Date reviewed: May 2023 | Tested by: John Milbank | Price: £399.99 & £299.99 | www.merlinbikegear.com
The Merlin Mahala Pro on review here is designed as a ‘Go Anywhere, Do Anything’ (GADA) set of textile jacket and trousers. Removable thermal and waterproof liners give the potential for a true all-year-round set of riding gear, so I’ve been using it over several months on a BMW R1250GS and a Honda VFR800 to find out if it’s the only motorcycle kit you need…
Made of a tough Cordura cotton produced exclusively for Merlin, the Mahala is a classically-styled jacket and trouser combo that’s a lot more flexible and soft to wear than a lot of other motorcycle riding kit.
While the armour of course adds bulk, the material used and the accordion panels on the elbows and shoulders make for a very easy fit that doesn’t feel awkward when walking around off the bike. And of course, there’s plenty of room to move around when you’re riding.
The collar isn’t adjustable for size, but it’s soft and comfortable, with a compliant neoprene section at the front, and accordion panels in the trousers keep these moving easily too.
Overall the Mahala has a great look to it that seems to suit adventure bikes as much as it does custom and retro-style street machines. Merlin’s attention to details like the leather sections on the insides of the bottoms of the legs, the grippy pads on the bum, branded poppers and subtle logos are part of what makes the design language so consistent, and so successful.
I’m typically a size large in motorcycle kit, and while I have put on some weight recently, I still found the Merlin Mahala Pro fitted me as expected. The jacket comes in sizes S to 3XL, while the trousers are available in S to 4XL, with regular, long and short leg options that should cater for every rider. This would have been a significant commitment for Merlin, so it’s great to see the relatively small British company investing in ensuring that its customers have the widest range of sizes possible.
Both the Merlin Mahala Pro jacket and trousers are certified to level AA under EN17092, which is great to see on off-the-peg waterproof kit, and promises higher levels of abrasion resistance than gear certified to level A.
But just as important is the armour, and the Mahala Pro jackets comes with a seven-piece set of D3O protectors covering the elbows, shoulders, back and chest. These are all Level 1 (Level 2 is more protective, but also tends to be thicker), and while the elbow and shoulder armour is the smaller Type A size, it does offer better coverage than some larger Type B protectors I’ve seen in gear recently, thanks to the preformed shape. It’s preferable to have the larger sizes of armour, especially in kit of size large or even medium and above, but the protection featured in this Merlin kit is still impressive.
The chest protection comes in two parts, and while these are the larger Type B, I find them spaced a little far apart on my frame. They’re not uncomfortable at all, but I’d like to have seen the 20cm gap across the front of my chest reduced somewhat, for increased protection. Still, chest armour is pretty rare in kit at the moment, so it’s great to see Merlin offering so much more than many others, who often don’t even include a back protector.
The back protector that comes as standard in the Mahala Pro is a Full Back design, offering excellent coverage across the length and width.
The Mahala Pro trousers have D3O Level 1 armour at the knees and hips, with three positions in the knees to adjust the height to suit your leg length – an excellent detail that should be part of all kit.
One of the chest protectors in my jacket was cracked when it arrived, and these do feel a little stiffer and more brittle when cold compared to the rest of the armour fitted, but it hasn’t got any worse, doesn’t affect the performance, and would be exchanged without issue if needed.
All motorcycle clothing sold in the UK and Europe is deemed to be Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This is a good thing for riders as it can help them choose kit that has provable levels of safety because, to meet this legislation, it must be tested to a recognised standard. To fully understand the labels found in all bike kit, click here.
The horizontal openings of the Mahala Pro’s two main (waterproof) pockets on the front of the jacket fold over, and have a water-resistant zip for added security. My main disappointment here is that the zip opening is rather small at just 12cm, which makes it hard to get my hand in (even harder to get it out if picking some coins from inside), and means I struggle to fit my keys. My Google Pixel 7 Pro phone also only just fits. If you don’t carry much in your pockets this might not be an issue, but I would suggest that you check what you need to get in there.
Behind these two are a pair of wonderfully warm and soft vertical pockets to tuck your hands in – definitely a lovely touch – while the map pocket on the rear is large enough to swallow both the jacket’s and the trouser’s waterproof liners when not in use.
The left sleeve has a small popper-fastened pocket for cards and passes, and inside is one zipped and one Velcro pocket. These two are hidden if the waterproof liner is fitted, but the thermal liner does have a single Velcro pocket.
The trouser pockets aren’t waterproof, but there’s a zip-closed pair at the hips, as well as another zip-closed cargo-style pair on the thighs.
If you’re wearing a hydration pack (there’s not a built-in pocket for one), a popper-fastener tag on the right of the chest is just the right size for securing a Camelbak pipe with its neoprene cover.
The Mahala Pro jacket’s main zip is a chunky YKK that’s smooth and easy to use, with a good-sized popper-fastened storm flap cover. A thoughtful touch here is the Velcro securing at the bottom in place of a popper, to avoid scratching your bike’s tank.
The jacket cuffs are fastened with Velcro straps. These close up well for use under gloves, but they also have enough room to fit over my Held Twin II winter gloves underneath. This is the best way to wear gloves in the wet, yet a surprising number of jackets don’t manage it.
The trousers use the same style of zip at the fly, which goes right the way to the top for a secure hold, along with two poppers to close the flap. The gusset fitted behind is a touch narrow though, which can make it a little awkward to get to what you need when rushing for a wee after a cold ride.
The jacket and trousers can be connected using a short, chunky zip at the rear, which will help prevent the back pulling up.
The trouser legs use a long zip, along with a Velcro strap at the top and bottom. The top strap hides the top of the zip, which is a bit annoying at times, especially as it doesn’t really offer any useful adjustment so is a bit redundant.
It’s great to find that the Mahala Pro trousers fit easily over my TCX Drifter adventure boots, and here the bottom Velcro strap works a treat. However, when wearing with a more traditional sport touring boot, like the Daytona Road Stars, the strap does hold tight, but there’s a bit too much loose. Three or four centimetres more Velcro on the trouser leg for the strap to attach to wouldn’t have gone amiss here.
The adjustment at the legs could be better, and this can lead to a bit of a draft getting up the trousers when wearing sport touring boots. I’d also point out that, while it’s not the style that’d be typically worn with this kit, the Velcro strap is particularly lacking when used with shorter boots like the Stylmartin Vertigos reviewed here.
Concertina panels in the waist, and a pair of Velcro belt adjusters give some useful movement in the trousers, while Velcro straps at the biceps, forearms and waist of the jacket, not to mention zip openings at the hem, offer a good range.
Due to the removable waterproof membrane, the Merlin Mahala Pro can take advantage of direct-to-body ventilation that proves very effective.
The arm vents work really well thanks to usually being in the wind on most bikes, with the adjustment strap also holding the vent fully open. The chest vents work well despite being blocked to some extent by the armour, though the design of them means they don’t open as wide as you might expect. The air gets under them well though, depending on your bike’s fairing.
A large rear exhaust valso proves effective in keeping the cooling breeze moving.
The trousers have a short vertical zip on each thigh, which I can feel working when it’s open, but is limited by some fairings. There’s a small popper-fastened strap inside each one that appears to be for holding the vent more open, but unfortunately it does nothing; the popper needed to have been four or five centimetres further away to be of any use.
The thermal and waterproof liners are both removable, and can be used individually
The comfortably soft removable thermal liners combine with the waterproof liners to create some useful layering that can make for a pleasant ride as the temperatures drop. Getting down towards zero, you’ll still want base layers (like the excellent ZeroFit reviewed here) or even heated gear from the likes of Keis and Gerbing, but the Merlin Mahala Pro is pretty effective.
I tend to run hot easily, but at around 12°C I had to take the thermal liners out, leaving just the waterproof liner (more on that in a mo), but it’s down to clever design that you can use the Mahala Pro with the waterproof liner installed and the thermal liner fitted inside that, or just fit the thermal liner attached to the jacket on its own.
The liners are a bit fiddly to refit in the arms, and that draft I mentioned in the legs isn’t helped by them stopping just below the knees – I got pretty cold there while wearing the Daytona boots at 3°C for two and a half hours.
The fitted liner of the jacket and trousers is a fine, soft mesh that’s comfortable against the skin when the thermal and waterproof liners are removed, but with just the waterproof liner installed I found the inside of the Merlin Mahala Pro to be disappointingly sticky in use due to there being no mesh liner between your skin and the membrane.
If you’re wearing full-length base-layers it’s not an issue, but I tend to wear a tee-shirt, so it’s a real shame to have something that can feel quite uncomfortable if you’re sweating. I also found it a little irritating on my inner thighs, which seems to be the seam taping rubbing against my skin.
When viewed under a microscope the lack of any scrim layer (a protective mesh bonded to the membrane) makes it feel more fragile than some. Ideally there’d be a separater mesh comfort layer fitted over this
The Merlin Mahala Pro isn’t really intended as an all-season commuter or all-weather touring suit, so it should be judged with that in mind. However, there are some details to be aware of.
On the trousers, the storm flap at the bottom of the long leg zips tends to push itself out of the way, so this can be an ingress point. Also, the vent zips aren’t water resistant on the legs, and at one point I could feel water running down – albeit on the outside of the membrane – which made me feel colder.
The arm vent zips can also let water through, so be aware that in long, heavy downpours, some water could find its way down the sleeve.
The waterproof membranes are very effective, but that sticky feeling might mean you’ll be reluctant to wear them in spring and autumn without the thermal liners. Fortunately, the outer shell has an effective DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating that keeps showers off for a good amount of time. These treatments do wear eventually, but due to the comfortable yet thick cotton construction, severe weather will see it soaking out eventually even when new, which makes it harder for the membrane inside to breathe, leading to you getting damp with sweat. It also takes time to dry out thoroughly.
Ultimately, I’d not tend to recommend any adventure-style suit with removable membranes for an all-season commuter or tourer as laminated gear is far more practical and effective, though a few small niggles could be ironed out to make the Mahala Pro more enjoyable in foul weather.
The textile riding kit market is hotly contested, which means lots of choice for you. Merlin has a great reputation for making some really classily-styled kit, but here are some others you might be considering…
It’s excellent to have so many size options in the Mahala Pro trousers, and while I’d like to see larger armour used at the elbows and knees, Merlin is offering a lot more protection than many other manufacturers. The AA-rated Mahala Pro is also comfier to wear while walking around off the bike than some other textile kit.
My main disappointments are with the sticky waterproof liner and the small jacket pockets – if they’d had their full width as an opening they’d have been far more practical, but as it is the zips restrict their size and make it awkward to get my hands in and out.
Still, despite some irritations, the Merlin Mahala Pro is a great alternative to typical adventure-style textile kit and has some excellent design elements that make it well worth a look.