Aimed at naked, retro and adventure riders, Merlin Bike Gear‘s Explorer collection blends a traditional/retro aesthetic with contemporary technology. As a member of the Merlin Biker Collective, I’ve had the Merlin Nomad Explorer jacket since the beginning of the year.
Across two road trips covering over 800 road miles, I’ve put this stylish waxed cotton jacket through its paces. Thanks to the UK climate, I managed to ride in nearly all reasonable weather and as well as barely permissible riding conditions.
The Nomad performed admirably – much in the way riders acquainted with the brand have come to expect.
Merlin Nomad Explorer Cotec Jacket Review
Merlin Bike Gear will be familiar to many riders of retro, classic and custom motorcycles. The family-run British motorcycle clothing firm has been around since 2012. It now boasts an ardent and growing following of riders across the globe — particularly in the UK, USA and Australia.
Merlin Explorer Collection
The Explorer collection is Merlin’s latest range which was tested and refined on tour in Scotland. It’s no surprise then that it was designed with touring in mind. Items in the collection vary from purely technical wear to more casual-looking moto-gear. As such, several of the jackets in the collection are perfectly at home in an urban setting. The Nomad is one of them.
It’s also the jacket most likely to appeal to riders of modern-classic, custom and vintage bikes. Even with stiff competition from the Expedition and Monty, it’s arguable the most stylish too. Although, I suppose you wouldn’t expect me to say otherwise.
On removing the Nomad from its delivery box, I find it to be reassuringly robust. It feels weighty — in a good way. Judging by the multitude of labels, there is plenty of tech packed into the distinctly retro silhouette of the jacket.
Clearly, it’s a modern technical garment and a proper motorcycle jacket though its appearance belies that.
Style & Looks
The Nomad is a short-length jacket that looks good on and off the bike. That, I imagine is the intention. To the layperson, it looks like an ordinary jacket.
As such, it meets the increasing demand from riders, for technical apparel indistinguishable from everyday clothing. Within the Nomad Merlin meets that desire. You can ride your bike to meet a pal for a coffee and not look as though you’re trudging around in heavy motorcycle gear.
The five-pocket design of the Nomad (two lower pockets combined with top patch pockets and one arm pocket) pays homage to the past but in a contemporary way.
It could be said that the jacket’s design is inspired by scrambler motorcycles, desert racing and New Wave Custom motorcycle culture. Particularly, in its olive derivative, the Nomad conjures up images of off-road trail or arid desert riding, on tall upright custom and classic scramblers.
And yet the bomber-style, crew-neck, short jacket fits well with the cafe racer look too — especially in the black. I’m pleased with how it looks on me when I occasionally catch a glimpse of Thruxton R and my passing reflection in a shopfront window. (Surely, it’s not just me that does this?)
The jacket is relatively minimalist in style, which resonates well with me. The stud snaps subtly embellished with Merlin branding, combined with the top pouch pockets that feature two rivets give the jacket a stylishly utilitarian aesthetic. The subtle, embossed Merlin emblem on a black leather tab stitched to the left arm further enhances its lowkey credentials.
It’s infinitely appealing when a relatively new brand reaches a stage of maturity at which it becomes quietly confident of its own brand equity. This usually marks the point at which it’s not forced to emblazon its logo prominently on all garments.
I’m not alone within circles of modern-classic, custom and vintage motorcycle riders in valuing lowkey branding. Or equally appreciating prominent but simultaneously subtly executed branding.
Comfort & Wearability
Like many people, I’m perpetually between clothing sizes. This fact remains true with motorcycle jackets. My chest size fluctuates between 40″ and 41.5″ depending on my consumption of pizza. This means medium or large are my usual options.
Initially, I opted for the medium in the Nomad. Even though the fit was perfect for a night out, it was far too snug for motorcycle riding. As such, I settled with the large which if it wasn’t a technical garment I would like to have pinched in a tad at the back. Elsewhere it’s a perfect fit.
I spent most of the time wearing the jacket mashing motorway miles – so, effectively riding in a variation of semi-stress positions for hours. Some jackets under such conditions can start to feel burdensome and constricting. However, the Nomad felt light and forgiving even with the seven-piece D30 armour. Indeed, it also felt roomy, despite the semi-fitted nature. That’s partly due to the flexibility offered by its expanding shoulder panels.
Another concern on long journeys is wind resistance. Lack of it can rapidly lead to a cold body core which in turn leads to fatigue. Leather jackets usually perform better than waxed cotton in that respect.
Nonetheless, despite the continuous wind blast, while riding at (ahem) 70mph, in temperatures ranging from 9º to 16º C, the Cotec material (coupled with the 125g Reissa thermal lining) did a splendid job at protecting against wind chill.
On the flipside riding in urban traffic with the Reissa insert at temperatures above 14º C was obviously bound to be uncomfortable. I quickly discovered this at the end of my first road trip entering London for the Bike Shed Show.
Without the insert, the waxed cotton of the Nomad feels comfortable with a long t-shirt on a warm-ish day in the city. The breathable fixed mesh lining on the jacket must be in part responsible for that. Ventilation zips on the lower and upper sleeves in addition to the back also helped with breathability. I made frequent use of them while riding in the city.
Overall the jacket is more breathable than other waxed cotton motorcycle jackets I’ve owned. Those jackets can sometimes feel like they’re cooking me slowly on a warm day.
An easily missed though considerate feature is the padded neckline constructed of softer inner material with leather trim. It removes any potential collar chaffing. It’s these little things that make the difference on a road trip.
One of the big questions for any waxed cotton jacket is how it performs when the heavens open. It’s a pertinent question, particularly for riders in the UK and similar climates. Now, it’s a reasonable expectation that any motorcycle jacket should keep you dry in a light rain shower… at the very least. For waxed cotton motorcycle jackets the expectation should be higher.
Medium to heavy showers should be no problem. Beyond that, you should expect to use a waterproof overcoat or cape. This proved true for the Nomad which kept my torso dry during a sustained medium to heavy rain spell, on my first road trip.
On the second road trip, to my surprise, it kept me dry for the most part in a sustained torrential downpour of 30 to 40 minutes. There was however some water ingress along the zip line. That, I suppose is to be expected given the style of the jacket. Also, it doesn’t have a storm placket. Nonetheless, overall wet weather performance was excellent and even better than I expected.
Safety & Protection
On paper the Nomad scores relatively high for safety. Firstly, it comes equipped with a seven-piece D3O armour set.
L1 armour is found in the shoulders and elbows, accompanied by aViper Stealth back protector, along with pre-fitted chest protectors. That ensemble of armour is rare for a jacket in this price range.
Merlin and Halley Stevenson together produced a proprietary fabric for the Explorer collection named Cotec. It’s made from a combination of 8 oz waxed cotton and Cordura. The result is a stronger material with higher abrasion resistance over traditional waxed cotton.
Ultimately, the jacket is CE Level AA approved, meaning a combination of good ergonomics and safety. This rating makes it suitable for all but the most extreme type of riding.
A significant safety feature is the ability to connect riding trousers to the jacket for a more secure fit. On the Nomad this can be achieved with the inbuilt jacket-to-jean connecting zipper or the Euro hoop jacket-to-jean connector strap. Once again, this is a feature more likely to be found on more expensive jackets. Of course, the true test of any garment’s protective capabilities is to be found in real-world scenarios. Thankfully during my road tests, there were no incidents that gave rise to a more thorough test of the Nomad’s safety rating (despite invitations by several drivers).
Features & Design
With a specification list longer than the jacket, there are many thoughtful features included on Nomad.
Storage ranks high. With its five external and two internal pockets. There are plenty of secure places to store your phone, wallet, passport and other everyday carry items on a road trip. Moreover, using the pockets as intended doesn’t distort the silhouette of the jacket.
Additional pockets can be found on the removable 125g Reissa®Active waterproof thermal lining. It’s a nice touch that means you don’t need to sacrifice storage for warmth. The insert is easy enough to attach and remove via an internal zip on the jacket, coupled with two snaps in each sleeve and one on the inner-back collar.
That said, the lower pockets can feel a little difficult to access, despite good internal storage within the pockets themselves. Also, the YKK zips would be more easily handled with gloved fingers if they were slightly larger. Nevertheless, the pockets do well at hiding bulky everyday carry items.
A previously perfectly fitting motorcycle jacket can sometimes feel tight (particularly on the arms) when it’s chilly and you’re forced to wear additional layers. Initially, I thought the same about the Nomad when I pulled it on for my first long-distance ride while wearing multiple layers.
Fortunately, I remembered before setting off that the sleeves are adjustable.
Two velcro-backed straps on each arm and a zip at the wrists can easily be tweaked to accommodate additional undergarments. It’s a simple and deft solution to fatigue caused by under-layer discomfort. Also, it aids agility on the bike.
The waist features snap buttons on either side that can be set in one of two positions to give a snugger fit. Additionally, the jacket is slightly longer at the back which protected my lower back wonderfully from drafts.
One of the ever-surprising aspects of Merlin motorcycle jackets is the price point at which they sit. With materials, features and design considered, there are only a handful of brands that offer similar value. The Nomad has a treasure trove of features. It’s a lot of motorcycle jacket for £349.99.
Merlin says the Explorer collection has “. .. been designed for riders, by riders”. That’s true if the Nomad is the bar. It’s incredible that Merlin has been able to cram so much technology and so many features into the jacket while maintaining a reasonable price point. The other consideration is that the brand has done it without sacrificing materials or craftsmanship.
Within the Nomad, Merlin offers value beyond expectations. And to do so in such a thoughtful and attractive package will surely make it a seller with its intended audience.
Zip-out Reissa Active waterproof membrane attached to 125g thermal liner
Fixed mesh lining to aid breathability
High-quality zippers used throughout
D3O® LP1 shoulder and elbow protectors pre-fitted
D3O® Viper Stealth back protector pre-fitted
D3O® chest protectors pre-fitted
CE EN17092 AA
5-pocket design – 2x lower storage – 2 x top patch – 1 x arm patch pocket
Internal storage pockets
Merlin-branded snap studs
Forearm, bicep and hem adjustment
Jacket-to-jean connecting zipper
Euro hoop jacket-to-jean connector strap
Road Test 1: Journey to the Bike Shed Show for the last day.
Weather: A mix of high single-digit and warm temperatures with medium and heavy showers
Saddle Time: approx. 10 hrs
Journey Length: 550-mile round-trip
Journey Type: Motorway mash with some urban riding
Road Test 2: Journey to Merlin HQ
Weather: Warm and humid, with torrential rain and intermittent medium showers
Saddle Time: approx. 7 hrs
Journey Length: 350-mile round-trip
Journey Type: Motorway mash with some extra-urban riding
Merlin Nomad Wax Cotton Motorcycle Jacket
The Nomad waxed cotton jacket from Merlin doesn't just represent great value for money, it's also an excellent motorcycle jacket.
It should appeal to riders of classic, customs and retro bikes, for touring or urban use.