending on the force exerted upon it. Translation: whack your knee hard against asphalt, and that soft orange padding will stiffen in an instant, absorbing a higher amount of energy. The good news is that the padding is pliable enough not to feel obtrusive and doesn’t create pressure points, but offers good impact protection in the case of an unintended dismount.

Verdict: There’s no shortage of established apparel manufacturers offering hardcore motorcycle touring and adventure touring gear, and those core brands have done an admirable job combining layering, crash protection and ventilation. Aether, a relative newcomer in the space, brings a welcome breath of fresh air to the game by ditching the dorky graphics and focusing on clean, elegant designs that retain an element of usability and comfort. Though more focused on weatherproof construction than all-around versatility, the Divide jacket and pants do what they’re intended to do well, all without the social liability of aesthetic uncoolness.

While not inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination, the ensemble actually becomes a reasonable value when compared to some of the more technical offerings out there. Hardcore long distance riders interested in multi-week travel aren’t likely to choose Aether over stalwarts like Aerostich or Klim, but for urban adventurists who might dabble in the occasional state-hopping getaway, the Divide jacket and pants deliver dapper looks with just enough functionality to justify their premium price.

Aether Divide Jacket and Pants Key Specs

Removable Impact-Absorption Pads: Chest, elbow, shoulder, back, knee and hip
Sizes: XS–XXL
Colors (Jacket): Storm (gray), Dark Discovery Green (green), Blue Streak (blue)
Colors (Pants): Storm (gray), Jet Black (black)

Aether provided this product for review.

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