Motorcycle Back Protectors

Who's got your back?

Before you lay down some hard-earned scratch for a back protector, there are essentially two things to remember. First, wearing one can dramatically increase the chances of escaping serious injury in a fall, and not just on the racetrack. Second, never assume anything called a back protector will actually protect your back. While the idea is simple-distribute and absorb impact before it can damage the mind-bogglingly complex structure known in medical parlance as the vertebral column-actually getting the job done is far more complicated. We've come a long way from Barry Sheene's idea of pop-riveting a few faceshields together. Hard plastic or soft foam alone don't cut it anymore.

These days, most of the stuff you'd want to wear carries a "CE Approved" logo, which means it's passed a series of impact tests mandated for protective motorcycle gear sold within the European Union. The CE standard governing back protectors (EN1621-2) uses the same impact energy as shoulder and elbow armor (50 joules), but allows less of that force to be transmitted through to the human underneath: 18 Kilonewtons (kN) for Level 1-rated protectors, and half that for higher-performance Level 2 products. Though no benchmark is perfect, the CE rating is a good way to separate the genuinely good stuff from the maybe not so good.

Aerostich Competition Back Pad
New from Aero Design's Duluth, Minnesota, think tank, the American-made Competition Back Pad combines a contoured ABS impact-diffusing layer with a broad, shock-absorbing layer of polyethylene and a layer of impact-absorbent Nitrile plastic foam, all contained in a breathable, zippered fabric skin. Though a bit less comfortable than the standard $60 Aerostich Back Pad, there's more substantial protection everywhere, especially around the kidneys, spine and coccyx. Designed to fit neatly inside an Aerostich Roadcrafter suit with adhesive-backed hook-and-loop patches, it's also equipped with an elastic waist strap to accommodate anything else in your closet. Design and construction are top-notch. We trust this one on the track or in L.A. traffic. It comes in sizes S to L for $120.
Bohn Cool-Air
Looking for cool protection at sweltering summer track days? Cut from a layer of KonformAir foam, the Bohn Cool-Air supports the human body's natural cooling system by channeling sweat away from the skin where it can evaporate. On top of that, eight anatomically shaped and placed foam impact pads-each upholstered with a tough leather-trimmed carbon/Kevlar skin-are designed to soften the blow of a crash without adding weight or bulk. A broad elastic waist belt and shoulder straps hold the Cool-Air in place. It's the lightest and coolest of this bunch, with excellent coverage around the kidneys and coccyx. It's CE-approved, American-made, a bit pricey at $199 and comes in sizes S to L.
BMW Back Protector 2
BMW doesn't stick to the status quo, whether we're talking motorcycles or back protectors. Its relatively complicated underpinnings mean it takes a bit longer to get into and out of, but once you're in, BMW's Back Protector 2 never moves around. On the flip side, it's the only one here with collarbone protection. Four plastic panels and an impact-absorbing foam core provide CE-approved coverage for the spinal zone. Coverage around the shoulder blades is excellent as well. The integrated kidney belt can bind when you're in a full track tuck, but otherwise it's surprisingly comfortable. It comes in sizes S to XL and sells for $149.
Dainese Wave T2
The most experienced brand in the business uses an aluminum honeycomb and low-density expanded polyethylene material instead of the more familiar foam sandwich. Dainese says the fourth-generation version is 20 percent lighter and allows more airflow, but since a big hit also crushes the structure, it's a one-crash deal. Six interlocking segments of corrugated plastic form a hard, ergonomically pleasing skin designed to distribute impact energy more efficiently if you take a tumble. The ingenious articulated lumbar section allows sufficient freedom of movement to let you forget you're wearing a back protector at all. It comes in sizes M and L, and sells for $189.
Force Field Sport
Here's the benchmark by which all back protectors should be judged. A triangular structure molded into the soft outer Armorflex skin dissipates impact energy more evenly than hard stuff, regardless of where it gets hit. Underneath, layers of shock-absorbing Nitrex foam slow impact energy to less-damaging levels. The combination transmits less force to fragile human bits beneath than anything else we've seen. Tiny holes admit enough air to keep the wearer reasonably cool. An elastic belt and shoulder straps keep the marvelously supple arrangement in place with minimal tension. Much thinner than you'd expect for such world-class protection, the Forcefield slips under tight leathers without becoming an encumbrance. It's CE-approved to EN1621-2:2003 and EN340: 2003 standards, and is available in sizes XS to L for $140.
Icon Field Armor Vest
Here's the back protector for riders who are clearly too cool to be caught inside one of the racy ones. Designed more for freestyle street stuntaz than the knee-down set, Icon's entry offers a modicum of chest protection along with old-school armadillo-style plastic-backed armor. It's slim enough to fit under that phat leather jacket, so nobody needs to know you roll with protection. Getting into and out of the one-size-fits-most garment could be easier, but once adjusted, it's comfortable enough to wear all day. And at $100, it's less expensive than the others as well.
Spidi Back Warrior
According to CE certification test data, Spidi's Back Warrior allows less than half the residual energy permitted by the EN 1621-2 standard to pass through its impact-absorbent plastic and foam composite cells. Elastic shoulder and waist straps keep the nicely contoured Warrior from leaving its post, and internal air channels work with a well-designed liner to keep you from overheating. Six sizes from Men's S to XL and Women's S to M accommodate riders from 4-foot-6 to 6-foot-5. At just over a pound, the $165 piece is relatively light as well. Trustworthy, comfortable, well-built and stylish, it's one of our favorites.
Alpinestars Tech Race
The Tech Race uses a series of articulated hard-plastic panels designed to spread and reduce the force of an impact while flexing like your own spine. The patented Cross Torsion Linkage system backs that up with double-density foam to soak up shock. A section of soft foam provides low-back protection below the belt line, making the Tech Race more comfortable than most. Strategic perforations in the armor and channels formed into its internal padding facilitate ventilation. The hook-and-loop-secured elastic belt and an upper snap attachment create a secure fit inside Alpinestars race suits. We've logged plenty of laps with this one with no complaints. It's CE-approved, available in sizes S to L and retails for $120.