Crash Tested: Vanson AR2 jacket and Alpinestars Bio Armor

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If you’re a regular HFL reader then you’re familiar with the Vanson AR2. Over the last year and a half that I’ve been wearing, it’s become utterly synonymous with who I am. There’s a good reason for that. I wear it every day, everywhere, on and off the bike. And I was wearing it when I crashed last week too. Can a good looking jacket with no logos, no day-glo colors and, gasp, no speed hump really protect you in a crash?

In short: yes. While the old metalwork in my left arm popped its screws and shredded my Ulna, I think that was more down to its inherent and ongoing weakness and vulnerability than it was impact protection or lack thereof. Aside from that and the two fractured ribs, my upper body is unmarked.

That Vanson’s “competition weight” leather and doubled up, hidden stitching is capable of resisting abrasion should come as no surprise. It’s heavy, thick and stiff in a way that the products from no other jacket manufacturer have ever been. But, I was relieved by how well the Alpinestars Bio Armor in the elbows and shoulders performed. As you can tell, this was a pretty significant tumble, but despite my crappy sewing, the armor didn’t shift at all and provided excellent impact protection. I struck my elbow very hard in the initial fall, it was the first body part to contact the ground, yet there was no impact damage to it. Judging by the scuffing, my left shoulder and right elbow also made contact, again with no injury.

Alpinestars claims BioArmor exceeds the impact absorption decreed by CE testing by more than double. Judging by its performance here, we have no reason to doubt those claims. That the armor is also slightly less than 1.5cm thick and contoured to its intended body part is also a boon, meaning it fits invisibly inside the AR2 with no added bulk or distortion. You cannot tell I have armor in this jacket when I wear it, yet it protected me very well in a significant crash.

More so than probably any other item of clothing, the overbuilt nature of the Vanson requires a significant break-in period. As soon as I got it, I spent a few days oiling it, crumpling it up and stacking it under freeweights, redoing the oil and crumple every half day or so. Then I slept in it every night for a week. That at least made it look somewhat used, even if it was still stiff enough to stand up on its own and totally alter the way I walked. Other Vanson owners will be familiar with doing the robot; walking with stiff, exaggerated upper body movements dictated by the weight and stiffness.

In fact, I’d only recently really started to feel that the AR2 was softening up and conforming to my body and movements. That’s after a year and a half of wearing it everywhere from New York snow to desert heat.

And I do mean desert heat. The jacket has no ventilation of any kind, but by undoing the main zipper down to my sternum, I was able to remain cool enough to ride through gridlocked LA traffic in temps up to about 98 degrees. Beyond that, I really started to get uncomfortable.

The overbuilt nature extends to the hardware too. Big, brass YKK zips act smoothly and feel like they’ll last forever. If they don’t, this is the kind of jacket you get stuff fixed and replaced on, rather than replacing the jacket itself.

Wearing it had become so natural and so comfortable and just so right, that the AR2 had literally become a part of me. Without its reassuring protection, I felt naked. “Aren’t you hot?” people would ask me in bars or whatever. Nope, I’m just fine.

Photo: Clement Pascal

It’s with relief, then, that after looking at these pictures, the folks at Vanson say repairs should be no problem. The AR2 is currently winging its way to their Massachusetts factory where their in-house repairs department is going to get it looking good-as-new again. I’m opting for new panels over patches to retain the understated look. Can’t say I’m looking forward to breaking those in again, but I am looking forward to getting my jacket back. Without it, I feel like a big part of me is missing.

  • Patrick from Astoria

    I’m totally guilty of Monday-morning-quarterbacking on this, but just a thought: Given how well it works and how thin it is, is there any reason that the Bio Armor can’t be sewn into a pair of jeans in critical places? Or is it that the denim will just completely shred?

    And what about other pants – military-surplus fatigues, Carhartts and Dickies, other industrial-grade clothing? Proper gear designed for this kind of thing is still the one best reasonable option, of course, but anyone have experience with other compromises?

    • Wes Siler

      The denim (or any other non-motorcycle specific pant) will just shred.

    • Scott

      Just thought I would mention that I had a crash wearing pants made of firehose fabric by Duluth Trading Post that did not shred or rip at all. The car struck me from the right as the driver attempted a U-turn to the left immediately after entering my lane. I couldn’t stop so turned with him to avoid going over the hood or rear-ending him. The only small abrasions to the pants occurred over the ankle protector in my boot as it was pinned between the car and my bike. I hit so hard the fabric left an imprint in the plastic cup of my EVS SC05 knee pads that I wear under my work pants, but again, no damage to the pants – I still wear them. I was very impressed with the knee pads, as I think I would have had a severe injury without them. Nothing broken, just bruises and a totaled bike.

  • Coreyvwc

    Damn man, are you sure you were only going 35 or 40? I’ve had 2 fairly high speed crashes in my cheap shit A*’s full suit and have only scuffs, busted stitching, and an ER visit to show for it. I only ask because I know how much thicker Vanson leather is than the crap A* uses, and you’ve got full on ripped open leather going on there! Perhaps just a crappy roll of the dice I suppose…

    That is a seriously badass looking jacket though.

    • Wes Siler

      Yeah. City streets here are pretty nasty. It’s all ridges and holes and cracks and heaves and debris.

  • http://MotoJeans John in Santa Monica

    What is the location of that big hole?

    • Wes Siler

      Left foream. Looks like my arm pushing the armor into the leather forced some extra abrasion there, pressure point.

  • Gene

    “Aren’t you hot?”

    “Do you think so? Thank you, sweetie!”

  • http://gooddeal Craig

    Glad to see you are mostly ok. Your article about jeans really opened my eyes. Thanks Wes and heal up quick.

  • Malcolm

    Wes i hope you get better quick. I have enjoyed the site since i found it.

    I agree with you whole heartily about the wanting protective gear that is good without you looking like a power ranger. I have gear and that is the comment i get the most.

  • Frosty_spl

    Wearing it to sleep? haha I bet your lady friend likes that.

    Glad you are healing up!

  • Troy Smith

    You talk about the stiffness and weight of the jacket as if it’s a good thing. Sounds like rationalization to me. Stiffness is a pain in the ass.

    I never crashed in them, but i had a pair of Langlitz Leathers handmade in Portland, OR (they’re an institution, check them out if you’re not familiar, that were made out of goat hide instead of cow. They are much softer and more supple and supposedly offer the same protection as cow hide. They were very comfortable.

    No explanation of the crash?

    • x

      first time on the site?

  • Campisi

    While you have them on the line, ask Vanson if they’ll consider offering armour pockets in the lining as an extra-cost option…

  • carbon

    You crashed on shards of auto glass, right? That stuff would rip into anything.

  • carbon

    sorry, double post, deleted

  • circuitsports

    its a cool jacket but with your tshirt hanging out the bottom it looks too short so I would have a hard time wearing it off the bike.

    Also if your having issues with break in you might try rubbing it down with several coats of 303 aerospace over a few days which will also act as a UV barrier.

    That design reminds me of the one merona had a few years back for 100 bux at target. Went down in the dirt with one on Decker Canyon and it held up fairly well.

    Even found a pic

  • Tyler

    Any recommendation for a similar jacket that’s a little less expensive? I love the style it’s just a little more than I can afford.

  • cdeforrest

    It’s like the last month never happened!

    Still haven’t hired any proper IT guys, have you?

  • Adam N

    I feel like the people that write this blog crash a lot. I can’t really tell one crash from another. Wasn’t there a big crash last year, maybe two. Didn’t a Ural get crashed and the someone crashed on the street?

    If I had friends that crashed this much I wouldn’t ride with them anymore.

  • Kyle Toy

    Hey Wes, how about posting come photos of how you sewed the bio armor into the jacket? Or maybe an instructional (tips on how to make sure it gets sewn into the right place securely), for those of us looking to do the same with results as successful as yours.

  • Mirrory

    Man I’m the same way with my roland sands ronnin jacket. I’ve wrecked in it, rode in rain in it. I’ve taken it from 30 degree temps to 110+ simple jackets are the best jackets.

  • Scott-jay

    Wes Siler is NOT fastidious!
    He’s just thin-skinned ..

  • Eric

    I miss the pay wall.

  • sidecar_freak


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  • Scott-jay