For many racers, the most terrifying accident has been that which results in a broken back. Back protectors have come directly from the race track and into road riding, and it is still racing which is driving development. I am very cautious in choosing a back protector, and currently rely on the Knox Aegis Back Protector which is a British product right at the cutting edge of protection design.
Beginning with the most important, the Aegis has been tested and approved to EN1621-2 Level 2 which is the highest rating under current European regulations. Impacts above this level are going to result in very serious injury or death.
In addition to sizes ranging from child to large adult, the Aegis Back Protector has a variety of adjustments which allows it to mold to each individual user.
The Aegis looks worlds away from the shaped pieces of foam rubber we first wore as back protectors, but these were still a giant step forward compared with nothing. The outside of the Aegis protector (the name is ripped off from Greek mythology and originally referred to a magic shield) is made up from a series of small plastic plates which Knox refers to as a honeycomb structure. These are arranged in “flex channels” which enable the plates to move freely but within a limited range. The result is that the protector will accurately mold to the shape of the rider’s back.
Beneath these plates is a sophisticated piece of foam rubber which has raised ribs to keep the foam from sticking to the rider’s back. This can be a real problem with tight-fitting race leathers, and the Knox design really does work in practice.
The Aegis protector comes in nine different sizes which cover a wide range of sizes from child to large adult. Getting the correct size is important not only for safety, but for comfort.
The big idea behind the Aegis is that it becomes a second, armored spine. But like all body transplants, it needs some help to work properly. The first thing is to get the straps in the correct position because there are a variety of potential adjustments. It is worth playing around with these for some time because once the adjustments are chosen, the back protector will need a couple of hours of breaking in until it transforms to a custom made item. At this point, the Aegis will have molded itself to your particular body shape in a way which is uncannily accurate, and it really does become an exoskeleton, just as Knox claims.
Because my race leathers are custom made and, therefore, tight, I take a minute or so before each race to ease the Aegis down to the bottom of my spine and this automatically positions it correctly at the neck. Placed like this, I never feel that I am wearing the protector and it is completely comfortable even in long races and hot weather.
The Aegis comes with kidney protectors which fit onto the bottom straps. These are substantial items but are simply in the wrong position for racing, and are useless in the real world. They might work well on a road bike, but only one with a very relaxed seating position.
In my big crash at Donington I initially slid down the track face first and only later rolled on to my back. Clearly, this wasn’t the ultimate test of the Aegis but I can report that it didn’t move a millimeter and there was not even a hint of a sore back. Before back protectors, this would not have been the case.
Having used the Aegis all season, I am really impressed with every aspect of it and it will be essential equipment for me next year.
Knox back protectors cost $158.95 in the U.S. and are available from www.sportbiketrackgear.com