Updated: Mar 7, 2020
"Is it worth being uncomfortable and hot wearing safety armor while riding a motorcycle? I'm afraid of being injured, but I don't want to look like a sweaty dweeb either. "
Armor is a topic that comes up from time to time amongst motorcycle riders. Obviously, if you’re racing on a track or riding off road, your armor will be more extreme. But for this post, I'll talk about armor found in road gear to answer your question. In my experience, it sometimes seems I’m shamed if I do and shamed if I don’t.
ATGATT, aka “all the gear all the time” is a mantra to some, and made fun of by others. Often vanity creeps into a rider’s choices. Just know, you don’t need to look like a dweeb to get the right amount of protection to prevent injury on the road. Let me go over some body armor choices as food for thought.
Why Armor is Important
Is armor really necessary and does it really work in a crash? Although there aren’t many studies to measure the effectiveness of body armor, there is no doubt in my mind that it works.
From personal experience, I’ve laid a bike down in a 25mph accident and hit the pavement. The parts of me that had armor survived the crash with at most, a mild bruise. My elbows, shoulders, hands, feet, and head were protected and took zero to minimal injury even though there was impact. However, my knees were not protected and took some damage even at a low speed crash. I’ve since added knee armor to my riding gear.
“The use of heavy boots, jacket, gloves, etc., is effective in preventing or reducing abrasions and lacerations, which are frequent but rarely severe injuries.”
Although the most obvious thing to protect is your head, surprisingly, the lower extremities are most likely to get injured. This might be because we tend to ignore the lower half while protecting everything else above the waist. Although riding pants are hard to grapple with in hot weather, there are new cooling textiles, riding denims, and lighter weight armor to consider.
There are better technologies in body armor today than in the past. Armor today is more flexible, lighter, and can take a higher impact. Viscoelastic armor is very flexible and can take quite a hit, and still remain quite thin. A few armor brands that use this new technology are Knox and D3O. Rev’it uses a new memory foam technology called SeeSoft that is also very flexible and very impact resistant.
D3O Armor Demonstration from Bike Bandit
What to look for in Body Armor
I will admit, I never used to wear jackets, let alone jackets with armor in the summer. And, I only recently started wearing pants that have at least knee armor. It took a few spills to realize my chances for survival were better with than without armor.
When looking for an armored jacket, I recommend one that has elbow, shoulder, and back armor that's CE rated, described below. Armored pants can come with knee and hip armor. If you're worried about hot weather, take a look at some of the new denim technologies, like Dyneema or Armalith. It's said these denims have a cooling effect when wind hits them. There's also mesh and venting in some gear that you could consider.
I also recommend checking what kind of armor is provided in your gear. Sometimes it’s sewn in, and sometimes it comes in a pocket that's removable. I recommend getting something that's removable, because sometimes the armor wears out and will need to be replaced. It’s less expensive to replace the armor than the whole garment.
CE and EN Rating Explained
A CE rating is an international standard for protective gear. CE stands for Conformité Européene, which translates to European Conformity. In the United States, you’re not required to wear CE certified protective gear on the road. However, many brands label their apparel with a CE rating in order to give an understanding to the level of protection their gear provides.
EN standards measure performance in armor for 2 categories: EN 1621-1 and EN 1621-2. EN 1621-1 assesses armor for all body parts except for the spine. EN 1621-2 assesses armor for the spine. Now there are 4 categories that could be on your gear label.
Armor for all body parts minus the spine could be rated (EN 1621-1 CE Level 1) or (EN 1621-1 CE Level 2) Armor for the spine, could be rated (EN 1621-2 CE Level 1) or (EN 1621-2 CE Level 2) This is getting slightly complicated, no?
In a nutshell, this is what you should look for in your armor:
CE Level 2 can take more of an impact that CE Level 1. However, none of these ratings are required for road-riding in the United States. CE Level 1 is just fine for road-riding, but CE Level 2 will take more of a hit if you should need it. One thing to note, most brands don’t include the CE Level 2 armor, so you may need to buy the upgraded armor separately. I tend to upgrade my back protector, for my own peace of mind.
I hope some of this helps you make the right decision for you. Motorcycling is dangerous, and we all know this. We're adults and can make our own decisions when it comes to how much protection we want to wear. Feeling safe with ATGATT vs hot weather comfort vs vanity are always the deciding factors. I’m excited to see what new technologies could be used to bring all three of these into one package in the future.