Gear: Dainese Body Armor

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Category: Gear

Protecting your ribs, torso, back, hips and coccyx has traditionally required bulky, sweaty, constrictive foam and plastic body armor. The new Dainese Manis back protector and Dainese Norsorex vest and shorts promise more ventilation and greater freedom of movement in drastically slimmer packages.

Check out this picture of me from launch of the 2012 Honda CBR1000RR at Infineon. Muffin top much? The thing is, I'm actually quite slim, hovering around 12 to 14 percent body fat. That junk in my leather's trunk is all foam. Previously, I was wearing an Alpinestars Track Vest and Alpinestars Comp Pro Shorts under my leathers.

Now, here I am last week on the same bike, in the same leathers. Just wearing that Manis/Norsorex combo underneath. I'm benefiting from both greater protection and a much more svelte package. Looks a little better right? The other great thing is that this gear works as well on a dual sport as it does inside a kangaroo-skin onesie.

Dainese Norsorex Vest ($120)

Designed to provide CE-rated protection across the front half of your torso, the Norsorex vest uses hollow rubber pillars embedded in a foam base to asborb impact forces. As you can see, the area of protection is virtually all-encompassing, protecting my kidneys as well as my ribs. That armor is incredibly slim at around 1/4 of an inch thickness, while the vest is made from a form-fitting, polyester jersey material that also wicks sweat.

Because of the tight fit of the vest and the slimness of the armor, it fits under pretty much any article of riding gear and the wind flows through the suit's ventilation, through the hollow rubber pillars or the vest's jersery material, proving as cool-to-wear as riding without the protection. A silicon strip running around the inside bottom lining helps hold it all in place. Perfect.

Dainese Norsorex Shorts ($100)

Same deal as the vest, just with that same rubber-pillar armor across the hips and coccyx. After damaging my tailbone in that accident last fall, I realized what an important area that is to protect. Hips are less fragile, but you really don't want to break them, so these shorts add some welcome protection to any pants or suit. And also like the vest, they do so in such a slim package that they don't interfere whatsoever with your movement, all while breathing well enough that you won't know you're wearing them.

I actually wear Alpinestars SummerTech long undies under the Norsorex gear for their compression, wicking and anti-chafing function. You could totally wear Norsorex on its own, but I wanted to cover my shoulders and lower legs, just to make riding in leathers or my Dainese Teren suit that much more comfortable.

I've worn this Norsorex combo under my Dainese Teren suit on AltRider's Taste of Dakar, under my Icon one-piece aboard the 1199 R at COTA and on countless rides on the street. February to June and I have yet to wash them (you have to do so by hand, in cold water) and they're not the least bit stinky or stretched out and show zero signs of wear. These should last a long time and work in virtually any type of riding. Not bad for a total cost of $220.

Dainese Manis Back Protector ($220)

The Norsorex vest lacks any back protection, being designed to work with a separate, strap-on back protector. This is the latest and greatest from Dainese, replacing the popular Wave.

Like Wave, Manis is made to the higher, CE2, safety standard and constructed from a plastic shell over a crushable, impact-absorbing interior. But wear Wave uses a an aluminum honeycomb crumple zone, Manis has a high-density, foam-like material. Very noticeably, gone are Wave's huge, distinctive ridges in favor of a much more low-profile design. We've heard complaints from a number of people that those huge ridges on Wave led to pressure points in crashes, wearing holes in leathers that would otherwise have survived unscathed. They also made pulling tight leathers on over Wave very difficult.

Comfort, flexibility and ease of use are what Dainese targeted in Manis's design. Where Wave simply flexes forward, the same articulated panels on Manis are connected to each other by rubber bands, allowing it to twist and grow as the rider's body is contorted into different positions on the bike. Where Wave was simply a comfortable, safe back protector, you always felt you wear wearing it. Manis literally disappears once its under your leathers, giving you the same freedom of movement you'd have if you weren't wearing a back protector at all. This isn't something I noticed was constricting my movement until the first time I rode in Manis, where I immediately found it far easer to achieve correct body position.

Thanks to this design, Manis is able to grow in length by eight percent or twist in 25 degrees to the left or right. That doesn't really tell the whole story because each of the six plates moves independently. Truly allowing it to conform to your body's twists and contortions.

Helping that comfort are neoprene shoulder and waist straps that lie completely flat, also adapting to your body's contours. Those waist straps connect to the back protector using a sort of Velcro sandwich. That holds the straps with complete security, but also allows you to tailor their position to get fit and comfort totally dialed in.

Perforations run all the way through Manis's plastic shell, crumple zone and the comfort foam lining that lays against your back, allowing air to flow through freely.

Together, all this new body armor from Dainese keeps me protected against injury, while allowing much greater freedom of movement, comfort and ventilation than I've experienced before. Wearing complete protection has never been easier.

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