soft armor

Motorcycle armor

Motorcycle armor comes in a variety of forms, from traditional yellow foam to high-tech compounds capable of absorbing large amounts of energy. In its basic form an armored jacket will include shoulder and elbow armor. Pants will include hip and knee protection.

Types of armor

Foam armor

This armor is the typical yellow foam simar to the foam you might find in a mattress. For its thickness if offers a relatively low level of protection.

Memory foam

Memory foam armor achieves the highest levels of absorption to thickness. It is a very dense foam. Brand names include Astrene and Astrosorb.

Hard armor

Hard armor usually consists of a hard plastic backing with foam laminated to the inside. This type of armor is somewhat controversial because it is thought to not disperse force as well as the soft armor. It is also more likely to cause the leather immediately above it to wear through in the case of an accident.

CE certified armor

In Europe there are two standards covering 'motorcyclists' protective clothing against mechanical impact' - EN 1621-1:1997 and EN 1621-2:2003. Both standards assess the performance of protective devices by measuring the force transmitted through it when impacted by a falling mass.

EN 1621-1:1997 assesses devices that are designed to protect the shoulder, elbow and forearm, hip, knee and lower leg regions. The test apparatus consists of a mass of 5kg with a 40mm x 30mm striking face, dropped onto the sample mounted on top of a 50mm radius hemispherical dome. The anvil is further mounted onto a load cell, allowing a measurement to be made of the force transmitted through the protector. The kinetic energy of the falling mass at impact is required to be 50J.

A protector subjected to this test method is deemed to conform to this standard if the average transmitted force of nine tests is less than 35 kN, with no single test result exceeding 50 kN.

Back protectors

European Standard EN 1621-2:2003 defines two levels of performance for CE approved back protectors. The test apparatus and procedure is similar to that of EN 1621-1:1997, but with a different impactor and anvil configuration. The impactor is a rounded triangular faced prism, of length 160mm, base 50mm, height 30.8mm and radius 12.5mm. The anvil is a radiused cylinder, with its axis orientated to the direction of impact, of height 190mm, diameter 100mm and rounded end radius 150mm. When tested to the procedure defined in the standard, the two levels of performance are:

"Level 1 protectors: The average peak force recorded below the anvil in the tests shall be below 18 kN, and no single value shall exceed 24 kN.

Level 2 protectors: The average peak force recorded below the anvil in the tests shall be below 9 kN, and no single value shall exceed 12 kN."

There is however, no mention of hyperextension/hyperflexion restraint (aka whiplash, but can include the whole spine), or of torsional restraint (torsional injuries can result from the afore-mentioned blows to hips or shoulders). This is the area where designs featuring hard armour could potentially be better than the softer types. One potential cause of injury that should be born in mind is the contents of any bag or rucksack worn by the rider. Back protectors are often not included in the standard complement of armor although many jackets allow a back protector to be installed. Because of the more delicate nature of the spinal column, back protectors require that lower levels of force be transmitted. However, in the Cambridge Standard for Motorcyclists Clothing, Roderick Woods asserts that the majority of spinal injuries are caused by blows to the hip and shoulders. In the rare circumstance that a motorcyclist received a direct blow to the back the damage would be unmitigatable by armor. The concept of a "back protector" is therefore not endorsed by Woods.


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