Sweet Protection – Gear Review

Last week we checked out some of the knee-pads from Norway’s Sweet Protection. This time it’s the whole lot!

Sweet was born at the turn of the new millennium in the rivers and mountains of the Land of the Midnight Sun, or as you may know it, the mighty Norway.  With a core following in whitewater kayaking and snowsports, it was only a matter of time that these crazy snus loving kids turned their hand to making biking kit.

The headliner of the range is the Full Face Fixer helmet and we were fortunate enough to get the Full Carbon MIPS version to play with.

Out of the box, along with it’s jazzy bag, this is a seriously light piece of kit. Gone is the heavy moto feel which has long been associated with big lids. The finish is pristine, and the “my precious…” comments went around when the light hit the immaculately laid carbon.

Fit wise, there are three sizes available and in the M/L size on test here you get a good amount of padding to play with (though I do miss the fireball pads which came with the original Kayaking lids some years ago).  Chin straps are either good or bad and on this offering the guys at Sweet have opted for the Snowboard Binding approach which keeps  everything locked up as you hit lines down the hill. It’s a bit of a fiddle with gloves, but still quicker than the double loop approach used by some of the competition. If a neck guard is your thing, then there is plenty of room and the padding at the bottom of the helmet is removable if those nice paramedics need to get at you after a nasty off.

On the hill you certainly notice the lack of weight in this lid and the ventilation is up there with the best of the rest. Being a pure bike lid, the goggle space is spot on, though the little speed lump at the back of the helmet does make putting them on a bit cheeky with cold wet hands.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, we can also claim to have tested the impact resistance of this helmet with a head versus bedrock crash at this summer’s Fort Bill Endurance DH event.  The result was nothing more than a bruised ego and a few tears having scratched the top layer of carbon.

Check out the main design honcho Ståle talking about it here:

Next up is the Bearsuit collection of body armour. As you would expect, the knee pads have been worn the most and having used the 661 Veggies and Patriots for years, it took a bit longer to get comfortable with only one Velcro strap to get them to lock down. Using some spongy, bendy, sciencey foamy stuff (SAS-TEC visco elastic foam shock absorbing material if you must know), the fit is solid yet pedal friendly.  After a few rides they loosened up and performed really well.

For the six pack adorned torso (cough.. ), there is the Bearsuit Body Armour Lite and Bearsuit Backprotector. Wearing a big top like this may not be for all of the WC riders, but some of us have to get to work on a Monday morning after a weekend of carnage. Sweet have opted for a modular approach with essentially a shirt with arm and shoulder armour which can be paired with either the Bearsuit or Grinder ( plastic covered) back protectors. This does make for a bit more car park faff and it certainly feels warmer than the trusty Pressure Suit, but you do end up with very slim and lightweight protection. More pro-rugby player than pro-NFL, which given the fashion element of uplifts these days is clearly extremely important.

Take the same idea and make it fit just the elbow and no surprise you have the Bearsuit Elbow pads! Nice fit with plenty of forearm coverage with the same elastic foam, but not overkill so you look like Robocop.

Having played with this kit for a few months now, it has become obvious that the benefits of having this modular approach is that you can tailor your kit to your riding. The only thing I would have liked to have seen is the Body Armour available without the elbow pads as this would have been great for the few hot days we had to ride in this summer. On days like this the shirt was sacrificed and the back protector was worn on it’s own under a wifebeater for the Metal Mulisha approved look (sans tattoos).

For the top half the Outlaw DH Jersey has proved to be the favourite over the Mudride ¾ sleeve option. Purely due to the rather inclement weather we have had this year.

So what separates one Jersey from another? Some might say it is just the design people buy? Well looking at these two, they certainly look pretty ‘factory’ and both options fit well, with the Outlaw fitting better over armour. Neither hold that lovely post-ride smell too badly. They both wash up when you remember to put it in the washing machine and the construction is on a par with the more established brands out there. A few months of mud, grit, sweat and some washing and they are still like new. Result.

For the bottom half we got hold of the Hunter Enduro shorts (they also do a DH version called the Inferno, but for all round use the Hunter was tested instead). Anyone who has owned biking shorts knows that fit can be an issue. Not wishing to sound like a cast member of Sex in the City, but the cut is everything and one company’s Medium is another company’s Extra Large. Fortunately the Medium size tested were pretty much perfect, especially with the adjustment which is possible via the Velcro tabs at the side. Nice and breathable, dried quickly and finished with a trick little loop for your uplift pass. Didn’t even make the bum look big!

We are normally fans of embracing mud (it’s good for your skin after all), so when the Sweet Flood Jacket turned up we weren’t sure when it would get a good outing. Thankfully the Scottish Summer delivered and it was soon adorned in the Fort Bill chair lift and has seen plenty of use since. Dare we say it, but the cut is so slim on this jacket it could almost be considered ‘roady’? Certainly wouldn’t feel out of place commuting with this bad boy on. Surprisingly it fits really well over armour and the slim cut comes quickly into play as you get almost zero flapping action. There certainly are some clever folk in those Norwegian hills. Only downside is whilst the ripstop material is built to last the seasons, the material isn’t as breathable as some of the posher fabrics which are available.  We would also like to see a bright colour option, black just sucks for hero pictures.

Price wise the Sweet kit is competitive with the rest of the players out there, so whilst availability might be an issue in the UK, you won’t cough up your cornflakes when your bank statement comes through.

So what is the skinny? Sweet Protection kit is clearly bang on, it’s got worthy credentials and ultimately it makes sure you can get to work on a Monday morning. That said there is no escaping the price. Norway is not a cheap place (take your own beer folks!) and it’s placement can be compared with it Swedish counterpart POC. So the question is in a market which is now getting saturated with lots of ‘me too’ brands and domination by a few large retailers is there a place for this uber-premium kit from Norway?  Our thoughts are that if you want the best, you will need to part with the cash to get it. And let’s face it, the car park kudos of the Carbon Fixer will pay back that credit card bill pretty quickly.

Roll on the 2013 kit from Sweet.

Check out the rest of the range, dealers and pricing at http://www.sweetprotection.com/mountain-bike/  including the very nice looking standard Fixer lid ( the perfect Enduro helmet? )

 Editor’s Note: Tim is lucky enough to be ragging about on a Saracen Ariel 143 courtesy of Madison. While we were shooting this I stole a quick go, and this bike is a rocket ship – long and slightly slack let this bike eat up the downs and throw it about like a good-un. I’m really looking forward to spending some more time on the Saracen over the summer. (Tim doesn’t know this!)

Words & Posing – Tim Sadler

 

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