by Rick K. for webBikeWorld.com
The USTEK "Night Armor" safety vest uses an interesting type of electroluminescent piping that has an appearance similar to neon.
The vest features a high-visibility yellow and orange shell with highly retro-reflective accents, making it suitable for day or night use for motorcycling and other activities.
webBikeWorld has always promoted safe motorcycle riding practices, including recommendations for improved motorcycle lighting and wearing highly visible clothing.
We have also published many reviews of reflective vests and other devices meant to improve the visibility of motorcycle riders.
The reviews were first published back in the days when black was "in" and high-viz was...well, let's just say that there was a time when high-viz wasn't very hip.
Some of these products were winners and some were a bit out there in terms of their usefulness or adaptability to motorcycles.
But we have always enjoyed bringing our readers new and interesting information about products they might not be aware of, or products designed for one sport or market that could be adapted for motorcycle use.
That's not necessarily the case with the new USTEK "Night Armor" electroluminescent vest...but it's still difficult to tell how adaptable these "electrically enhanced" reflective safety vests are for motorcycling.
Of course, a vest that is both highly retro-reflective and which has a high-visibility yellow or orange background isn't the question here.
It's the electrically powered LEDs, electroluminescence or other lights that are the unknown when it comes to adaptability for motorcycling.
We've reviewed several types of electrically enhanced safety vests over the years.
These include the PolyBrite vest (review) with its LED tube lights; the BeaconWear vest (review) with its "GlowSkin" electroluminescent strips and the LEDwear Aurora jacket (review) with its bright blinking LEDs and others (see the list of reflective safety vest reviews in the right-hand column).
The level of acceptance by the motorcycling community for these vests and jackets is unknown but since we're sometimes out on the "bleeding edge" of the high-visibility issue, who knows?
Maybe some day we'll see a general acceptance of electrically enhanced safety clothing also.
In the meantime, we'll continue to publish articles about new and interesting technologies, such as the very interesting USTEK electroluminescent system.
USTEK appears to be a consulting organization whose mission is to "advance emergent technology".
An email from the company claims that the electroluminescent system used in the vests was invented by a woman in Columbus, Ohio.
Supposedly, there is a patent, but there is no patent number or information printed on the vests and I'd guess that the details of the technology are secret.
In any case, the electroluminescent system is quite interesting and novel.
It consists of very thin (approx. 2 mm) clear plastic piping sewn into the vest at the edges of the unbranded retro-reflective striping that are themselves sewn on to the body of the vest.
The piping is made from a flexible plastic carrier for the electroluminescent tube or wire.
It's too small to see which, but it incorporates a tab that is used for the stitching, as illustrated in the photo on the left.
The piping is a single piece running the length and breadth of the vest.
It's simply terminated on one end and the other end feeds into a small box that holds two AA batteries and acts as the controller.
A small button on the box controls the electroluminescence.
The first press turns it on the continuous mode; the second press starts the slow blink mode and the third press starts a fast blink mode. Press the button once more and the system turns off.
The controller makes a very high-pitched "eeeeee..." noise when it's on and it goes on and off with the electroluminescence, even when it's in the flashing mode. It can be heard in a quiet room but just about any other ambient noise will drown it out.
USTEK claims the system is water-resistant and I'd say this is an accurate description. The piping is a continuous plastic tube and the far end is terminated in some type of a cap.
The piping at the battery end is covered with shrink tube where it connects to the controller. The battery box does not appear to be waterproof, having only a sliding plastic cover over the battery compartment..
The Night Armor vest is currently available in two styles; a mesh yoke style that wraps around the shoulders, back and waist and a non-mesh vest labeled as "ANSI-2" with a full zipper in front.
I'm assuming the "ANSI-2" label on the vest means that it complies with the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 standard for "Class II garments are for users who need greater visibility in poor weather conditions and whose activities occur near roadways where traffic speeds exceed 25 mph".
(ANSI - American National Standards Institute [not a U.S. government agency]. ISEA = International Safety Equipment Association).
The size L yoke vest we have is just barely able to fit over a size L 43" chest, even with the waist let out as far as it can go.
So I'd say the L is really an M and perhaps this one was mislabeled.
The size L ANSI-2 style vest fits as expected, with enough room to wear over a motorcycle jacket.
The material and stitching used on both of these vests is what I'd call "jogger" or "bicycle" quality.
That is, it's similar to the light-duty vests sold for those purposes.
The material and construction seems to be slightly less robust than required for pure motorcycle use, but for that matter, just about every one of the vests we've reviewed has about the same construction.
This type of vest is designed primarily for sports and activities other than motorcycling, so not a big surprise there.
And the bonus of owning a vest of this type is that it can be used for walking the dog, riding a bike, jogging or other activity.
It's also a good idea to store a high-visibility vest on the bike (or in the car) even if you're not wearing it, to use if you have a break down on the side of the road.
In fact, many European countries now require that passengers wear a safety vest outside of the car during an emergency.
The retro-reflective material used on the vest is unbranded but it's highly reflective.
The combination of the high-visibility color and the large strips of highly reflective material are the equal of any other vest of this type we've reviewed and the electroluminescent capability is a plus.
Although it's mostly illegal to have a flashing light on the motorcycle when riding, the electroluminescent piping can be switched to the always-on mode, although the effect can become somewhat diminished in the presence of headlights.
This is due to the overwhelming brightness of the retro-reflective material.
But otherwise, the effect is dramatic and very noticeable at dusk, in dim light, fog or at night. The vibrant blue neon color is unexpected to the viewer and has a type of 3D effect due to the way it reflects off the vest.
Unexpected is good when it comes to visibility and the color and type of light this vest radiates is definitely both.
The switch button on the controller is difficult to find because it's small and nearly flush with the surface of the box.
This probably isn't an issue with the intended users of the vest, because it's not that difficult to access the button when walking or bicycling.
The USTEK Night Armor electroluminescent vest is another interesting take on high-visibility for motorcyclists.
Although the fabric and overall construction is a bit disappointing on these early production samples, there's no question that the vest provides good visibility during the day and the retro-reflective material is very powerful.
The electroluminescent piping adds to the visibility while adding very little weight and complexity, making this an intriguing product for motorcycle use that can also serve many purposes around the home.
From "B.Z." (January 2011): "The vest looks like it is using a protected or sleeved version of E.L. wire which you can buy by the spool nowadays. I have seen performers making accented outfits with many different shades of the stuff.
It is neat to work with, but my ex-wife says it is a bitch to sew, but I am guessing that is why these people use the clear sleeve-like system for to help adhere it, or at least make the sewing easier.
I have seen road crews in California using safety vests with E.L. wire and I have seen them with flashing in series and strobe L.E.D. integrated lights into the vest as well.
I got a look at one of the L.E.D. ones, and it was neat because it only used two CR2032 3 Volt watch/wafer batteries."
From "J" (January 2011): "Good to see an article on these (relatively) low-cost investments in personal safety.
I have been wearing an Exelite LumiVest (www.exelite.co.nz) for the last 3 years and am more than satisfied with it as it weighs no more than my old reflective vest but offers much more proactive protection and visibility.
I work in the government roading sector (with direct involvement in road safety investment) and cannot understate the value of investment in the best safety clothing you can afford. If you ride at night or in low light conditions, one of these vests could save your life. A no-brainer IMHO."