Gear: Alpinestars Bionic Air Back Protector

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During the summer, Grant and I set out to make ourselves a couple of jackets actually capable of real protection, but that wouldn’t make us look like Power Rangers. Thanks to this Alpinestars Bionic Air Back Protector, I’ve finally finished mine. Now, I can fall off a bike in my Vanson AR2 without being paralyzed. Light, incredibly slim and very comfy, you can probably benefit from its protection too.

Photos: Grant Ray

To give you a little recap, the point of the project was to demonstrate that safety and style needn’t be mutually exclusive. We don’t mind looking like bikers, we do mind looking like logo-whoring MMA cage fighters with color blindness. Literally every existing motorcycle-specific jacket makes one, if not all of the following errors:

1) Too many fucking logos.
2) Garish colors.
3) Bulky armor that distorts fit.
4) El Cheapo materials.
5) Boxy, baggy cuts designed for fatties.
6) Too many fucking logos.

Typically, it is all of those errors.

And continuing our recap, we aren’t the kind of guys that only ride for two hours on Sundays or only to work, to file some TPS reports, then home to eat nachos and watch American Idol reruns. We use our bikes every single day to go to meetings, meet friends, run errands and to go out to bars and parties. Personally, I also believe that a motorcycle should help, not hurt, my ability to pick up fantastically beautiful women. It definitely hurts that ability if I roll into a bar looking like Barney the Dinosaur in some ridiculous bike gear. Even if that logo-whore jacket would save my ass in a crash.

A typical group of motorcyclists out on a Sunday ride.

That’s not to say we don’t want to be safe when we ride. It’s one-piece race suits and head-to-toe armor anytime we’re going fast. MX gear anytime we’re off-road. Two-pieces, again with head-to-toe protection, if we’re doing distance. But, aside from occasional forays into leather fetish bars, a skin-tight race suit really isn’t appropriate for day-to-day wear. Not if I want to park my motorcycling within sight of where I’m going.

So, we set about finding jackets capable of real abrasion protection, found armor capable of providing impact protection without adding bulk or altering fit, then installed the latter in the former. My Vanson AR2 fits like it’s been tailored, even with Alpinestars Bio Armor sewn into its lining. That Bio Armor is about 1.5cm thick, yet provides more than double the protection decreed by CE safety standards. Our buddy Sherman ate shit while wearing it and bounced right back up, a little shaken, but not hurt. The one chink in my good-looking armor? I couldn’t figure out a way to install a back protector without seriously affecting the way the jacket fit. In supplement, I’d been wearing a slim, but giant Knox KC2000 protector on occasion, but more often than not, just going without. Neither I nor you should be riding on the street without a back protector. Especially on the mean streets of LA. Enter the Bionic Air. Nobody wants to be a vegetable.

Over other Alpinestars protectors, the Bionic Air meets only the lesser CE1, not race-level CE2. I figure that’s fine riding around town in jeans and a leather jacket. If I’m riding in a manner that dictates more protection, I’ll wear a suit. That lesser protection is more than offset by its convenience. I literally wear this everywhere now, even going around the corner. If I get clipped by a cab or flub a corner, I’ll be pretty well protected.

By opting for CE1, Alpinestars has been able to make the Bionic Air exceptionally light, slim, comfortable and convenient. It’s made from two layers of interlocking plastic honeycomb, a design tailored to maximally absorb impact while slashing weight and flowing air. The interlocking plates articulate with your back’s movement fore-and-aft and side-to-side. Check out how closely it fits my body’s contours in these photos. The lower half of the protector also pivots a bit to account for twist. The plastic plates are backed by foam and mesh-under-tension for comfort and, again, air flow.

I went for the version with straps and a Velcro belt ($120) over the one designed for pockets. This particular Vanson wasn’t made with motorcycle use in mind (despite thick leather and hidden seams), so didn’t come with armor pockets. I also find the straps-and-belt to offer better fit and the protector itself is longer in that configuration, offering more coverage. I’m 6’ 2” and this medium provides total coverage from tailbone to the base of my neck without poking out the bottom of the jacket.

Under the jacket, you can feel you’re wearing the protector, but it’s totally invisible from the outside. Last night I stood around a fancy bar in Venice for an hour or so wearing it and my friends were all totally surprised when I eventually took it off and unstrapped the protector; they never would have guessed it was under there. At around 2cm at its thickest point and able to totally conform to your body’s shape and movement, the Bionic Air is utterly unobtrusive.

How is this all relevant to you? Even if you’re wearing, say a regular Alpinestars jacket with a back protector in a pocket, the Bionic Air (with straps and belt) is capable of expanding the area of your back covered while likely offering more comfort. The shoulder straps adjust for length and multiple mounting points account for variances in shoulder width. The Velcro belt is wide and generous, but still cinches tight enough for a skinny little bitch like me. Additional velcro straps connecting protector to belt allow you to further tailor precise fit. If you’re not currently wearing a back protector, this one will work with literally any jacket or other piece of gear and do so comfortably and invisibly. This is the easiest, most comfortable, most convenient way into a back protector and that’s a very good thing.


  • noone1569

    Same as in the Protection bag right?

    I love that bag and this back protector. It fits in nearly every other jacket I have (extends just a little bit past the webbing in my Buell jacket. I do wish it had the straps to be worn separately, though.

    Nice piece of kit.

    • Sean Smith

      Nope, you’re thinking of the CE level 2 Bionic back protector. Less coverage, but able to absorb a bigger hit.

  • Liquidogged

    I don’t really mind if my gear is chunky as long as it’s all black. I would imagine white riding gear would actually be a boon in warm climates like LA. All colors in between tend to make much more sense on a track. The low-profile shape question is interesting. You clearly like the idea that your gear does not define you as a rider when you’re off your bike. I never really minded, other than the question of all black. I think in my heart of hearts I like the idea that people know I ride. It’s a statement and I make few enough of them in my daily life.

    Anyways, it’s obviously a very nice piece of gear and you’re smart to wear it. I do think I’d notice it but I don’t know if the average person would. I think I’d rather have people go “does this motorcycle guy have to wear all that shit?” than “what’s up with the shape of that guy’s back?”… but I might be overestimating the perception of the average person.

    • Wes Siler

      I’m very happy to identify myself as a rider with what I wear. It’s just that I don’t feel that identity requires a purple jacket with a bright green stomach and 17 logos.

      If we all try hard enough, we can re-appropriate the biker image away from the lames.

      • MG

        Couldn’t agree with you more Wes. However, I am personally not very keen to identify myself as a motorcycle rider (obviously off the bike) – there is no reason to, other than perhaps bragging rights.

        I do not own a cage, haven’t in years and years and I have managed to be as “non-Barney” as I can be and it is my mission to walk into a professional setting without having to allow for a strip tease or making a point that “a biker” just walked in.

        Following this closely: all the best

      • Tommy

        I think as customers we are SLOWLY changing it. It’s definitely better now than it was even a few years ago. Color schemes arent as bad, fits are getting slightly better, and new technology is making things slimmer. There’s definitely still plenty of room for improvement, but I have noticed things trending our way. More black and slimmer fits. Hopefully its only a matter of time.

        Also, if you ride to the bar, and want people to know you ride, I’m pretty sure the helmet you carried in is a tell tale sign, you dont need to rest of the power ranger suit to let people know.

        • Mark D

          The helmet helps, but usually its people noticing that you only drank one beer all night (if you’re smart) :)

      • guest

        Haha! “lames” don’t make them mad you will get “lame” rage!

      • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

        If we all try hard enough, we can re-appropriate the biker image away from the lames.

        Thanks for leading the charge, guys!

  • gk848evo

    Although my bright red Bell helmet(one small logo) and White Dainese jacket tend to be on the brighter douchy sportbike side, I still like the safety factor that folks are more likely to see you. That being said I love the anononimity of Wes’s setup. I have a similar protector from Dainese that works great on and off the track. These things also work great for throwing under your winter gear when you hit the slopes!

  • Jeremy

    I’ve got the bionic air that goes in the back pocket. Its pretty sweet I don’t even notice its there. The astars jacket its in is a bit cheesy though.

    Anyone check out the 2012 Dainese stuff? They have a few jackets that are pretty subtle, nice worn out leather and basic colors. Real pricey though, as all Dainese stuff is:

    • Wes Siler

      That is pretty nice. I wish Dainese was able to communicate new product releases to us.

    • damien

      That’s the thing…awesome stuff that is just so god damned expensive.

    • aristurtle

      I’ve got the pocket version too; I use it in my A* mesh jacket.

      For textile jackets, logos are often removable without any bad effects. That mesh jacket used to be all logoed-up and now it’s just a black jacket.

  • Gene

    A skin-tight race suit is perfectly acceptable if you’re a fit babe. I’ll be in my bunk.

    Seriously though, have you ever tried British Motorcycle Gear (BMG)? They’re usually in dark colors, fit (me) pretty well, and only have a couple round logos that a seamripper can pop off in a minute.

    And “folks are more likely to see you” is bullshit. A friend drives a fire engine that’s 20ft long with a 115db siren and lights, and people don’t see her all the time. The color of my jacket or helmet doesn’t do shit.

    Though apparently a GoPro camera on the top of your helmet seems to make a big difference. If I don’t wear it, people are pulling out/turning left on me and lane-changing into me all the time. When I put it on, it’s like I’m driving a police cruiser. It’s really really really weird.

  • Michael

    I like the Halvarssons leather jackets. Myself I have the lindstrands textiles, with extremely bulky armor, but meh, it works for me.

  • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

    This past summer, I installed a Bionic Air inside the inner back pocket of my Alpinestars Frontier jacket, which is also equipped with a huge zip-down vent panel on the outside of the back. The best thing about the Bionic Air is that it’s got terrific airflow through it. If you peer into it through the plastic “tiles” of the outer layer, the inner layer looks like a zoom-in of a giant loofah.

    For the winter, I bought a Klim Viper D3O back protector that’s CE Level 2 (versus the Bionics Level 1 rating). It too fits easily into my Frontier’s back pocket, and it pretty much “disappears” because it’s so super flexible, especially when I turn on my electric liner.

    When I’m dressed like a Power Rangers character, I strap on the Joe Rocket version of the original Forcefield Level 1 back protector underneath my jacket or suit. I’m thinking of upgrading to the newer Forcefield Level 2 back protector.

    Wes, Sean, Grant — can you guys get Forcefield review units from Johnson Leathers in SF?

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

      BTW, I first found out about the Bionic Air here on HFL. Same with D3O-based armor.

      Is there any way that we can communicate to the manufacturers and their distributors that you guys are helping consumers like me make informed purchasing decisions?

      (One of my various responsibilities is Reviews Editor for a print mag, so I appreciate how reviews can benefit everyone involved — manufacturer, publisher, and consumer alike.)

      At the very least, do you guys have an affiliate link for shops like Revzilla (which I also discovered through HFL)? Personally, I find that kind of passive “advertising” unobtrusive. Having you guys earn a commission for things I buy because I read about it here — well, I’m good with that. Plus, the convenience of it would make my life easier.

      • Wes Siler

        There’s a lot going on behind the scenes right now, but thanks for the endorsement :)

    • jonoabq

      I’ve got a custom built, fully lined (removable), all black jacket with Forcefield back/shoulder/elbow from Johnson Leathers. Had it for two winters now…love it, a bit spendy but worth every cent. Easily the best fitting and most protective jacket I’ve had for every day wear, ever.

    • Sean Smith

      We’ve never asked, but after wearing and crashing in Forcefield armor, I can say I’m incredibly happy with it.

  • Nick

    To each their own when it comes to style. I won’t deny that a stylish leather jacket (or other riding gear) is really sweet. I even own a classically cut Vanson jacket (and matching pants). However, I guess I’m alone in that I don’t care to make a (positive) fashion statement when I’m on the bike. I’ve found myself wearing my hi-viz Scorpion Commander everywhere. My Vanson has very few pockets, and although it is VERY well vented, it is still black. Black gets HOT. The Scorpion jacket definitely makes me look more like a firefighter than a hipster fashion model, but who cares? I have ample storage for my work ID, wallet, cell phones, and I stay cooler.

    Maybe it’s because I’m married…or too damn utilitarian/practical, but I like functional gear, regardless of if it looks cool or not. I’m not overtly looking to proclaim to everyone in Lowes that I’m a biker when I stroll through, but who cares? At least people recognize that there are motorcyclists out there. Even if you are wearing a ‘stylish’ moto jacket, the whole world still knows you’re a motorcyclist: you’re wearing a jacket in July.

    • Steven

      the point isn’t to not look like a motorcyclist. the point is to look like a motorcyclist that hot women want to have sex with.

      • Wes Siler

        You, sir, win the Internets today.

  • gk848evo

    Gene, I wasn’t referring to the people with their heads up their ass texting while driving. Let’s be realistic, people see bright colors. Why do you think fire engines and emergency vehicles are painted red/white/orange. Stealth bombers are black. Even animals are genetically brighter colors to warn and attract. Pretty amazing how you can sum up millions of years of evolution to “bullshit”.

    • ursus

      Yes – but check out “aposematism” on Wikipedia – predator markings. Not all predators are colorful. On the road, one of the most successful predators usually rides a white bike, has a white helmet, and wears black Aerostich.
      I think sometimes the crazy yellow and green colors are easily seen but often don’t seem to show defined edges well – perhaps due to the way they add extra light into the visible. People see them but may have to work to identify what they are seeing and range it rather than having a more instinctive level perception. Some of the poppy oranges are nice though – easily seen and understood as an object.

      • Sean Smith

        “On the road, one of the most successful predators usually rides a white bike, has a white helmet, and wears black Aerostich.”

        Hey, I resemble that.

      • Brammofan

        If you’re going to check out “aposematism” (awesome word… I learn something new every day) you might as well check out “target fixation.”

    • Gene

      Yeah, but usually it’s the guy with his head up his ass that’s the danger. Or the woman that decides to change lanes w/o even looking. The bloke that’s actually paying attention and looking is not the one I’m worried about. He’s going to see me no matter if I’m wearing black or florescent yellow.

      My other point was fire engines are painted red/white/orange with flashing lights and a loud siren, and it still does them no good.

      I’ve had friends in the florescent Aerostichs totally not understand how someone could still pull over on them, with the “but I’m wearing bright yellow! didn’t they see me?” attitude.

  • Squid_Squidly

    Are we ever gonna get Grant’s write up?

    • Wes Siler

      probably not.

      • Squid_Squidly

        Ha. Well alright then.

  • quint7

    “following errors:

    1) Too many fucking logos.
    2) Garish colors.
    3) Bulky armor that distorts fit.
    4) El Cheapo materials.
    5) Boxy, baggy cuts designed for fatties.
    6) Too many fucking logos.”

    You guys nailed it….. well other than #5, but that is more of a sizing availability fault of the manufacturers. I’m 6’3″, 280lbs, 52 coat, 38 sleeve, 42 waist. Impossible to find gear that fits like it should. Either slightly too tight with good sleeves (2XL Long) or fits loosely and the sleeves are short, especially when actually on the bike (3XL). I understand the basics of economies of scale, but for the money companies are charging there should be more customization available for a reasonable price. I’m talking the mid range gear, not Aerostich, etc.
    And yes….. I could stand to drop 30 pounds, but the long arms/wide shoulders are still a huge issue with most gear I try.

  • RT Moto

    MEH, I just ride around in a hoody, jeans, Vans, and lifting gloves. I like looking cool when I ride.


  • Adrian_B

    Commendable attempt to get the manufacturer’s attention. Not sure I’ll hold my breath, tho. But, best of luck to you!

    I’ll stick with my Vanson leathers and armor. Their shit’s bulletproof and relatively logo free. I even got a nice complement the other day as to how good my gear looks. If I leaped after every new thing that came out, I’d be broke.
    Oh, wait. I am broke. Never mind.

  • Core

    Very sharp looking.

  • DavidMG

    Never leave home without it. If I’m on the bike and I don’t have it on it’s like driving without a seatbelt, just feels wrong to me.

    I have to say I’m not impressed with the durability of the waist strap though. The soft counterpart of the hook and loop has frayed so much I have to really make an effort when I put it on to make sure it won’t come undone a few minutes into the ride.

    The A* logo also fell off as soon as I took it out of the bag it came in but I don’t care about that.

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

      I think Alpinestars quality has gone way down. I still have two Astars jackets that I bought almost a decade ago — other than a layer of grime and some of the reflective material flaking off, they’re holding up very well.

      On the other hand, my latest Alpinestars purchases (Frontier jacket and frontier pants — about 6 months old) already have seams that are starting to break open, hook & loop material pulling off (the loop part, as you mentioned). And my most recent pair of Alpinestars gloves lost their rubber logos about a week into use.

      I don’t think I’ll be buying Alpinestars anymore.

  • Devin

    After reading this, I like the idea of checking out a CE level 2 backprotector that also goes down to the tailbone. The only one I can find is forcefield, any others?

    • Wes Siler

      There’s a million out there. Alpinestars makes one itself, as does virtually everyone else.

    • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

      Have you seen the Level-2 full-coverage Tryonic Feel 3.7? Weird name. And it totally reminds me of EVA-4 from Neon Genesis Evangelion.

    • Wes Siler
      • Devin

        revzilla didn’t pop out in my google search, that is quite the site with a lot of options.

        Going to get the lady a CE2 full length because she has ample room in her jacket and no back slot. Debating for myself on whether I want a separate unit that goes down to my tailbone, or the convenience of having a back protector built into the back slot.

        • Wes Siler

          Revzilla is great. Like Zappos for motorcycle gear.

  • Mr.Paynter

    Why IS good-looking gear so freaking expensive and basically impossible to find in South Africa?!?

    I have an OBNOXIOUS power-ranger jacket by Berik, of all the brands I can get my hands on here, they have the best fit for my shape at a price I can afford (US$350 or so) and the best option I had was black with white trim instead of the reverse and a quick count is 11 white logos on my jacket…

    I like safety and at a price I can afford that’s it, my last one was put to the test(twice) and it handled well! One day I’ll treat myself to some style!

  • ak

    On the topic of moto jackets, gotta love RSD’s new line.

    Has anyone looked at Icon’s product range for jackets lately? Out of 27 for men, 1 black jacket sans logos.

    These guys kill it and I have the utmost for this company. But they are definitely geared towards, how shall I say this, the group described below.

    The world needs kooks/squids/military/noobs to perpetuate cool for those in the know…or not color blind.

  • Tim

    This makes me wonder. How many crashes result in back injuries? And, how many of those are due to neck trauma? The majority I would assume, which this device does nothing to prevent. Certainly nothing can stop all, or most injures, but this seems better at protecting you from the long, slide on your back, type get-off you see at race tracks.

    • jonoabq

      The better question is “how many crashes result in back injuries that can be prevented, or the severity of injury reduced by a back protector?” I read some information regarding motorcycle crash/back injuries that stated they were predominantly shear or or torsional force related…I need to do some digging around to see if I can find it.

  • Cro-Magnon

    Got the Knox Contour which feels larger than it looks. I feel safer with it on and it’s become a (good) habit.

    Kudos to HFL for promoting safety gear of all types. Fashion vs functionality is up to the wearer, as long as it’s worn.

  • AHA

    We’re spoilt for choice in Europe. Dainese,Rev’it, Crowtree, Lewis Leathers, Rukka etc. All high performance clothing range producers with some logo free & stylish items. Also we have Forcefield Pro Sub 4 armour which is the best probably?

  • OBronin

    What are you guys doing for the lower half, just jeans? Anything I’ve looked at for lower body protection falls into power ranger, old bmw guy, or jeans cut 2x too big. Any suggestions or just stick to selvedge jeans?

  • jackbyo

    Mate what size bio armor did you use in the elbows and shoulders? I’m about the same dimensions as you and want to retro fit a schott in a similar fashion


  • FactoryExtreme

    you look wonderful, truly beauty with amazing sense of style !