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A Study Shows How Bad Motorcycle Gear Is at Impact Protection

2020 Kawasaki KLX230

Your Helmet Does Provide Impact Protection

If you thought that jacket you wear while riding provides you with good abrasion and impact protection, then you’re really only believing a half-truth. Most gear that you wear provides little to no impact protection according to a recent study reported on by the German publication MotorradYour helmet is the only type of gear that provides adequate impact protection.

The study was conducted by German UDV (Accident Investigators of Insurers). What it found is that jackets, riding pants, boots, gloves, and most other gear are good at providing abrasion resistance. You can slide across the pavement and come out relatively unscathed. However, when it comes to making contact with hard objects, like a car, you’re gear is woefully lacking. 

Siegfried Brockmann, head of the UDV, said, “No practicable protective clothing is able to prevent a fatal injury in a collision with normal highway speed.” Basically, over 15 mph, that armor in your jacket and pants is more or less useless.

With that said, airbag jackets and vests do help. However, at speeds over 43 mph the airbag’s effectiveness is nullified. The UDV suggests further development in airbag technology. The UDV would like to see if it can be improved to be helpful at higher speeds.

  1. So why have I bothered with CE armored gear for all these years and upgraded back protectors in jackets that were sold with a simple foam pad? It appears I should have saved my money.

    1. The CE armor does help at low speeds but after a certain amount of speed, the effect is mostly nullified. Personally, I’d still have it in my jacket, but I won’t expect it to save me in the event of a serious accident. It helps, but not nearly enough.

      1. It’s worth noting that while the armor we wear might not protect at very high speeds the quoted (and worryingly low) speeds in the article would be for impacts directly into objects. An impact at an angle would look slower to the armor than your actual speed as it’s the vector of the velocity normal to the surface you hit that the armor sees.

        At the end of the day if you’re going highway speeds straight into something it’s silly to think an inch or less of padding is going to do as well as a foot or more of crumple zone in a car can.

  2. You can fall, but do not hit anything ? My upgraded back protector saved me more than once. The safety gear companies never promise safety in a head on collision with a car or a tree ?

    1. That’s essentially what the study showed. If you don’t have a serious impact during an accident, your jacket (and it’s armor or protectors) will do the job of keeping your skin on your body if they’re of high quality.

  3. The foam pad in jackets is there for the sewing process. It is so the person sewing leaves the right shape pocket. That foam pad is not for any kind of protection.

  4. I don’t know that anyone thinks motorcycle armor helps with *impact* protection (other than at low speeds with thinks like stones and road debris). I don’t think anything is going to meaningfully protect Impacting a car any speed. I wear armored gear to protect me from a slide. Hitting another vehicle puts me in God’s hands.

      1. Was this study about colliding with cars, which I agree armour won’t do much. But i find it’s quite effective when impacting against the ground. Tight fitting armour like dirt bike body armour helps alot and I use it for snowboarding as well, saved me at least one elbow fracture at least.

  5. Body protection [light to heavy] clearly reduces injury [scrapes, bruising and the like] depending on quality [Kevlar, etc.] and quantity [size, thickness, type of materials] of the protection used, especially at slower speeds. Regarding helmet type ~ full is more protection than half and the more ratings [i.e., DOT, ECE, Snell] the better. “Sturdy” high boots are better than tennis/running shoes. More quality gear yields more protection, no doubt.

  6. Thanks, Wade – I feel better about having bought a Helite air-bag jacket recently. And it’s worth remembering that in very few crashes do we actually leave the bike at >40 mph, unless we’re following the old “I had to lay ‘er down” philosophy.

    1. Hey Steve, that’s good to hear. I’ve been thinking about an airbag vest or jacket myself. I think this technology is only going to improve, so the more airbag tech available, the better.

  7. “Impact” isn’t meaning the road here, it means trees or cars of whatever, at speed. Of course gear doesn’t help that. But, plenty of crashes involve impacting the pavement, and good gear is super good at that. So, don’t go tossing your stuff just yet.

  8. Last Halloween I hit a deer that I never saw at 55 mph. I killed the deer and the impact and aftermath destroyed my Aerostich 2 pc, my right Sidi boot, my full face helmet and scuffed up my held gloves. I was wearing a Helite turtle airbag vest and apparently it worked. It was the only gear that was repairable. No broken bones, abrasions or even any bruising. Totalled my FJ-09 though. Wife came and drove me home. Doctors visit said probable slight concussion. I don’t remember much , but apparently I didn’t come to an abrupt stop.

  9. A car didn’t see me as we were making a curve on a hwy exit ramp. I was traveling ~65mph when he contacted my bike. I immediately went down. My right elbow took the impact. I was wearing a revit summer jacket. I use the revit seesoft back protector. The low side continued for about 60′ until the front wheel made contact with the road dividing curb. Being still “on” the bike I high sided and landed ~15′ from the curb on my back(I think). I just remember sitting up after the ride ended. A good portion of the sleeve was black and/ or burnt away from the friction. Where my forearm contracted the armor there was ~ 2″x3″ section of missing layers of skin from the friction of impact. No broken bones.

    I know it’s not the same as t boning a car. Or getting t boned by a car. I have no doubt my gear saved me a lot of skin and bone and the painful recovery that would have gone along with it.

  10. Thanks for this great post, I find it very interesting and very well thought out and put together. I look forward to reading your work in the future.

  11. 100% this. Armor is hugely effective, period. Saying that it doesn’t protect against impact because it’s not meaningful in a car v. bike accident is like saying that air bags aren’t effective because if you hit a wall at 140mph you’ll still die.

    Armor works. Wear it.

  12. All guarantees aside, physics does not change and the inertial changes experienced by an object brought to a halt or subject to impact will always be governed by the equation {f = m x a} Force = Mass times Acceleration.

    A tennisball bounces or rebounds because the surface ‘skin’ flexes to contain the impact energy. As the leading surface is impacted or brought to a halt, the intermediate material is absorbing the energy direction change as the trailing or nonimpact surface comes to a balance, more slowly, with the intermediate material and then is accelerated in the opposite direction from the impact to the strike.
    This also happens when a steel ball bearing is dropped on an anvil – all things are relative.

    In your favor is the speed of your reflexes and the experience of the rider who may anticipate the collision and may reduce the speed of travel by braking – converting momentum into heat, kicking the bike away – transferring momentum to another object, and initiating a slide to scrub off excess energy – more momentum into heat. Thereby reducing the impact energy that the personal protective equipment must handle. Half of highway speed is something you can live with.

    When a skull hits the wall… the skull stops and the brain coasts into the inside of the skull – slowed only by the fluid surrounding it and so you see stars. This is called coup-contrecoup. Crumple zones in cars and helmets absorb this energy reducing the brain crash into the skull – fewer stars if you are lucky.

    If the force exceeds the crumple-zone’s capacity for energy absorption, then the law of conservation of energy describes the distribution of force to any remaining structure. After a lethal fall the skin may be intact but the bones may be shattered and the organs may have burst.

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