Jun 12, 2008, By Kevin Duke, Mototrcycleusa.com
Riding a vehicle with two wheels is inherently a dangerous game. With nothing but your skill and the bike's rotational inertia keeping it upright, it's a rare or short-term rider that never goes down in his two-wheeled career.
Unlike car jockeys who have literally tons of structural protection, motorcyclists are responsible for providing their own safety fortification. In a crash—which one can never predict—there is no such thing as being overdressed. That's why we always recommend getting the best gear you can possibly afford.
Just about every rider has a decent helmet, and most have some kind of leather or textile protection for their torsos and limbs, but it seems like it's only racers who search out a way to shield their spines. A street rider might say, "Yeah, but racers need the protection." Sure, but you might, too, whether in an accident on the street or a spill during a trackday.
What you see on these pages is a different take on the variations of those plastic spine-shaped pads that dominate the market. Instead of using just a foam-padded plastic skeleton that cushions a blow, Impact Safe-T Armor has come up with an innovative protector that absorbs shocks by slowly releasing the energy from a hit. The Citrus Heights, California-company calls its patented design "impact deceleration control."
Although Impact Armor's theory of protection intrigued me, I was a bit skeptical of the product until I found out that this stuff has been used by nearly all the top American road racers, including all three of the Hayden brothers, Ben Bostrom, Jake Zemke, along with factory Ducati pilot Regis Laconi and Aussies Mat Mladin, Troy Corser and Marty Craggill. Texas Tornado Colin Edwards was an early adopter of Impact Armor, the relationship going all the way back to 1994. Okay, that's a club I wouldn't mind joining.
At first glance, Impact's pads don't look like anything special—a pad is a pad, etc. It's not until a closer look that you can understand the concept of how the design works.
Force from an impact is first transmitted into the protector's expanding pouch outer cover and then through to the penetration-resistant but flexible polyethylene and polycarbonate shields that distribute the energy over the surface area of the nitrile foam impact core (the chest protector has only the polyethylene shield. Inside the core are airways that limit internal airflow velocity to one direction as it becomes compressed against the body, prolonging the duration of impact.
The first step to getting Impact Armor is ordering up the correct size. Unlike most back protectors that come in a small variety of sizes, Impact Armor is custom-made to fit each individual.
Impact requests four specific measurements from each customer and translates those figures into what should be an ideally shaped back protector for your body. The company also makes chest protectors, requiring three measurements to tailor its size, which we also ordered. To ensure the highest customer satisfaction, Impact's founder Michael Braxton first sends out a foam template for a test fit before he builds the final product. In my case, the templates were sized to perfection and my new protective pads were soon on their way.
In their normal state, the pads are flat and are somewhat stiff, which doesn't bode well for their comfort factor. But a clever feature of the Impact armor is how a rider's body temperature makes it pliable so it molds to the shape of your upper body. The poly shields are able slide against the foam sandwich core and easily bend and follow the curves of a torso.
Most body protectors are made from a somewhat inflexible plastic, and this lack of suppleness against a rider's skin can sometimes be obtrusive. Not so with the Impact pads. Once warmed up they become practically imperceptible. Particularly impressive was the chest protector, which becomes virtually unnoticeable after it warms to body temperature. This is quite an accomplishment considering its location that is often resting against a fuel tank when at speed on a sportbike. Its only flaw, if you can call it that, is that it blocks some refreshing airflow on hot days.
Impact Armor supplies a Velcro belt to hold the B-004 back protector in place, but my tight sets of leathers held it in place without the belt. Similarly, the chest protector needs no external support in taut leathers. For looser riding gear or street jackets, the chest protector is provided with a piece of Velcro of which the "loop" side gets affixed to the inner face of your jacket. Velcro straps can also be attached from the chest to the back protector, allowing a rider connect them and slide on both as one.
When Nicky Hayden was doing some off-season testing in cold weather, he requested a more malleable material for the chest protector. In response, Braxton came up with optional impact cores that require less body heat before becoming pliable, as well as polyethylene shields that are more bendable in cooler temperatures.
Understandably (I hope!), I was reluctant to test the crash-worthiness of these trick pads, so I can't yet comment first-hand on how well they perform when truly tested. However, after disassembling the product and understanding how the pieces work together to slow down the blunt force of an impact, I am fully confident in their abilities.
When wearing the Impact Armor, it's a comforting feeling to know that there's some additional protection should it be needed. Its flexibility combines safety and comfort in one well-designed package, and each component can be individually replaced in the event of damage.
Considering the protective technology involved, the custom-built fit and the snug and secure feeling the Impact Armor pads provide, we think the $185 price of the back protector is a solid deal. Bumping up protection with the chest guard for $90 is another smart investment. This year's B-005 back protector is claimed to have even greater airflow properties, making the new version more comfortable in hot weather. Impact also sells a shorter model, the STC-004, which is designed to fit under waist-length jackets and retails for $150.
So, how good is Impact Armor, ultimately? All we can tell you so far is that we'll be wearing it each time we hit the track, in the unfortunate event if we ever were to really "hit" the track. Not only is it painless to wear, wearing it will likely prevent pain.
Impact Safe-T Armor
P.O. Box 2882
Citrus Heights, CA 95611
+1 (916) 725-2936