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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.

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