Most riding jackets/pants made today–at least the stuff worth paying real American dollars for–includes protective armor, which is usually removable and often adjustable for proper fit. Foam rubber pads made of various materials are located at places where impacts are most likely to occur. For jackets, that includes the elbows, shoulders and back; for pants, it’s the knees and hips. The quality of such armor varies, often in correlation with price and quality of the garment itself. The best stuff is “CE approved,” which means it has met quality assurance criteria established by the European Union.
Although the armor that is attached to the lining of jackets and/or pants may be of good quality, this approach can be limiting for ADV riding. Jackets and pants that are sized large enough to allow layering underneath (base layer, fleece, heated garments, etc.) may be rather loose-fitting when these garments are removed or not worn at all. Adding and removing layers is common on long rides that include big elevation changes or a variety of micro-climates. A baggy jacket or pants may be comfortable and allow plenty of movement on the bike, but in the event of a get-off the fabric may twist and the armor may not be where it needs to be upon impact.
Alternatively, you can wear separate, dedicated armor beneath your riding jacket/pants. Some ADV riders adopt the motocross approach and wear thin nylon jerseys and pants over elbow and knee guards/braces, with a hard plastic “roost” guard over their jersey to protect their chest, back and shoulders. Or, for upper body protection, they invest in a mesh jacket or shirt that has built-in armor.
Alpinestars, the Italian maker of high-quality motorsports gear and apparel with the well-known A-stars logo, offers several such jackets. We tested the Bionic 2 Protection Jacket, which looks made for a Star Wars Stormtrooper with its black mesh covered with plates of white hard plastic armor (also available with black armor outlined in red). The mesh jacket fits snugly, as it should, over a thin polypropylene base layer, and zips up the front. Hook-and-loop cinch straps at the forearm help keep the elbow/forearm armor in place, while adjustable straps connecting the shoulder armor and chest pads help dial in a secure fit. A large kidney belt provides further security as well as lower back support.
One of the most reassuring features is the large, reticulated, ventilated back protector. It covers the entire back, widest at the shoulder blades and narrowing to a rounded end that covers the tailbone (and thus is below the waistline). The back protector, which is adapted from the Bionic Back Protector($129.95) that I wear beneath my roadracing leathers, can be zipped off the jacket to allow for easy cleaning, or to be worn separately. Alpinestars says the Bionic 2′s back protector uses exclusive DFD technology for 15mm less thickness and 130g less weight than the previous generation while still offering CE Level 2 protection. The five interlocking plates conform to the shape of the back, yet they lock to lessen hyperextension of the back.
The stretchy mesh jacket allows complete freedom of movement, though the hard plastic armor adds bulkiness–a small price to pay for protection. For maximum versatility, I wear the Bionic 2 over a base layer, and then wear a motocross jersey over the armored jacket. Lastly, I wear a waterproof outer shell over the jersey. When it gets hot, I shed the outer shell and/or the motocross jersey. And yes, I’ve crashed a few times wearing the Bionic 2. Tumbles on irregular, rocky terrain have been minor incidents thanks to the reassuring protection of the hard plastic armor.
The Bionic 2 Protection jacket is available in black/white and black/red for $229.95, in sizes Small to Double X-Large. For more information, see your dealer or contact Alpinestars at (310) 891-0222 or www.alpinestars.com.
(photography by Paul Beck)