Whether on a trackday, blitzing off-road trails, or just out for a Sunday ride, these high-tech guardians have got your six. Why should you wear one? What types of protection are there? What are the best back protectors on the market?
Why wear a back protector?
This is a complicated subject, so the simple answer to why you should wear a back protector is this:
…because back protectors reduce the chance of life-affecting spinal injury, as well as simple bruises, strains and broken ribs.
If you're already convinced, scroll down to take a look at some of the best back protectors currently on the market and buy the best you can afford. If you're after more information, then read on.
Even though there have been no scientific studies specifically looking at the performance of back protectors as reducers of spinal injury, there is a lot of evidence (for example, Otte et al, 2002) to support that the more protective armour or clothing you wear on a motorcycle, the less likely it is for you to end up in hospital. But, obviously this is reliant on the armour being worn correctly.
Thanks to research that went into the making of the European Standards legislation, we know that motorcyclists sustain back injuries in 13% of crashes. However, less than 1% of riders suffer these injuries from direct impacts to the back. So why bother with a back protector? Because they will help reduce the impact force in these situations, and they also reduce overall injuries in more normal crashes too. You'll walk away with fewer broken ribs, strained limbs, and bruises.
What's better: a jacket insert, or a stand-alone protector?
Don't just rely on a back protector insert. The idea with any armour is to get it as tight to your body as possible so that it doesn't move from its optimum position in the event of a crash. If you have a back protector in a garment pocket, then the garment can move and shift the placement of the protector. To get optimum protection, the armour should cover the whole length of your spine. Traditionally, jacket inserts are almost 3/4 length, and don't give as much comprehensive coverage as a stand-alone or gilet option, like the Forcefield Airo Vest.
What's all this about Level 1 and Level 2 protection?
The CE European safety standard for back protectors is EN1621-2-2014. Bit of a mouthful, eh? This is an updated version of previous standards and has two levels. Level 1 back protectors transmit under 18kN of force from a 50 Joule impact, and Level 2 protectors transmit under 9kN. It's worth saying that the medical profession considers any back impact over 4kN in strength to potentially result in serious injury. So if you want the maximum protection, you should be buying at least Level 2 standard equipment.
For the highest protection, look for “EN1621-2-2014 Level 2” on the label.
Getting complicated, right? Just remember that in the real world, not every impact that your back will suffer in a crash will be a nice, round 50 Joules. Some will be less, and some may be more. Even the best back protector can't protect your back from big hits. But, buying the best back protector you can afford will increase the impact your back can take before it breaks!
On top of Levels 1 and 2, there are also optional impacts at +40°C, -10°C, and at -20°C for a protector to be certified for snowsports. These test how the components of a back protector respond to extremities of weather – some plastics may become brittle and offer less protection at -20°C. Always buy the highest protection levels you can afford, and every back protector sold must clearly display its European standard test results.
Forcefield advertises multi-impact protection from its back protectors. The Repeat Performance Technology uses an elastic material called NITREX Evo that Forcefield claims dissipates the shock of an impact without losing structural integrity.
Knox protectors also seem to perform well after multiple strikes. Their new Micro-Lock armour locks up when impacted but flexes with your body during normal riding. Knox says that in tests, its Aegis and Meta-Sys models lost only 2kN protection – still under Level 2 standard limits – over eight impacts on the same spot 20 seconds apart. Knox offers a free back protector check service after an accident to see if the item in question is still safe to rely on.
Back Protectors For All Budgets
We've put together a buying guide of the best kit for your budget. Just like helmets, buy the best back protector your wallet can fork out for. Remember, in motorcycling, there's no such phrase as, “All the gear, no idea.”
Knox's newest back protector featuring Micro-Lock armour. This technology allows the back protector to flex easily with normal body movements, while maintaining all its Level 2 certified protective technologies. And the best part is the low price. This is a lot of back protector for the money.
A Level 2 race-oriented back protector from Alpinestars that uses a hybrid construction of hard shell and a visco-elastic layer to dissipate impacts. Already own an Alpinestars jacket or race suit? You can connect the back protector to the suit for added all-round stability.
Probably the most stylish back protector out there, complete with interlocking armour plating that can slide from side-to-side by as much as 25º from vertical. This allows really impressive amounts of movement when riding in a Manis. It's also slim and light. The only issue? Its aluminium honeycomb structure can only stand up to one Level 2-beating impact before crumpling.
One of the best back protectors on the market. The Pro Sub 4 achieved an incredibly low transmitted energy score of 3.38kN in SATRA's independent testing. 4kN is considered by the medical industry to be the highest impact your spine can have without inducing severe back or rib trauma.
Buying second hand?
Buying a second hand back protector can turn out to be a terrible mistake. It's very important to find out whether a back protector has been crashed in or not, and understand what that will mean for the kind of armour in question. Some back protectors will have to be thrown away after just one impact, whereas manufacturers of others claim multi-impact protection. Make sure you know exactly what you're buying and what type of protection it offers.
Level 1 or Level 2 protection can also be difficult to ascertain from second hand listings. If you're in doubt, contact the seller and ask them to send you a picture of the item's label. This will clearly show the Level of protection on offer.
Don't always trust the photos, description, or the seller in question. If you purchase a second hand item, look for dints in the armour, scuffs on or underneath the outer layer of protection, and frayed stitching. If the product is in any way in a less good condition to that of the new article, do not ride with it. All this should then be followed by a check from a specialist who can confirm whether the armour is still safe to wear before you rely on it.