This new Icon Field Armor Stryker armor is nearly perfect for its intended customer. The thing is, that’s not me. What I have to remember about HFL is that, despite our fascist insistence on all-black leathers and expensive jeans, we actually have a really diverse readership. Most of you guys don’t look and dress like Grant and I, so with that in mind I expanded my safety gear horizons with this D3O-equipped back, knee and elbow armor.
Here’s the deal with Icon — they’re the only bike gear brand actively attempting to do something about the huge number of young sportbike riders who don’t ride in appropriate safety gear. They’re tackling that problem creatively and aren’t held back by the kind of snobbery which sees other brands fail to offer the kind of gear Johnny Squid will want to wear. We admire that. Protecting more riders more of the time is a good thing.
What the Stryker gear is intended to do is offer a protection system for people that aren’t riding in proper protective jackets or suits. Kurt Walter, Icon’s design director, describes as “an unfortunate reality” the fact that there’s a bunch of people out there riding in cotton t-shirts or hoodies rather than leather or Cordura. As such, Stryker faces some unique challenges. Where normal body armor of the kind that fits in pockets in your jacket or leathers only has to deal with impacts, Stryker needs to help some guy in a t-shirt survive abrasion too. To do that, all these Stryker pieces use a hard plastic shell over impact ameliorating D3O foam.
The need for that plastic shell does limit Stryker’s possible applications. You’re not going to fit it into pockets on existing jackets and it’s not going to fit under jeans unless you’re still stuck in that whole mid-‘90s Jnco thing. If you are, you really need to put down the Hot Topic catalog. Like right now.
Unlike MX armor, which is similarly bulky, Stryker also needs to work on the road and on sportsbikes. That means a different kind of impact — likely on hard asphalt instead of soft dirt — and the need for greater articulation, particularly in the knees which will be folded up, inevitably on the pegs of a GSX-R.
I tested three items in the Stryker range:
The Icon Field Armor Stryker Vest. $110-140, incorporates a CE-approved back protector with D3O and articulated plastic plates plus anti-abrasion Helcor (the carbon-look stuff) across much of the torso.
Icon Field Armor Stryker Elbow. $70, CE-approved. You’re getting a press shot because I had a minor issue with the pre-production sample Icon sent me and returned it so they could take a look. It was a missing rivet that shouldn’t be a problem when the factory starts running stuff down a proper production line. Forgot to shoot it before I put it in the mail.
Icon Field Armor Stryker Knee Armor. $95, CE-approved.
There’s also non-vest back protector that’ll probably work better if you’re wearing it under a jacket and these shorts, which incorporate D3O in the hips and anti-abrasion aramid (the generic name for Kevlar) stretch panels. I just think these look like a good product, so I’m including a picture.
Learning about Stryker has actually been kind of a neat experience. I get so focussed on the kind of gear I like to wear — one-piece leathers when I’m riding fast, two-piece when I’m not, understated jeans and jackets in cities — that I probably forget about the needs of most other riders. Most people haven’t been riding most of their lives, don’t enjoy getting their knee down on the road or do a bunch of trackdays. Instead, they just enjoy riding their motorcycles. More power to them.
That less-experienced customer actually makes Stryker a more complicated product. “If it doesn't look cool guys won't buy or wear the protective device, thereby completely devaluing all our research and design time,” says Kurt. And that’s the big challenge here, getting people to want to wear the gear. “The final material in the Stryker construction is a compressed Biofoam. The Biofoam has comfort cushioning properties similar to the removable comfort liner in a helmet. While it is not necessary, it does increase the comfort of the product, thereby increasing the chance a rider will actually wear it.”
The carbon-look Helcor (which again adds extra abrasion protection around the perimeters of the proper plastic), orange mesh highlights and aggressively contoured plastic lends the Stryker armor a technical look. You feel like you’re dressing up for an episode of Gladiators or a cage fight when you put it on. It’s easy to put on too. The secure fit the elastic cuff lends the elbow armor was my favorite, but the vest brings with it a huge range of adjustment for the velcro attachments meaning it’ll fit skinny weenies like me or big fat ‘Busa riders equally well and the knee armor stays on totally securely despite initial reservations that the two velcro straps wouldn’t be enough.
Wearing all the above with jeans and a t-shirt, neither comfort nor limb articulation are affected over the street clothes alone. A layer of HydraDry wicking material means that’ll remain the case even on long, hot rides. The articulated elbow and shoulder pieces fold to stay close to your body when you bend that joint. Your knee, for example, presses against the plates, pushing them to fold against your thigh. Folded up on sportsbike pegs, the conform to the shape of your leg rather than stick out in the air and don’t impair movement as you transfer between riding positions.
That it's able to offer CE-approved protection completely unobtrusively is Stryker’s unique selling point. The previous generation of Field Armor set out with a similar goal, yet was bulkier and didn’t meet CE standards. Sure, a CE level 2 back protector would be safer, but it’d be bulkier too. With a demographic of riders looking for any excuse not to wear one, opting for the thinner, lighter standard is the right choice for this product. If you can’t tell you’re wearing it, then why not wear it?
Hopefully someone that survives a crash relatively uninjured thanks to Stryker will learn to appreciate the benefits of real safety gear and move on to a more advanced system of protection like that offered by the Icon Overlord Prime jacket or, who knows, maybe even eventually become a gear snob like me.