UK Monster Owners Club Forum .: Technical :. Kits & Accessories » Motorcycle body armour upgrades

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Old 15-09-2019, 05:12 AM   #1
yellowfever
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Motorcycle body armour upgrades

Some (very long!) thoughts on this in case useful to others...

TL/DR - body armour is a personal choice, in my view it's a good idea and my pick of manufacturer is still Forcefield (best protection for the thickness, light, good coverage, reasonable flex and breathabilty and exceptional customer service). If you're thinking of upgrading your body armour, the following may be of interest. Needless to say I have no connection with Forcefield - I'm just a customer - and of course wearing any CE approved armour from any manufacturer will offer good protection.

Body Armour - an uncomfortable waste of money or essential rider equipment? Mandatory helmet aside, what you choose to ride in is a personal decision as an adult. Each to their own. My own choice has (generally) been to wear good protective kit once I could afford it (and insist my pilions do the same). I've also ridden in total rubbish joke kit as a broke kid and in shorts and sandals in 40c Italian heat as an adult, whilst leaving top line bike kit in the hotel room. I've even been a drunk helmet-less pillion getting a lift home from a bar from a drunk moto rider in Greece, so no preaching here... but my one big crash was on a track day so I was mandatorily wearing protective kit and very glad of it...

As our own club President noted after his recent accident, armour is something really worth thinking about given how it helped reduce his injuries. If you want to get into the somewhat grim stats of scientifically assessed real world bike accidents these links may be of interest (if you're an ignorance is bliss type, look away now...):

MAIDS (motorcycle accidents in depth) study of nearly 1000 real life accidents across five countries in the EU (France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Spain):

http://www.maids-study.eu

You need to register to access it, but it's free. To very crudely sum up, armour/proper kit is not a panacea but can save your life/reduce injuries. Lower extremities are the most frequently injured areas (31.8%) so proper boots and knee and hip armour and good abrasion resistant pants are a good start. In terms of life saving kit, helmet and back protector are the big ones... helmets work but they need to fit and be properly fastened (helmet comes off=death all too often...).

There is a UK only study by DfT 'On The Spot' (OTS) which covered just over 300 motorbike accidents in 2 UK areas, but I can't find a working link.

Also a comparison of MAIDS and OTS data (crude summary: MAIDS has more detailed data, samples not really comparable, but some similar results plus some differences e.g. we typically wear better kit in UK, typically ride bigger/more powerful bikes, and neck/thorax/abdomen injuries feature more...)

http://www.maids-study.eu/pdf/OTS_MAIDS_comparison.pdf

Also a short summary of UK Motorbike accident statistics (my crude summary: motorbiking much safer than it used to be, but we're still the most vulnerable set of road users...)

https://assets.publishing.service.go...-2013-data.pdf

And an interesting summary of common motorbike accident causes from Rospa:

https://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/...ash-causes.pdf

But anyway, my short overall summary is things are safer than they used to be, but wearing protective kit can help if you find yourself in an accident...


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Old 15-09-2019, 05:13 AM   #2
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When I first started biking any money I had (not much) went on the bike so my kit was thrown together cast off rubbish: old flying boots, ski gloves, regular jeans and a second hand 'fashion' leather biker jacket (part PVC!) with a denim jacket underneath. It offered little protection from the elements and still less crash protection. I regularly arrived at work soaked and freezing cold (stopping off for petrol meant I could warm my gloves on the exhaust for 5 minutes and feel my hands enough to continue). And my jeans wore out fast just from sliding about on the bike seat! My one real safety concession was a decent shoei helmet which I afforded partly due to the training centre I did my riding lessons at having a 20% off deal on lids with the bike shop they were linked with. And they sensibly pushed you to get a good lid at least. And I got a reflective sam brown belt to use only for test day to try to fool the examiner that I was really a sensible and steady rider rather than a barely skilled hooligan in waiting...

Luckily, no thanks to my limited riding skill, I never properly tested this early kit in a crash. As I got older and less broke the bikes got better and thankfully so did my kit (and my riding)... so I was wearing decent vanson two piece leathers with full armour, arai lid, sidi boots and some awesome gloves from a company that no longer exists (texpro?) when I had my one big off on a silverstone track day. Knocked myself out trashed the bike and got my hand trapped in between lever and bars, wearing through both the lever and the gloves carbon fibre knuckle armour, but thankfully not my knuckles, as I slid along. Got away more or less unscathed barring a headache and feeling like I'd been tortured on a rack from all the rag dolling... praise be for the massive run offs at the track... helmet and gloves were written off but did their job really well, leathers needed some small repairs before they could be used again but held together superbly, and boots were scuffed but bombproof. My ego was rather tattered tho' (once the adrenaline had worn off and I'd got over the stupid feeling of invincibility I got from having a high speed crash that miraculously left me essentially unscathed).

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Old 15-09-2019, 05:14 AM   #3
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A few years later in 2009, as better armour came along with developing CE standards and I got more disposable income, I decided to get upgraded armour for my kit. Forcefield (Davis Odell/T-pro) seemed to do well eg in Ride magazine tests etc, so I got in contact as I needed armour with velcro attachment (not the stuff you just put into pockets). I previously posted about my excellent experience visiting the factory to look at options and get velcro specially fitted there and then. See what I said then here:

http://www.ukmonster.co.uk/monster/s...ad.php?t=34345

However, armour continues to improve in performance and comfort whilst I continue to bounce less well every year. I spent the first 6 months of this year on crutches due to a bad injury to my knee snowboarding (not that armour would have helped me on that one) which did remind me how much rehab sucks, how nice it is to be able to walk etc... and gave me some time on my hands for researching bike kit (in lieu of riding as I've only recently been able to bend my leg enough to get on a bike...)

In the 10 years since I last upgraded the motorcycle body armour in my bike kit standards have continued to improve so I thought I'd take a look at what was out there and whether another upgrade was worthwhile.

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Old 15-09-2019, 05:16 AM   #4
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I looked at performance, coverage, shape, thickness, weight, flexibility, beathability and cost of four popular armour manufacturers - Knox, SAS-tec, D3O and Forcefield.

On performance there are two levels under the CE standard level 1 and the higher protection level 2. All kit has to be tested at ambient temperature (23C) plus in wet conditions. Optionally kit can also be tested in hot and cold temperatures as well. For limb armour CE level 1 force transmitted in the test needs to be below 35 kN. For level 2 it has to be below 20kN (lower score = better protection). For back protectors the standards are tougher. Level 1 must be below 18kN and level 2 below 9kN. Chest protectors have another separate standard needing less than 18kN for level 1 and under 15kN in a force distribution test for level 2. I wanted max protection so was looking at level 2 only and the lower the scores the better within that. Not looking for a chest protector at the moment (but maybe I should, given injury stats...). Bonus points for armour being tested and passing in hot and cold conditions too.

Coverage and shape can vary quite a bit, obviously armour is only any good in a crash if it gets between you and whatever you hit. Some have pretty limited size/coverage or shapes that don't cover key areas as well as others. But on the other hand larger coverage can increase weight/bulk and increased potential for less comfort so it's a trade off. A lot of kit has armour pockets so the size has to fit these. My kit is velcro attached so I can fit larger sized/differently shaped stuff and adjust positioning too. I wanted good/max coverage using the size of my existing armour as a starting point. If your kit has armour pockets your choice will obviously be limited to armour fitting the pockets.

Thickness varies. The thicker the armour is in general the more protection it offers, though some materials give the same performance with less thickness than others. To reach level 2 limb armour you're looking at at least 12mm thick (eg Forcefield), 18mm for back protectors (e.g. Forcefield, D3O). Though many materials/manufacturers need thicker material to reach the level 2 standard and/or use much thicker armour to get a really good pass with better protection. For instance, an extreme example from SAS-tec who have a heavy duty (model SC1/42 prestige) knee/elbow armour option transmitting just 8.5kN, less than half the max 20kN force to get a level 2 pass for limb armour, but at the cost of having 18mm thickness. Thinner = less weight/bulk/more comfort in general, so all else equal thinner is better (and of course it has to physically fit in your kit). But if you want extra protection, have the space and don't mind the bulk/weight/comfort issues, then thicker may suit you. It's also good for armour to fit snugly so it stays put in a crash, so thicker armour might be a good option in looser fitting kit.

Weight depends on the material, thickness and coverage. But some pieces are surprisingly light despite offering more coverage than other heavier pieces. Less weight is obviously better for comfort but if well integrated into your kit maybe not such an issue once wearing it and sat on the bike... so weight not a deal breaker for me but lighter is better all else being equal.

Flexibility helps with comfort/moving around, but how important it is depends on position of the armour/shape and personal choice. My existing armour was reasonably soft but still fairly rigid and I got on with it fine (your mileage may vary), but if newer stuff was more flexible than what I had already then that can only be good for extra comfort, particularly for knees given flex there/walking around.

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Old 15-09-2019, 05:17 AM   #5
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Breathability: some armour has more holes/vents in than others. Armour will add to how hot you can get, so some vents are good and can make armour lighter too, but obviously there is a trade off with strength/protection. Not a crucial criteria for me but a few vents a bonus especially on back protectors which can get sweaty given large coverage area.

On cost prices can vary a fair bit between manufacturers (and where you buy from). Thankfully I'm not a broke kid any more, so price not a crucial factor for me and over the life cycle it anyway works out pretty cheap (and much cheaper than costs of physio for injuries! Spending far more on rehab post my snowboard injury...) but clearly less money is better all else equal...

Here's my summary of the pros and cons of the offerings from the four body armour manufacturers (Knox, SAS-tec, D3O and Forcefield) I looked at:

Knox: a popular brand and often the OE armour in decent kit. I have the patented Knox scaphoid sliders that came in my excellent Racer gloves and protect your wrists in a crash. Knox's innovative handroid glove also does great in tests, so they are a well respected company. However, on limb armour I only did some initial cursory scoping here as from their website it became apparent that nothing stood out for me here (not the thinnest/lightest/most shapes/best performing/most flexible or cheapest) so I concentrated on the other three manufacturers ranges... sure this is still very good armour to have, just not the best fit for my needs from what I could see.

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Old 15-09-2019, 05:18 AM   #6
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SAS-tec: German company. The cheapest (at least at normal retail prices) and the largest range of shapes and styles, so they offer loads of options for coverage, venting, thickness and performance. Website not always super clear e.g. which dimension is which but they are very helpful and responsive to emails in English, so great customer service. Only some of the range is available with velcro attached however. They do pretty well on performance, though Forcefield are typically better for same or less thickness (for instance Forcefield isolator 2 shoulder armour is 12mm thick and passed level 2 at 11.08kN SAS-tec sc1/03 shoulder armour passed level 2 at a nearly as good score of 13kN, but was also slightly thicker at 13mm). SAS-tec also don't test in optional hot and cold conditions (unlike Forcefield). The armour is generally a similar weight to Forcefield (both are typically lighter than D3O). Material is pretty soft and flexible - maybe between Forcefield (generally a bit harder/stiffer) and D3O (the most flexible/softest). Venting can be pretty limited/non-existant depending on exact model chosen. For me they looked best either for kit that was a bit loose where you deliberately want thicker armour to ensure it's snug and stays in place or where you want extra/different coverage. I found their shoulder armour in particular offered something extra in terms of coverage beyond just the outside of the shoulder. Good price and customer service too.

D3O: well known orange coloured armour and provide lots of OE armour in decent kit (often branded to their partners brand). More limited range than SAS-Tec but still plenty of options. Performance is up there especially on the T5 evo pro X and LP2 pro ranges, for instance the T5 evo pro shoulder armour passes at around 10kN, slightly better than Forcefield and SAS-Tec offerings but this is also thicker than both the others at 14mm. The D3O LP2 pro passes at a nearly as good 12kN but is thicker still at 15mm. Some D3O armour is tested at optional hot and cold as well, some not (informative website gives the details). My main issue with D3O is the limited coverage, it's consistently got a smaller coverage area than other offerings (often quite markedly so), so the risk of the armour not being between a hard object and you in a crash is higher. And despite being smaller it's also heavier than SAS-tec and Forcefield. On price, it's more expensive than SAS-tec and a similar cost to Forcefield. Some options have good breathability. The real draw for D3O is its flexibility and softness. It's much less rigid than the SAS-tec and Forcefield offerings, so some people may prefer D3O for that, and also if you have small armour pockets this will still fit where other armour may be too large.

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Old 15-09-2019, 05:18 AM   #7
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Forcefield: well known specialist company in bike armour (also known as t-pro and Davis Odell) and long seen as a class leader doing well in tests and reviews of armour/back protectors etc. Provided my existing armour in 2009 which was the benchmark to improve on now. They've got a decent range of options and are particularly good when it comes to offering varied back protector shapes. If your kit has a pocket for a back protector the chances are Forcefield will have a shape to suit it. Coverage on limb armour is generally better than D3O and similar to SAS-Tec, though they have far fewer shape options on limb armour than the latter. Forcefield are also light, similar to SAS-Tec and lighter than D3O. On price official retail is in a similar ball-park to D3O, so more expensive than SAS-Tec. Flexibility is a bit less than SAS-Tec and much less than D3O. It improves a bit with wear as it softens with body heat, but it's never going to be D3O levels of soft/flexible. On breathability, the armour generally has slots and holes giving some venting. Where Forcefield really shines is on protection. Thickness for thickness it generally performs best. It's also all tested at hot and cold as well as ambient and wet, so you know performance won't drop off in even very hot or very cold weather. The current isolator level 2 armour is just 12mm thick yet scores well under the 20kn needed for a level 2 pass. In fact it's around or under 11kn, so nearly twice as good as it needs to be to get level 2 certification. That's really impressive and about 2.5 times as good as my current forcefield armour which was bought 10 years ago (when it was some of the best then around), which is also 12mm thick. So an upgrade looks a no-brainier. I've also got to highlight the outstanding customer service I've had from Forcefield. Just like 10 years ago, they took time and effort to help me consider the options and choose the right armour for me and my kit and arranged custom factory fitted velcro for me, all at a very reasonable price (less than retail including sewing velcro on). They could not have done more for me, despite my being only a small beer retail customer.

Conclusion
Everyone has different priorities on whether and which sort of armour to get. For me, first and foremost I'm looking for the best protection and coverage available. Bulk, weight, flexibility, venting - which all bear on comfort - are all important but generally come second to that, as does price.

So Forcefield was a clear winner for me, the coverage is good and the protection second to none (all else equal). They also win on bulk (thinnest option) are joint lightest (with SAS-Tec) and reasonable venting (similar to D3O, better than most SAS-Tec options). They are last on flexibility (D3O is the clear winner) but still reasonably flexible and personally I am not so fussed with this. I find that once properly adjusted/broken in all armour is generally sufficiently flexible. Main one to consider is knee armour given you need most flex here on the bike plus for walking around off the bike. Shoulder armour can also be an issue and to a smaller extent elbow armour, whilst flex on back protector and hips armour not really an issue. But I find well adjusted armour (as my kits velcro attachment option allows) soon feels comfy and natural and moulds to your body. Forcefield also continue to have the most exceptional level of customer service, which is an outstanding bit of icing on the cake.

Well if anyone managed to get to the end of this long spiel, I hope it was helpful and informative or at least helped your insomnia...

Yellowfever.
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Old 15-09-2019, 08:24 AM   #8
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Interesting read but what’s the view on OEM armour from the likes of Dainese and Alpinestars etc?

I use the former and very much like the idea of a hard shell with energy absorbing material inside - hence I use Dainese armour as it also offers a good level of intrusion protection as well as dissipating impact energy over a larger surface area
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Old 15-09-2019, 09:41 AM   #9
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What a superb review David. Thank you for taking the trouble to research and report this. I'm not sure I ever considered armour beyond a leather jacket and leather or Kevlar jeans, but I will now.

Ped/Rob.. This deserves to be sticky?

I can't resist the urge to jump in here and recommend a little rider training in the form of one of the "Safe Rider" courses run in conjunction with local authorities and the Police.
The name and price varies from County to County but the message is the same and these courses are all subsidised in some way (Often from the fees from driver awareness courses), some are free.
Aside from being beneficial to your riding and health long after the course and into your hopefully long motorcycling career, they are a load of fun, especially the ride out with the Police motorcyclist on his work bike... They like to "progress".
https://www.google.co.uk/search?sxsr...=1568540577020

Also a very good thing (and free too), are the "Biker Down" courses run by many Fire and Rescue Services throughout the UK.
Essentially this is a first aid/responder course orientated towards motorcyclists and Road accidents, with a bit of self preservation included. Very well worth an evening listening to up to date common sense.
https://www.google.co.uk/search?sxsr...=1568539973486
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Old 15-09-2019, 10:15 AM   #10
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Another thumbs up for Forcefield kit. I use the pro-shirt under my usual leather jacket, 70.00 well spent.

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Forcefiel...kAAOSwQGZau66M
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Old 15-09-2019, 02:18 PM   #11
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Glad it sparked some interest and thanks for the kind comments Mr Gazza!

Pedro - sure any armour is good stuff - they have to pass the CE tests if they are claiming to be anything other than "comfort foam". You should be able to see what level they are from labels/stamping on the armour and whether they've also passed the (optional) hot and cold tests. I kept my considerations to a few well known specialist aftermarket suppliers with big ranges to make it manageable, but certainly Dainese and Alpinestars are also well known and well respected makers so if you're happy with and like this armour it will certainly offer good protection. Got Dainese armour in one of girlfriends old jackets that came with it fitted and seems good stuff, so never felt need to swap it. Though she's using another jacket these days.

The hard shell armour/soft armour debate is a tricky one and one I've pondered over the years too. Difficult to get any definitive reliable information on it, so I just go with the CE standard these days and leave hard/soft to personal choice. I had Vanson's GP hard shell armour (not CE rated - its US) in my vanson jacket when I crashed at silverstone at high speed with no injuries, so, albeit that is a sample size of one, it worked for me on that crash. It's true hard armour may offer some penetration protection benefits, but apparently penetration is rarely an issue in real life crashes. Hard armour may also offer a tad bit more abrasion resistance if outer clothing layers wear through... but I've also heard hard armour can create abrasion wear hot spots in a crash meaning outer protective material wears through faster than with soft armour. In my Silverstone crash it was notable I wore through two very thick layers of (very thick) vanson competition weight leather on my shoulder where the armour was, which (again sample size of 1) would seem to support this. Kit with external plastic or metal sliders on shoulders/elbows/knees, as now seen on many modern leather suits, is designed to help with this and also help sliding rather than gripping and tumbling in a crash. But maybe most relevant on a racetrack with high speeds, long slides and plenty of run-off. The spreading the impact idea can have merits (though apparently armour is mostly about spreading the impact absorption out over time rather than area). But interestingly the most recently developed CE standard (specifically for chest protectors) has a specific test about 'force distribution' to get level 2 certification, though I confess I've not looked into this as not (yet) in the market for a chest protector. There can also apparently sometimes be concerns about the hard shell edges causing injury in some crash dynamics and some find that comfort with hard shells is an issue (though it never bothered me). Some soft shell armour claims that on impact it hardens up giving best of both worlds... one last point I've heard is that (limited) articulating hard shell back protectors may offer some protection from hyper-extension injuries by limiting the range of back motion in a crash... so plenty of pros and cons to consider but difficult to reach definitive view based on reliable objective evidence of which is 'best'... must say if I was an off-road rally raid type rider (I wish!) who might be landing on jagged rocks etc I might prefer hard shell armour for the penetration protection especially for the back... but in the end it comes down to a not very scientific personal preference decision. Whatever you decide, if it's CE it's good and certainly better than no armour....

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Old 15-09-2019, 02:19 PM   #12
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We also shouldn't forget armour is not a panecea, whilst it can help with impact injuries it won't protect from twisting and other types of injuries (my snowboard accident to my knee for example). So Gazza makes a good point about rider training and first aid. Good to not crash if you can help it as that's the best protection from injuries, even if you can't always avoid it. I've been on one of the police rider training days a number of years ago and it was a really useful and good experience and very good value for money. Plus I like the sound of the rider down training, if you do crash it's clearly a good idea to get good first aid help fast (or be able to give good help to your fellow riders).

Cheers

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Old 15-09-2019, 06:58 PM   #13
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I wear a forcefield back protector every time I ride, perhaps the easiest to wear of all the safety gear and 'far easier to wear than a wheelchair'!!
I feel naked without one now!
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Old 15-09-2019, 07:07 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark64 View Post
I wear a forcefield back protector every time I ride, perhaps the easiest to wear of all the safety gear and 'far easier to wear than a wheelchair'!!
I feel naked without one now!
Back protectors are a good idea, and I have one on my Dianese jacket. Yesterday I rode with a small backpack and found the back protector makes taking it off a two person job!
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Old 15-09-2019, 10:17 PM   #15
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Well done on the research yellowfever. Excellent read. One thing I picked up on was ATGATT from an American friend. All The Gear, All The Time.
Nipping down the road for a doggie bone? ATGATT. Going for a 'ride'? ATGATT.

My mantra always now.

keep up the road, not on it.
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