Date reviewed: March 2023 | Tested by: John Milbank | Price: From £290 | www.bowtex.store
The Bowtex Elite on review here is – like the Knox Honister – one of the very few AAA-rated off-the-peg textile jackets. It comes as standard with Level 2 shoulder and back protectors, with options for a £28 back protector and £21 pair of chest protectors, bringing it up to a still highly competitive £339.
This is a challenger to the Knox offering, but it’s not quite perfect yet…
At 5’10” I’m fairly average in height and a little overweight, so it might help to know that my usual size large fitted me fine in the Bowtex Elite. While snug, there’s enough stretch in the Dyneema construction to make it very comfortable.
The sizing guide on the Bowtex website says the Elite should fit like a base layer, and it does, though I’ve no problem getting a tee-shirt or other base-layer under it.
This is an incredibly lightweight piece of kit – I actually had to get independent confirmation that it truly was an AAA-rated piece of kit, the material is that thin. Up until now, I’ve not seen any riding gear that’s this lightweight that has achieved AAA under the current garment testing standard of EN17092. I’m actually sat at my computer writing this review while wearing it, it’s that unobtrusive.
I have 18cm (7 inch) wrists and would like the cuffs to be a little tighter, but that could cause problems for others, so thumb loops keep the arms in place and fit under gloves easily. The reason there’s no adjustment here is that it’d add bulk when worn under other kit, which is what the Elite is really designed for.
Typically an armour-carrying vest or shirt doesn’t have any abrasion resistance built in – they’re normally designed to have other protective kit over the top. The Bowtex Elite however can be used on its own if you want, or under anything at all – even a fashion jacket or a tee-shirt.
Something I griped about in the review of the Knox Honister is that the pocket holding the elbow armour in place could exposes it slightly. This seems to happen with the Bowtex too, but it doesn’t give that same clammy feeling as the armour here’s backed with its own fabric.
Overall I’ve got no issues with the fit, the Bowtex Elite being extremely comfortable and easy to wear, the material also feeling very cool on the skin.
I’ve reviewed the Bowtex Elite with the optional back and chest protectors
Having the armour held close to the body means it’s far more likely to be in the right place in a crash – and top stay there – but the Bowtex Elite is let down by the SAS-TEC brand protectors that are fitted to the elbows in particular. While these are ‘Type B’ – the larger of the two templates dictated by the requirements of the standard – they’re still much smaller than many of those used in other kit.
The biggest problem with the elbow armour is that it doesn’t wrap around the limb like others often do, which can leave the sides of my joints feeling exposed. If sticking with SAS-TEC, I’d have preferred to see the SC1/-6 Evo fitted, for instance, rather than the SC-1/EB that you get in the Elite.
The shoulder armour has more shape to it (it’s the SC-1/41 new if you’re interested), and does inspire more confidence, but here it’s disappointing that it’s only the smaller ‘Type A’; on a size large garment it’d be better to use the larger ‘Type B’ to ensure proper coverage.
The majority of my shoulder is well protected, but as the armour shifts slightly either the front of rear of the joint is exposed.
This pic shows the Type B SAS-TEC elbow armour that comes with the Bowtex Elite, compared to the Type B Knox elbow armour.
There’s no back-protector supplied, but a Level 1 is available at £25, or a thicker Level 2 (which I’ve got fitted) at £28. These are only ‘Centre Back’ protectors, so they don’t reach as low down as others and they’re a lot narrower, providing far less coverage across the width of your body.
Level 1 chest protectors are also available at £21 for the pair, and these ‘Type B’ inserts give good coverage. They don’t add much bulk so I’d certainly recommend adding them.
Ultimately, the protection offered by having the amour kept close to the body means the Bowtex Elite is still better than many ‘normal’ motorcycle jackets for its armour, but I do really hope that the company changes what’s fitted, even if it does put the price up a bit.
The shoulder armour it Type A – Type B would be more appropriate really
Being rated to AAA under EN17092 means the Bowtex Elite has been tested for abrasion resistance, tear and seam strength. This is the highest level achievable under 17092, but it’s a pass or fail abrasion test, so it’s impossible to say how this would compare to any other AAA-rated kit. What we do know though is that it performs better in testing than gear rated to A or AA.
It should be pointed out that, while Bowtex shows the ‘speeds’ at which the Darmstadt machine used in testing spins at on its website, these cannot be considered as directly equivalent to road speeds for several reasons:
Testing and certification under EN17092 is an excellent way to compare products when buying, but it can of course never be a guarantee of safety. While it might seem pedantic to criticise the use of ‘speeds’ when promoting riding kit, it’s something that almost all other manufacturers have stopped doing.
Ultimately, Bowtex has done an outstanding job of creating an incredibly lightweight and easy to wear piece of personal protective equipment that meets the highest level under the current standards, and it deserves to be congratulated for it. It’s rare to see innovation in safety like this, and it makes for a very interesting future…
All motorcycle clothing sold in the UK and Europe is deemed to be Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This is a good thing for riders as it can help them choose kit that has provable levels of safety because, to meet this legislation, it must be tested to a recognised standard. To fully understand the labels found in all bike kit, click here.
The belt loops are intended to prevent the jacket pulling up in a slide, but they need improvement
Bowtex says that during two years of prototyping, the Elite was given to journalists who tended to wear the Elite as a baselayer. For that reason, they got rid of the pockets.
While it could be argued that adding pockets would impair the incredible ventilation, it’s a shame there’s no opportunity to stash anything if this is worn on its own.
I’ve had the Elite on under my Oxford Hinterland, which has been an excellent combination with no storage issues, but the Bowtex would also keep you really cool in the peak of summer when worn on its own, and that’s when I want pockets.
Bowtex says that the team likes wearing a lightweight white motocross jersey over the Elite as it reflects the sun’s heat. I’m sure it’d look good, but these don’t have pockets either, and it’d be easy to run your hand underneath the jersey to get to the Elite’s pockets if it had any.
The Bowtex Elite is extremely comfortable to wear
The Bowtex Elite is fastened with a securely locking YKK zip running from bottom to top. There’s nothing covering the base of the zip, though it is compact and fairly smooth, so should be unlikely to cause an issue with your bike’s paintwork. Still, I’d suggest you check if it’s likely to be pressed against the tank if the jacket’s worn on its own
Two loops at the rear are to pass your jeans’ belt through and can help prevent the jacket from riding up in a crash. They take a little fiddling as you’d expect, but once connected the jacket can still easily be opened up. Unfortunately though, the rear would still pull up to around the middle of the back during a slide (and further if you didn’t have the back protector fitted). The straps on the Knox Honister are trickier to reach, but a lot more effective. The fact that the Bowtex is so thin and lightweight contributes to the ability to pull up and expose the back, but a longer back protector would help, as would additional belt loops.
If you’re wearing the Elite under other motorcycle kit, there’s a good chance you might zip that together or the outer jacket might not push up as easily, but do check as if you went down the road on your back in just this, it’s very unlikely you’d be protected from abrasion.
There’s no adjustment on the Bowtex Elite, but it doesn’t need it thanks to the snug yet stretchy fit.
Shot with the studio flash behind the Bowtex Elite, it’s clear how breathable this material is
This is one of the coolest tops I’ve ever worn – better even than the mesh jackets I’ve tested. While not obviously a mesh construction, the Dyneema fabric – which was developed by Bowtex and is made in Europe – is a fine mesh in itself that lets air pass very easily through it.
Add to that the fact that the material feels so cool against the skin and this is an outstanding piece of kit for hot summer rides. All it really needs is some way of keeping the back more secure in a slide.
When worn with other riding kit, the Bowtex Elite helps trap more warm air, and being as it’s so lightweight you’ll have no problem adding base-layers and mid-layers for winter.
Obviously the Bowtex Elite isn’t waterproof, but it fits easily under ‘normal’ bike jackets like the Oxford Hinterland with its own armour removed. Or just pop a waterproof over-jacket on if you’re caught out.
The thumb loops prevent the sleeves from pulling up in a crash
In industry-standard testing, there’s very little off-the-peg textile kit out there that meets the protective performance of the Bowtex Elite, but you do have some other options…
Another option would be to use an AAA-rated leather jacket that has perforation in the leather to allow venting. You can find all the motorcycle textiles we’ve tested here and be sure to regularly check for the discounts available through Bikesocial membership.
Given how lightweight and unobtrusive the Bowtex Elite is, it makes you wonder why some of the premium brands of textile kit are still only rated – in some cases – to Level A under EN17092. While there’ll be limitations to how Gore-Tex membranes could be applied, using this material as an inner liner with the waterproofing laminated to an outer shell could make a huge difference to the protective quality of riding kit.
Under a typical textile bike jacket, the Bowtex Elite is barely noticeable, yet it adds significantly to the protection offered. When worn on its own it’s incredibly cool on the skin and lets a huge amount of air through, though the ability to ride up at the back is worrying.
As it is, the Elite is a very good bit of kit, and if Bowtex addresses the issues with the armour and rear protection it’ll be absolutely outstanding. Adding some pockets would just be the cherry on top.
Note: Bowtex also offers AAA-rated trousers, which we’ll be reviewing as soon as they become available