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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.
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
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.
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
Secondly, there is the likelihood that insurance companies will reduce
payments due to "contributory negligence" if approved clothing is not
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.
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 2½ lbs weight. Compare this
with kitting out your bike with a complete set of alloy bolts, which
saves about 1½ 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
[To be Completed]
- other sports
- testing methods
Future article: Choosing leathers
These pages are maintained by Roger Ford (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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