We rely on armour if it all goes wrong, but how is it tested to make sure it’s effective?
It’s all done in a laboratory with specialist apparatus that can replicate the sort of impact we’re likely to face in a road crash, and measure how much of that energy transfers through the armour to the rider.
It’s done in reverse of what we’d experience on the road - the armour is placed over an anvil at the base of the testing device and then it is struck from height in a controlled impact.
Measurements are taken at the anvil to see how much protection it received from having the armour between itself and the striker falling from height.
Here’s a bit more technical detail on what’s expected from the armour, depending on the level of protection it’s claimed to offer and the part of the body it is meant to protect…
Limb armour (EN1621-1:2012)
Shoulder, elbow, hip and knee armour testing involves conducting a series of impact attenuation tests and then awarding either a Level 1 rating or a higher Level 2 pass, depending on the results.
A sample of armour is placed onto an anvil, and a flat steel striker is dropped onto it with 50 joules of force. A transducer on the anvil records the amount of force transmitted through the sample to see how much of that force would reach the rider. This test is carried out three times on each test sample, once in each of three pre-determined zones on the armour surface.
To gain a Level 1 CE rating, the average transmitted force of the three impacts must be below 35 kilonewtons (kN), with no single strike recording over 50kN.
To achieve the superior Level 2 rating, the average transmittance must be 20kN or less, with no single strike going over 30kN.
To be CE-approved, armour has to pass these tests in ambient conditions (23°C) and also make it through a wet impact test.
The wet impact test sees samples stored for 72 hours in a closed chamber above water kept at 70°C, then sealed in a vapour-proof bag and left in a 23°C room for 24 hours. Once removed from this environment it is subjected to the same impact tests as above, which must start within five minutes.
The manufacturer can also put their armour through two optional tests, one to prove it works at high temperature and another at low temperature.
For the hot test, the sample is left for 24 hours in a room set to 40°C before being removed and tested within two minutes.
The low temperature test is carried out in the same way, but for this test the armour is left for 24 hours in a room set to -10°C before being subjected to the tests.
If you see ‘T+’ on the CE marking it has passed the hot test, and the ‘T-’ symbol shows armour that has passed the cold test.
Back protection (EN1621-2:2014)
The mechanics of the back protector test are the same as for limb protection (above), with mandatory tests in ambient and wet conditions, plus optional hot and cold tests
But back protectors must achieve higher performance levels to gain Level 1 or Level 2 CE-approval. This is because ribs are more fragile and require greater levels of protection from impacts
For back protection to meet Level 1, the average transmitted force must be below 18kN, and no single strike can be above 24kN.
To achieve the higher Level 2, it must transmit an average of less than 9kN, and no single strike can be above 12kN.
Chest protection (EN 1621-3:2018)
There are two tests for chest protectors – the impact attenuation test is mandatory for all and a separate force distribution test is required for protectors aiming for a higher Level 2 pass.
The attenuation test is conducted using a method similar to the limb armour test explained above, and involves eight separate impacts on three samples. To pass Level 1, the average transmitted force can be no more than 18kN, and no single strike can exceed 24kN.
If the manufacturer wants their chest protector to meet Level 2, it also has to go through the force distribution test. This uses a hemispherical impactor, and four separate impacts are carried out across two samples. The average transmitted force across all four cannot exceed 15kN, and no single strike can transmit more than 20kN.
Manufacturers can optionally have their armour tested in high and low temperatures (+40°C and -30°C respectively). Those that pass these optional tests will be marked with a ‘T+’ for the hot test and ‘T-’ for the cold test.