Expedition South – the run to the final Brass Monkey!

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Expedition South – the run to the final Brass Monkey rally

Product review: Merlin Edale jacket and Lombard trousers

The Brass Monkey motorcycle rally had become a New Zealand institution. A rite of passage for anyone considering themselves to be a true Kiwi biker. The miles to get there, the freezing temperatures, surviving a night in a paddock in a tent; all factors that add up to making it an expedition of epic proportions. So when the organisers announced the last ever rally, we had to go.

On the 2nd of June 2021, Rodney and a few other hard-riding mates loaded up their bikes and hit the highway, destined for whatever the road and the weather threw at them…

Riding in winter conditions can be challenging. Wet roads are one thing, but cold temperatures can turn any road from a fun experience into a long slog of suffering. Factor in multiple days of long miles and having the right gear can make all the difference. Being an experienced rider, I’m used to knowing what to expect, so I was very careful when choosing what to wear. It had to be comfortable, warm and absolutely waterproof. The last thing I wanted to be doing each morning was suiting up in wet gear, which would sap the heat and energy out of me within the first hour of the day.

For this reason, the Merlin heritage range of waxed cotton motorcycle clothing was an obvious choice. Halley Stevenson’s waxed cotton is the original technical fabric, hailing from Scottland – a country where extreme weather can be an everyday occurrence. The Edale jacket makes use of Halley Stevenson’s new Cotec fabric, which is a combination of traditional cotton and modern Cordura, making it an ideal material for motorcycling. With the same look and feel as traditional waxed cotton, it’s lighter and has a higher abrasion resistance meaning the whole garment gets a CE AA rating.

The natural wax finish does an excellent job of beading and shedding water, more or less exactly the same as a duck’s back. Any water that does manage to eventually seep through the outer layer is stopped by a Riessa waterproof membrane, hiding behind the outer technical fabric. Insulation is provided by an Outlast thermal liner and protection by D3O armour throughout (the D3O back protector is an optional extra). With lots of fine finishing touches like the leather trimmed cuffs and soft lined collar, the whole jacket is a masterpiece of strength and comfort.

Similarly, the Lombard trousers make use of the same Cotec fabric, Reissa liner and D3O armour, meaning they are just as tough, practical and comfortable. What’s more, both pieces are eternally stylish, meaning off the bike I can walk around looking and feeling like a normal human being, rather than a Power Ranger.

The route we followed took us from New Plymouth to Wellington and onto the ferry to Picton on day one. Due to the extreme weather conditions that were flooding the Canterbury plains, we elected to head down the West Coast, so day two saw us head to Nelson, Murchison and through the Buller Gorge to Westport, before finally stopping in Blackball for the night. So far we hadn’t struck any rain, but the temperatures were down around 6°C most of the way. So far, so good – warm and dry.

Day three saw a change however, with the West Coast living up to its wet reputation. We had wet roads, continuing cold temperatures and fairly consistent rain all the way from Greymouth, through Haast and up the hill to the shores of Lake Wanaka, where we finally had a reprieve for the last hour around the lake shores to Wanaka for the evening. So far, still good. I was warm and dry the whole way. Literally not a drop of water got through any of my gear.

Those experienced with wet weather riding will know this is no mean feat for any gear. Long exposed rides in constant rain usually sees even the most expensive and highly rated gear letting a little water in through the openings somewhere. The little design touches of the Merlin gear meant there was nowhere for the water to get in. It performed flawlessly, despite it being surprisingly uncomplicated. Day four saw us rug up with extra layers, heading into the gale force winds blowing across Central Otago, on our way to the Ida Valley. As it turned out, the extra layers weren’t necessary. While the wind was strong, the temperature wasn’t cold and we had to keep moving to avoid getting hot. At one point I saw 19°C on the temperature gauge as we made our way to the rally site.

We pitched our tents and had a great time in the wind and the rain, and eventual cold, with over 4,000 other keen motorcyclists, living in our riding gear the whole time. Even off the bike, the gear was practical and comfortable – a perfect choice for the rally.

For the return journey we headed east to Palmerston and up the East Coast, stopping in Christchurch and Picton, making it another three-day journey home. Again we had a mix of weather and temperatures, with the ride from Christchurch to Picton proving to be the wettest day of the whole tour. From start to finish, the Merlin clothing kept me warm, dry and comfortable, without a glitch.

For the retail price of these items, the performance is astounding. I honestly can’t think of any gear, no matter what brand, that would perform as well in these conditions. If the ride had been done in the summer time, I may have been looking for more vents to let a bit of air-flow through and the non-removable liner in the Lombard trousers would have been a bit hot, but for all but the hottest days, I’ve got a new favourite set of riding gear, for all terrains and conditions. I’m absolutely rapt with my new Merlin Edale jacket and Lombard trousers. Congratulations, Merlin, another great job.

Merlin Edale techwax jacket >>
Merlin Lombard techwax trousers >>
Full Merlin range >>