Mark Shippey visits Alpinestars' Italian development facility to find out just what goes into keeping your plates of meat intact in a crash
There are 26 bones in each of our feet, and two in each lower leg. Break just one of them and the searing pain will let you know about it!
Boot manufacturers invest heavily in the search for the perfect balance between protection, safety and practicality. Each company has a selection of competitive riders to call upon for invaluable feedback to the Research & Development department in the search for the Holy Grail of boots.
Watch any pre-season test session and you will notice plenty of new products that the rider will be testing alongside his machine. Alpinestars has instigated its own 'Advanced Safety Technology' (AST) programme utilising World Superbike and MotoGP riders Garry McCoy and John Hopkins. Invaluable data is gathered from sensors in the riders leather suit that determine the forces and pressure a rider exerts through various parts of a race suit while negotiating the track.
This can be transferred into adjustments made to the suit in terms of stretch panels, thickness of material and, most importantly, protection and armour for increased rider safety. This year, boots will be added to the programme to ascertain the forces transmitted from the rider to the boots' structure and vice versa.
The joint findings from lab testing and on-track use is utilised to develop boots with sufficient protection for riders on the street. This has led to a number of models passing the stringent criteria for European safety standards such as CE approval that define the minimum level for protective materials. Two such boots are Alpinestars' Supertech and the TCS Pro from Oxtar, the latter being the first pair of boots to be deemed as an item of protective clothing.
Alpinestars is seen by many as the benchmark for foot protection - and a damn saucy stylehouse to boot (groan!)
Although they do manufacture a full range of motorcycle clothing, the production of boots is critical to the company and comprises two thirds of the company's sales each year. Perhaps this can be traced back to the humble origins of this race-bred company in 1963. The first boots developed were for Motocross and Enduro use for friends of the owner, Signor Mazzarolo. This began a close family-style relationship with riders that has continued down through the generations and is partly responsible for many of the advances in safety and protection features that have evolved over the past 40 years.
Kenny Roberts was the first GP rider to wear recognised road/race developed boots in the early 1970's. Reminiscent of the early protective boots of the sixties, they had shin and ankle protection with a stiffer reinforced sole. Kenny Roberts Jr has continued the family development relationship and had a lot of input into the development of the Supertech.
The reason for this was a succession of ankle injuries that prevented Kenny from complete free movement of the foot. With his input, the inner bootie and torsion control system of the Supertech was designed in order to limit side movement of the ankle to prevent it from snapping sideways in the event of an extreme crash.
The list of riders at the top level who have worn Alpinestars boots reads like a Hall of Fame: Kenny Roberts, Randy Mamola, Kevin Schwantz, Max Biaggi, Troy Bayliss and Valentino Rossi, to name but a few.
Kenny Roberts Junior is now one of Alpinestars' foremost development riders and, alongside Ben Bostrom, Troy Corser and Carlos Checa, was responsible for the track testing and fine-tuning of the Supertech. Ben Bostrom went on to win the double at Brands the first time he wore the boots, the start of five successive wins on the bounce in WSB. Who says boots don't make you go faster?
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