Video trauma test - d3o advanced motorcycle armour vs. conventional thick foam

Video trauma test - d3o advanced motorcycle armour vs. conventional thick foam
Noel's loving his job today: trauma testing d3o's advanced motorcycle armour with a very non-advanced frying pan.
Noel's loving his job today: trauma testing d3o's advanced motorcycle armour with a very non-advanced frying pan.
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Noel's loving his job today: trauma testing d3o's advanced motorcycle armour with a very non-advanced frying pan.
Noel's loving his job today: trauma testing d3o's advanced motorcycle armour with a very non-advanced frying pan.
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d3o's body armour claims to be soft and flexible throughout the day, but to harden up instantly under impact. As such it's been a big hit in the snowboarding market, where it can make clothing protective and impact-resistant without it looking like you're wearing armour. But now d3o are branching out into the motorcycle armour market - so how does this thin, bright orange wonder armour compare against the traditional thick foam CE armour pads you find in bike leathers? Editor Noel McKeegan attacks Loz Blain with a heavy frying pan to find out.

Dilatant plastics: "intelligent molecules"

You've probably seen d3o's bright orange impact-resistant armour around the Internet in recent times. Instantly identifiable due to a great colour choice, d3o's claim to fame is that it's made from a dilatant substance - that is, one in which viscosity increases with the rate of shear. That means that it's highly flexible when moved slowly, but if you try to move it fast - for example, by banging it with a hammer, it hardens up.

A mixture of cornstarch and water is the most famous example - stirring it slowly is easy, but as you try to stir it faster, it becomes very thick and viscous.

The benefit when you use this sort of substance to make body armour is that the armour can be very flexible, comfortable and form-fitting for the 99% of the time that you're not experiencing any impacts - but it will harden up and distribute the shock very effectively if you do hit something. Take, for example, the fun Sky News video report showing d3o CEO Richard Palmer, who lets the reporter bang him on the head with a shovel while he's wearing a d3o beanie.

d3o's success in winter sports

d3o's biggest success has been with winter sports - snowboarding in particular, where you've got people travelling at high speed, jumping in the air for tricks and spending a fair bit of time landing on their heads. A proper helmet is the best kind of protection in this sort of game, but snow-bunny fashion dictates that anything more than a beanie is plain dorky - so d3o's comfortable, flexible armoured beanies have been a very well thought-out product.

In addition to the beanies, the orange pads have found their way into ski jackets and pants, speed suits (such as those worn by team USA at this year's Winter Olympics), skater gear, lacrosse armour, polo pads, ballet shoes and even shock-resistant iPhone covers.

Smart armour that's comfortable and flexible until it's needed and then hard and impact-resistant as soon as it takes a hit - what a great idea! So when we heard that d3o was branching out into motorcycle armour, we thought it was time for a comparo test.

The Comparo test - d3o vs thick foam CE armour

In the right corner, fresh out of a set of RST off-the-shelf motorcycle leathers, standing nearly 3cm at max thickness, is a conventional thick foam CE elbow armour pad, made by Knox.

In the left corner, in the bright orange trunks, with a max thickness of around 1cm, is a dilatant elbow armour pad made by d3o.

With the d3o armour in the right elbow of my leather jacket, and the standard Knox armour in the left elbow, it was immediately apparent that the d3o was much more comfortable. It doesn't strictly cup the elbow joint the way the Knox armour does - instead, it's totally flexible and much less noticeable. But then, the feeling of a big, chunky elbow pad can actually be quite reassuring when you're ripping into a mountain road.

On to the trauma test then - showing the real value of the armour when it's needed. We went with a fairly simple methodology - Gizmag editor Noel McKeegan took a large-ish frying pan and whacked me on the elbows with it, going from the Knox side to the d3o side until I surrendered in pain, or he got bored. See the video below:

d3o advanced motorcycle armour - trauma test

Our conclusions

Now, it has to be stated, Noel was really wailing on me there. With no armour at all, any one of those hits would probably have smashed my elbow.

So for the d3o side merely to get a bit painful after a half-dozen very solid whacks is really quite an achievment. At roughly a third the thickness of the Knox pad, it did an incredibly good job. But the simple fact is that Noel could have kept on swingin' at the Knox side all afternoon and it wouldn't have fazed me in the slightest, whereas the d3o side was immediately more painful.

Not to mention, by about 15 minutes after the video was finished filming, my right elbow, on the d3o side, had swollen up quite noticeably and was feeling pretty sore, whereas the left side felt as if nothing had happened.

To me, the effectiveness of this armour comes down to a simple question - are you more interested in fashion and comfort, or outright protection?

There's no doubt that the d3o pads are thinner, lighter, and more comfortable on the body. They don't distort the shape of the clothes they're in, so there's none of that power ranger-style big elbow effect that thicker armours can have on a set of leathers.

The Armadillo range of urban scooter-wear is a great example of the targeting of this product - looking through the range, it looks more like a series of thickish winter coats than dedicated protective clothing. And that's the point of it - scooter and commuter riders don't all want to show up at work looking like spacemen, giant reflective strips and chunky armour pads alerting all and sundry to their choice of transport.

But when it comes to the hardcore motorcyclist who gets out and rides hard, I think it's fair to say that effective protection is a much higher priority than fashion. Leathers with thick foam armour might be a bit annoying when you're off the bike, but they're both comfortable and reassuring when you're riding. And our frying pan test convinced me that they do a better job of impact protection when the chips are down.

That said, we were all surprised how effective the d3o material was, given how slim and flexible the pads were. So the potential is definitely there - we'd love to run the same test again with a thicker, more heavy duty d3o pad. I wouldn't mind betting it would deliver better impact protection than the CE foam, while being more comfortable to wear. It seems to us that d3o has a bright future ahead of it, and that we're only just beginning to see its potential.

Update:Ruth Gough, VP Brand and Marketing from d30, got in touch to let us know that the company is already working on thicker armour for better protection. Her (slightly edited) email appears below:

Just read the review of our T5 pads v the knox pads you tested and I have to say it was a very well written article, it’s actually nice to get some good feedback like this and I often find that journalists are the best place to get it!

Just wanted to contact you directly to let you know that you are quite right that we have had some feedback from some brands who make products designed for more hardcore riding, that they would like them to be more protective, so we are just finishing off a new range of protectors for this purpose. We have 2 new ranges, they are called T5 pro (which is 13mm thick and designed to withstand fluctuations in hot and cold temperatures), and T6 which is the same thickness as the pad you tested, but has a section of hard shell to protect against some penetration or sliding.

Our first step into this market was as you say with Armadillo, and the T5 (8mm thick) pads are perfect for this application as you are not reaching nearly such high speeds, and are more concerned about comfort and style, this is where this product really originated. The T6 product actually resulted from some work we were doing with the MoD, we have won 3 development contracts with them to develop a helmet liner, ballistics protection, and integrated, soft knee & elbow protection into combat uniforms. For the combat uniform project the MoD wanted a knee pad that was soft and flexible but also offered penetration resistance from flinty ground like you would find in Afghanistan. We then found that a lot of the motorcycle customers we were talking to wanted to use a product like this too, so we changed the design to suit these applications, and T6 was born!

The US is completely different again, with a lot of people, unbelievably, not even wearing protection, especially in the hotter states, so the thinner d3o is at least giving them the chance to wear some protection! And even though d3o is as thin as it is, it still passes the European standard (EN1621-1) to a good level, and for many consumers and brands, this is what they recognise as an appropriate level of protection. The knox pad you tested was probably one of the thickest pads on the market and in our experience is not that commonly used.

When we have some samples of the thicker pads, I’d love to send some over to you to get some feedback, I’ll let you know when we have some ready for the frying pan test!

All the best, and thanks for the honest article,


Ruth GoughVP Brand & Marketing

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Facebook User
Great instructional video and D3O could stand to take his comments into account. They should offer varying thicknesses depending on desired results- Thick for protection, thinner where style and comfort are the desired effect. Great product though...
Jason Kwan
I believe this is the padding BMW use. I have low-sided on a country road and this saved me quite well. Upside is it\'s lighter and thinner, downside is it\'s not as heavy duty as padding found in say Dainese leather jacket arms.
I would note however - you DO notice that the padding is there. The idea that it doesn\'t show or get in the way is wrong, and it doesn\'t mould to you or bend with your knee when you stand straight so it still gets in the way (minimally).
Mr Stiffy
Oh Super..... next time run into a flying frypan I will remember to get one of these jackets.
Trouble with most journalists is that they spend time having opinions about things, instead of knowing how to design things, based upon skills, information and experience.
Getting light whacks on the elbow with an aluminium frypan is not a demonstrative test of really much of anything.
The HARD plastic -by it\'s very design spreads the impact over a wider area.
The \"self hardening\"padding only hardens up directly under the impact point.
Hence the compressive stress is confined to a much smaller area - so it hurts more.
But the self hardening padding is soft, light and flexible; at about 1cm thick - it\'s principle requirement is to provide some impact protection, with an awful lot of abrasive and \"sliding knocks\" protection - that comes with going arse over tit on rough and uneven surfaces - like gravel roads for instance; where sharp rocks gouge chunks out of the joints.
While remaining thin, light, flexible and \"more conventional\" looking in the casual wear sense.
Really nice to see updated comment from the manufacturer and that they\'re aware of what\'s needed out there. You might have tried doubling up on the d3o to see whether that decreased the elbow pain d;-)
Raum Bances
Both products are great. I do have to give credit to d3o for having paid attention enough to notice your review and send you a comment. This says a lot about the company in my view.
As with most new technology, the tendency is to think it can fix everything. The reality is that this material in combination with other materials would probably work better than by itself. For example, the cup they are now adding would absorb much more of the impact without adding too much thickness since it will take the shock of the impact and then distribute it to the d3o layer.
In all fairness, how many times do you think you would actually hit your elbow on a ride? You would probably have been fine if you did 1 impact simulation. Yes, you would have noticed the impact but you would not have taken damage while wearing a tiny protective layer.
Facebook User
How can you make a D3o pad thick while still having flexibility and still work the same way with the intelligent molecules?
Dan Sager
Dear Gizmag - Thank you for your entertaining trauma test, pitching Knox protectors against d3o. The response from Ruth Gough, VP Brand and Marketing from d30, contains some surprising statements. For example; “Our first step into this market was as you say with Armadillo, [“stylish protective clothing for scooter riders] and the T5 (8mm thick) pads are perfect for this application as you are not reaching nearly such high speeds, and are more concerned about comfort and style, this is where this product really originated”. Now hold on a minute. Modern 125cc scooters (which can be ridden by learners aged 17 and over in the UK) can reach speeds of up to 70mph. Many larger capacity scooters (like my own Peugeot Satelis 500) have top speeds in excess of 100 mph. How can any company that is serious about protection claim that these riders need anything less than motorcyclists? For many urban riders speed is irrelevant, as in the city there are so many dangerous obstacles - 30mph into the side of a bus is much worse than an 80mph slide on the open road. As the old saying goes “it’s not speed that kills – it’s the sudden stop.” Incidentally, d30 advertise their T5 pads as offering “maximum comfort and protection” yet now they seem to be saying that the T5 is a compromise between comfort and protection. For d30 to claim that “The knox pad you tested was probably one of the thickest pads on the market and in our experience is not that commonly used” is palpable nonsense. At 15mm the Knox Flexiform protector is no thicker than most good quality motorcycle protectors – if it was Knox wouldn’t be so widely used. The d3o pad is unusually thin by current standards, (that’s its main selling point), but then it doesn\'t perform nearly as well, as the Gizmag test proved. Knox protectors are far more widely used than d3o for motorcycling - the reason Gizmag chose them is that they were fitted as standard to the journalist\'s RST leather jacket. Brands as diverse as Triumph (UK), Held (Germany) and Teknic (USA) fit Knox as standardand multiple Olympic ski champion Marc Giradelli chose Knox for his ski-wear range. We are really looking forward to your next test, pitching the new T5 pro from d3o against Knox. Keep banging out great stories! Dan Sager, PRO Planet-Knox, UK
Andrew Hoffman
d30 can't replace hardshell pads because it is the hardshell of the pad that spreads the energy of the impact across the entire pad. In impact protection the hard outer shell is step one.
d30 while flexible, also does not perform stage 1, meaning all that energy of the impact is transfered over to a much smaller portion of your arm than with the hardshell.
Go with hardshell pad. A hardshell pad with some kind of viscoelastic foam or gel (one example would be memory foam) would be ideal.
Remember that d30 bounces, and you don't want to bounce. You want to impact with the hard shell, the hard shell spreads out the impact energy, and have your memory foam (or gel) absorb the impact energy, transfering as little energy to your body as possible.