Thanks to the advance of technology, motorcycle armor is getting lighter and more comfortable every year. Once relegated to high-risk riding like track racing and off-road riding, the hard-uncomfortable armor of the past is now light and malleable enough to wear on your everyday commute.
From materials that break the rules of Newtonian physics to fabrics that are stronger than steel, companies are finding more and more ways to keep motorcyclists safe on the road. One of those miracle materials is a synthetic fiber called Dyneema.
Like many great innovations, Dyneema was invented by accident. In 1968, a DSM chemist named Dr. Albert Pennings was researching polyethylene, a common material in plastics, when he happened to develop a material that he couldn’t pull apart. When his discovery was overlooked, he continued studying and developing it until it was made commercially available by DSM in 1990.
It’s a gel-spun, multi-filament fiber created from an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene, also known as a super-plastic. Dyneema’s unique chemical composition makes it significantly stronger (15 times stronger than steel, in fact). In addition, Dyneema is waterproof, resistant to fire and chemicals, can withstand extreme temperatures, has a low density, doesn’t cause allergic reactions, and it floats, because why not.
Because of its extensive development before being brought to market, Dyneema came out of the gate as one of the most interesting materials in the world. Its combination of strength and durability with its flexibility makes it not only one of the strongest, but also one of the most versatile materials in the world.
The fact that it is formed of fibers only adds to that versatility. This means that it can be woven together to create fabrics. These fabrics can be made entirely of Dyneema or blended with other fabrics to give said fabrics some of Dyneema’s unique properties. While these blends, like in motorcycle denim and jackets aren’t as strong as 100% Dyneema fabric, they are notably stronger than they would be on their own.
Military Vehicle Armor
It’s no surprise that Dyneema is commonly used in body and vehicle armor. Its ability to be molded makes it easy to shape it into reinforcement panels in tactical vehicles, protective against gunfire, IEDs, and shrapnel. Its strength allows Dyneema to be used for protection against threats such as direct fire from an automatic rifle, grenades, and land mines. Thanks to its lighter weight than steel armor, Dyneema armor can be applied to vehicles without a significant loss of speed or performance. Dyneema is also often used to armor boats and aircraft, thanks to its light weight and buoyancy.
This lightness is also a benefit in personal body armor. Body armor such as bulletproof vests and jackets can be worn in extreme environments and for longer periods of time than heavier material. The addition of Dyneema armor plates, which can be molded to fit against the body and placed inside garment sleeves only increases the protection.
In the outdoor industry, durability and safety are at a premium, so it’s no surprise that Dyneema is prevalent here. Originally used in boat sails thanks in part to its buoyancy, lightweight, and water-resistance, it has since made its way into super-strong fishing lines and gloves.
The material is a wonder for outdoor applications, thanks to its ability to repel water and wind, its ultralight properties, and its ability to pack down to minuscule size. You’ll often find it in gear lauded for its toughness and low weight. Many pieces of gear in Hyperlite’s lines, like their tents and backpacks, use Dyneema. Other brands like Mountain Hardwear and Ecco use Dyneema in everything from boots and packs to emergency jackets.
Denim & Motorcycle Clothing
While it’s been around for a while, Dyneema is a relatively new fabric in the motorcycle world. Most notably, it’s woven with denim to greatly improve the abrasion resistance of motorcycle apparel. Thanks to its soft touch and lightweight, motorcycle denim with Dyneema is indistinguishable from unblended denim fabric. But it is significantly more protective.
Motorcycle denim with over 50% Dyneema can survive a 4-second slide on asphalt before wearing though, much longer than the half-second of sliding that denim alone can withstand. The takeaway here is that if you have a crash that sends you sliding for four straight seconds, you’ll have a lot of worries, but road rash won’t be one of them if you’re wearing Dyneema denim.
Brands like Pando, Saint, and El Solitario have been working on denim/Dyneema hybrid apparel for workwear and cycling gear, and by all reports, the main difference in feel is that Dyneema denim feels broken in right out of the box. Here are a few of the standouts.
VKTRE Moto Company Dyneema Abrasion Resistant Riding Shirt
Thin, lightweight, and stronger than steel. VKTRE Moto Company blended Dyneema threads with cotton to create the denim for this abrasion-resistant motorcycle shirt. For warmer days when you don’t want to wear a full armored jacket and you want to keep things looking casual, the Dyneema Abrasion Resistant Riding Shirt is the way to go. The Dyneema threads will protect your skin from road rash if you bail, but the weave and cotton keep the shirt flexible, soft, and comfortable while you’re in the saddle.
Pando Moto Steel Black 9 Motorcycle Jeans
If you want to ride with a more casual look, these jeans from Pando Moto are a great fit. The Steel Black 9 Motorcycle Jeans are made with a single layer of stretch denim reinforced by 25% denim weave. The result is a comfortable, stretchy pair of jeans that will prevent the road from skinning your legs if you take a spill. In fact, they’re officially approved Personal Protective equipment, rated up to 35 meters of slide distance. Which, again, if you slide more than that, you’ll be worried about more than just road rash.
If that weren’t enough, two-position knee armor pockets let you add even more protection if you’d like. Reinforced chain seams add to the durability, and the reflective cuffs keep you more visible while you ride.
Saint Unbreakable Denim Shearling Collar Jacket
Once, the chosen uniform for ranchers and railmen, this denim shearling jacket is more than meets the eye. This jacket is built with 66% ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) in higher impact zones like the back and sleeves and 12% UHMWPE in the rest of the jacket. This gives it a 5.9 second slide time in the highest impact zones before the jacket is estimated to wear through. This means it keeps your skin on your back instead of on the road if things go sideways while you ride. As a bonus, it just plain looks cool, especially with its removable black and white faux fur collar attachments.
Just the Beginning
Even though Dyneema has been around for over 50 years, its uses are still being explored in a wide variety of applications, particularly in the realm of personal safety equipment. Its combination of strength and malleability makes it possible to use in everything from protective clothing to armored plating in apparel and vehicles. Its ability to weave into clothlike material also makes it an excellent material for building exceptionally durable yet lightweight outdoor adventure products.