The Best Motorcycle Back Protectors For Any Ride

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Motorcycle Back Protectors

Injuring your back is one of the worst things you can do. Fortunately, it’s also an easy area of the body to add serious protection to. No matter who you are, what you wear or how you ride, you can benefit from wearing one. This is how to do it. These are the best motorcycle back protectors you can buy.

Safety Standards:
Back protectors are certified to one of two safety standards: CE1 or CE2. They’re both pretty safe, but CE2 halves the amount of force that’s allowed to transfer through to the rider’s body. Typically, that comes at the expense of weight and bulk. Many suits and jackets are sold with non-CE-rated foam inserts. These provide no quantifiable protection in a crash and should be replaced immediately with something that will.

Wear-ability:
The safest back protector is the one you wear more often (preferably all the time), so buying something that’s inconveniently sized, shaped or that’s awkward to wear may actually be a less safe decision than buying something that’s easy and convenient.

Straps vs Pockets:
Strap-on back protectors cover a greater area of your back, but have to be worn separately and can be inconvenient as a result. Back protectors that fit in the provided pockets in jackets are fit-and-forget, but may not cover your lower back or coccyx all that well. They also work only in the specifically-shaped pockets they are made for, so you may not be able to transfer the protector from, say, an Alpinestars to a Dainese jacket or even between different models within the same brand. In the case of wanting to fit a back protector into a provided pocket, the best product is simply the one designed to fit it.

With all that understood, let’s look at the different kinds of riders, their needs, habits and try and identify which protectors will work best for them.

The Casual Rider:

Alpinestars Bionic Air Back Protector
Alpinestars Bionic Air Back Protector

Alpinestars Bionic Air — $120
This is what I wear under my armored Vanson AR2 when I’m just riding around town. Because it’s CE1, it’s light and slim and the perforated design vents extremely well. No sweaty back here. And, because it’s a strap-on, it covers the entirety of my back, from neck to tailbone. I’ve crashed in this and it provided excellent protection and I’m still able to wear it virtually every day. So slim, it won’t alter the fit of any jacket and works with literally any item of riding gear.

The Backpack Wearer:

Kriega Back Protector
Kriega Back Protector

Kriega Back Protector Insert — $75
This multi-density foam protector is made by Forcefield, it fits into any Kriega backpack and, despite being light and slim, manages a CE2 rating. It also covers a very large area of your back. Back protectors are a particularly good idea to wear with a backpack as they provide protection against the contents of the bag, which could be hard, sharp or both and injure you even in a light fall. I’ve had one of these fitted in my Kriega R35 for a year or more and it’s super convenient, providing protection without taking up volume.

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  • APG7

    Would you recommend a strap on protector in addition to a jacket insert? My main jacket is a REVIT Galaxy, and I wear it with the CE2 insert.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      One or the other. Your insert should be plenty.

      • Ben W

        So, is the main reason you wear the AStars protector with your Vanson specifically because it doesn’t have accommodation for back armor? If it has a spot for a back pad, would you still wear the separate protector?

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Yeah, no pocket for a back protector. But strap-on designs typically provide a greater area of coverage at the expense of convenience. Up to you which is more important.

          • Ben W

            I’ll have to try it sometime and see how inconvenient I find it for daily use. I’ve considered going with the Forcefield Pro Shirt under a RSD or Vanson jacket – maybe this little experiment will inform that decision. Thanks, Wes.

      • runnermatt

        My First Gear Jaunt jacket has one of the chintzy foam back pads and the pocket is oddly shaped. I’ve looked online and there doesn’t seem to be a better option that would fit in the pocket very well. That said, if/when I get a strap on back protector why not just leave the chintzy foam pad in the jacket pocket, especially on cold days for extra insulation?

  • Scheffy

    Don’t forget the D3O option: http://www.revzilla.com/motorcycle/klim-d3o-viper-t5-pro-back-protector
    The description says it’s for Klim jackets, but I’ve used mine in A*, Dainese, and Vansons with no issues. You can trim it to size if you have issues anyway.

    • thisbeingchris

      Doesn’t provide a large coverage area, but fits in my icon jacket well, and CE2 for only $40.. For the budget category can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t ditch the foam and at least upgrade to one of these.

      • Gonfern

        The cool thing about these molecular inserts is you can also cut them to fit any size pocket. I normally wear a stand alone but for short rides, I keep one of these in my revit jacket which has an odd shaped pocket. Reasonably light and cool. Def better than nothing.

  • Joe

    A local shop near me has teamed up with Vanson to create a sweet jacket using D3O protection. It’s pricy, but pretty. Check it out for yourself.

    http://www.uniongaragenyc.com

    • NOCHnoch

      It’s not out of this world expensive…but for that price I’d want it to be watertight, with sealed zippers. I’d rather save my money for a Roadcrafter Lite.

      • Piglet2010

        I have a Roadcrafter Light with the Competition back pad – great for taking a nap under a picnic table at a roadside park. Great suit, once I had the fit fixed with gussets ($75 + shipping).

        • NOCHnoch

          Whats the temperature range on that thing? I’m still torn between the regular and the Light…I live in NYC and get hot easily so I’m leaning towards the Light. Thoughts?

          • Piglet2010

            I find I can ride in the Roadcrafter Light up to 100°F during a high humidity, clear summer day. But my significantly less protective Joe Rocket Phoenix gear is more comfortable above 90º F, particularly when waiting at traffic lights and such. As for cold, down to about 20°F with a fleece jacket, jeans, and thermal underwear underneath (on a Honda Deauville with heated grips) for longer (e.g. 200 to 500 miles) day rides.

    • HellomynameisAG

      I was saw this firsthand at the shop the other day. Nice jacket. Def should check it out if you can.

    • Justin McClintock

      Not bad, but for that kinda money somebody from Fox Creek Leathers will be happy to make you a custom fit leather jacket….made in the USA no less.

      • Joe

        I agree that this is a bit pricy for a canvas jacket with some D3O. Vanson is made in the USA, and to me that is definitely worth a premium.
        I have an Icon jacket that serves me well for the street. It’s cool and functional, and cost me $350. I don’t plan on replacing it anytime soon, but if I was, I’d still have a hard time spending $700 for the same or less protection than my current Icon.

        http://www.revzilla.com/motorcycle/icon-overlord-resistance-jacket

  • grb

    Back protector will not save you from spinal cord injuries that are life changing (can cause paralysis) because this injuries generally happen because of overextension and twisting, for example if you’re sliding down the road on your back and hit a tree sideways, your legs go one way and your upper torso goes the other way, kinda like wrapping a tree. A back protector is not designed to protect you from injuries like this, its designed to protect against direct blows and scrapes, yet this type of injuries very rarely cause life threatening or life altering injuries. Its in all the statistics and reports. Like this one

    “Back protectors and lumbar protectors (EN 1621-2) are intended to provide protection against impacts against edges such as kerbing. However, while some 13% of motorcyclists sustain back injuries in crashes, the majority of these injuries are due to blows to the head or to bending and twisting of the back. A back protector will not prevent these types of injury. Less than 1% of injured riders suffer serious injuries from direct blows to the spinal area, however back protectors will provide protection from more minor injuries such as bruises and strains (EN 1621-2, p. 4).”

    You can explore this website for some really useful information, they have done a great job of compiling information from several global studies:

    http://roadsafety.mccofnsw.org.au/

    • grb

      This graph is also really cool, you can click on the different areas of the body, get the statistics and see which parts of your body are most at risk

      http://www.roadsafety.mccofnsw.org.au/a/91.html

    • Jhon Alexander

      Exactly…they are super vague and provide no definition as to what part of the “back” they are protecting. I’ve posted before on this subject so I’ll just go ahead and paraphrase again:
      At the very least CE2 should be the standard,,most people don’t even realize there is also CE3 CE1 is useless. In the case of back protectors, a CE1 will probably be ok for preventing muscular bruising and further abrasion at best…”Spine protection” is kind of a myth with any current back protector… A direct or severe side impact to the largest disc in your spine will cause fracture at 10kn..the smallest disc will fracture from a direct force as small as 2kn..any bone in general has a direct impact tolerance of 4-6kn..although rare (13% of accidents are back related,,BUT,,from blows through the head or the side, causing severe lateral hyper-extension)….curent back protectors aren’t going to do jack squat in a direct linear impact, ..best bet is to wear moto jeans or pants with hip pads,,a neck brace to mitigate axial loading on the spine..and at least a CE2 for the bruising….if you are unlucky enough to be in an accident that will directly affect your spine, these back protectors will do nothing for you…

      • eddi

        You can’t prevent all injury, but I’d rather have something between my back and the ground just to avoid road rash or picking up shrapnel from the shoulders. The insert is cheap insurance and the strap-on protectors aren’t that much money either.

        • Jhon Alexander

          Yes absolutely…something to hedge your bets is always better than nothing that’s for sure..I do suggest getting a CE2 for the bruising and abrasions. I myself wear the neck brace as well, even during street riding. Manufacturers should really practice a bit more responsibility in how they inform their customers, but of course there’s the bottom line, so they won’t. Just don’t have a false sense of protection in case you’re out there on the track doing 180mph down the straightaway. If there is a blow strong enough to break a disc, it will break no matter what.

      • runnermatt

        I’m assuming that “kn” is kilo-newtons. Also, I have some questions regarding the amount of protection you present as being offered. For instance, using the force numbers you provide; are you indicating that with a CE2 back protector that offers impact force protection of 9kn then the smallest vertebrate would break at 11kn and the largest at 19kn of impact force?

        True is your statement that protection can only protect so much because once crashes forces reach a certain level no amount of protection will help.

        Sidenote: I’ve heard that the leg bones in runners tend to be much stronger than the average person. The reason is because of the impact forces on the leg bones caused by running. Of course, this depends on running style (barefoot style only results in a fraction of the impact landing force) and running surface (sand at the beach is a lot softer than concrete sidewalks).

        • Jhon Alexander

          Hi Runnermatt, great questions!…I’m an avid runner myself so I’ll touch on that last one as well.

          “Kn” is indeed Kilo-Newtons (1000 Newtons). It certainly is a tough task to make sense of so many numbers when buying a product. the blame lies squarely on the manufacturers for intentionally misinforming the public. I’ve done extensive research on this and have attached a handy dandy graph below that answers many of these questions. I’ve made these public for my own business purposes. you should download it and zoom into the image :)

          To take into account the protection CE ratings offers, you have to look at the weight dropped. The test is performed with a 5kg “kerbstone” dropped from one meter to create the test impact energy of 50 Joules. The standard contains two levels of force transmission performance. 18kN passes LEVEL 1 “basic” compliance and 9kN passes LEVEL 2 “high performance compliance. the 5kg weight dropped is normally based on the average 50th or 95th percentile weight of a human male. So if you are of considerate weight or size, this obviously throws off the figures. I can give you all the formulas to figure all this stuff out if you need it.

          So for argument’s sake , let’s just say you are average 160lb rider. The back protector will only protect you from transmitted forces ABOVE 9kn. Meaning only the largest bones in the body are protected. The thing is , there aren’t many large enough bones in the body that can take 9kn. the largest disc will sustain a 10Kn impact, the smaller disc above that will take 9kn, the smaller one above that 7.5kn, the smaller one above that 6.5kn and so on until the smallest one at 1.5kn. Meaning that with a CE2 back protector, only your largest two discs are safe at best. All your other discs are susceptible to fracture.

          Medical experts even consider the allowed transmitted force levels of 9kn too severe; citing decades of automotive research which indicates 4kN is the maximum force the brittle bones which form the human ribcage can withstand before they fracture. You could fracture a kneecap with an impact force of 6.92 kN. You could fracture a human pelvis with an impact force of 7 kN as well. You could probably break most bones with an impact force of 20 kN. if you fall on your hands during riding, all it takes is 1kn-2kn to break the bones on your hands.

          I should say that spinal fractures are rare. Of the 13% of accidents that happen with a blow to the back only a smaller percentage of those end up with a fractured spine. It takes more than endorsements from poorly informed users to come to a definitive conclusion about the crash worthiness of any piece of protective gear. It seems ridiculous to buy gear based on marketing hype, sponsorship deals, rumors, arbitrary crash experience, looks, feel, and name recognition. Real, scientifically derived numbers should be the first reason for buying a piece of protective gear.

          Lastly, regarding the leg bones in runners. Being an avid runner/Sprinter I’ve looked into this myself a while back and have found no evidence as to the increase in bone strength or density as a result of running. Running will mostly strengthen the muscles being used for the type of running you are doing, thus the perception that it’s your bones. Bone are mostly affected by genes and diet.

          I should add to this that from my experience and expert advice, running on sand is NOT recommended. the softness of the sand give you the impression of a soft cushiony landing, however the opposite is true. Sand is an uneven surface and can wreak havoc on your knees, accelerating damage to your cartilage. Super soft running shoes are also terrible, they the job take away from your own body’s natural muscle composition in your feet and cause them to deteriorate. this causes both foot, knee and back problems.

          I used to run with the latest fanciest Asics a few years back, then I suffered a herniated disc. My doctors wanted to do surgery, I however decided to try and rehab through a few low impact exercises and have recuperated to 100% competition form.

          I started running barefoot on a rubber track. My local college stadium has one that they allow the public to use. this causes many changes, first you’ll notice that you will strike with the forefoot instead of your heel. It seems harsh at first and you may get a few cramps during the first few weeks, but if you go slow and steady, you will begin to develop a truly perfect running form. you will also notice the muscles and tendons in your feet, calves, legs and back are stronger than ever, you will even walk with a much straighter and faster gait.

          Most people claim they get injuries from barefoot running, but that’s because they approach it completely wrong thinking they can run in the same form as they did with their regular sneakers. You can’t run barefoot and strike with your heel, you will end up with knee and back problems. I will also suggest getting some Merrells for barefoot-like running in the street. it’s worked wonders for me and also improved my form for my sprint races.

          Hope all this helps Matt!…below is the graph

          Jhon

          • runnermatt

            Cool, thanks for all the info and putting the time into the research and making it available to everyone!

    • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

      This is correct, a back protector does nil to protect your spinal cord. Mind you, though, the spinal cord is not your spine but rather the tube of toothpaste that runs through it ( that how I’ve heard doctors describe it). Hits to the hips and shoulders are the common cause of spinal cord injuries. However, your back is more than just your spine. You have ribs, shoulder blades, a tailbone and internal organs than can easily be injured by getting hit in the back.

      • grb

        The spinal cord is within the spine. And yes, hits to the hips, shoulders, head, torso can cause the spine to bend or twist injuring the spinal cord inside. The thing is people worry about protecting their backs mostly because of injuries like this, and the majority of people think they are buying back protectors to reduce the possibility of paralysis. Manufacturers never talk about this because they want to let you believe what ever you want/need to believe, and they are cashing in on peoples fears.

        Just so you know, a back protector will not prevent injuries to the “ribs, shoulder blades, a tailbone and internal organs”. Still, like we said, its is better to wear every protection you can.

        • Jorn Bjorn Jorvi

          What are you saying here? I think we agree on the same points but I can t figure out what you’re arguing.

          • grb

            I had the same feeling about your comment “Mind you, though, the spinal cord is not your spine” which I thought you were insinuating I didn’t know or that you thought injuring one was not related with injuring the other. I guess I didn’t understand, sorry

  • Iceman

    I wear an icon stryker vest underneath a jacket with CE armor in the arms/shoulders. Good coverage and flexibility, although little more protection up front (in front of stomach/abs) would be nice. When you wear both the vest and jacket you also look pretty ripped, which never hurts if you’re after the babes!

    • eddi

      I look more like Quasimodo. But heck, my babe chasing days are few and far between these days.

  • Kevin

    Which one of these looks the baddest when rocking a hoodie?

  • augustdaysong

    I’ve heard somewhere (I forgot where, yeah yeah I know) that back injuries don’t come from direct impacts that back protectors would dampen, but from torsions and impacts to the shoulders, neck, and hips.

  • eddi

    I either use the Alpinestars insert or Icon Field Armor. The insert goes in my summer mesh jacket (a Tourmaster Intake Series 2 – perfect fit) when the temps hit the 80s(F). The Icon is for all other times.

  • nick2ny

    NEWSFLASH! You already own a back protector.

    Go to the recycle bin and fold up a cardboard box. I did my first track day on my R1 with five or six layers of folded cardboard box stuffed into the back protector pocket of my jacket. It couldn’t stop a bullet, but I could withstand some bashing from a crowbar or something.

    Cost: $0.

    • Hammertime

      CE rated cardboard? Sounds like a Mythbusters episode.

      • Davidabl2

        It must be said that the price is right…

  • Davidabl2

    It seems that there is very much more attention paid to protection from upper body injuries than to lower body injuries..which i understand are actually more common. The choices for armored lower body wear are
    much more limited than I feel that they ought to be–Just look at the Vanson line-up for example.

    • runnermatt

      I have a set of Rev-it Sand pants, which come with CE rated knee armor and cheap foam hip protectors. I’ve looked for hip armor upgrades, but none of the ones I see online look like they would fit. If manufactures are going to use the cheap foam stuff It would be nice if they would offer upgrades that fit their products.

      • Davidabl2

        My point exactly..if were a jacket and not a pair of pants you’d probably have multiple available choices for armor

        • runnermatt

          After posting my comment this morning I went to the Rev’it facebook page and posted on their wall the suggestion that they sell upgrade armor for their gear. Hopefully they will.

          • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

            Most Rev’It armor is SAS-Tech, which is quite good. You’ll find that most SAS-Tech armor fits Rev-It pockets.

            • runnermatt

              Cool and thanks. I’ll check it out in the morning.

    • appliance5000
  • Gerardo Astroball

    http://www.revzilla.com/motorcycle/tryonic-see-back-protector

    Tryonic See+

    Excellent value for the protection offered (CE2).. offers good flex as the manis design..

  • Devin Byrnes

    Note to the ladies: Get a jacket that has one built in. Especially if you are busty. It was impossible to find a strap attachment version (almost wrote strap-on) that is 100% comfortable for my wife. The belly strap seems to always sit too high up on the torso.

  • Kr Tong

    My favorite back protector is alpinestars track vest. At first it was hard to position correctly under my already-snug Laguna seca suit but I’ve learned that it will sit perfectly in place if I sandwich it behind the suit’s liner and the suit. Ce 2 protector, ce 1 chest and padding throughout and shoulders and ribs. No more positioning problems like I’ve had with other protectors .