In a separate thread in this forum, I was writing about getting custom leathers mostly due to my slightly short legs and the price/value that custom leathers offers. Several people on k-bikes.com recommended Helimot in San Jose, CA, as a place to check out. So, I did last Saturday.
It was an overcast morning near San Francisco and as I approached San Jose, warmed up to a pleasant mid-70's. I was humming along enjoying everything... Then came the 101/880 on/off ramp. It was busy and there was a very short, hard to see lane change I had to make. I slowed to 2nd gear but still had to dive a bit into the onramp due to the traffic. A bit rattled from that maneuver, I wasn't paying as much attention to the onramp turn, rode onto the gravel and laid the bike down. Luckily, I was only doing 10mph - 15mph and wearing my Dianese textile armored jacket. After getting the bike back up and checking for problems which included a busted front turn signal, I dusted myself off and kept going. Slight bump on the hip and damaged ego listed my injuries. I was less than a mile from Helimot!
The Helimot store is very low-key. I missed it completely when I drove by it and had to turn around. I walked into Helimot and felt immediately at home. It's an incredibly friendly, yet professional business with a seating area where you can hang-out and eat, drink or read the vast motorcycle magazine/book library. You see all sorts of examples of the leather work they do all over the walls. A really great place even JUST TO VISIT.
I met Chris who I met over the phone last Thursday. A tall, thin man who seems much older than his late 20's looks would lead you to believe. I reminded him of the conversation we had over the phone and he knew exactly what I was looking for. He also noticed the dust on the back of my jacket and asked if I laid the bike down. I said 'yes' and 'was completely okay and not rattled'. He again said that if I wanted to sit down and chill, that it they had an area for that. I said I was completely okay.
So we started chatting about getting some leathers. They're display of nostalgic and new leathers is amazing. They have leathers from some of the top racers ever! I've posted some pictures of these suits here. We probably chatted about the suits for at least 45 minutes. Helimot is a big believer in soft armor. None of their suits that I saw has the 'plasticy' inserts that other manufacturers have. Like Dianese. We chatted about their experience with armor and I say if it's good enough for racers, it's good enough for me. I was pretty impressed with their soft armor and it is a propietary design. I think the plastic armor would be a little better at distributing the impact energy throughout the armor. But if the armor cracked on impact, it would be much worse than the soft armor. I think the soft amor would be more resistant to allowing sharper objects penetrate it. It's that impressive.
We also chatted about shoes. I wore my running shoes on the ride and since my ankle was feeling a bit sore from the accident, I thought I would try one of their models on. Boy, did those boots feel GOOOOOD! The pain in my ankle went away and they were incredibly comfortable. Okay, I was sold! I put a down on their Daytona Road Star GTX (Gortex) boots which I will pick up this Saturday (and take that f#@k#n onramp with a vengeance). I was sold on their quality, comfort and being a shoe that can be re-soled when needed. I wished they had other colors instead of basic black with white lettering and I mentioned this to Chris.. Black will do fine for now...
So while Chris was processing the order, I started taking pictures of the suits I saw. Again, an amazing display. During my time at the store, I saw this tall, thin curly-blonde haired gentleman walking around. Sometimes frantically, sometimes with a big smile on his face. Was this Helimot himself? At this time, another guy came into the store and said 'sorry I didn't stop to help you pick up your bike, but you looked fine'. Chris was with me when he said this.. I said 'no worries. my ego is by far the most damaged thing right now'. I said this with a big smile and laugh. Eventually that tall, blonde gentleman walked up to me and introduced himself as Helimot. A very modest and friendly gentleman, I immediately felt that this was a nice and sincere person.
Oh yes, I did get the coloring book and Adobe Illustrator to design my suit. Which I will put in the order around February/March 2007. Chris also emphasized that turn-around time for the suite is 4 - 6 weeks and cost would be approximately $1800 - $2000. The website had some other number and the whole site will be upgraded in the very near future.
As I was leaving the store, Chris and another store 'volunteer' came out to see my bike and made some suggestions on how to make it better (lessen the throttle play, thinner rear tire since I bought the bike used and that extra wide rear tire came with it. I agree, it's a touch too big). Helimot came out and was even more adamant about the rear tire. Helimot went into the store and within minutes, had two front turn signal pieces that he had on a parts bike in the back that looked exactly like mine. He went on replace the damaged turn signal light! I offered to pay for it and he adamantly refused again. He said he wanted me to 'be safe out there'. He mentioned some other things to me that I will keep private, but further cemented my first impression of him. He loves to ride and wants newer riders to not be discouraged.
News spread fast in that store that I was going to get a BMW K12R next year. I guess when you get a damn powerful bike like that, people automatically think you're a speed freak. Several people warned me about the power of that bike. I reassured them that I'm actually quite a conservative rider and really it's about the looks of the bike that I love. 98%+ of the time, I'll keep it under 80mph. It's only marginally bigger than my current 1983 Suzuki GS750 E anyway including the seating postion.
I was at Helimot for about 2 hours. The time just flew on by! I had such a great time and everyone at the store made me feel like family. Am I getting my suit from them? Most definitely. Dianese might make a good suit as well, but I try to support local vendors and I bet Helimot's suits are in the same league as anything else out there. Not only do they put out a quality product, but they REALLY look like they want to do the best for you. None of this 'salesy' or 'text book' Customer Service. But genuine enthusiasm to find what's the best product for you. That's Customer Service you can't fake.
So rode home and within 10 minutes, felt 'normal' and after a good washing and detail, bike looked ALMOST as good as new
She still purrs and runs great. There's got to be a better way to polish/clean chrome/metal than using Eagle One 'Never Dull' or Mothers 'Billet'.
Takes forever! As of the writing of this post, the pain in my hip is almost gone. Woot!
I thought this would be an interesting story to tell and most of all, a great way to chat about my Helimot experience. It's SO rare that you find a place with all the attributes of old-school service, quality and youthful enthusiasm for their product.