Is it necessary to perform refined laboratory tests on back protection devices?

To be honest, we didn’t hit the low-paying test subjects with a sledgehammer. When it comes to the damping characteristics of the protector, there is ultimately no way to bypass laboratory testing. In this case, we had it tested at the national materials testing institute MPA in Stuttgart.

The structure complies with the protection standard EN 1621. Although the standard is only binding for protective pads on the shoulders, elbows, hips and knees, some manufacturers voluntarily test their back protectors.

According to the European standard, the test was arranged as follows: A flat steel body weighing 5 kg was dropped from a height of one meter onto the protector, which was located on a hemispherical steel anvil with a diameter of 100 mm. The force transmitted to the anvil base is measured. Usually the interior of the protector is at the bottom.

In addition, we performed tests with the protector upside down, i.e. with the outer side facing downwards towards the ball. Some hardshell back armors perform better in this regard because this allows them to spread the impact of the ball anvil over a larger area.

What is important for safety is not only the residual strength of the spine area, but also the size of the protective device. It should be long enough to cover the spine from the neck to the tailbone. While the ribs, shoulders and soft tissues are more forgiving, some protection is needed for the rest of the back.

Without back protection, racers would never start falling multiple times, and they vividly demonstrate to spectators how effective good protective gear can be. Many may remember the crash of racer Jeremy McWilliams at the 1998 250cc Grand Prix in Barcelona, when he flew over the handlebars at 250 km/h and skidded hundreds of meters down the road. He survived the horrific crash unharmed, thanks of course to his guardian angel and Rückenprotektoren.

If you want protection, you have to accept small compromises in comfort. Basically, back pads are more or less compelling and in the summer they have the effect of promoting perspiration due to the extensive coverage of the back. Almost all tested protectors are secured to the body with a belt. A good solution when sitting up straight. Narrower waist belts are more suitable for maintaining a bent position on exercise equipment because they do not restrict mobility.

As recommended for back protectors, their protective effect in the event of a fall or accident should not be overestimated. Spinal fractures are usually caused by compression due to forces from above or below or shear forces from excessive rotation, in which case no protective device is available to help. In rare cases, spinal injuries occur after a back impact, such as a guardrail post or a car part. These are just examples of the worst-case scenarios that a protector can prevent.

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