Leather Motorcycle Jacket with CE armor
When you buy motorcycle gear, you’re paying for protection, and that protection comes in two main forms–abrasion-resistant fabrics, and impact-absorbing armor. Our focus here is the latter, impact protection, and in this Guide To Back Protectors and Replacement Armor we’ll give you an overview of what you can typically expect from a pair of motorcycle pants or a jacket right off the rack, and why some riders choose to make the additional purchase of a back protector, or even to replace the armor that came with their gear.
Understanding Safety Ratings
Nearly every piece of gear you wear on your body for motorcycling can be CE rated, including your jacket, gloves, pants, and boots for safety. (Helmets are not included in the CE system. For information on helmet safety ratings, read our Helmet Buyer’s Guide).
‘CE’ stands for ‘Conformité Européene’, and to be CE rated an item must meet or exceed certain requirements for its category that measure how protective it’s going to be for you in a crash. For example, a jacket, pair of pants, or one-piece suit can now be CE approved as a piece of protective clothing for motorcyclists (EN 13595-1).
Applying a CE rating to a whole garment is a relatively new development in the industry, but CE-approved armor has been around for much longer, and is a well-established standard. While your jacket as a whole may or may have the CE stamp of approval yet, its armor most certainly should.
Back Protectors and Limb Protectors
The two main categories of motorcycle armor are back protectors and limb protectors. Limb includes elbow/forearm, shoulder, hip, and knee/shin.
Within the back protector category there are two rating levels–CE-Level 1 and CE-Level 2 (EN 1621-2 Levels 1 and 2). A CE-Level 1 or -Level 2 rating is determined by the amount of force that is transferred through the protector when it is impacted with a propelled weight.
Prior to 2014 there was one single rating for the limb category, but it now has two rating levels, also (EN 1621-1 Levels 1 and 2). How these levels are determined will be discussed in the sections below.
Limb Protectors & Replacement Armor
For the limb category, the minimum CE-approved level has not changed, and to be certified to Level 1, a protector may not transmit a force greater than 35 kilonewtons (kN), with a one-time allowance of a 50 kN spike in an area other than the center. To earn a Level 2 rating, tolerances are reduced to 25 kN with a 30 kN one-time maximum. The new rating system also tests in a variety of temperature conditions to account for performance fluctuations in the heat or cold.
Most motorcycle jackets include removable CE Level-1-certified armor in the elbows and shoulders, and pants include CE-certified knee armor. Other protectors, such as hip and chest, are usually sold as optional upgrades. Chest protector pockets are not standard across all brands, but are sometimes a nice additional feature (chest protectors fall under the separate category EN 1621-3).
With the rapid evolution of armor we’ve seen in the past few years, many riders take into account armor brands when shopping for new gear, or choose to replace the stock armor with protectors that are more lightweight, low profile, and flexible. SAS-TEC, Knox, Forcefield, Nucleon, Seesoft, and D3o are common names in armor, and you can check out the differences between these at Road Rider and read a little bit about them at the bottom of this page.
A CE-Level 2 back protector transfers half as much force to the rider’s back as a CE-Level 1 back protector.
Specifically, a Level 1 protector allows no more than 18 kilonewtons (kN) of force to be transmitted through it to the rider’s body, while a Level 2 protector allows only 9 kN.
Armor materials have come a long way in a very short time, and it wasn’t long ago that choosing a Level 2 protector meant you had to live with one that was thick, heavy, and uncomfortable. Today, there are few reasons why you wouldn’t choose a Level 2 protector because companies are developing thinner and more flexible materials that still get the job done.
These new protectors are surprisingly effective, and they’re great for use in stylish urban riding gear as well as gear that requires a lot of flex, breathability, and mobility, like dual sport and adventure gear. These new and improved materials can also be integrated with a hard plastic shell for an even higher level of protection.
When shopping today, you will more than likely be comparing a number of different CE-Level 2 back protectors in one of two main categories: inserts and harness-style protectors.
Back Armor Inserts
Though the trend is changing, most motorcycle jackets still do not include a CE-certified back protector. So when you’re buying a new jacket, it’s a great idea to try it on with a CE-certified back protector at the same time. Even though protectors are getting thinner and more flexible, it will still impact the fit of your jacket.