The exoskeletons enjoyed by insects and crustaceans have a big advantage over our endoskeletons. In the event of an impact, they distribute force over a greater surface area and reduce the damage sustained in any one location.
If that sounds like the sort of thing you’d like to have strapped over your squishy bits before you ride, then I have good news for you—there are now dozens of companies building and selling motorcycle armor. It’s the sort of gear that significantly improves your chances of ending up in the pub after a motorcycle accident, rather than in the hospital.
Spidi Defender Back&Chest Evo This Italian company has its own in-house Safety Lab and a strong pedigree in motorsport. The $220 Evo offers protection for touring and everyday commuting, and weighs a smidge over 700g (1.5 lb). It’s fitted with a CE Level 2 back protector and a CE Level 1 chest plate, and is designed to be as open and airy as possible. [Buy]
Icon Stryker This is the vest I picked up for myself last year: It’s an excellent option for anyone living in a warmer climate. With an airmesh chassis and a HydraDry™ moisture wicking liner, breathability is excellent. It also has CE-approved D30™ intelligent foam to protect your back, adjustable shoulder and waist straps, and a chest plate. And the low-profile design means it fits easily under most jackets. Choose from black, black/red and black/green colorways, from $130. There’s also a $250 long-sleeved Stryker Rig that includes elbow armor for complete upper-body protection. [Buy]
Leatt Body Vest 3DF Leatt is best known for its high-tech neck braces, but also produces motorcycle armor for the body. The $150 3DF is designed to be worn next to the skin for maximum moisture-wicking effect, and is distinctly form fitted. The back protector and chest-plate are both certified to CE Level 2, and the armour is removable—which means you can toss the 3DF in the wash with the rest of your clothes after a long ride. Needless to say, it’s also compatible with Leatt’s renowned neck braces. [Buy]
Dainese Hybrid Impact Guard This is a classic example of an off-road oriented vest. The chest protection is designed to deflect stones and impacts with hard objects, and the back protection is very substantial indeed—featuring an inner core made from an aluminum and honeycomb structure, and articulated outer plates. The Hybrid Impact Guard is a good choice if you venture offroad and costs €150. It comes in any colour you like, as long as it’s nero. [Buy]
Forcefield Pro SL1 Combo Since 2003, this English company has been making a name for itself with high-end armor for motorcycling, snow sports and mountain biking. The SL1 Combo is one of the safest armor systems you can buy, and combines Forcefield’s Pro Shirt with the Sport Lite back protector. It’s constructed from machine-washable BeCool™ fabric—complete with “Humidity Discharge Function”—and the armor panels are low-profile CE-approved Nitrex Evo. Not cheap at £200, but good insurance. [Buy]
The sheer volume of motorcycle armor currently on the market is both overwhelming and reassuring. If you rate a vest that you don’t see here, let us know what about it in the comments below. Chris and I are interested to see what you’re all wearing.—James.