I have pondered this question over a sip of water from my camel pack as I lay on the floor after a painful spill, the strange thing is very little is written about this comparison. My problem is that I ride a little harder than my skill, so most rides have me coming off at some point, thus I have a keen interest in the best armour, even a small fall can be a disaster if one is unlucky. Still you are likely to be a lot luckier if you are wrapped up in the right gear as you pitch over the bars into a tree.
These days there seem to be two main schools of thought when it comes to body armour: and I guess it boils down to this: soft or hard?
So i got my Camera and a baseball bat and I took a good look at both of the best suits form the two best companies representing these competing technologies
…Most bikers would say that the best body armour out there is Dainese, it is the most expensive but mainly it is common knowledge that this company started the industry of technical protection and has an R&D department that is almost the size of a large building, most companies armour R&D is at best one room, often just a desk. Dainese has a big team and they are backed by a university tie up giving them access to some even better ideas and the latest materials science.
Dainese’s basic design philosophy is a segmented suit of plate armour, with ventilated padding the whole thing is held in place by a mesh shirt, the various paddings are all different materials and densities, the most interesting is the back protector which has an aluminium honeycomb, this is able to absorb a tremendous amount of impact energy but the problem is that it is deformed by this, so if you ever need to use the back protectors capabilities in ernest (i.e. a huge smash in the back) you will need to replace it afterwards, mind you if you can still walk you might not be that upset…
Below is the “wave pro 2 motocycle body armour” with the neck protector (about £260) this is the suit probably with the best real world protection out there… there are one or two manufactures that come to mind that do make slightly heavier exoskeleton hard plate armour, but I am convinced from looking at them all, that these do not protect any more than this one and they are definitely a lot more restrictive. So if you are looking at hard armour this is the King right now.
Forcefeild have a slightly different basic philosophy, they make their armour out of a sort of heavy “dead” foam, a little like a very stiff version of memory foam that is found in some good beds, but there is no hard shell over the top of it. The great idea is that the outline is very slim compared to hard plate armour, but for the back protector (which with forcefield is a totally separate item with its own straps etc) you would probably never be taken for have much more than have had a few good sessions at the gym. Forcefeild say that the armour will heat up and that the special foam that they use will become softer and will confirm to your shape, I tried the suit on and the Forcefeild pads (on my elbow) did feel like they would be irritating as they were much harder against the skin the the Dainese’s soft interior foam, but I did not give it very long to warm up and I do have quite a sharp elbow!
Below is the very compact “Action Shirt” (£180 with back protector) most of the guys i have talked too that own this armour seem to have gone for this model, as it maximises the strengths of the system, low profile, flexible, quick to put on. If I was buying myself though I would go for the Forcefield “extreme harness adventure” (about £260), which is actually a set of heavier duty dual density pads and protectors held together by strapping and without a shirt or mesh to connect it all together.
the forcefeild pads have a particular design, it looks waffle like but is a strong pattern of interlocking overlapping hexagons, the interconnecting bars are thin on the front edge and wide at the back which gives some progressive resistance. the material definitely soaks up impact and to some extent seems to spread it out over a bigger area, something like a whack from a belt would be totally absorbed by this material. I took some royal smashes with the base ball bat and the material seemed to stop the blows with a dull thud, the Dainese made more sound but if you hit on the end of the elbow cup (where you would touch down in 90% of offs) as opposed to the sides of the plates. Dainese definitely made lighter work of the blows, to the point that my baseball bat swinger took the liberty of giving me a few wacks that would have broken my elbow unarmoured without a doubt. Forcefield was not so bothered by exactly where the blow fell so long as it was on the pad, but it was much worse if the thing that hit you was a bit pointy or thin…. like most parts of a motorbike!…. exactly the kind of thing that you might come into contact with in a fall and worse still: as you lie on the track being hit by the fools following behind with the red mist of competition obscuring their eyes. Daineses elbow pad was great over the centre 80% of its surface but if you caught it on an edge it was a little weaker a absorbing the blow. If you were hitting the floor or a tree they would both similar, as the blow would first fall on Dainese sweet spot and would be flat and catch enough of forcefeilds cells to spread the blow out. I think in 955 of the kind of impacts i have know: Dainese would just pip it here.
Dainese have a hard shell on top of a lighter foam, the principle being that any impact is spread out by the hard casing over a wide area of foam, the light but hard foam inside is comfortable against the elbows and shoulders and super well ventilated.
One point important point seems to be heat and sweat dissipation, and here I would say that Dainese seems to have the better ventilation although the shell palates of the exoskeleton only have small holes in them the foam that they use has much larger holes that the FF foam and the plates do not sit against the foam pads as there are large breathing spaces between the two. Finally the aluminium honeycomb in the Dainese back protector is very light and is almost all holes.
The Dainese plates do need lot of articulation to give proper movement, and here Dainess seem to have put in a lot of development, each year they have slightly improved the way the plates move over each other and to be honest when wearing it you are pretty much unaware of the fact you are wearing a suit of armour plates as all movement (that you are lightly to make on a bike) are possible, and unrestricted. Though I think that if i were to give a point for ease of movement, it would be close but this is Forcefields main design advantage.
Even from memory it is clear that Dainese chest protector is somewhat beefed up this year and there are large rib pads on the sides for 2012, these are to protect the ribs and very importantly the heart, shocks to the chest actually cause some of the biggest and most serious long term problems and Dainese have put considerable work into improving cover in this area. The drawback is the larger single part chest protector needs to be fastened across the front ad this is cleverly done with pop in connectors. Still it makes getting the suit on a lot slower than the Forcfield Action Shirt although to have the same level of protection you would need the extreme and that can be a pain to put on as it has no shirt at all and is just a series of pads and straps.
the other exrea 2012 feature of the Dainese suit is the “as standard” neck protector to be honest this is not what some people think i.e. it is not a built in collar like the alpinstars or Leate but a sort of articulated neck shield. I would say is main advantage would be to help in the event that something smashed you in the back of the neck, This does not seem a very lightly situation but who knows, possibly it is there to stop the helmet edge digging into the back of your neck. Unfortunatly Dainese do not explain in there literature exactly what type of injury the neck part is designed to protect against.
Still it does not get in the way and will fit inside a normal neck brace.
finally here is a view of the dainese back protector…
So which would I buy?…. thats a hard one.