How To Choose Motorcycle Armor

by Damien Heenan

With Motorcycle Armor there are three questions you must ask: 

  • Where’s it located?
  • What’s it made of?
  • Who has certified it? 

In the article “What To Know About CE Certifications For Armor? (INSERT LINK)” we discussed the certification process.  In this article we will be answering the other two questions.  

Where is Armor Located?

With Motorcycle Jackets, you’ll be looking for armor at the shoulders, elbows, and spine.  (Some have it on the chest and on the ribs on the side as well.) 

In Pants, you look for it in the knees, hips, and sometimes the seat and thighs. 

Vests may or may not have armor or armor pockets, but you’ll definitely want to look at the spine and even the chest and ribs. 

Gloves will have armor on the back of the hands at the knuckles, wrist, and sometimes the palms (if they have any at all). 

Boots (if they have armor) will have it on the outside of the foot, just about where the foot and toes meet.  You’ll also find it on the heel, and at the ankle bones. 

When it comes to Helmets, they have entirely different standards to meet – which are discussed in separate articles. (INSERT LINK) 

How much or how little armor you go with is entirely up to you.  You’ll want to factor in things like temperature, distance, and type of riding that is unique to you. Also, as time moves forward, technology improves - and an armored garment you didn’t go with in the past may have been updated with new technology that makes wearing it with armor much more comfortable. 

Now, to the second question. 

What’s Armor Made Of? 

First off, let’s talk about Silicon, which is a gel that has good impact absorption and dissipation (meaning it spreads the impact over a large area).  The downside with silicon is that it’s not all that good when it comes to resistance against abrasion.  Finally, it’s also quite heavy.  So, manufacturers tend to use it quite sparingly.  You will typically find it sewn right into the material itself and in areas that aren’t critical for abrasion resistance.  Silicon is comfortable on the skin and offers a bit of protection as well. 

Next, let’s talk about Thermoplastics.  Thermoplastics are injected into a mold and become hard when cooled down.  This creates a really hard surface that’s great for protecting against abrasion and really any impact armor below it. But its big downside is going to be comfort.  That’s why manufacturers will typically line it with something to make it more comfortable. 

Foam comes next on the list. Its primary benefits are that it’s lightweight and bendable, making it more comfortable.  It’s also inexpensive.  Impact absorption will be good, but dissipation is limited. And it’s not very good at abrasion resistance. Now as far as safety goes, it’s better than NOT having armor, and foam’s a great choice for leisure riders who want a little something extra without the discomfort of thermoplastics. Foam does degrade over time, however, so if you have had it for a few years, it might be worth replacing. Some foams (like memory foam) are better at resisting degradation than others and will offer pretty good protection. 

Next, we have Viscoelastic materials. These are very interesting materials, and when moving slowly they are very flexible and comfortable. But if a sudden and fast impact is encountered, it’s going to stiffen up suddenly and act like a hard material. So, with viscoelastics you’re getting the benefits of a soft material (like foam) and a hard material (like thermoplastics).  The one downside to this kind of armor is that it’s going to cost you more than other options.  

One of the most common brands of Viscoelastic material is d3o (INSERT LINK). Some companies call it SAS tech or PS air, so you’ll have to do a bit of research to find out if it is viscoelastic. 

As always, if we missed anything, or you have a comment please leave it below.

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