The single biggest piece of armour you’ll wear in your day-to-day life as a motorcyclist will be your helmet.
The second is likely to be your back protector, which could, in the event of an accident, be the difference between getting up and walking away and a life-changing injury.
You may be used to riding without it, but after spending a few weeks with one, it feels alien not to have it on you – which is the state you should be aiming for.
Whether you’re riding on the track or the street, it’s well worth considering a bespoke back protector.
Top Motorcycle Back Protectors Reviewed
These are our top six to suit every rider.
CE-2 level rated protection, made of a blend of Nitrile and Polynorbornene rubber, arranged in layers that shift on impact for great impact absorption.
- A great price
- Unusual layer-style construction
- Perforated for ventilation
- Is designed for Rev’It jackets, so may not be a perfect fit for others
- Material has a flimsy feel
- Despite that, can feel stiff
Flexible and breathable level 2 CE-certified strap-on back protector with high impact resistance for back and ribs.
- Harness gives cover on both front and back
- The highest possible level of protection
- Heat-activated body moulding
- Harness means it can be worn under anything
- Not cheap – but still worth the outlay
- Again, sizing is not consistent with other brands
- Looks bulky or unwieldy – even though it’s not
Dainese Manis D1 G Back Protector Insert
CE-2 rated back armour with lots of bells and whistles for a competitive price – with a five-star user review average.
- Perforated plates for airflow
- Special longitudinal and latitudinal stretch and bending
- Light and robust, with that Dainese mark of quality
- Comes in both men’s and women’s sizes
- Not as cheap as some other options
- Sizing seems to follow its own logic so double-check
- Can feel a little loose in jacket insert slots
CE level 2 low profile harness protector – includes kidney protection.
- High level of armour quality for the price
- Air venting system increases airflow
- Flexible fit – should suit most riders
- Sizing can be confusing; double-check sizing chart for best fit
- Ventilation isn’t great, making it hot on warm days
- Velcro strip to add to Oxford jackets often in the wrong place
CE-rated protection, made of lightweight material and vented for extra insulation. It’s nice and chunky and wide too.
- Excellent coverage of the whole back area
- Although it’s big, it fits jackets almost invisibly
- Perforated for ventilation
- Is designed for ARMR jackets, so may not be a perfect fit for others
Considerations and cost
Types of motorcycle back protector
Motorcycle back protectors come in two types:
- Inserts: Drop into an existing jacket (most motorcycling jackets will have an inline pocket for this)
- Harness: Has straps that you can put on below any other clothing.
Inserts are usually the cheapest way to get back protection, but of course, you’ll need a compatible jacket to fit them into.
A decently-rated back protector insert can cost between £20 and £60 but will vary in its protection rating, weight, flexibility, and cover.
Harness-style back protectors, often worn for racing or track days, generally cost more – in the £80-£150 range – but usually offer a greater level of cover and the flexibility to go under your everyday clothing.
Some of them will cover almost your entire back area, while others may just cover the upper back and spine.
Since 1994, motorcycle gear in the UK has had to be ‘CE approved’ – which stands for Conformité Européene, meaning it conforms to EU safety standards.
Although, legislation is regularly being introduced to make changes to the standards and what it takes to qualify as CE-approved. It’s hugely complex, and there’s a full breakdown here.
But for general purposes, any motorcycle armour you buy should be CE approved – if you don’t see that label, don’t buy it.
CE ratings are easily broken down into two categories:
- CE-1 is the lowest bar armour has to clear to make CE approval and is often cheaper than CE-2.
- CE-2 – offers a higher level of protection, and we reckon it’s the best choice, especially for back armour that looks after your spine, although it may cost a little more.
EN1621-1 versus EN1621-2
Back protectors are there primarily to protect your spine, one of the more fragile parts of the human nervous system and worth looking after.
A study of 1,121 motorcyclists involved in road traffic accidents found isolated injuries to the spine affected nearly a quarter of them, and almost one in 10 required surgery.
Although this study was conducted in 2002, the human spine hasn’t changed since then – but armour and attitudes towards protection certainly have.
As you check clothing labels, you’ll usually find one of the two European standards for motorcycle armour:
This rating covers the protection of any body part except the back/spine – specifically:
- Elbows and forearms
- Knee and lower-leg areas.
This is an important distinction; if we buy back armour, we want it to meet the more stringent levels required for back armour!
The armour is tested to the equivalent of 1kg of mass falling over five metres, with sensors measuring how much force is transmitted through the armour, monitoring its peak force in kilo-Newtons (kN).
EN1621-1 Level 1 – Average transmitted force over nine tests is 35kN.
EN1621-1 Level 2 – Average transmitted force of 20kN.
This is the level of protection we want to see when buying back armour.
This rating covers CE protection specifically for back/spine protection. It is subjected to more strict testing with different shaped weights, with no more than 18kN of force transmitted to attain approval.
EN1621-2 – Level 1 – Average transmitted force over the nine tests is 18kN.
EN1621-2 – Level 2 – Average transmitted force of 9kN.
Put simply, the fewer kNs reaching what lies beneath the armour, the better. We only recommend products that reach the EN1621-2 standard. All armour reviewed here meets or exceeds that level.
Differences in materials
Old bikers will tell you that the first back protectors were made of little more than a handful of old helmet visors, gaffer-taped into shape and stuffed down the back of a shirt.
Nowadays, as technology and ergonomics have changed, you’ll find armour is made out of one or more of the following:
- Foam – The density may change from soft-ish to the harder stuff usually found inside a helmet. Soft foam is most comfortable but offers the least protection in a crash. There’s even a strand of memory foam that some manufacturers use.
- Silicone – A gel impact material great for absorbing shock and moulding to the rider’s particular dimensions.
- Hard plastic – Usually, this will be best for resisting asphalt abrasion or even punctures and is often blended with foam for an overall effect. Most mid-range armour will use hard plastic somewhere.
- Viscoelastic – The most high-tech substance, it’s pliable and body-forming until impact when it becomes rigid, allowing it to be very strong for minimum bulk. D-3O armour contains this, which many companies use for high-level CE-2 protection.
Fit and sizing, breathability
Much biking equipment will come with built-in, removable armour that you can upgrade at leisure.
For a jacket with armour inserts, you can expect to find it in the elbows, shoulders, and a large panel on the back. Harness-style back protectors will sometimes also offer rib protection in the form of extra panels at the front of the rig.
Unfortunately, by its nature, most armour will lay on you without much breathability – this is a price you have to pay for the added safety! However, the lighter the armour, the lesser the impact.
How should it fit?
Fit is critically important. If it’s big and unwieldy, it may put you off wearing it except for on ‘special occasions’ when you know you’re going for a longer ride – this is dangerous.
You want something comfortable to wear at all times and doesn’t feel like it’s squirming or moving when you ride.
The stresses of an impact can mean your armour if it’s not fitted correctly, has moved away from the area it’s meant to be covering at the moment of impact.
Feel free to bring your jacket into a store, where you can make sure whatever you buy fits correctly – and if you’re purchasing a harness-style back protector, make sure you try wearing it with all the rest of your gear before purchasing.
Many inserts come in men’s and women’s sizes, so you can get the size that matches you best.
Recommended Reading: Motorcycle Gear Hub