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Body Armour

Body armour - what is it, how does it work, and why should MAG be concerned about it? Team MAG Sport racer, Roger "Crasher" Ford examines the issues.

How body armour works

These are the three forces that leathers and armour have to resist. Most of the abrasion force - the friction generated by sliding over a rough track surface - is absorbed by the leathers. But the armour still has a part to play - if the armour surface is too rigid, the abrasion will wear out sections of the leather much faster. The armour should also prevent too much friction heat from reaching the rider's skin. Impact protection is the main aim of armour. A sharp blow should be spread over the largest possible area. You can test armour yourself by laying it on a block of clay, and hitting it a sharp blow with a hammer. The shallower the depression in the clay, the better job the armour has done.

Good armour will also provide a degree of penetration resistance - how well it will withstand a sharp edge or point. T-Pro's old "RedLine" back protector has an outer shell of hard (but still flexible) plastic to resist penetration. The new protector has a surface made of woven Kevlar (???).

Some other makes of armour have much harder, rigid outer shells. While this may provide slightly better penetration protection, the hard plastic can itself cause injury when it is forced into skin. It also prevents the armour deforming to match the track surface, reducing abrasion resistance as mentioned above.

Cheap Armour

Go to your local motorcycle emporium, and look at a cheap waterproof jacket with "body armour". The chances are that this "armour" will consist of a thin layer of lightweight, open-cell foam. Foam like this will compress instantly in an impact, and will provide no protection whatsoever.

CE Regulations

Early this year, the European parliament published a set of regulations for "personal protective clothing". This covers clothing for people like abattoir workers, chainsaw operators - and motorcyclists. Clothing, and associated protective armour, must meet these regulations or else must be sold as "fashion" clothing, and no protective abilities can be claimed or implied.

Fem Opposition

On the face of it, these regulations look like a great idea. There is an awful lot of frankly appalling motor cycle clothing - some of it at sold at very high prices. Yet the FEM has announced it's opposition to the CE regulations. Why should they object to something which is apparently to the benefit of motorcyclists? There are two arguments:


Firstly , the FEM are concerned that once these regulations come in, it will be a small step for governments to make such clothing compulsory.


Secondly, there is the likelihood that insurance companies will reduce payments due to "contributory negligence" if approved clothing is not worn.

Dr. Rod Woods

Dr Roderick Woods works at Cambridge University. For the last few years, he has been researching motor cycle injuries, and how good clothing and armour can reduce these injuries.


In 1990???, Rod Woods announced that the only material suitable for making body armour was polynorbonene??? - more commonly known by its trade name Norsorex. This is a dense, closed cell foam that has the ability to spread impact forces over a wide area.


The problem with Norsorex is its weight and thickness. A complete set for a race suit weighs 2kg (4.4lbs). Given the propensity for racers to pay hundreds of pounds for titanium or carbon fibres gizmos to save a few ounces, this is a big disadvantage. On the road, weight is not so important, but the bulk is still an issue. The famous episode of the Metropolitan Police suits illustrates this. The Met had Branded Leathers make up a batch of suits built to maximum CE protection standards with full Norsorex armour. Unfortunately, the suits were so heavy and bulky that the boys in blue were unable to raise their arms to direct traffic. They had to be modified, replacing the Norsorex with a newer, lighter material.

New Materials

Since 1990, T-Pro and a number of other companies have been able to produce CE qualifying body armour, which is considerably thinner and lighter than Norsorex. T- Pro's new high-tech material does not compromise on the three performance requirements listed above, but they reduce the weight of a full set of armour by 60% to just 800g (28oz / 1.75lbs). That's a saving of over 2 lbs weight. Compare this with kitting out your bike with a complete set of alloy bolts, which saves about 1 lbs (and costs upwards of 70!).

I have been using T-Pro armour in my new Crowtree suit. So far, I've tested them in a crash at Snetterton, and a lowside at the hairpin at Lydden. In both cases, I walked away with no bruising at all. Not really a scientific test - but I'm very pleased with the armour and the suit.

[To be Completed] sports protection - history - other sports - testing methods T-Pro construction Future article: Choosing leathers
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