Everything you need to know to protect your spine in one place!
From the 1st of March 2022, it will be mandatory for you to wear a CE approved back protector at all UK track days run by track day providers MSV and NoLimits. It’s always been recommended and encouraged but now, without protection, you won’t get on track.
Back Protectors aren’t just a great idea for the track though, they can be vital in protecting that all-important spinal column in case of an incident whilst riding on, or even off, the road. So we’ve put together a short guide to show you the different types of back protection; how they work, the pros & cons, and some of our top picks…
Whilst most motorcycle jackets come with shoulder and elbow protection, they too often don’t come with back protectors. This is mostly due to when you're riding, you’re more likely to fall on your side or front than on your back, but if you plan to ride off-road or on the race track, it's essential.
LET'S ANSWER SOME OF THE MOST ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT MOTORCYCLE BACK PROTECTORS THEN...
How do motorcycle back protectors work?
Simply put, a back protector provides additional protection to the spine by dissipating impact energy in the event of a fall. All armour works in pretty much the same way with the end goal to reduce the impact your body feels, typically by spreading or absorbing the energy through the material it's made of.
There are a variety of different constructions used in back protectors, with some being made of a soft viscoelastic foam (it hardens when hit) whilst others feature a hard shell outer covering a soft inner. Whilst the soft, shell-less protectors tend to be more comfortable to wear and mould more easily to the body, they lack the hard shell's ability to more easily shrug off punctures & slicing from sharp objects. Less of a problem on track but more prevalent with road riding or off-road. That’s why you tend to see hard backed protectors made up of connected segments to improve the flexibility.
What do motorcycle back protector CE ratings mean?
Motorcycle back protectors are all tested to a CE standard known as EN1621-2:2014 and there are 2 levels they can be certified; level one or level two. The difference is how much force is transmitted through the back protector from an impact;
- CE Level 1 - an average of less than 18kN of force when tested, with no single value greater than 24kN.
- CE Level 2 - an average of less than 9kN of force when tested, with no single value greater than 12kN.
During the test, a weight is dropped from a height multiple times, hence why the average number is used and there is a maximum value allowed. From those numbers, you can see that a CE Level 2 aims to half the amount of energy transmitted by half. All of this information about the back protector can be found on the label which looks like this:
1 - this signifies the garment has been tested specifically for motorcycling
2 - This denotes the category and type of protector
3 - This is the Performance level achieved, either a 1 or a 2
Those are the main ones to look out for, but the next 2 boxes with the T’s are to do with testing at temperature. Because the materials used for armour can perform differently depending on their temperature as if it's too cold the armour can harden and become brittle, whereas if it's too hot, it becomes softer and less effective. By achieving the two Ts, you know the armour can perform across a wide temperature range:
4- Tested to still perform at high temperatures up to +40°C
5 - Tested to still perform at low temperatures down to -10°C
How to fit back protectors?
Back protectors come in many different shapes, sizes, and fitments so it can be tricky to navigate the options. The most common are inserts that slide into a pocket in the back of your jacket, these are the easiest to fit as generally they are designed in combination with the jacket. They tend to be brand-specific in shape, although other armour makers, like Forcefield, design back protectors to fit into a variety of different jackets.
Then you have standalone back protectors which are put on before your jacket and generally fit with waist and shoulder straps to keep the armour in place. Ideally, the top of the back protector should sit just below the base of the neck, roughly under where the collar of your jacket would be. It should end in the small of your back, but some protectors do offer more coverage which may protrude down to cover the coccyx. It's best to try the protector on with your riding gear to make sure it all works together and isn’t going to cause discomfort or impede your mobility.
Do I need a back protector for a motorcycle?
Technically and legally, no. There is nothing stopping you from not wearing one on the road, and you’ll only have to don a spinal shield if you want to get on track in the UK. They are a smart option to go for as they protect a vital part of the body, the spine. The spine is your body’s central support structure and allows you to stand, walk, run, sit, bend, twist, as well as being the highway for the nervous system to pass information to the brain. All important functions for everyday life and riding a motorcycle, so adding a bit of protection seems like a no-brainer!
Are back protectors worth it?
For riding a motorcycle on the road, yes. For riding a motorcycle off-road, absolutely. For riding a motorcycle on a racetrack, 100%. As answered in the last question, a back protector covers the second most important part of the body after the head, so you need to look after it.
Back Protector Inserts
REV'IT! Seesoft Back Insert
From £39.99 RRP
The REV'IT Seesoft is a high performance, race-ready back insert consisting of individual layers of impact-resistant memory foam without compromising on comfort, ventilation or freedom of movement. It’s made up of a blend of nitrile and something called Polynorbornene rubber, but it's this blend that allows the Seesoft armour to achieve CE Level 2 and is rated for multiple impacts.
Being made up of individual layers proves advantageous in the case of severe angular impacts; those layers can shift relative to one another resulting in a larger effective surface area for dissipating that impact energy. Those multiple layers allow the REV’IT! Seesoft back protector to be flexible and perform consistently in all conditions whilst also keeping a relatively slimline profile.
The Seesoft is available in multiple shapes to accommodate different riders and their jackets.
Rukka D3O XTR Air Back Insert
The Rukka D3O XTR Back Protector is a CE Level 2 armour insert with D3O's patented breathable technology offering superb comfort and flexibility
Developed especially for Rukka garments, the D3O Air XTR delivers outstanding impact protection, comfort and flexibility. The back insert is made from an advanced long-chain polymer composite, consisting of molecules that remain soft and comfortable during general wear, but instantaneously lock when hit with a sudden impact to absorb and dissipate the energy.
The geometric pattern of the D3O XTR protector not only for protective performance but also allow direct airflow to your back. Versatile for sports use, adventure touring and urban riding, this CE Level 2 certified product is tried and tested to protect, however, you ride.
The XTR is a big back protector so may not fit all motorcycle jackets, but D3O supplies many brands with back inserts that are all the same with different branding, which you can find here.
Forcefield Pro L2K Dynamic Back Protector
A CE Level 2 back protector with a high energy absorbing, flexible structure, kevlar stitching and adjustable waist and shoulder fastening.
The latest in Forcefield's revolutionary Pro L2 range spanning over 14 years, the Pro L2K Dynamic stands above its peers as a reactive back protector within maximum safety and protection.
Certified to EN1621-2 Level 2, the Pro L2K Dynamic is a multi-layered technical material, held together with Kevlar thread. The back insert takes advantage of Forcefield's DRI-M Technology (Dynamic, Reactive, Intelligent Materials) which results in a contorting, moulded shape that reacts to the rider's body, and is capable of absorbing multiple amounts of impact energy, or RPT (Repeat Performance Technology). Forcefield’s RPT is often misunderstood as pretty much any armour is capable of being used again after an impact, but the Forcefield armour is designed to react to multiple impacts in rapid succession within milliseconds of each other.
The interior is perforated to help maintain body temperature and wick moisture away from your body. Whilst over-the-shoulder straps and a dual-stage elastic waist strap allows you to get a comfortable fit every time.
Alpinestars Nucleon KR-2 Back Protector
Another CE Level 2 number this time from the Alpinestars Nucleon range, the KR-2. In fact, all of the back protectors in the Alpinestars Nucleon range are certified to CE Level 2, and if it is suffixed with an ‘i’ it means it's an insert.
This KR-2 however, is a lightweight standalone option designed more for adventure & touring than the racetrack. It’s made from a viscoelastic foam featuring perforations which makes this back protector comfortable to wear by moulding to your body and allowing your body to breathe through those holes. In the centre of the protector, there is a TPU insert for additional protection for the spine which you don’t get on the other options in the nucleon range, like the KR-R or KR-1.
Alpinestars have made it easier to add protection in the form of the KR-C Chest Protector and KR-TB - the latter, a short extension piece to add coccyx protection. The former is a level 1 chest protector for those wanting a little extra up front.
Vests / Shirts
Forcefield GTech Shirt
New for 2022 the GTech range of protection combines recycled, soft, breathable fabrics with top-spec 3D mouldable armour. Whilst you can kit yourself from head to toe with the GTech range we will just be looking at their shirt offering in this article.
Forcefield fits the GTech Shirt with Freefit CE Level 2 back and chest protectors but you can choose whether you want CE Level 1 or Level 2 armour in the limbs (shoulders and elbows). The main difference between the two levels are thickness and temperature range; the Level 2 armour is slightly thicker for increased impact resistance but it is also tested at a wider range of temperatures to ensure it can still perform at a high heat of 40 degrees or the sub-zero temps of minus 10!
The armour is always kept close to your body so you know it will be in the right place in case of an impact, the only disadvantage is that it's not the most graceful thing to get into and out of!
Knox Track Vest MK3
The Knox Track Vest takes the well-loved Aegis back protector and synergises it into its own gilet. A zip-up vest is the perfect no-faff method for securing a Level 2 back protector securely to your body, no need to adjust shoulder and waist straps every time - once the waist straps have been adjusted to suit it's all fit and forget from here on out!
Inside the Aegis derived back piece features inclined-wall honeycomb technology that provides more optimum crush protection in the case of an impact. On top of that is a hard outer shell for preventing sharp objects from penetrating and there is a central live spine mechanism for extra spinal protection. The front features an embossed foam chest pad which you can fit a chest protector under if you want CE Level 1 protection.
It’s built-in Knox’s UK factory, features YKK zips, and has a removable washable interior lining to keep it nice and fresh!
And that’s the end of the article, but it isn’t the end of back protection, if you want superior coverage and protection then an Airbag vest really is the way to go. The level of protection offered can be the equivalent to wearing 18 back protectors! We wrote an article about that a year ago which goes through how airbag vests work and different options available to you which you can find here.
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