Battle of the Body Protectors
A long time ago, I discovered the benefits of ditching the stock protectors included with motorcycle clothing and wearing protective (“armored”) underwear instead.
There are a couple of reasons for doing this.
First, the armored underwear is elastic, so it locates the protectors right where they need to be and keeps them there.
That’s quite unlike the elbow and shoulder protectors in a jacket or the knee protectors in pants.
Both of those garments are designed with extra room to be comfortable when you’re riding.
So it’s nearly impossible for the protectors to stay in place and not slide around in an accident, just when you need them the most.
Also, most motorcyclists buy their jackets and pants at least one size too big, for comfort.
If you put a properly sized jacket on the average motorcyclists, he or she would complain that it’s too tight. But I guess we’ll never change bad habits.
Second, the stretchy fabric in the armored underwear just feels comfortable.
The looser-fitting clothing slides over the top of the polyester fabric netting of the protective underwear.
This makes riding much more comfortable, as the outer clothing shell has more freedom to move without binding as you move around on the seat and pegs.
All of that goes double for jeans and since they almost never have properly located protectors, the protective pants are crucial.
So both Rick and I wear protective underwear underneath everything from jeans to even the high-end waterproof jackets and pants.
We have both been wearing the Bohn CoolAir Bodyguard undies for many years and that brand/type has been my favorite also.
The Bohn Bodyguard system comes in an armored underpants (knee, hip and tailbone protectors) and shirts, which have elbow and shoulder protectors along with a built-in back protector in the latest versions.
And now that I think about it, the built-in back protector is yet another benefit.
Many motorcycle riders do not wear separate back protectors for one reason or another (mostly for reasons of comfort).
So having a back protector insert built into the underwear at least gets you some protection you might otherwise forego.
Of course, there is a downside. Or two actually.
First of all, there’s the extra cost of buying the protective underwear.
For example, the Forcefield EX-K harness shirt shown here lists for $349.00, and that’s without the accessory elbow protectors that will set you back another hundred bucks.
A set of the Bohn CoolAir underpants and shirt will cost about $340.00, although Bohn sometimes runs about a 10% discount when you buy the set.
And the Bohn Airtex combo lists for around $310.00, or $275.00 for the set with the discount.
By the way, you can also buy just the shirt or pants “shells” individually if yours wears out.
You can then insert the protectors from your existing Bohn garment and it might even be possible to use other brands of protectors, although we haven’t tried that.
The second issue is having to put on an extra layer of gear before you head out for a ride.
Part of the reason too many motorcyclists don’t wear protective clothing is that they don’t want to take the extra time and effort involved in “suiting up”.
That’s especially so if they plan on going to a public destination, like a store or restaurant.
But it’s actually pretty easy to slip into any of these garments; it quickly becomes a habit and the most important point is that you’re significantly improving your potential for protection.
So let’s take a look at these three examples…
Bohn Bodyguard CoolAir Armored Shirt
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The Bohn Bodyguard CoolAir Armored Shirt
Both Rick and I (and Burn) have been wearing the Bohn Bodyguard CoolAir products for many years.
I actually started this trend with the Bohn Bodyguard CoolAir pants (review), ten years ago in 2005. I was looking for some protection to wear underneath motorcycle jeans and the Bohn underpants did the job.
I had a few doubts at first about the construction of the “see through” nylon shell.
As you can see, the shell or carrier for the protectors looks like a woman’s nylon stocking.
At first, I assumed that my fingers would poke through it as easy as they would through cellophane, but that turned out to be very wrong.
In fact, I am still wearing that same exact pair shown in the review, now 10 years later.
I’ve washed them and I wear them very often and the only problem is a small hole on one side at the waist, just under the waistband.
I think this happened from the constant pulling on that one area, where the elastic waistband eventually separated from the nylon mesh.
But that was a few years ago and the hole still hasn’t expanded, which says something for the surprising toughness of the fabric, so in that regard, these are quite unlike women’s nylons.
A few years later, I bought the Bodyguard CoolAir top, just like the brand new one shown here. Surprise: in all that time, the price hasn’t changed!
The reason we like the Bohn Bodyguard CoolAir series more than any other types is that the nylon mesh is perfect for this type of application.
It doesn’t block any air flow at all (at least in the areas beyond the protectors) and it’s nice and snugly form-fitting.
The design makes it easy to put on and take off both the shirt and pants, which slide very nicely underneath any motorcycle jacket or pants.
The protectors are easily removed if desired and the nylon shell can be washed.
It doesn’t take much to wash it; I use a sink full of Woolite to wash mine (and my secret is that I don’t always remove the protectors when I wash by hand, rinse with clear water and hang to dry).
But honestly, there’s not much washing to do. I’ve probably washed mine only 3-4 times in 10 years with no issues.
And get this: Bohn products are made in the U.S.A.
While that may not matter to our friends outside of the U.S., finding a product that’s actually made in the U.S.A. is (unfortunately) a rare enough occurrence here that it’s something to celebrate.
The Bohn CoolAir series is also very light weight. The top shown here weighs just 430 grams (a touch under 1 lb.).
That compares to 907 grams for the Bohn Bodyguard Airtex shirt and it’s a massive difference from the slightly over 2 kg weight of the Forcefield EX-K Harness (without its elbow protectors).
Once you get used to slipping into the Bohn CoolAir pants and shirt, it really takes very little additional time.
The only issue is that the Bodyguard CoolAir pants and shirt do not have “Level” rated CE protectors and the back insert is apparently completely unrated.
The Bohn “Zorb” shoulder, elbow (and knee protectors and hip/tailbone protectors in the pants) are labeled only as “CE Approved”.
For more information on that, read the webBikeWorld report “CE Certified vs. Approved: There Is a Difference“.
So the back protector isn’t Level 1 or Level 2, but on the notion that “some protection is better than no protection”, the CoolAir garments have to be better than…nothing.
And our feeling is they’re certainly better than the “floating” protectors used in most of the motorcycle jackets and pants.
Fortunately, none of us have had to rely on the Bohn garments or any other protective gear during a crash…and let’s hope it remains that way.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear protection; Mr. Murphy’s law says that the day you don’t wear it is the day you’ll need it.
Bohn Bodyguard CoolAir Conclusion
At the risk of coming to the final conclusion before we’ve even covered 1/3 of the products in this review, I’ll say that the Bohn Bodyguard CoolAir shirt is our all-around favorite.
It may not have the ultimate level of protection and it may look a little goofy with the see-through mesh.
But since you’re only wearing it under a jacket, no one will ever see it, so who cares?
It fits perfectly, it’s very comfortable, it flows a lot of air right through, it’s light enough that you’ll never even realize you’re wearing it and it should have enough padding to do the job.
Bohn Bodyguard Airtex Armored Shirt
The Bohn Bodyguard Airtex Armored Shirt
The only difference I can tell between the the CoolAir and Airtex shirts is the fabric used in the shell.
Bohn says that the Airtex shirt is “…made especially for those hot States where heat and humidity make you face that old dilemma – ride in a T-shirt and be cool and unprotected, or wear a suit and get cooked alive!”
The Bohn website also indicates that the Airtex shirt can be worn as your only garment; i.e., without a jacket over the top.
In fact, the Airtex shirt comes in high-viz yellow, orange and white/blue if you’d like to do that.
I’d have a hard time recommending that however, because the thin nylon shell is in no way a protective jacket and my fear would be that it would be sliced to ribbons as soon as it hit the asphalt.
The “cool in summer” statement is a little off to me.
That’s because in my experience with both shirts — which spans years — the Airtex shirt is noticeably warmer when I wear it under a jacket, as I always do, because it flows less air than the CoolAir version.
Because of that, the Airtex shirt is a little better in cold weather.
The Airtex shirt also has a more “traditional” solid fabric covering the protectors, and maybe that helps the overall integrity of the garment?
I just like the feel of the CoolAir shirt (and pants) better. The CoolAir version flows more air — there’s literally no blocking of air through the mesh in the CoolAir shirt.
But, I can totally understand why some motorcyclists may just feel more secure wearing the more traditional type of fabric shirt.
Not that the Airtex shirt completely blocks the air flow — it’s actually pretty good and much better than the heavy Forcefield EX-K Harness I’ll describe in the next section.
The fabric used in the Airtex shirt actually feels even more “slippery” than that used in the CoolAir shirt, so that’s good.
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At 907 grams for this size large, the Airtex shirt is nearly twice the weight of the CoolAir shirt in the same size, which is probably an indication of the heftier fabric. But it’s still a featherweight compared to the Forcefield EX-K Harness.
As far as I can tell, the Airtex shirt and pants use the identical protectors as found in the CoolAir products, so there’s no difference there.
It’s labeled as “CE Approved” but apparently not Level 1 or 2 rated and not officially tested at an independent lab.
Again, that means the same pros and cons as I described for the CoolAir shirt in the previous section.
Bohn Bodyguard Airtex Armored Shirt Conclusion
The Bohn Bodyguard Airtex Armored Shirt is just as good as the CoolAir shirt in my opinion, with the caveats I noted above, mainly that the fabric is decidedly heavier and doesn’t have the same levels of air flow.
But some may like that fabric better and the Airtex actually has a lower list price for some reason ($149.00 vs. $163.00 for the CoolAir shirt).
Buy either the CoolAir or Airtex shirt (and pants) and wear ’em under your favorite pair of jeans or protector de-contented textile or leather jacket and pants and you’ll feel better in more ways than one.
Forcefield EX-K Harness Flite+
The Forcefield EX-K Harness Flite+
Actually, comparing the Forcefield EX-K Harness (not sure I would have called this a “Harness” if I were in charge) to the Bohn Bodyguard shirts is like comparing the venerable apple to the orange.
Those two are both fruits, they both grow on trees and…that’s about it.
In this case, the Bohn vs. Forcefield upper protectors are both protective under-garments, but that’s about it.
The Forcefield EX-K is a brutish, heavy-duty protective “armor” that is built like a tank…and looks like one too.
One of the major differences between the Bohn Bodyguard series and the Forcefield EX-K is that the latter has CE Level 2 back, chest and shoulder protection, along with Kevlar threads tying everything together.
That right there is a huge difference and it also accounts for the 75% greater mass compared to the Bohn CoolAir shirt.
The EX-K Harness Flite+ weighs 2 kg, and that’s without the elbow protectors that I’d guess would add another 750 grams.
All of that surely comes from the thick Forcefield protectors.
So if you’re really looking for true CE Approved protection at about the highest Level 2 currently possible, this is it. And not only do you get full back protection, but chest protection also.
Wearing the Harness
It’s also not quite as easy to slip into as the other shirts. Initially, you set the adjustment straps at the upper part of the shoulders that attaches the front and back sections of the entire EX-K Harness. Then adjust the straps to locate the shoulder protectors comfortably for your body shape.
This latest version of the EX-K Harness now has a short zipper in front, between the two plates, which makes it easier to “suit up”.
Once the Harness is on, adjust the hook-and-loop straps that secure the lower part of the shoulder protector around your biceps.
Finally, wrap the wide “kidney belt” around your stomach and stick it using the wide hook-and-loop section.
Many motorcyclists don’t like this part, which is pretty much standard on every racing style back protector. It can take a while to get used to having that big strap around your stomach, especially if said stomach isn’t as flat as it once was…
Once it’s all adjusted, next time you only need the belt, the short front zipper and possibly some adjustments to the strap around the biceps.
It’s not as cumbersome as it sounds but it’s not as easy as sliding into one of the shirts.
In fact, for most street use, the Forcefield Pro Shirt (review), the webBikeWorld Product of the Year in 2012, is probably a better choice.
It is one of our favorite protective shirts and it’s very comfortable.
But since we reviewed that one already and since the EX-K Harness Flite+ was new and we had one available, this is the one we chose for this review.
It’s also probably a more suitable Forcefield product to use for this comparison, but you have to play the cards your dealt and this is the selection we have.
One other note: if you’re riding off-road for real, however, the EX-K Harness is what you want.
The chest protector laughs at rocks tossed your way and that’s another big difference between this product and the shirts.
You’ll pay for the privilege though — the EX-K Harness Flite+ version shown here lists for $349.00 without the elbow protectors, which are an additional $99.00.
But heck — if you’re going this far, forget the EX-K Harness Flite+ and go all-in for the Forcefield EX-K Harness Adventure.
It has the back and chest protector and the shoulder and elbow protectors included in one unit.
It lists for $399.00 (and is currently on sale for a screamin’ deal price of $239.00 at RevZilla, the webBikeWorld Affiliate).
There’s also an EX-K Harness Flite version (without the +), which is the back protector with a chest protector but no shoulder or elbow protectors.
If you need a Level 2 back protector and would like chest protection also, while using your jacket’s shoulder and elbow protectors, this is the one to get.
In fact, Forcefield has just about any and every combination of back, chest, shoulder, elbow, hip, knee and every other type of protection you can think of.
Where to Buy Motorcycle Protective Underwear
The EX-K Harness has the unique Forcefield perforated protectors, but there’s no getting around the fact that this setup — especially with the chest protectors in place — isn’t going to flow a lot of air.
It’s also pretty bulky, so you’ll need to size up a notch or two in your jacket.
I will say, however, that once your body heat warms up the Forcefield “Nitrex Evo” protector material with memory, the EX-K Harness isn’t as stiff as it looks in these photos.
There’s also a lot of adjustment range and you’ll either love or hate the belt on the bottom, which keeps the back protector in place.
Forcefield EX-K Harness Flite+ Conclusion
There’s no doubt about it, the Forcefield EX-K Harness Flite+ is “Professional Grade”.
It is obviously in a different class compared to the Bohn Bodyguard series, with the CoolAir and Airtex shirts described above. But, for street riding only, it may be overkill for anyone but the most cautious.
To a certain extent, you get what you pay for here, including the Level 2 protectors, which are currently about the ultimate level of CE Approved protection.
The EX-K Harness works nicely under a 3/4-length textile jacket, especially for hard-core Adventure-Tourers.
Strip that cheap “armor” from your existing jacket and chuck it in the dumpster and wear the Forcefield instead.
Just make sure that if you’re going this route, go all out and get the EX-K Adventure Harness because it includes the elbow protectors that are a 100 buck option on the EX-K Harness Flite+.
This is a tough one because it’s more or less user’s choice.
Our all-around, all-time favorite that three of us wear almost all the time, under any type of motorcycle riding clothing, is the Bohn Bodyguard CoolAir shirt and/or pants.
They flow as much air as possible (at least around the protectors) and they’re very easy to put on and remove.
They feel comfortable under clothing and they keep the protectors in place, where they should be.
The downside is that the CE ratings are unclear, but the protection is still probably better and will stay correctly located compared to most jackets and especially pants and jeans.
Nearly identical is the Bohn Bodyguard Airtex series, which has the same level of protection but with a more substantial shell that some motorcyclists may prefer.
And don’t forget the Forcefield Pro Shirt (review), which has excellent protection and comfort but isn’t as “flow-through” as the Bohn shirts.
Finally, for all-out protection at the highest levels available, the Forcefield EX-K Harness is the bee’s knees.
It’s like a Forcefield back protector with all the options, although you’ll need the additional elbow protectors anyway, so go for the EX-K Harness Adventure instead.
One other benefit of this type of protective underwear: the protectors in jackets and pants are located in a general average position.
But many riders aren’t “average”, so the protectors don’t locate in the correct positions.
This is a significant problem with knee armor in pants, as many webBikeWorld readers have complained about over the years.
Wearing this type of protective underwear makes it easier to correctly locate the protectors.
Whatever you do, forget that cheap “armor” in your off-the-shelf jacket and pants — and especially in jeans.
If the clothing doesn’t fit tightly and doesn’t have straps to hold the protectors, it most likely will not stay in place in a crash, thus it’s worthless.
You’ll find it more comfortable and you’ll feel better if you’re wearing a good set of protective undies — tops and bottoms — like these.
|wBW Review: Bohn Bodyguard CoolAir Shirt|
|Manufacturer: Bohn Armor (Actionstations, Inc.)||List Price: $163.00|
|Colors: Black||Made In: U.S.A.|
|Review Date: November 2015|
|wBW Review: Bohn Bodyguard Airtex Shirt|
|Manufacturer: Bohn Armor (Actionstations, Inc.)||List Price: $149.00|
|Colors: Black||Made In: U.S.A.|
|Review Date: July 2014|
|wBW Review: Forcefield EX-K Harness Flite+|
|Manufacturer: Forcefield (Davies Odell Ltd.)||List Price: $349.00|
|Colors: Black||Made In: Taiwan|
|Review Date: November 2015|
Note: Item provided by a retailer, distributor or manufacturer with these Terms and Conditions.
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Owner Comments and Feedback
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From “T.R.” (November 2015): “The single most important thing about these is buried in your last Conclusion. I have never found a jacket or pants (especially) that have the armor located where it fits me.
The straps on jacket sleeves (external) are worthless and knee armor — forget it — it never fits in the right spot and pants don’t have external straps adjusters anyway. So the knee armor will never stay in place.
This is why I like you wear the armored underwears, they are the only thing to keep the armor in place, I can’t count on the clothing’s protectors being located right for me. I bet many others have the same problem.”
From “K.S.” (November 2015): “I liked your article on the latest armored underwear. Like you, I ride ATGATT, and also wear Bohn armored underwear.
I have and use the Bohn Bodyguard Adventure Pants, which protects the ‘bottom-half’, without being obvious. This ‘garment’ also works as a base layer in colder weather.
While the size I have is snug fitting, my only issue with it is that it can often ride down the waist somewhat, which mis-aligns (lowers) the armor. So, to ‘keep it up’ on a significant ride, I often wear suspenders with it. How have you solved this issue?”
Rick’s Reply: I haven’t noticed this as an issue to be honest, maybe it depends on body shape?
From “B.P.” (November 2015): “Just a thought after reading (well, skimming) this.
I’m sure there are reasons why this doesn’t already exist (or at least not that I’ve seen)…but that said, it seems to me that one of the biggest services any organization could provide to the motorcycle community would be performing a comprehensive, real-world-oriented study on the relative merits of motorcycle protective gear.
And then writing about the results in a way that’s meaningful to the average person.
The helmet situation seems fairly obvious. But otherwise, at present we have various confusing ratings, anecdotal evidence about crashes, poorly designed and performed (or very limited) “tests” in magazines and on the internet, and whatever vague statements the manufacturers want to make.
In the end, we pick what seems to fit our needs and hope for the best.
But it’d sure be nice to have real answers to questions like:
- How tight or large does it need to be to cover the necessary area?
And I’m sure many others. In an ideal world, at the end of this study there would be a tool that would allow you to plug in your height, weight and inseam, specify the riding gear you’d be wearing (maybe just by material rather than brand), add the type of bike and the speed and type of crash, specify a few other variables (looseness of clothes, type of road surface).
And the program would spit out a report, based on actual data, telling you the likely location and level of injury.
Then you could compare that to other outfits. I’m not holding my breath. And I’m not really complaining.
I mean, this is a better time than ever to be riding, in terms of the availability and quality of protective gear and common sense will tell you that more protective gear is better than less.
But for the average rider on a budget, who doesn’t want to wear an airbag-equipped one-piece leather track suit on every single ride, it’d be nice to have more objective information on the safety trade-offs being made on a daily basis.”
Rick’s Reply: I totally agree, there is an awful lack of real data on motorcycle clothing and protectors regarding how they perform in a crash.
Even the CE ratings tests are mostly theoretical, as is also the CE, DOT, Snell, etc. helmet rating systems, which I’d argue are even more theoretical vs. “real world”.
By “real world”, I mean testing based on crashes on public road surfaces with curbs, guard rails, other vehicles and the rest.
I have said many times, if I had to do it over again, I’d have started a non-profit clothing testing laboratory that developed real-world tests and published results, taking no money from manufacturers. Don’t know how it would be funded, but that’s what’s needed.
In the end though, we will probably never have enough data to make a precise decision on what to wear and when for optimal protection — and motorcyclists probably wouldn’t wear it anyway.
In fact, our (webBikeWorld) goal is very minimal: hoping to at least see motorcyclists wear very basic protective gear instead of shorts and a T-shirt!
Anyway, we’ll see if anyone from the industry responds to your questions.
In the meantime, each motorcycle rider can only use common sense to buy name-brand gear from a reputable source.
From “M” (November 2015): “Thank you very much for posting this comparison. However, I do have some questions.
I am surprised you recommend the Bohn Bodyguards even though they don’t seem to have any protection rating. Especially because you usually go to great lengths to emphasize importance of correct protection, for example in the Bull-it jeans review, “but the protection is still probably better […] compared to most jackets”. Really?
The whole point of these garments is the protection after all. The Bohn seems to have very little coverage for the high back and neck for example.
Some manufacturers incorporate elaborate protection, for example the latest Klim Badlands. Do you still think these separate vests are better than those of high-end jackets?
You call these vests ‘underwear’. Does that mean they should be worn instead of a base layer? Or over it? How does this relate to a mid-layer for colder climates (it’s slightly over freezing temp. over here); can a mid-layer worn over this kind of protection or will it lose insulating properties due to larger distance between body and mid-layer?
With that, thanks again for posting this comparison, and of course the other items on webBikeWorld, which I appreciate highly.”
Rick’s Reply: OK, I’m surprised you’re surprised! You’re correct, we always try to emphasize safety, so we post an article about choosing and wearing full protective gear and…you’re complaining?!
The point is that too many motorcyclists don’t wear any protective gear at all, or they rely on the junk that comes in a jacket and pants, thinking they’re protected.
As the article points out, we think that wearing the Bohn protective underwear is a much better solution.
Sure, none of this gear is perfect. There are a lot of things one could do to improve the protection, but as it always absolutely is, it’s all a matter of degrees and the personal safety and protection equation that each rider has to make.
How much protection is enough? Only you can answer that for yourself.
But any of this is sure better than nothing — and in the case of the protective undershirts, much better than most jackets, which have no protection at all in the back or just a flabby piece of foam.
We were trying to make the point as we often do that there are some easy to implement solutions that are comfortable and that can add to the protection factor.
You mention the Klim jacket and I think that type of jacket is a good example of exactly what we said in the article. The Klim jacket and many others are very good as an outer layer that provides abrasion protection.
The Klim jacket has the typical array of protectors added but we’re not convinced that the cut and fit of that type of jacket will keep the protectors correctly located in a crash. This is the case also with just about every 3/4-length jacket we have ever reviewed.
It’s also why the motorcycle race leathers worn by racers are so tight-fitting — in part to keep the protectors correctly positioned and stay there during a crash.
In fact, the protective underwear in our article is just the type of gear you’d want to wear underneath the Klim and similar 3/4-length jackets, in our opinion.
We think the Bohn Bodyguard series and especially the Forcefield product has more protection surface area and it will more likely keep the protectors correctly placed when needed, in a crash.
We noted our disappointment that the protectors are not officially CE approved. As we noted in the referenced article “CE Certified vs. Approved: There Is a Difference“, too many manufacturers use the easy way out by just stating that their protectors have been “tested” and exceed the standards.
Without the official documentation (which very few manufacturers actually provide with their clothing), there’s no way of knowing. And by the way, Klim claims that the D3O T5 EVO Pro protectors used in their high-end jackets is “certified”, not “approved”.
Again, read our article on CE certification vs. approval, because there is a lot of confusion about those terms and how they are used.
But on the other hand, you can see in the size and weight differences between the Bohn Bodyguard series and the Forcefield EX-K Harness what it would take to get the highest level of protection.
Let’s face it: most motorcyclists are not going to wear the Forcefield Harness. But they’d be much more likely to wear the Bohn underwear, and that’s something of a victory for protection.
And where do you stop? Is it not enough to wear a full array of Forcefield protection at Level 2? And add a Leatt Neck Brace (review) also? A full set of leathers and race boots?
Again, it’s all up to you but I can tell you that most riders will not go to those lengths just to get out for a Sunday ride. So again, a little protection is a heck of a lot better than none, and that’s what we emphasize.
Finally, the type of protective underwear described in the article is for protection, it’s not equivalent to under-layers for cold weather use. I guess I thought that was obvious.
You could wear a thin layer underneath or a thicker layer on top; size accordingly. I hope this answers your questions!