I probably have one of the smallest windows of temperature comfort of anyone I know, and riding my scooter is no exception. This was my (lame) excuse for riding without an armored jacket in the warmer months. The thought of putting on a heavy, sweat-inducing jacket when it is 90 and humid was enough for me to risk my skin, elbows and shoulders, and to reduce my visibility at night.
Then I was given the woman-specific Firstgear Contour Mesh jacket to review; the words ‘sheepish’ and ‘humbled’ come to mind now. Also, the word ‘wrong.’ I was wrong. There, I said it. After a full season of warm weather riding under my belt with this jacket in tow, I can honestly say I love it. The Contour Mesh is designed to maximize airflow and protection at the same time, and it delivers on both counts.
The main shell is made of a very pliable 250-denier poly mesh fabric for both full abrasion resistance and to allow air to move completely through the jacket; this material is what is often used in other jackets as venting panels. The interior permanent liner is made of a perforated nylon material that reminds me of the cheap gym shorts of my youth. There is a zip-in liner for wind-blocking and water resistance (note that it does not claim to be waterproof) that has full sleeves. It’s fairly simple to zip in and attach at the sleeves and neck. Pro tip: keep the zip-in liner in your scooter’s under seat storage or top case. It doesn’t do squat for blocking wind or resisting water when it’s hanging in your coat closet. I may or may not have learned this the hard way, so let me spare you the trouble.
There are five pockets on the Contour Mesh without the zip-in liner; six with it in place. A scan of the Firstgear website suggests that new models will have an internal cell phone pocket built in to the main shell. The model I was given for review was sorely lacking in this feature. I generally have my cell with me when I ride, no matter the temperature. It seems odd that it would be excluded in a warm-weather jacket, though Firstgear appears to have resolved that issue. That being said, the external pockets are roomy enough and well placed. The chest pocket was a decent substitute for my cell phone storage. Zippers are chunky which is an added bonus – the material is much more pliable than most armored jackets, putting it at risk for getting snagged in a zipper, but the designer thought this one out. I find the really toothy zippers are less likely to cause tear-inducing snarls and subsequent streams of curse words.
The fit is fairly classic for a moto style jacket: slightly cropped, tapered to the bottom, which hit me near the top of my hip. I’m 5’5” with a somewhat short torso. Taller girls may find this too midriff-y but it wasn’t an issue for me. The tapered fit is flattering to the feminine form but has the drawback of accentuating the armored shoulders, drawing unfortunate refrigerator box comparisons. This is often a painful fact of a fully protective jacket, but the Contour Mesh is really one of the least offensive jackets in that department. I’ve worn far worse.
I recommend sizing up. I’m a standard size 6 and typically wear a women’s small, but the medium was just right in the Contour Mesh. Sizes are available from XS-3XL. Kudos to Firstgear for recognizing female riders come in all proportions.
The overall fit is solid and comfortable. There are no binding or cloying areas, which is especially important when riding in hot weather. The jacket moves well and the CE-rated armor is generally unobtrusive. The elbow armor extends quite a ways into the forearm for added protection, but doesn’t complicate movement. As with almost every other jacket I’ve reviewed, the back panel is an abrasion resistant foam pad rather than all out armor; an upgrade to a more rigid panel is recommended. There are Velcro adjustments at the cuffs to help cut down on wind infiltration in cooler or wetter weather, though I generally left them loose to keep air moving. Sleeve length is a definite lowlight on the Contour Mesh. Even when my arms were slack and not in riding position, the sleeves were shorter than I like them. They ride up even further in riding position.
This jacket was surprisingly cool even in the hottest of summer days. Pleasantly surprising, I might add. The combination of very lightweight material and full mesh get the job done. The only time I felt remotely uncomfortable in this jacket was on a sunny day in the 90s, with a dew point encroaching on tropical levels, sitting at a stoplight with baking blacktop underneath me. As I sat at the light I could feel my core temperature rising slowly, but this disappeared as quickly as the light changing to green.
I was also surprised at how deep into the season I could wear this jacket. With the liner zipped in and a sweatshirt underneath for layering, the Contour worked really well as a transitional piece. The medium was roomy enough for a fairly bulky sweatshirt underneath without sacrificing fit or armor placement, making it quite versatile, especially during an Indian summer when days are warm and nights are crisp. Again, keep that zip-in liner handy.
It stands to reason that if one is wearing this jacket in face-melting heat, one is going to sweat into it. And, if you’re like me, you’ll have pretty serious contact with the main liner if you’re throwing this jacket on over a tank top in the dog days of summer. That is to say, you will sweat directly into it. That’s why I was pretty disappointed to read the care tag and see that you can’t machine wash or have the jacket dry cleaned. You can, however, hand wash it with regular detergent should you find yourself with that kind of time. Though this is a bit of an aggravation, it isn’t a deterrent.
I must admit that the color of the review jacket was somewhat appalling to me, though this is very much a matter of personal taste. A friend of mine referred to it as “bridesmaid’s dress teal.” To be clear, this is not a compliment. That being said, the material is pliable enough to be crammed into the under seat storage of my Buddy pretty easily, so I could hide it away when walking into a store or wherever my ride would take me. That being said, who cares what color it is? It keeps me cool and it keeps me safe, and that’s really the idea here. Besides, one woman’s teal is another woman’s treasure. The jacket does come in a variety of colors for 2011 including basic white, silver/black, charcoal/silver and black options, as well as your standard “I’m a girl” pink and even a yellow “precious metal” color for those looking for a bit more flair. Lighter contrasting panels on everything but the black color provide added visibility; reflective accents increase nighttime visibility.
The Firstgear Contour Mesh is a simple, flexible, well-made protective garment that does what it says it will. It’s a solid product that I find easy to recommend. It’s mid-range price tag – about $150 – and array of sizes make this a very accessible product for many female riders, and should keep you cool and protected for the majority of the riding season.