Crash Tested: Alpinestars Bionic Air back protector

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That awkward moment when an ER doctor feels around your spine, convinced your back must be broken and you have to explain to them that no, you’re not like other motorcyclists, you wear safety gear and your spine’s just fine. This Alpinestars Bionic Air back protector is slim, comfy, affordable and, most importantly, capable of protecting one of your most vulnerable areas in a crash.

It’s alway the same, every time I end up in hospital and have to explain to an incredulous doctor why I’m not more injured. None of them have yet realized that such a thing as a “back protector” exists, nor the efficacy of such devices. That’s a crying shame, because you can imagine the state of motorcyclists if they end up in the ER after crashing without one. Judging by the need to explain in elaborate detail what a back protector is and how it works, that’s most of them. Yeesh.

In the case of this Bionic Air, it’s some articulating plastic plates created in a honeycomb section to give them strength. That redirects and spreads impact forces, which can then be absorbed by a second layer of, again, heavily contoured rubber. That’s then backed by a foam and mesh-under-tension chassis for comfort and connected to you by two shoulder straps and a Velcro waist belt. The whole thing is heavily perforated and generally full of holes in order to flow tons of air so you don’t get hot.

There’s a version without straps designed to fit the armor pocket on Alpinestars jackets, but this version covers a significantly greater portion of your back and works with any jacket of any brand.

The USP here is the Bionic Air’s lack of thickness. In the center, that’s only around 2cm. Combine that with the articulating panels and the ability of the lower portion to twist with your hips and you have a recipe for unobtrusiveness and comfort. I chose this thing to wear every day under my Vanson AR2, it adds significant protection over a significant area of my back, invisibly. It does not alter the fit or looks of the jacket, but covers me from neck to tailbone.

It’s able to be so slim partly because it’s made to the CE Level 1 (rather than race-spec level 2) standard. I own plenty of Level 2 back protectors, appreciating their protection and not minding their bulk when I’m out riding fast in full leathers, doing distance in a touring suit or riding off road in MX gear. Around town, I’ll take the convenience, comfort and versatility of Level 1 because it means I’ll wear it each and every time I get on a bike, even just popping around a corner.

In the crash, the Bionic Air did protect me from injury. It exhibits signs of both heavy impact and abrasion. Note the cracks in some of the plastic cladding and the heavy scratching on the tail. My ass took a significant impact, causing bruising and swelling across it and my lower back and the lower portion of my coccyx took an impact too, it’s still bruised and it still hurts to sit down. It’s also worth taking a look at what my jacket looked like post-crash. Note the location of those holes and tears, this back protector prevented any of that nastiness from carrying through to my back. Seriously, not even a bruise above the level where its protection begins.

I’ve worn this thing literally every single day for over a year and it’s held up very well. The only quality gripe comes from the Velcro waist strap, which is losing some ability to stick to itself. With the elastic adjustment straps, I’ve always been able to reposition it enough to get it secured though.

The Bionic Air survived the accident in functional form too, I’ll still be wearing it virtually every time I ride (at least in town) for the foreseeable future. That kind of use, protection and broad applicability out of a $140 item is really good. If you’re not wearing a back protector yet, this is a great place to start, it’ll work with literally any jacket, suit or whatever and it absolutely will reduce both the chances of injury and the severity of injuries should you crash hard enough to exceed its protection.

  • Devin Stone

    Is there a down side to going with the foam/CE back protector that is integrated in many jackets?

    • circuitsports

      yes the plastic ones are actually designed in cad to deal specifically with these forces and not just to dull them

      The foam ones will work but in a heavy impact the plastic ones will outperform them by transferring energy better.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

      Most often, the foam protector integrated in many jackets isn’t CE rated. The elbow and shoulder armor is, but the vast majority of jackets go with a “dual density foam” (read: throwaway) back pad.

  • circuitsports

    Alpine stars if you are listening you have to start making stuff people can afford to walk away from in a crash – 600 bucks for a single jacket styled to wear more often and back protector puts a hurt on most people.

    • Mitch

      Well, sure… but a quality leather jacket can survive many (well a few anyway) crashes. Plus they have many jackets for much less than that. And of course the used market.

    • Ducky

      In the context of $3000+ motorcycles, $600 really is nothing, and should be considered part of the cost of the bike. If you can’t afford that, you can’t afford to ride.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Yup, real riding gear and all of it needs to be considered a part of the cost of this form of transportation. If you “can’t afford” an important piece, then reconsider the price and running costs of the bike.

    • stephen

      You can buy clearance items / practically brand new items all the time on the web or ebay.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

    I have a full back protector, but my suit has a large built in Sas-Tec protector. The full item is almost certainly better, but it seems like a hassle. The juxtaposition between us – too much hassle is my concern and not attractive enough is yours – amuses me.

  • Ross

    I’ve been wearing the air for almost a year now and the only complaint I have is the velcro. It has completely failed on mine.

    • Mitch

      Long shot but A* may repair it. Contact them.

      • Ross

        I’ve been meaning to get a strip of the fuzzy velcro and sew it over the A* material. Easier than sending it back, and I won’t have to wait for turnaround. It is hard riding without a back protector once you are used to it.

    • DavidMG

      Exact same problem here. Not quite at “completely failed” but pretty nearly.

  • jonoabq

    Or you can send your (leather only) jacket to Johnson Leathers in SF and they can make a pocket to fit a full coverage level 2 Forcefield back protector. I had pockets built for three jackets over the years and can’t imagine riding without a good back protector for any reason, over any distance. Takes 2 minutes to swap between jackets so there’s no good reason not to ride without one.

  • mojopwr

    Wes, I’m so happy to see you walk away from this mostly unscathed. I hate seeing any hfl injury incident, but I really appreciate the “crash tested” reviews. Thank you.
    Do you have the aerostich back protector in your roadcrafter? Can you compare it to the Alpinestars?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I use the ‘Stich competition back protector. It has the most coverage of any I’ve worn, but is Roadcrafter specific. This Alpinestars one is designed to work with anything.

  • Tommy

    I really need to get me one of these already. I’ll add it right after roadcrafter to my things to buy with my tax return list.

  • Coreyvwc

    I had a bad off 7 months ago that left me with a pretty fucked lower back. As soon as I was able to ride again (and got a new bike) a full coverage back protector was the first thing I bought. Not being able to tie your shoes for 6 weeks is really lame, never again…

  • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

    I have crashed and slid considerably using a Dainese Wave Air and it has a considerable flaw that this Alpinestars protector does not. Keep in mind that my get off was significant – at about 75-80mph on a track and I slid a long, long time on my back and my bike was largely destroyed. That said, the ridges on the Wave Air produce pressure points (lines?) against the leather. When I got up I was somehow completely unharmed which is of course the ultimate goal. However my leathers looked like I had been mauled by a tiger. There were 6-7 gashes all the way through the two layers of leather on my suit and the back protector showed definite signs of abrasion. I don’t mind my gear sacrificing itself for my benefit, but much more sliding and the suit would have been dramatically compromised. Since then I only consider relatively flat surfaced back protectors that more evenly distribute the forces such as this Alps unit or the Dainese Shield Air.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Wow, that seems like a pretty obvious design flaw now that you’ve explained it.

      Guess those ridges are there for torsional rigidity?

      • Mitch

        I imagine the new design of this Alpinestars protector follows the design of other ‘soft’ material protectors like my Forcefield – by eschewing hard plates, you don’t get the pressure point effect, and most likely comfort and air diffusion increase as well. Would not be surprised to see hard part protectors slowly get phased out.

      • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

        I believe they add stiffness but I also think they’re for airflow. There is a good deal of perforation between the ridges. Airflow is a worthwhile goal. Most back protectors I’ve worn (and I sampled a lot for research) leave my back drenched when worn in combination with racing leathers. But I’m sure there are ways to accomplish the goal without the tradeoff.

  • paulo

    Another bonus of wearing a back protector is it keeps your kidneys warm (great in winter) and my fat friend likes how it sucks his gut in. ;)

  • Skank NYCFastest

    ‘no, you’re not like other motorcyclists, you wear safety gear and your spine’s just fine.’
    Why’s your ass look like grated cheese?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      No ass protector :’(

      • tpnewsk

        Someone should sell kevlar boxer briefs

        • Adrian_B

          Ow. Yeah, but they’d chaffe in all the wrong places.

        • Dani Peral

          There is at least one brand that does, I saw that on some forum…there were kevlar boxer underpants and long sleeve kevlar underpants…will search for it

  • SamuraiMark

    Wes: What size did you get vs. your height / weight / chest size? I wanted to order one of these but according to Alpinestars’ sizing chart I’m apparently supposed to be 6’2″. I’m 5’9″. I looks like Astars is marketing to the herione addict demographic. (5’9″ = 38″ chest? WTF … do some pushups).

    • Ross

      The sizing on these is for the length of the pad. You want the top of it sitting just below your neck. The shoulder and waist straps are adjustable. I wear a large at 5’10″ and I probably could have gone with a medium.

      • SamuraiMark

        Thanks. I’ll give the medium a shot.

  • aristurtle

    I own the in-jacket version of this thing and so it’s good to see how it holds up in a crash.

    • Jeromy

      How does the in jacket back pad compare to this one? I just got my first astars jacket, and was really surprised by how crappie the stock back pad was, so I am going to upgrade but I am stuck between getting the insert or this one…

      • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben W

        It’s a tradeoff. The insert is more convenient, but it’s also smaller and, depending on how the jacket fits, might not be in the optimal position if something goes down. A separate protector provides greater coverage and safety at the cost of convenience. It’s another piece to strap on each time.

      • aristurtle

        It’s pretty much the same as this one except without the straps. My Alpinestars jacket holds it in place fairly well, my Joe Rocket jacket not so much.

        The “stock” back pad is not an actual back pad, pretty much ever, for any brand. They call it a “dual-density foam comfort pad” or something like that. I generally refer to them as “bullshit foam”. I wish they just left it empty so you didn’t have the illusion of protection; one of these days there’s going to be a huge lawsuit about those.

  • KP

    I own this and wear it for track days hooked into an Alpinestars suit.

    I’ve crash-tested this rig in a 75MPH lowside where I rolled for what was probably four seconds (felt like 30). The back protector took zero damage and I had no discomfort there. It did a great job. Leathers held up fine too. Wore them both a couple days later with no repairs. (Nexx Carbon was totaled though.)

  • http://www.firstgenerationmotors.blogspot.com Emmet

    so are these crash tests going to be a weekly column now?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Probably

      • http://www.BrewSmith.com.au dux [87 CBR600, 95 XR600R]

        Lol!

  • wwalkersd

    “The Bionic Air survived the accident in functional form too, I’ll still be wearing it virtually every time I ride…”

    Given the obvious (albeit minor) damage shown in your photos, I’d want to get a new unit, just to be completely sure of its structural integrity in a future incident.

    • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

      Agreed. I’d be concerned about the damage at the anchor point especially. Those cracks look pretty serious.

  • Johndo

    The Velcro is what they need to improve. I have the Alpinestar Bionic (CE Level 2), and velcro barely holds anymore after just a few months. Everyone I know with those Alpinestar protectors complain that the velcros just don’t last. I’ll have my velcro replaced. I don’t leave home without it. It’s also great for touring as the strap in front gives you a bit of support. Only downside is when your stuck in traffic in hot weather, but its a little sacrifice for the protection you get.

    • RioRanchoNM

      I wear the Alpinestars Track Vest to avoid the velcro. http://stores.sportbiketrackgear.com/Detail.bok?no=7444. It’s CE2 and I wear it under all my different season jackets?

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        I love my Astars Track Vest, but I wear it under my leather suit, wear it maximizes the protection. Kinda overkill if you’re just riding around town.

    • http://www.cdavisdesigns.com Chris Davis

      I spec’d molded, perforated Velcro (along with vented elastic) on a moto kidney belt for this reason. The molded Velcro doesn’t get too hairy and the perfs allow for some evaporation at least. Thought I’d see more of this by now.

      • Miles Prower [690 Duke, MTS 1200]

        The velcro kidney belt for the back protector inside my Held jacket (the back protector is integrated into the jacket, but the jacket still includes a wide kidney/waist belt to keep the back protector located properly against your back even if the jacket is loose) is removable and replaceable if the velcro wears out.

  • Des Stapleton

    Thank you for posting this Wes! Was considering buying one of these but wondered just how much protection would come from the thin looking plastic? Plenty it would seem!

  • carbon

    Thanks for the great review! Any thoughts about Forcefield Pro Shirt?