Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Comet Racing Leathers Apex Pro Kangaroo Suit Review

A New Suit of Armor

I'm a little late with this one, but I decided to delay my review until I had my new suit from Comet Racing Leathers out on the track a couple of times.  I've now done a track day at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) South Course with Team Pro-Motion, and repeated California Superbike School Level One at VIR North Course.  I did Level One with CSS in 2002.  I thought it was best to repeat after 12 years, and I'm glad I did.  On to the suit!
Crossing the finish line at VIR South

From the time I paid for my order and submitted my measurements, delivery time was about 5 weeks.  This was a little longer than Comet estimates on their website, but I did take advantage of their customization capabilities.  Custom logos, colors, and printed leather cost extra from most custom shops. 

My suit is the Apex Pro model in kangaroo leather. 

Here's why I like it:

  • Fit: I can't stress this one enough!  It's PERFECT!  It's a bit of a chore to get over my extra-thick Forcefield back protector, but once on, it's literally spot-on everywhere.  No tight or saggy areas.  What a difference! 
  • Comfort: Between the custom fit, good armor placement, and the kangaroo leather, this suit is much more comfortable than my old one. 
  • Build Quality: The stitching on the suit and all of the materials use are top-notch.  It compares well to other suits in its price range.
  • Protection: The armor is very well-placed, of good quality, and good coverage. My initial impression is that the suit will protect me well if called upon to do so.
  • Looks: Comet did a great job, the suit looks exactly as I requested in my design submission.
  • Value: This was far from inexpensive, but what I got compared with what I spent is very impressive.

Here's what I don't like as much:

  • The Liner: The liner doesn't zip out.  This isn't a huge deal, but a zip-out liner would be an improvement, making the suit easier to clean.
  • Logos: The Comet logos are fine, but it would be really cool if some of them were embroidered or embossed like they are on some other premium leathers.  This would be a good upgrade to further differentiate the more expensive kangaroo suits.
  • One Blemish:  After two days on the track, the suit mostly looks brand new still, but one spot on the stretch panel above my left knee didn't stand up well to my StompGrips.  The leather isn't compromised, but the colored layer peeled a bit.


Some of the custom work, one of the two SQL Sentry logos to give a little extra visibility to the company that has indirectly made this adventure much easier!  This also shows some of the precision stitching.

I've spent a lot of time riding in one-piece racing leathers, and it's amazing how much less fatigued I am after a day on the track in leathers that fit perfectly than I was after a day on the road in leathers that didn't.  I'm still tired, but I'm not near as sore and stiff afterward.  It's also easier to move around on the bike, and maintain proper body position.

The suit also drew a fair amount of attention at both events, with people asking where I got it and how long I've had it.  One couple at Superbike School, both in custom suits from another maker, commented on just how well it fit.  They were very surprised when I told them it was only my second day riding in it.  They commented on how comfortable it looked and how much mobility I had.

If you're serious about riding, either on the street or the track, consider a set of custom leathers.  I can't recommend it enough.  I'm very happy with the work Comet did for me, and would definitely go back to Karl for another suit.  I expect that Comet's cowhide and two-piece models will be of similar quality. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A New Adventure (Part Three)

Custom Leathers Update and a Few Gear Reviews

I’m making progress toward hitting the track.  My bike is ready to go, the order for my new suit has been submitted, and all of my other gear is good to go.

My new suit from Comet Racing Leathers

I submitted the payment, measurements, and design specs for my suit last week.  Turnaround time on their suits is about 30 days, much faster than some of the other custom options that I investigated.  The ordering process is fairly straightforward as well.  You select the basic suit you want from the website, pay for it, and then submit your measurements at the Comet Design Center to get the process started.  Once I had done that, Karl followed up with me within the hour to provide a PDF for color selections.  These are fully custom suits; you can select any colors you want, or go with one of their designs.  After I returned that, I got an email from Karl after the long weekend to confirm my measurements and the design.  

My design sheet after alterations.  I added the checkered flag pattern on the shoulders and shins.  Much of the shin pattern will be covered by my boots, so it won't be quite so intense.

Comet offers both one-piece and two-piece suits, and several different models for each.  The different suits offer different levels of mobility and support for different riding styles, and many different visual options.  As I mentioned in Part Two of this series, I selected the Apex Pro model in Kangaroo, and used their red color scheme as the basis for my design.  I made a few design adjustments, added my name to the back and a couple of SQL Sentry logos that may come in handy in the future!  

Here's the original Apex Pro in the red scheme.  The only changes are the checkered flag patterns and blacking out the left knee.
I'm really impressed with the customer service and ordering process so far.  Karl's great communication and attention to detail have made shelling out a large sum of money for something I can't look at or try on in advance a lot easier.

Held Phantom II Gloves

I’m finally getting around to doing a review on these.  I’ve had a pair since last summer and just bought another.  I guess that’s really all the endorsement that I need to give them: I’ve paid full retail for two pairs.  I've gone through a lot of riding gear in 13 years, and this is only the second time I've replaced something with the exact same thing.  They are a little pricey at $289, but the build quality puts most other gloves in that price range to shame. 
The Phantom II is one of the two all-kangaroo leather models Held offers, their flagship Titan model being the other.  I tried on the Titans as well, but the knuckle protectors didn’t fit me very well. The Phantoms are also less bulky without feeling like they’re giving up much if any protection.  When it comes to gloves protection is important, but it can’t come at the expense of feel.  There’s no shortage of safety features in these things either.  Stingray skin on the heel of the hand, Superfabric plates on the fingers and wrists, Kevlar sheeting and stitching, and a plastic and titanium knuckle guard make for a very safe feeling glove.  They’re also the most comfortable full-gauntlet gloves I’ve ever owned.  Kangaroo leather and memory foam backing for all of the armor plates is a great combination.  Also of note is that Held's higher-end gloves come in half size increments, so it's much easier to find a pair that really fits well.  My only compaint is that the thumb is cut just a tiny

On with the crashed gear shots!  I know that's why you're all here anyway. :)

The pair I went down in fared very well, with minimal damage to the gloves and only one little scratch on me through a vent hole on my finger. The damage to the gloves is shockingly minor considering that I put my left hand down hard to prevent myself from rolling.  My hand was probably down for somewhere between 25 and 50 feet of the slide, at considerable velocity.  A few seams need to be replaced, and the red leather piece needs a little patch, but that's it.  I will be sending them off for repairs, and expect they will continue to serve me well.   

Close-up of the stingray, I think it might have done more damage to the asphalt than the asphalt did to it.  Sturdy stuff!
It's really a shame that Held's US distributor in Conover, NC closed down over the winter.  I really hope they get a new US importer up and running, because as far as I'm concerned there's not a better option out there.

Forcefield Pro Sub 4 Back Protector

It's a pretty good looking piece of gear, for what's essentially a sort of underwear.
My old Joe Rocket suit has a soft back protector insert.  The protector is just a 3/8" thick piece of gray foam; it’s not something I’d really like to put to the test.  It was time to upgrade, and I went with Forcefield Body Armour's top of the line, the Pro Sub 4.  

I needed to get my new back protector before I could make my suit order, because I needed to be able to include it in my measurements, especially in this case.  The first thing I noticed about the Pro Sub 4 is that it’s pretty thick, about 1.5”, considerably more-so than some of the other CE Level II back protectors out there.  The CE Level II standard states that no more than 9kN of impact force can be transmitted to the rider’s spine.  The Level I standard allowed a maximum of 18kN in the same test.  The “Sub 4” comes from this back protector’s reduction of the impact to less than 4kN (3.38kN to be exact), more than twice what the standard requires, and the best out there by a significant margin.  The 4kN number isn’t just a statistic it’s the standard for CE standard EN1621-2, considered to be the maximum allowable impact force to prevent severe spinal and rib injuries.  I find it interesting that even the CE Level II standard allows more than double that force.  For more information on the testing methodology used and the technology in the back protectors, see Forcefield's Nitrex Body Armour Technology Page.

This shot shows how thick the Pro Sub 4 is.
Instead of segmented hard plastic plates like many of the other CE Level II back protectors on the market, the Pro Sub 4 uses multiple layers of Nitrex material to dissipate the energy of an impact.  This multi-layer approach does result in a thicker back protector, but it provides unmatched protection and is good for multiple impacts.  Many back protectors need to be replaced after taking a strong impact.  Hopefully this feature will be irrelevant for me!  I was unable to find another back protector that offered as much impact reduction, but the protection does come at a higher than average price: 200 dollars. 

Lots of layers inside!  Each one is roughly the same size and thickness as the stock protector in my old suit.
The Pro Sub 4 was easy to adjust and fits very comfortably.  The plates conform to your body once they get a little heat in them, and they have vent holes through them that will hopefully keep heat under control.

Ventilation is key.  I tried to get the panels to move around enough to get the holes out of alignment, but they stay put very well.  This should breathe nicely.
I’m impressed so far.  I’ll follow up on this review once I get a chance to try out the new leathers and back protector together, since that will be the true test for comfort and mobility.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A New Adventure (Part Two)

Getting Ready for the Track

She's in her track clothes now!
In my first post of this series, I laid out the plan to shift from riding on the road to the racetrack.  I’m not there yet, but I’ve made a ton of progress since then.  I’ve bought the bike and trailer, back protector, new gloves, and I am finalizing my order for new leathers with Comet Racing.  I’ve also made quite a bit of progress on preparing the bike for the track.  

I’ve definitely learned an important lesson this far along in the process: it’s expensive!  Granted, I haven’t exactly gone the budget route with this project.  I could have spent about half as much on the bike, and still had something perfectly acceptable for the track.  Given the wide range of bike options and rider preferences, I’m not going to focus on the bike aside from the track preparations.  I had also budgeted for the gear replacements and upgrades, and I truly believe that it’s worth it to buy the best of anything that might one day save my skin.  The expenses that I’ve really been feeling have been the “nickel and dime” sort of thing.  I’ve had to make several runs to The Home Depot for little stuff, tools, zip ties, towing accessories, and what not.  

Bike Prep

After 10 days on the road with the SQL Sentry team for the PASS Business Analytics Conference and Microsoft Tech Ed North America, much of my weekend was spent getting the bike ready.  I purchased the bike with a full set of Sharkskinz race bodywork, so that was a big plus.  I did have to pull all of the street parts, tie up some wires, and mount the race plastics.  Wow!  There are a ton of pieces to the street plastics on the ZX10R!  I took off 25 or so pieces of bodywork.  They were replaced with four!  I’m planning to sell the street plastics, mirrors, and lights to recoup some of my costs.

Who blew up a motorcycle in my living room?

 What’s left to do: 

  • Safety Wire
  • Replace coolant with distilled water and Water Wetter
  • Change numbers, and maybe add some other cosmetic touches.

New Gear

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been getting some new gear.  I’ll be sure to review all of these in a future post.


I’m going to get my old set of Held Phantom IIs repaired, but went ahead and ordered another set from Revzilla since Held’s USA distributor went out of business a few months ago.  I love the Phantoms and wanted to grab another set while I could still get them from a US retailer.  Not having to order from Europe saves on duties and an unfavorable exchange rate.

Back Protector:

My Forcefield Pro Sub 4 arrived while I was out of town.  I needed it before I could order my custom leathers, since I wanted to be able to wear it when I had all of my measurements taken.  My initial impression is that it’s very well made and quite comfortable. 


My new suit took a lot more research, and will be another month or so before it arrives.  I can’t fit my back protector under my old Joe Rocket suit, and it’s due for replacement anyway.  I’m sure there are off the rack suits out there that would fit me, but here in Charlotte, NC there are very few places that stock high end suits.  After riding for the last year with gloves made from kangaroo leather, I decided to focus my search on a kangaroo suit.  This further limited my options, and led to my investigation of custom suit manufacturers.  Most of the custom suit makers are small businesses with overseas production facilities, so it was important to me to find one with good customer service and a solid reputation.  

After speaking with staff at several others, I ended up going with Comet Racing Leathers.  After a few emails and a lengthy phone conversation with Karl, the owner, I’m sold.  I’m actually sold enough that I’m signed up for their track day ambassador program, which will make me a field representative for the company.  This did get me a discount on my suit, but I would have purchased one even without the deal.  Customer service and responsiveness are very important to me, and Karl has that side of things well-covered.  I’ll be posting a more thorough review on the suit and purchase process once it arrives in about a month.   

I went for one of Comet’s raciest suits, the Apex Pro, in Kangaroo.  I’m going to use their red/black color scheme as a base for my design, but we’re going to go a bit further and have some fun with it! 

Monday, May 19, 2014

As a SQL Server DBA, Why Do I Need Performance Advisor for Windows?

Performance Advisor for Windows for the SQL Server DBA

SQL Sentry Performance Advisor (PA) for Windows is one of our newer product offerings, and I think one that could use a little bit of use-case clarification.  I am often asked questions like this: “Why would I need Performance Advisor for Windows when Performance Advisor for SQL Server already shows me Windows metrics?”
There are several possible answers to this question.
  • You really don’t need it, PA for SQL Server has you covered.
  • You need visibility into other Windows Servers that aren’t monitored by Performance Advisor for SQL Server.
  • You need additional visibility into other things running on one or more of your monitored SQL Servers.
Before we talk about each of the three answers above, let’s go over what Performance Advisor for Windows does:
  • Adds the Processes Tab.
  • Adds process group highlighting to the PA Dashboard.
  • Allows monitoring of any Windows machine with the Windows portion of the PA Dashboard and the Processes Tab.

You really don’t need it, PA for SQL Server has you covered.

The bright green for "other" here really doesn't have much of a story to tell.

This is the easy one.  In the case of a standalone SQL Server instance with few to no other running services aside from the OS, you probably don’t need PA for Windows, as there 
won’t be a need to see details on the “other” Network, CPU, and Memory metrics very often.  In this case, you are probably going to be just fine with PA for SQL Server by itself.

You need visibility into other Windows Servers that aren’t monitored by Performance Advisor for SQL Server.

PA for Windows gives you live and historical performance monitoring for any Windows Server

There are lots of use cases for this.  If you are responsible for monitoring other servers in the environment that aren’t running SQL Server, PA for Windows offers a great solution.  Often, for users of PA for SQL Server these are servers that interact with your SQL Servers: VM Hosts, Sharepoint Farm Servers, App Servers, Servers used in ETL processes, and so on.  This is helpful because a SQL Sentry user can create consolidated views of related servers, and easily drill into problems.

You need additional visibility into other things running on one or more of your monitored SQL Servers.

That's better!  Now we have visibility into other process groups on the dashboard.

The processes tab gives even more details.
If you find yourself wondering what makes up the “Other” category that you see on the PA for SQL Server dashboard, those details can be collected and shown by PA for Windows.  Well-known processes will have predefined color highlights, and highlights for other processes not automatically recognized by SQL Sentry can be created with a quick update to the SQL Sentry Database.  Detailed utilization metrics are also available on the Processes tab which is also available in the Jump To menu for drilldown.  This gives the user a way to see what is happening with processes like Reporting Services, Integration Services, Internet Information Services, third-party backup tools, and other things that might be running alongside the SQL Server process.

I hope this helps clear up the use cases, and what PA for Windows adds to servers already monitored by PA for SQL Server.  Please comment or contact us with any questions.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A New Adventure

Motorcycles have been my primary hobby (obsession?) for nearly 14 years.  I’ve logged many thousands of miles on many different bikes.  Little did I know when I started that something I took up on a whim would become such a defining part of my life.
I had a very early brush with the dangers of riding a motorcycle when a month and a half into my riding career I was rear-ended at a stoplight by a pickup truck doing about 35 mph.  I was okay for the most part, as I was thrown clear and landed on the roof of the car in front of me.  After about 12 years of safe rides, the risks caught up to me again last July, an experience I wrote about here.  Neither of these really phased me, even the July crash which resulted in some pretty painful injuries.  I was back on a bike in a few weeks, considerably sooner than I should have been!

Now, less than a year later, I’ve had another freak accident due to a likely mechanical failure (hard to diagnose since the part I think failed was completely destroyed).  I walked away from this one completely uninjured, but with a very changed mindset.  Truth be told, I’m not sure where the seeds of this idea came from, but it started before the crash.  All I know is that it’s time to make a change.  Motorcycles are a part of me, and I don’t see that changing.  That said, sportbike riding on the street is drifting outside of my risk tolerance. 

A number of things have combined to push those risks up over the years.  Traffic is increasing, drivers seem to be increasingly distracted, road conditions are getting worse, and law enforcement is becoming increasingly aggressive in targeting even the riders that go out to the middle of nowhere to play around.  These are all factors that I don’t control. 

One factor that I do control is that over the years, my riding ability has increased to the point that I’ve got to go too fast to continue to challenge myself and get the adrenaline rush of days past.  I’m not the guy that’s flying by you on the highway like you’re standing still, while riding a wheelie in shorts and flip flops…that’s never been my way.  I’m the rider you probably never see speeding, because I’m looking for roads with lots of twists and turns and no traffic.  I’m also the guy you probably pass in traffic on my way to or from those roads and wonder why he’s wearing full leathers, gloves, and boots in 90 degree heat.  Despite taking every possible safety measure, nothing is going to adequately protect a human being from a car, tree, guardrail, or other solid object at speed.  It doesn’t take going 100+ mph to get hurt either.  I was only doing about 40 when I went down in July, and I broke a clavicle, two ribs, and had hairline fractures in two vertebrae.  Had I not been in full leathers and wearing a top-quality helmet, my injuries would likely have been much worse.

“Get to the point already!  Where does this lead?”

To the racetrack!

My first day on the track at Virginia International Raceway in 2002 doing California Superbike School
To anyone who hasn’t spent time on the track, that probably sounds completely ridiculous as a risk management strategy.  The fact is though; going fast on the track is safer than even going slowly on the street.  It’s a controlled environment: there are no cars, everyone goes the same direction, the surface is carefully maintained and kept clean, there is designed runoff area should someone go down, safety rules are strictly enforced, and there are emergency services on site should something go wrong.  The racetrack completely eliminates the concerns about getting a speeding ticket as well.

What’s it going to take to make the change?

Here’s my list so far:
  •  Track bike - I’m buying a 2012 Kawasaki ZX10R that’s already got most of the track prep done.
    • This probably isn’t the best “starter” track bike, but I’m accustomed to and really like power!
    •  I’ll post a follow up once I have the bike.
  • Trailer – Comes with the bike.   
  • Trailer hitch – no big deal.
  • New leathers – looking for a custom, made-to-measure  suit. 
    • I already have most of my gear, but my suit’s about 13 years old, time for a new one.
    • Stay tuned for a future post on this purchase, and a review once I get my suit.
  • Back protector – Just ordered a Forcefield Pro Sub 4 from Competition Accessories 
    • These are supposed to be the best thing out there right now, review to come.
  • Spare parts, tools, gas, and tires.

Once I have everything together, I’ll be doing track days and racing schools all over the Southeastern US.  I'm already booked to repeat level 1 of California Superbike School at Virginia International Raceway in August.  At some point, I’ll probably do some competition as well, but that’s still a ways off.

I picked up a couple of GoPro cameras this winter, so reviews and track stuff will all be getting upgraded to video coverage going forward. Stay tuned!