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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Gear review: Knox Fastback Gilet

"Gilet," for those of you playing along at home, is a fancy word for vest. But Knox, being a British company, probably doesn't call this bit of kit the Knox Fastback Vest because in British lingo a vest is often a tank-top.

"So, wait," I can hear American voices saying. "Does that mean that when Brits wear a three-piece suit, the piece under the jacket is a gilet?"

No. that is a waistcoat. Presumably, calling it the Knox Fastback Waistcoat seemed a little too prim, considering the purpose and target audience of this article of clothing. The suggestion of wearing a waistcoat on a motorcycle brings up images of the Distinguished Gentlemen's Ride.

"OK. What about a sweater vest?" my countrymen may ask. "What do they call that? A 'sweater gilet?' A 'sweater waistcoat?'"

Nope. That is a "sleeveless jumper." Obviously, calling this thing a Knox Sleeveless Jumper That Is Not Actually A Jumper is too wordy and not just a little bit confusing.

"A jumper?" American voices may persist. "That's what they call a sweater? But isn't a jumper a..."

Look, let's just forget about it, OK? The truth is, the British are not very good at English. This is additionally evidenced by the fact that the product's name doesn't really describe what it is. I mean, yes, it is a gilet. But usually gilets are worn skiing, and the Fastback's mesh construction would be a real disappointment if your primary aim was warmth.

The main function of the Fastback is as a back protector. And in that role I think the Knox Fastback Gilet does quite well.

"Think" is the operative word there, I'll admit. I have thankfully suffered no major incidents riding my motorcycle, so I can't speak from personal experience as to the effectiveness of this back protector in a crash. I hope I'll never have occasion to do so.

To be honest, I do somewhat wonder exactly how useful a back protector would be in a crash, because what are the odds you are going to land flat on your back? I am willing to bet that many spinal injuries come from contortion -- the body twisting in not-very-pleasant ways -- and there is little that a back protector can do to prevent that. But, hey, just because an air bag won't protect your feet doesn't mean you drive without one.

And philosophically I suppose that is an accurate comparison. Like an air bag, a back protector is not the be all and end all of safety, and like an air bag you'd really prefer to never have to find out how useful it is or isn't. Its primary value is psychological.

To that end, the Fastback is a good product. I feel safer when I ride with it (typically any time I'm going to be going on the motorway). The unexpected benefit of the vest, though, is that it also makes me feel more comfortable.

The main feature of the vest, of course, is the large, thick back protector that covers from the shoulders down to the lower lumbar region of the spine. Almost an inch thick, the pad is quite firm -- enough that you could fall to your back from a standing position onto a hard surface and not be injured.

The vest has a zipper down the front and two large Velcro straps at the belly to keep it snug. Mine is quite snug. The first few times I wore it I found myself thinking of the old legend that William Shatner wears a girdle.

"This is what it feels like to be Captain Kirk," I thought.

But it is not really uncomfortable or restricting, and you soon get used to it. Soon, it starts to feel right. I now find I really like the feeling of being "hugged" throughout my ride. Most importantly, though, the back pad results in my having better posture when riding. This has delivered an ability to ride much farther without ache. I wear out less quickly -- especially at body-jostling motorway speeds -- and can cover far greater distances.

The Fastback is equally handy at rest stops if I want to close my eyes for a few minutes, the pad helping to turn a picnic bench or just about any other surface into one comfortable enough to stretch out on.

Overall, I can't now really picture myself riding without this sort of gear, but I'll admit there are a few potential drawbacks.

The first is that the vest is, as I say, quite snug. This means I have to wear it as close to my body as possible or it will feel restrictive. I wear an Under Armour base layer, the vest, then whatever else I'm wearing according to the weather. And that means I don't really take it off or loosen the Fastback at stops. It would be too much fuss to take off, say, a sweater and T-shirt to get at the thing.

This means that if I stop for lunch, etc., I still have that snug feeling of being hugged as I eat. To me, there is a knock-on positive in that I don't eat too much, which means I am less likely to get sleepy once I'm back on the road.

I bought the Fastback early this year. In summer temperatures, I wore just a base layer and vest underneath my jacket, and that leads to the second potential drawback: the Fastback adds a layer.

Temperatures here in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland never reached a point this summer where that was a problem, especially considering that the vest is comprised mostly of (sturdy) mesh. But in other parts of the world, where they have actual summers, wearing another layer -- especially one that is so snug -- might be off-putting.

Neither of these are real problems for me and overall I've been pleased. The Fastback is well-made and durable, so I expect to be wearing one for quite some time. Though, as I say: I hope I'll never actually use it.


  1. I like the idea of helping my posture. But must it be worn so snugly? Will a larger size be ineffective?

    1. That's a good question. My thinking is that it helps my posture because it holds me in place. Additionally, I feel like I'd want the pad not to shift in an accident. That said, I suspect that if I were to get a size larger I'd still at least get the posture benefits.


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