The next generation of protective equipment

Despite how the past two years have gone around the world, 2022 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for both the motorcycles we ride and the protective gear we wear. New models from Ducati, Husqvarna, Harley-Davidson and Japan’s Big Four are hitting dealerships ready to be wowed by riders new and old. What hasn’t been as loud or as widely shouted from the rooftops, however, is that the stagnation in protective gear that has been happening for about five years now is coming to an end.

New technologies, new materials, new ideas, new everything takes place in space gear. Helmets are now lighter and stronger, with better protection. The new summer and three/four season coats and pants offer twice the abrasion resistance of the old knitwear and textile garments. There are even new ideas that have been researched and tested, and turn into gear that you can literally walk down to your local store and buy.

Yet the question remains: why has it taken so long for the gear market to reinvigorate?

Why the next generation of gear is happening right now

The easiest part to answer this question is the time period from 2020 to 2022: the world was in the grip of the global pandemic, and for most of 2020 things were shut down. Designers could collaborate online and exchange ideas, but part of creating new types of gear involves manufacturing so that it can be tested.

The other half of the answer is that when 2018 rolled around, gear technology was pretty much at its best in ages. Non-Newtonian foam had been perfected, rigid and semi-rigid deformable back protectors were in the best place they had been in a while, and new textiles were being used to make jackets that had abrasion resistance close to the skin of cow.

Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, or MIPS, as it is built into motorcycle helmets. The yellow part is a floating cradle that has a few millimeters of flex in all directions. On impact, this gradually accelerates the head (as opposed to the instantaneous acceleration of a non-MIPS helmet), preventing your brain from hitting the inside of your skull. Image via MIPS (Bennett’s Insurance website).

Simply put, what the market needed was time for people with great ideas to start inventing new and better things than we already had. Since 2018, MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) has started to appear in more and more helmets, especially in the middle price range between $300 and $600.

Koroyd, which uses a completely different approach to attenuating impact energy, has partnered with KLIM and Thor to put their Welded Cylinder Crush System into helmets that could sustain the most severe impacts (in ADV spaces and motocross).

A Koroyd slipper ready to be inserted into a helmet
A Koroyd liner ready to be inserted into a helmet. Image via Koroyd.

Dyneema is another example of something that didn’t exist 5 years ago. It looks like denim, it looks like denim, but it’s five times stronger, and when backed with aramid/Kevlar, it helps make some of the safest riding jeans you’ll find. on the market right now. A fully synthetic fiber, it has even begun to be tested for incorporation into the non-Newtonian foam that is rapidly becoming standard for new armor to give it more rigidity during impact.

Then there’s the new material currently being researched, known as structured fabric. Research teams from CalTech and NTU Singapore worked together to create a 3D printed fabric that is essentially made of interconnected octahedra. By changing the way the octahedra are aligned and woven together, they act in a non-Newtonian way when impacted, but when there is no strain on them, they are as flexible as a cotton shirt.

It’s an exciting time to be a motorcyclist – there are new bikes, new gear technologies and possibly brand new fabric that will act as the armor itself on impact. Some new ideas that definitely upped the ante for gear play even emerged last year.

New ideas: inflatable pants, exo-skeletal boot supports, and much more

Airbag vests have been on the market for over 10 years now, so they are nothing new, although the technology behind them is getting better and better every season. What’s new, however, is that a Swedish motorcycle gear company called Mo’cycle has the first airbag pants you can buy on the market.

This is quite a development, as a motorcyclist’s legs are the most susceptible to injury in a non-fatal crash, and the best you could hope for before was wearing armored shorts or base layers to strengthen the protection around your thighs.

Mo'cycle's new airbag riding pants after deployment
Mo’cycle’s new airbag riding pants after deployment. Image via Mo’cycle

With the release of these pants it is almost guaranteed that major equipment companies such as KLIM, Dainese, Alpinestars, Helite etc. will want to update their own ranges of protective equipment to have their own versions soon. As the saying goes, competition always benefits the customer, and riding with more protection is always a good thing!

Another fairly recent version, coming into effect in 2021, is the idea of ​​exo-skeletal supports on all types of boots. By placing a reinforced frame around the boot, with a hinge that allows enough ankle movement to effect braking and shifting, these boots are intended to prevent tibia/fibula fractures and/or injuries by spin.

Forma Ice Pro Flow boots, with the exoskeletal support structure around the heel, ankles, lower calf and lower shin
Forma Ice Pro Flow boots, with the exoskeletal support structure around the heels, ankles, lower calves and lower shins. Picture via Forma.

Once only available on the highest echelon of athletic and racing boots, in a prime example of the trickle-down effect motorsports has had on consumers, you can now get boots of almost any type with an exo support frame. -skeletal. They are quickly becoming popular in the ADV boot and motocross boot markets, while there are more subtle ones for the neo-retro and cruiser markets as well.

If we were reviewing every type of protective gear that has emerged over the past decade, this article would take 20 pages just to cover the different materials. So many emerging technologies and research projects have resulted in some of the strongest, safest, most abrasion resistant and best armored gear possible. But companies are not done innovating.

What we are likely to see in the next few years

The biggest push right now in security gear is bringing it into the always-online world we live in. This can be easily seen in many airbag vests from companies such as Helite, KLIM, Dainese and Alpinestars, all using miniatures. computers, often smaller than a credit card, to continuously process accelerometer and sensor readings (in the case of the KLIM airbag vest, you can even install new firmware updates over the air).

This always-on mindset is also driving ideas for augmented reality (AR), where your helmet visor becomes a head-up display for navigation, charging your bike’s battery and/or airbag, communications, etc. Although there have been a few attempts over the past few years, they’ve resulted in comically oversized helmets or things you’d need to attach to the outside of your helmet that would violate most state laws. regarding the modification of a DOT helmet. .

Artist's rendering of what an augmented reality headset might show you in your line of sight
Artist’s rendering of what an augmented reality headset might show you in your field of vision. Image via Next Reality, used under public license.

However, the biggest thing currently in the works for most gear companies is new materials. Structured fabric, which we discussed earlier, is an area where the protective gear textile itself becomes the armor, while other materials like Dyneema and Cordura have led to the search for synthetic fibers. even more resistant. It wouldn’t be surprising if around 2025 materials as durable as leather would be released without needing to be leather.

Since we are already in the first part of the next generation of protective equipment, we can expect a lot of equipment, materials and armor to hit the market relatively soon. But only time will tell what will happen.

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