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Review: Shift Racing Octane Leather Jacket

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Octane. Just the word implies speed, performance, toughness, grit and power. The higher the octane rating, the better the performance. The method with which we rate the fuel that pours into our rides is the name of our latest entrant in the recent flurry of TwoWheelForum jacket reviews: the top-of-the-line Octane leather jacket from Shift Racing.

Unless you are just getting into sportbikes or even missed our last Shift review of the Dyer Hybrid jacket, you may be wondering: who? Shift Racing opened shop in 1997 and now describe themselves as an “innovative, high-performance motorcycle apparel company.” Even so, if you’re exclusive to street riding you might not have heard of Shift, but if you ride Motocross you probably have. And while you might not be familiar with the Shift name, you are probably familiar with the name Fox, regardless of what you ride. Fox is synonymous in the Motocross world and Fox actually created Shift ten years ago as an alternative brand of motocross apparel.

Seven years later the Shift marketing gurus identified the street market as a segment where rider’s needs were not fulfilled. And, since many Motocross riders take interest in street riding, it made sense to expand the product offerings. Consequently, Shift street gear was born. Shift took the expanded product line quite seriously by importing talent from some leading Italian apparel manufacturers. Doing so not only lent credibility to the brand name and products but also, more importantly, designed real-world experience into the Shift product line.

Shift public relations spokesman Brian Horton tells us, “SHIFT has always been the choice for those looking for something unique and fresh.” And, for the last year Shift has been engaged in an aggressive campaign to spread the name in the market.

What better way to see what Shift Racing is all about, than to check out the top-of-the-line 2007 Octane leather jacket? The Octane is described, by Shift, as, “More attitude, more style, more performance… because too much is never enough.” We couldn't agree more.

Great Expectations
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This image displays all of materials present in the external shell:
Premium grain leather, perforated leather, Kormax and ballistic nylon.
Click for full size image.

In the words of Charles Dickens, "Now, I return to this young fellow. And the communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations." Truth be told, when the young fellow from UPS delivered the Octane, there were great expectations. It entered into our testing rotation immediately with no shortage of volunteers to help break in the Octane.

Admittedly, we were somewhat biased when the Octane arrived at the door. After all, it’s not often we’ve fawned over a product as much as the Dyer jacket when we tested it last summer. With all of the positive things we had to say about the Dyer, we thought the Octane should test markedly higher in all areas despite a slight difference in the purpose and target market. In many ways the design, construction and assembly of the Octane are part and parcel to the Dyer. The same qualities that make the Dyer what it is, also form the foundation for the Octane. Materials such as CE armor, KorMax™ stretch Aramid panels, premium grain leather and memory foam are all shared components. Both products draw from the roots of high-performance moto-X gear. Design features such as the articulated arms, accordion panels for greater flexibility, perforated leather for ventilation, reflective piping for safety and a jersey knit liner are all shared ergonomic elements.

Also, worthy of mentioning, is the composition of the external shell. While The Octane is considered a leather jacket, there are KorMax™ Aramid panels strategically sewn into key areas of the jacket. Much like the Dyer, they serve to provide excellent flexibility where they are used. And, these panels also shave a bit of weight off the overall package. But, as similar as the jackets are... they are also very different.

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Accordian panels (left) are strategically placed where they're needed most. Vents (right) under the arms provide additional airflow.
Click for larger images.

Inside: New Jersey
One of the nicer cool weather features we enjoyed on the Octane was the full-sleeve liner. Unlike most jackets that feature a removable vest only, the Octane come standard with an insulated liner extending all the way to the cuffs. Many manufacturers don’t do this because of the added bulk in the elbow area, in conjunction with padding or armor, creates a very stiff jacket.

Since Shift has sewn in lighter, thinner and stretchable KorMax™ Aramid panels running the inside leading edge of the arms, flex is not an issue with the quilted liner. That is to say, you don’t have a stack of leather piling on the inside of your elbow. In fact the KorMax™ Aramid panels, in concert with the external accordion panels on the outside elbow result in a surprising range of motion with the liner installed; so much so that removing the liner provides little gain in articulation of the elbows.

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Jersey knit lines both the jacket itself and the insulated liner.
Also shown, bottom, is our favorite: The belt loop.
Click for full size image.

While we thoroughly enjoyed the liner, installing and removing it on a regular basis may frustrate you. The liner is held in place with a zipper and six snaps that route through elastic loops sewn to the inside of the jacket. There are two in each arm and two on the bottom back area. Accessing the loops in the arms proved marginally challenging both for installing and removing the liner. You may find yourself attaching one loop per arm and leaving it at that. Both loops are near the cuff, so they’re most easily accessible through the end of the arm versus the inside the jacket through the shoulder. The good news is riding with your liner is seasonal. Removing and installing the liner is usually something you do only a couple times per season, or to wash it.

Once the insulated liner is removed, the jacket liner is exposed. The liner contains a new style printed jersey knit fabric not shared with the Dyer. The fabric allows air to flow and stylishly boasts the Shift name printed on the jersey knit. Again, this is one fashion element devoid in the Dyer. While it serves no functional purpose, it does add appeal. The insulated liner also includes the logo printing.

As expected, you’ll find a zipper attachment in the lower back region for compatible Shift riding pants. In fact you’ll find two zippers, one about 10” long and another zipper about 26” long; which broadens your pants choices. Both are attached to heavy double layer stretch Lycra.

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Zippers, zippers and more zippers! Zip your riding pants here!
Click for larger image.

South of the zipper is a drop tail intended to keep the Santa Ana Winds from blowing up your posterior during spirited riding. And, as always, one of our favorite features in any jacket: a belt loop. It’s still surprising how many sport riding jackets do no include a belt loop. Inherent to the crouched over riding style is the tendency for your upper body garments to navigate upward to your neck. It’s a simple feature, and one of our favorites on any jacket... even if makes us look stupid on occasion when we take off the jacket and forget it's there.

Between the belt loop and the zippered pant attachment is another zipper for access to the integrated pocket for the back protector. Shift includes a honeycomb-style soft foam with the Octane, and the pocket is ready to accept more rigid or durable protector. Unzip the zipper, pull apart the Velcro and you’ve got easy access to the pocket.

Additionally, Shift has sewn in zippered pockets on the inside front. While it’s never a good idea to carry anything rigid in jacket pockets, they’ll handle a wallet or license, no problem.

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The honeycomb foam back protector (left) is shown, partially exposed. Access to the back pocket contains a caution tag (right).
Click for full size image.

Outside: PERFection
The Octane is comprised primarily of leather, and perforated leather but also contains KorMax™ and ballistic nylon panels sewn throughout. These panels serve multiple purposes depending on where they are used.

In the neck and bottom front, Shift has sewn in ballistic nylon. Strong and durable, the nylon also flexes for comfort. In a riding position the bottom front of the jacket should “give” and "pile" slightly, and the nylon does that. Around the back of the neck, is the same nylon which allows a better neck movement without fighting the jacket while crouched over and focusing on the road. The sides of the neck feature thin and soft foam, almost neoprene-like, for additional comfort and to reduce chafing. Shift refers to this as their “comfort collar system.” It's a very effective and simple design.

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The "comfort collar" system uses this neoprene-like material.
Click for full size image.

COLD Testing
The bulk of our testing was done in the 30-70 degree range; no extreme heat or cold. The Octane fared well in both temperate climes; so let’s start out with the cooler weather.

With clear blue skies, 30 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer and frost about, the sight of the Octane’s quilted liner is like a warm cup of cocoa at a ski lodge - a welcome sight. It is during these conditions you’ll come to fully appreciate the full length liner and all of the benefits, namely warmth. Motoring along at a mere 60MPH clip at 30 degrees equates to a 10 degree wind chill factor. So, is the Octane capable of handling these artic temps? Yes.

Even with the Kormax flexible panels sewn into the arms, one might think this would the first place you would feel that Alberta Clipper bearing down on you; particularly as the Kormax panels are on the leading edge of your arms. Not so. The liner is so effective, it's practically impossible to discern the textile from leather components. And, with the belt loop firmly attached, there was no hint of old man winter sneaking up the back side. The drop tail stayed down and kept the back warm.

The only area where you may find yourself vulnerable is the neck. With the absence of button or Velcro strap around the front of the neck, the opportunity for air to enter into the jacket increases markedly. While part of the overall design, to mitigate this risk be sure you are properly sized if you intend on a lot of cool weather riding. Otherwise, wear a turtleneck for a tight seal.

WARM(er) Testing
With the liner removed and temps hovering near 70 degrees, the Octane remained comfortable to wear. Understandably, a mere 70 degrees does no equate to 90+ degrees with or without humidity. That said, no leather jacket on the market is going add comfort when the August desert sun is beaming down or while riding through a muggy Louisiana swamp in July. But, your choice of jacket will make a difference. With the Octane, you can not only see, but feel the steps the designers have taken.

Sans liner, the range of motion is increased, as you might expect. Articulation is excellent thanks to the strategically placed accordion leather panels and Kormax panels integrated throughout. These same Kormax panels not only provide better articulation, but better airflow.

The panel won’t serve up nearly as much airflow as most Summer “mesh” jackets but they are a healthy compromise next to perforated leather. While won’t call 70 degrees searing heat, we could detect the subtle temperature variations while riding, through the front of the arms where the largest percentage of Kormax fabric can be found.

Also on the front of the jacket are perforated leather sections. While we didn’t expect a lot of airflow through them, perforated leather is always a welcome addition to non-perforated in warm weather conditions.

As we mentioned above, air can enter around the neck. After sitting at a red on light mid-summer, airflow through here is a welcome visitor. While it might create discomfort in the winter, it’s in the heat where you’ll actually want for this airflow.

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Airflow over each shoulder is generated by the shoulder vents (left). On each arm are stylish "S" logos that also serve double duty as vents (right).
Click for larger images.

And what about vents? Yes, the Octane has those too. One of the more stylish elements of the Octane also serves a useful purpose. On each shoulder is a RAM-air style vent with three openings. Covered with a screen mesh, these serve as an air intake to flow over the shoulder and down your back, exiting at the bottom. The shoulder pads partially obstruct the vents, but they still allowed air to flow down the back. The sport bike riding posture forces upper body apparel up toward the neck, creating a small gap between the shoulder and the inside of the jacket. Because of this, airflow through the vents was noticeable.

The “S” logo, which Shift calls, “multi-density tpr logos” on each arm, sit atop the same wire mesh and serve as a vent as well. The effect of these vents wasn’t as readily apparent, but we’ll take what we can get in the Summer.

In Stitches: Style, Construction and Materials
Overall, the Octane is a very stylish piece of riding apparel. Our jacket had silver leather accents on the arms and white and gray elsewhere. The Shift logo is emblazoned on the high chest with “SHIFT” spelled out below. The drop tail features individually sewn letters that also spell out the “SHIFT” name. On each upper arm, the “S” logo is worn. Coming, going and from either side there is no mistaking the name or logo. Tastefully done, the Octane should raise brand awareness to those seeing the jacket for the first time.

As with this type of riding jacket, the arms are pre-curved for the aggressive street/track posture with sport bikes.

Weighing in at over eight pounds, the Octane packs some heft. 1.2 to 1.4mm leather necessarily contributes to the overall weight. The Kormax panels reduce this weight, marginally. However, if its weight savings that interest you, the Dyer is more apt to satisfy your needs. Once on, the weight isn’t really an issue.

One area where the Octane will pull its weight is the quality of construction. Because of the back protector pocket, we were able to turn the Octane inside out – literally. The bulk of the construction of the jacket utilizes close, double stitching. It’s not a benefit you can see from the outside, but it’s a benefit you’ll appreciate if you go down while wearing the Octane. This high quality stitching means improved structural integrity and less opportunity for catastrophic failure. It costs more to do this, and it’s a feature you’ll only find in high end apparel.

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High quality double stitching is found throughout.
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The leather quality is top-notch. The grain, texture and thickness was even and consistent. The painted or colored leather (silver on our Octane) held up well without a hint of cracking or deterioration. The Kormax and ballistic nylon materials were also consistent and showed no signs of weakness or fraying before or after our testing.

You’ll find high-quality YKK nylon zippers sewn into the Octane. The cuff zippers have a flexible rubber pull that’s easy to manipulate with gloves on and comfortable while stowed under the leather cuff strap. The cuff zippers are also locking, so they won’t slowly unzip themselves as you carve canyons.

Off The Cuff
One mildly irritating item that kept cropping up were the cuff straps. Each arm has a locking zipper and cuff strap that snaps in place over the zipper. The shape of the leather strap is such that it ever so slightly protrudes, once snapped. This protrusion repeatedly was caught on the gauntlets of our gloves while we were trying to put them on. It’s as easy as pulling the gauntlet over the leather strap, but taking your gloves on and off several times becomes a nuisance because of this. This minor annoyance is by no means a deal breaker for an otherwise excellent piece of gear, but worthy of mentioning. And it's likely continuous use will soften the strap anyway.

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The cuff straps/snaps.
Click for larger image.

It is obvious (to us) the extra time and care that has been taken to make sure the Octane fits exceptionally well for all types of riding. Whether street riding, flicking your bike through the twisties or a track day here and there, the Octane is one versitile piece of equipment.

We had high hopes for this jacket, and it did not disappoint in any arena. We struggled to find something wrong with it, and there just isn't much to complain about; We gave the Octane high marks in all areas. The only sacrifice you'll make is lightening your wallet by several hundred dollars. For this reason we kicked the price score down a notch, but it's still a tremendous value and priced accordingly with the competition.

Materials, construction and fit and finish are top-notch. If you are buying one jacket this year, do yourself a favor and take a serious look at the Octane.

The Shift Racing Octane jacket comes in Black/Red, Black/Silver and Black/Blue sizes small to XXL and retails for $449.95.

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Jacket Ratings
Comfort / Fit :

Coolness Factor:




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Copyright, 2007 ©The preceding article may not be reproduced in whole or part without express written consent of is in no way affiliated with Shift Racing.
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