One of the many unique things about living in the High Desert of Central Oregon is the daily summertime temperature swing. With fluctuations as much as 50 degrees between overnight lows and daytime highs, it’s not uncommon some mornings to see someone scraping frost off their windshield while wearing shorts and flip-flops. It’s also not uncommon to see at least a few weeks of highs that hover around the triple digits. When these dog days of summer come around I park my bike in the garage and myself in front of the air conditioner.
While motorcycles don’t come with AC, the geniuses over at Leatt have figured out a way to stay cool while riding during the hottest days of the year. Called the Coolit Tee, this zip-up base layer is made from Hyperkewl, which absorbs water and then slowly allows it to evaporate. Leatt calls Hyperkewl a ‘technologically advanced material’. I don’t know what it’s actually made of. Maybe they don’t either. Maybe it’s made of ground unicorn horns, fairy dust, and moon beams. Whatever it’s made out of – it works.
I began my product test in an uncharacteristic fashion – I followed the directions. More than likely this is because the directions are a short series of pictures on the side of the box. First, I submerged the shirt in cold water. Leatt suggests a minimum of 2 minutes, I left it in for 5. You can also throw it in the fridge or freezer if you’re a fan of hypothermia.
Next I gently squeezed out the excess water. Holding it in my hand I noticed two things: it was dripping profusely and it felt like it weighed ten pounds. So I gave it a more thorough squeezing, this time starting from the top and working my way down. It still felt heavy but the dripping slowed down considerably. Actually reading the instructions, it warns against wringing the shirt out; you want it to retain water. So I slipped it on.
The first thing I noticed when I put it on was that I felt like I was wearing a shirt made of raw flank steak. Needless to say it’s a strange sensation. To use a pediatric medical term, it felt ‘icky’. The second thing I noticed was that I looked like an extra from Tron – the 80’s version. But this is about function not fashion; it is after all a base layer. The third thing I noticed was how well it worked. While outside the temperature was close to 90 degrees, I put the Coolit Tee on in my garage where the ambient temperature was more like 75. This resulted in me being actually cold while I pushed my bike out and got the rest of my gear together. Lesson learned: this should be one of the last things you do before you get on the bike. This will also prevent premature evaporation and save the cold for where it counts – on the bike and out in the sun.
Hitting the road, the air flow really made the Coolit Tee noticeable. At 45 mph it was like standing in front of an air conditioner. At 65 it was like hugging a side of beef in a meat locker. One thing that really surprised me was how quickly I adapted to wearing it. While it did feel heavy in my hand, I didn’t notice any extra weight while wearing it. Being thicker than a normal base layer and cut higher at the waist, I was also surprised that I didn’t notice any interference with my hydration pack, protective pads, or kidney belt.
Abandoning the slab and hitting the dirt for some more aggressive riding, I wondered if that was about to change. I also wondered if wearing a wet base layer would cause any chafing issues. I did know one thing – I won’t wear anything that requires nipple tape. Luckily for me, this concern was never a problem. The Coolit Tee remained comfortable throughout my ride, even as I maneuvered around the bike on more technical single track.
After 2 hours on the bike during the hottest part of the day, I was impressed. I was also forced to turn home due to a prior obligation. But during that brief ride, my feet were the only part of my body that was drenched in sweat. Pulling off the Coolit Tee at home my torso remained cool to the touch. As a matter of fact , I even had to sit in the sun for a few minutes to warm up before going into my air conditioned house. Sitting outside I wondered just how long the Tee would remain cool for, especially under hotter conditions. Then I saw my neighbor and got an idea.
As owner/operator of Reigh On Roofing, my neighbor Tony Atkinson spends the majority of summer days installing new roofs. In this work environment temperatures can exceed forecasted highs by 10 to 20 degrees or more. As it turns out, Tony is not only a very hard worker, he’s also a willing test subject. He agreed to wear the Coolit Tee the next day. The day after that, he brought it back to me and reported that the shirt definitely worked as advertised. His only complaint was the bizarre feeling you get when first putting it on. He said initially it took a little getting used to but it was comfortable to work in – all afternoon (around 5 hours). He also said he wished he had invented it.
The only negatives I can see about the Leatt Coolit Tee is the fact that, eventually, it will turn from a product that keeps you cool to a product that traps heat in. I’m sure there are many variables to consider regarding how long the Tee is able to retain it’s effective cooling properties. Being that I tested it in the arid conditions of Central Oregon, I have no idea what effect high humidity would have on it. Leatt claims it’ll stay cool for any where from 1 to 6 hours, which is a pretty big window. But it’s also quick and easy to recharge it in a lake, stream, or gas station restroom. This is assuming the restroom isn’t in Florida, where the cold water tap really means not-quite-hot.
I do remember hearing about professional MX/SX racer Andrew Short wearing a Leatt Cooling Vest (a similar predecessor to the Coolit Tee) at last year’s Freestone National in Texas. These vests are designed to cool a rider’s core temperature and be removed before riding. Shorty had a blonde moment at the starting gate and neglected to remove the vest. Several laps later he was forced to pull off the track and remove it before he keeled over and was removed from the track. So if you’re a professional racer, this could be an issue; having to pull everything off at some point to remove your base layer is a bit time consuming. But then again, if you’re a professional racer – you’re at the wrong website.
One final thing to note is sizing. At 6 feet tall and weighing in at a pre-holiday season 185 pounds, a size 2XL fits me like Goldilocks. Make sure to order from a dealer that has good customer service so they can help you determine the proper size. As always, I recommend Atomic Moto.
If you’re a rider that’s into high-tech performance gear, or just a fair weather rider (like me) who wilts in the summer sun, the Leatt Coolit Tee is a must have for when the temperatures become sub-Saharan. It can improve your performance, extend seat time, and turn the hottest rides from barely tolerable to thoroughly enjoyable. I highly recommend this product to anyone looking to beat the heat – be it riders, roofers, or roofers who ride.