Thanks in equal parts to License2Ill's long-winded rants and my personal fear of broken ribs, I ordered a Tipperary Air Esprit equestrian rider's vest. It arrived this past weekend, just too late to take it along to the Neduro Clinic at The Farm.
Since I haven't seen any other reviews of the thing, I'll start one here.
I bought this vest to assist in protecting against broken ribs and similar torso trauma, including the bar-end-in-gut effect. The reason I chose a horse-riding product instead of a moto-specific item is because of the stricter performance standards equestrian items meet compared to bike stuff.
Breaking news: This vest is not BETA Level 3 certified:
However, other, similar items are. See the posts following the above link for examples.
In short, BETA 3 vests are roughly TWICE as good as the very best cycle gear at absorbing impact energy.* For more details than you probably care to read on that front, including numbers, data, criteria, and analysis, see here:
This vest provides full wrap-around coverage of the entire rib cage, something no cycle product does. And it does all that and only costs $135 shipped. So it seemed like a good deal. I bought the vest from Four Winds** in Colorado, here:
I'm 6' 1" and 165 pounds, more-or-less rail-shaped. I'm between sizes M and L per the sizing chart. I ordered a large, but it turns out a medium is just as long, and probably would have provided a leaner, closer fit for me. But the large works okay.
The vest is adjustable enough that getting a good fit is pretty simple. Three main portions are connected by large velcro swatches: the back and two wrap-around front pieces. There's velcro at the shoulders and sides, so the vest can be adjusted for both girth and length. Once fitted, there are no gaps in coverage; the whole torso is protected, all the way around. There's even a supplementary panel behind the zipper to add impact protection there.
When I got it fitted, the back came down to my tailbone, and the front to just above my belly button. This is as low as I'd want it in front, since any longer would make it difficult to bend forward at the waist. But my solar plexus and upper abs are covered, which is nice.
The shell is made of very light nylon and mesh; the interior is all mesh. It seems durable enough to last, but as light as possible for air flow. The protective panels are harder than you'd think on the outside, and slightly squishy on the bumpy parts on the inside. Unlike the CE pads in my textile jacket, the Tipperary vest places the bumpy part of the pad next to the rider, to allow air to flow between the bumps. Given that, and the largely-mesh shell, it seems it'll be not-too-hot to wear. Probably no worse than any of the Pressure-Suit style torso protectors. I may choose to add to the few holes in the panel; I doubt that would compromise protection much.
The protective panels actually do look at a lot like CE pads; same color, same general texture and feel, very similar thicknesses, though the Air Esprit stuff is just a touch thicker and firmer. I picture this vest as being one big CE pad that I can wrap myself in. Only better. Note how much bigger the back is than the pad from my jacket.
The vest fits under my mesh jacket pretty well (MC jackets seem to be made for folks bigger around than me anyway). I might even use this thing for street or track use should I desire maximum torso protection, but I'll probably save it for dirt riding most of the time. My mesh jacket will go over the top to provide shoulder and elbow pads.
I haven't had a chance to ride with it yet, but it'll get a good shakedown during my trip to Colorado at the end of the month. In the meantime, here's a summary:
What the Tipperary vest does do:
1) Offers good (but not best-in-class) impact protection. See the BETA 3 vests for that.
2) Wraps all the way around the torso, providing full rib coverage, including adjustable fit for girth and length.
3) Provides air gaps next to the rider to help with cooling.
4) Costs $135 shipped.
What the Tipperary vest doesn't do:
1) Offer shoulder or elbow pads
2) Make you look like Ricky Carmichael, a Stormtrooper, or an extra from Mad Max.
3) Give you an excuse to go shopping at your local cycle store.
I'm pretty sure the Air Esprit will help reduce injuries from all manner of impacts, including the bar-in-gut, the inconveniently-located-rock, the fall-on-my-own-elbow, and the slam-flat-on-back-after-nasty-highside. I'd like to think I won't be field testing it, but history shows that's just not the case. It'll get a good test in a couple weeks when my dad and I (he bought one, too) go trail riding in Colorado.
* Velocity Gear offers a back protector that claims 4.5 kN transmitted force at 50 J impact. That's roughly the same performance as required by BETA 2000 level 3, which the regular Esprit and several Charles Owen protectors at least meet, and may well exceed (though I don't know that). But equestrian vests cover the whole torso, not just the back.
** FourWinds lost my order, resulting in a two-week delay. Other tales of poor service follow in this thread. A couple other shops carry the vest for slightly more money, here:
I recommend at least calling Four Winds to verify inventory before ordering.