We’re all aware of the inherent risks of riding and that the most effective risk reduction strategy is to ride defensively and wear the best gear.
The latter can be maximised by ensuring you have the best armour; so, here’s a short guide to help you get bulletproof:
So, what is it?
Armour is designed to reduce abrasion, absorb shock and dissipate impact in and around the most vulnerable parts of our puny bodies.
Some even have ‘recovery’ properties to protect against repeat impacts during an accident.
When it comes to spending your folding stuff, there are two armour sub-groups:
- Inserts and pads that fit internally within jackets and jeans, such as elbow, knee and back protectors.
- Separately worn standalone products such as armoured under-layers or strap on items.
Bike armour is continually evolving, and there’s a wide range of products and materials on the market.
These materials come with varying levels of efficacy and cost.
- Cheap as chips: utilising simplistic materials such as foams, hard plastic and metal. They offer abrasion defences that have limited impact protection and can be bulky, inflexible and uncomfortable.
- The Middle Shelf: Includes armour such as blended rubber and lightweight plastics that are thinner and more flexible whilst providing greater impact protection.
- Platinum: Top-end armour such as D30, SAS-TEC and Nitrex combine computer-designed structures with high-tech materials such as viscoelastic foam. This witchcraft is light, squidgy and bendy until force is applied, where it then hardens and absorbs impact over a wide area. Airbag technology has also been recently developed.
You’re going to want to make sure your armour is tried and tested. There are detailed standards for each type of armour, but this is where things can get a little bit zzzzzz, so let’s keep it simple.
There are only three armour standards you need to be aware of:
- CE certified level 1: Transmits less than 18kN of force to the body; it’s decent protection and suitable for general road use
- CE certified level 2: Transmits less than 9kN of force, its top-end protection and has fallen in price and weight over recent years – always try and go for CE Level 2 if your budget allows.
- None: Could be made from pure diamond or sticky tape and lollypop sticks
Each item of certified armour is tested in an approved facility and displays an information panel containing its rating level and specific compliance testing standards.
There are several well-known expert brands such as Forcefield, Knox, Held, Tryonic and Safe Max. As you would expect, these specialist companies offer high premium standalone undergarments and strap-on kit.
Mainstream suppliers also sell a wide range of standalone armour. Some, such as Spidi, Alpinestars, Rukka, Icon, and Dainese, have developed a wide range of products and often use platinum materials such as D3O.
Nearly all of the big manufacturers fit armour in their clothing, but if you buy low/mid-range gear, the armour can be sparse and utilise basic materials.
Types of Armour
Armour can be added to existing garments such as Jackets and Jeans (see our guide to Best Motorcycle and Kevlar Jeans) or as separate strap-on or underlayer garments.
Here is a brief guide to formats and areas of coverage:
Standalone Armour (Insert/Strap-On Items)
- Back Protectors: strap on items or individual inserts
- See our guide: Best Motorcycle Back Protectors
- Elbows: arm sleeves, strap on or inserts
- See our guide: Best Motorcycle Elbow Armour
- Chest: strap on and inserts for jackets
- See our guide: Best Motorcycle Chest Protector
- Knees: strap on, and inserts for jeans/trousers
- See our guide: Best Motorcycle Knee Pads
- Hips: strap on and inserts
- See our guide: Best Motorcycle Hip Armour
- Neck: Braces to support the head – used in Motocross and Adventure riding
- See: O’Neil Neck Brace
- Kidney\lower back: Support and protection for the lumbar and lower back area
- See our guide: Best Motorcycle Kidney Belt
- Shirts: typically containing chest, rib and back protection
- Vests: Back and Chest protection in a removable garment
- Compression Pants/Shorts: Typically protect hip, knee and coccyx
- Long johns and leggings: stretchy materials with armour for knees, hips and coccyx, often have feet stirrups to prevent rucking
- Hoodies: Advances in fibre technology and armour inserts are feeding through into more casual motorcycle clothing.
- See our guide: Best Armoured Motorcycle Hoodie
- Rigs: Motocross style upper body shirts/jackets combining back/shoulder/elbow and chest protection in a ‘beast’ unit
- Airbag protection: an emerging technology available in vests and jackets
- See our guide: Best Motorcycle Airbags
Hopefully, this article has helped steer you through the huge array of available armour.
It’s important to ensure we have the best impact protection we can afford, whether buying under layered armour or upgrading our existing protection. It’s one area that should never be compromised.
Finally, note that armour is only effective when fitted tight and close to the area of protection. It’s important to wear snug-fitting clothing that holds armour in place.