We say it all the time. Motorcycle protective gear is crucial when you’re riding. The acronym ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) is a ritual and mindset that should be followed when you ride. Defensive riding can prevent most accidents, but protective gear, including motorcycle body armor, can save your life when defensive riding isn’t enough.
Body armor is a piece of motorcycle safety gear that is often forgotten and rarely discussed. Helmets are the first thing talked about because it protects your head and neck, and is essentially the highest protection priority. Riding with a helmet has a direct correlation with your chances of surviving a motorcycle accident, but what about other protective gear?
A jacket, gloves, riding pants, and riding suits are all items that contribute to saving your skin, protecting your bones, and preventing major sprains in an event of an accident. Each of those items contain body armor in some fashion. High-density foam paired with carbon fiber or Kevlar hybrid abrasion panels are the most prominent forms of body armor available for motorcycle safety gear. They will provide impact and abrasion protection to all major and minor joints that have the highest potential of impact during an accident.
There will always be a question about the effect of motorcycle-specific riding gear and whether body armor does make a difference. Although there are not many studies surrounding the effectiveness of body armor, there is no argument that motorcycle body armor does provide more protection than riding without. We’ve known riders that have walked away from high-speed crashes on a closed course with nothing more than a bruised ego. The protective gear had internal body armor that protected them from the initial impact and the following abrasion as they slid to a halt.
Once you start shopping for body armor, you may see a tag on the protector or the packaging mentioning a CE rating or an EN European rating. Most international brands that offer protective gear in multiple global markets label their protective armor based on a CE rating. CE stands for Conformité Européene, which translates to European Conformity. The term CE Marking has been used since 1993 and conform to motorcycle safety standards in Europe. The United States hasn’t officially adopted these standards, but most authorities and organizations use them as guidelines to understand the safety standard of the gear in question. You won’t be required to ride in CE Mark certified protective gear on U.S. streets and highways, but you may be required to wear them on a closed race track. That will be dictated by the track or sanctioning organization running the event you’re participating in.
Manufacturers are starting to adopt an international standard that will encompass all standards around the world. Europe and the U.S. have different standards, and they don’t completely coincide with Australia or Asia. This makes it costly and difficult to make protective gear for each area on the globe, so adopting a design that can be used anywhere in the world is best for the rider and the manufacturer.
Opting to buy protective gear with or without the CE rating doesn’t indicate that you’re buying better or worse protective gear. An American brand that only sells in the United States may decide not to design and certify to a European or International standard, but can still produce protective gear that meets or exceeds the same criteria without the extra work for certification. Just do your research on the specific protective gear you are interested in, whether it’s certified or not.
Armored vests are designed to fit over the torso and offer front, chest, and back protection. These offer good impact and abrasion protection for your chest and back, but do not offer any protection for your arms. Most feature a hard abrasion resistant outer core and a padded interior that works well under a jacket or can be worn over a shirt or sweatshirt.
Motorcycle specific jackets are typically armored at the major impact points such as the back, shoulders, and elbows. Materials can be leather, mesh, a Kevlar hybrid, or a textile that can be better suited to all-weathers. They typically have internal and external pockets and tightening mechanisms around the neck and wrists (straps or snaps).
Jackets don’t have a predetermined replacement period, and you may get many years of riding out of the jacket. Use your best judgment on the condition of your jacket and protective armor and decide when is the proper time to replace it with a new one.
Riding suits come in different materials and options for pockets, closures, and materials. You may enjoy a one-piece suit that offers that racing feel, even if it’s made for all-weather riding. Beyond the one-piece option, there are two-piece suits that connect around the waist to simulate a one-piece and add extra weather protection while riding. You can also use the jacket or pants separately on a ride, where the one-piece is an all or nothing option.
Both suits offer strategic armor placements in the shoulders, back, elbows, hips, legs, and knees. They typically feature cinch-up wrists and ankles to help with wind and weather penetration. Leather and a Kevlar hybrid are great in the hot summer months, especially if you need extra abrasion protection. If you intend to ride in rain and wind, a textile material does a great job at shedding water.
Armored riding pants come in leather or textiles, depending on where and in what conditions you ride in, and both offer protection in the hips, pelvis, legs, and knees. Look for the features that match your riding style the best and then search for what is affordable based on your budget.
It’s arguable whether or not having motorcycle boots is necessary for riding, as many riders prefer to ride in their hiking boots. According to the 1981 Hurt Report, a motorcycle safety study conducted in the United States, wearing any type of boot provided a 53% reduction in risk of any foot or ankle injury and a 73% reduction in open wound injuries. However, armored motorcycle boots reduced the risk of an open wound injury by 90%.
Motorcycle boots come in many different styles and functions. You can choose amongst a boot with more outer protection around the toe for abrasion, a steel toe insert for more toe impact protection, or just a good over the ankle boot to offer ankle support. All motorcycle boots should have an oil-resistance sole that can handle a slippery surface when you step in an oily puddle at an intersection. Some motorcycle boots offer a string enclosure that can be tucked inside the boot with a hook-and-loop closure, while others come in a slip-on version.
Armored motorcycle boots reduced the risk of an open wound injury by 90%.
– The Hurt Report
Elbow and Knee Guards
If you’re not looking for a suit or jacket, but still want the protection offered from armor, there are options for just armor available. Some manufacturers offer a thin shirt or thin riding pants that contain protective armor padding and can be worn under normal riding apparel. You may have a set of riding jeans that you enjoy riding in and just want a set of armored pads to wear underneath them. These guards are the perfect option for those occasions. There are also external elbow and knee pads that can go over a shirt, jacket, or pants if you prefer to wear them on the exterior.
A back/spine protector may seem like equipment that only someone who races on a track or closed course should wear. Although it’s a standard item for racers, it doesn’t have to a race-only protective item.
The Hurt Report mentioned that back protectors contributed to soft tissue damage on the back and sides of the body when the rider was involved in an accident. (Soft tissue damage can be associated with bruising only, not a broken back or cracked vertebrae.) Most back protectors limit spine movement and will stop a puncture or abrasion from occurring. In the event of an accident, back protectors provide more advantages in terms of protection than not wearing one.
Hip protections usually come in the form of padded shorts that you can wear underneath your riding pants for added protection. They’re designed to fit snugly you’re your hips and legs to keep the pads in place as you move about the motorcycle on a ride.
Motorcycle body armor is essential to your safety during your motorcycle ride. Whether worn externally or internally, built-in or removable, on your jacket or on all areas of your gear, it is designed to keep you safe in an event of an accident occurring. Remember that ATGATT is a mindset you should engrain into your mind every time you take the bike out. Take the actions to keep safe on the road and enjoy your ride!