Traditional gloves sacrifice outright protection for hands from crushing, abrasion and falls in order to retain freedom of movement and tactile feel. These new gloves from a Manhattan start up aim to fix that.
Motorcyclists may be familiar with the name Del Rosario thanks to the company's wild-looking concept helmet from a few years back. The intention has always been to realize that idea in production form, but, in the wacky world of venture capital, it's iPhone apps without business models that have been sucking up all the cash while something actually capable of saving lives is left to bang its concussion-free head on the wall.
So, designer John Del Rosario asked himself what an easier, lower-cost item of clothing would be where he could still utterly redefine the category's idea of injury prevention. The answer was gloves. It's not only motorcyclists who are in need of a better solution, but other users who have to deal with regular falls will be able to benefit too — soldiers and extreme sports athletes.
Just before they enter production, we asked John all about them.
Oh, and your'e going to read some safety jargon in here. The quick guide is that "CE" refers to a set of safety standards the EU has been set for any item of safety gear. Safety glasses must carry "CE" approval specific to them, as does everything else from condoms to, well, gloves. Lacking a unified system of American safety standards, CE has become the internationally recognized definition of what "safe" means. In some cases, there's different levels of protection specified by a "1," "2" or "3" after "CE," the higher the number, the safer the standard, with each number typically doubling the protection of its predecessor.
IW: What's wrong with traditional gloves?
JDR: Everything. Traditional gloves — as cool and high-tech as they look — have nowhere near the functional protection their appearance would imply. Everyone just plays a shell game where they change a few aesthetics, but with no actual progression in safety.
There's a minimum CE safety standard for motorcycle gloves in the books, but as far as I know, Halvarssons in the only company currently selling a true CE2 model — a winter glove. Racer is also worth mentioning. A pretty great, no BS company and, for a while, it looked like they also had a couple of certified pairs. Those are no longer offered. An insider explained that they advertised their models as CE2 in anticipation of passing the tests, but it turns out they didn't, so they got scrubbed. Having said that, for most city riders, they should be fine.
People find it hard to fathom that their favorite brand somehow uses vague marketing lingo to imply that their gloves will protect them in a crash, without actually backing that up with real safety. They'll show you all sorts of product labels and stickers claiming a bunch of standards, but consumers are easily confused. Many motorcycle gloves that wear a CE label are actually certified as work gloves and come nowhere near true motorcycle safety.
Most people also have the wrong idea of what actually happens in an accident. I'm constantly seeing guys posting pics of their scratched-up gloves online. Their assumption is that they landed hands-first and the gloves miraculously took the brunt of the impact. But, if you actually analyze slo-mo video of high-speed falls, you'll notice that, on asphalt, it's usually ass-first, then feet, then hands. The reason people think they landed hands-first is because that's what hurt the most. If they actually landed on their hands, there's a high chance they'd be broken. In high speed crashes such as in MotoGP, you can actually see the riders lift their hands off the asphalt due to the extreme heat the friction causes.
IW: Will you gloves actually be wearable, giving users real tactile feel, fine control and full mobility?
JDR: Of course. The idea from the outset was the fully protect the hands while still giving you complete dexterity and articulation. Normally, you'd have to sacrifice some of movement and feel to have the safety, but I think we've found a way to enhance both.
IW: How do they work?
JDR: Three ways. First: there's a top hand impact protector. This is where any similarities to traditional gloves end. Ours articulates along with the rider's hand to account for topographical differences from person to person. Design wise, it means we don't have to add bulky stretch panels to prevent the fabric pulling forward when you close your fist.
Second: we implemented a curved "palm bridge" that's both an impact protector and slider for the palm. This not only provides true impact protection for the scaphoid [An easily broken, but hard-to-heal bone at the base of the palm — Ed.] but also causes the hand to slide out during a fall. The idea is to not land flat on your hands in the first place. If you can decentralize the load as quickly as possible, you stand a substantially better chance of avoiding injury or speeding recovery. There's other gloves on the market with hand sliders, but they're limited to helping the hands slide out and not designed to take impacts.
Third: there's the abrasion and friction layers underneath. If there's one feature that really sets us apart, this is it. Most gloves fail CE certification due to the harsh and unforgiving nature of the abrasion testing. There's a work glove abrasion test — which most glove manufacturers use to achieve the "CE" label — and a motorcycle glove abrasion test, which is much, much harder to pass.
Abrasion testing is done on a Martindale Machine. A coarse pad is slowly rubbed on the material to look for potential wear and tear issues. Motorcycle testing gets a lot crazier and is done using an impact abrasion tester. The lab attaches whatever material you're using to a mechanical arm, which then falls onto a high-speed, 60-grit sander. This is used to simulate a slide on hot asphalt. The minimum time to failure is just three seconds. Leather alone won't achieve that and neither will a leather/Kevlar mix. This is why so many companies find it so hard to pass; if they use heavier materials then you'll practically be wearing oven mitts. Riders can't tell the difference between the work and motorcycle certification, so what do the manufacturers care?
This, by the way, is the very first test we did using our proprietary mix of materials. We had five different mixes, three passed. I'm not implying that if you're a city rider traveling at stop and go speeds that your gloves will disintegrate if you tip over, our designs are made with the worst possible circumstances in mind — MotoGP or high-speed Isle of Man stuff. Most people won't experience the kind of conditions we design for, but you can be confident the protection is there in case shit gets real on the road. Sometimes there's a very thin line between getting a few scratches and never walking again.
An early prototype of Del Rosario's first production model.
IW: What challenges have you faced getting these made?
JDR: Everything any startup can get thrown at them, we've gotten. Having to deal with investment firms wanting full ownership and control, all sorts of terrible licensing offers, loan rejections, you name it.
Then, there's finding a manufacturer with capabilities in the US. There just aren't any. Lots of people are great at putting a garment together, but glove stitching? No one wanted to touch it. We are now onto negotiations with our second factory.
I'm doing all this for completely selfish reasons: When I go out and ride, I want to know I'm not just wearing an ineffective costume. I'd like to make sure my bones don't fracture into a thousand pieces during an accident. I love to design and I hate breaking bones, so I'm making a business out of it.
IW: Where'd they idea come from?
JDR: Old school research. Studying complex human body dynamics, how they move, what it takes to break bones and what it actually takes to protect us. We build gear on top of that.
From a marketing point of view, we went out there and told everyone our helmets were going to be the safest, most ergonomic things you could buy, now we have to carry that across a full product line. We can't make a really great, protective helmet, then turn around and make shitty gloves and jackets. For us, every part has to be functional. It's there because it has to be, except the paint.
Then there's the ugly part. As you fall down that rabbit hole, you come to one horrible conclusion: no CE standard in place is nearly good enough to protect your spine or any other part of your body from fracture. CE2 is barely adequate and anything rated CE1 is a joke. I try to design everything as if there were a CE3 in place. Funny thing is, there actually is a CE3 rating for back protectors, it's just that no one has reached it yet. That's my goal for the near future.
IW: Who are you designing for?
JDR: Might sound cheesy, but I've got this idea of combining bike gear with tactical functionality. It just makes great sense to me, both in the practical and the aesthetic sense. Take one-piece race suits for example. I hate they way they look and feel (it's even worse for the ladies); they make you look like a Power Ranger and make you walk with the gait of an upright gorilla. I can't believe this is the best we can do. The military motif makes practical sense in terms of control and natural movement. There are specific military guidelines for dexterity that we can use to quantify the extent of articulation in the fingers, for example. Might as well use the gloves as a starting point. Also, government contracts…
IW: Quantify the level of protection? How big of a fall can you experience in which your hands will still be fine?
JDR: Let's get one thing straight: you could wear a full-body cast and still get super banged up quite easily, so there's no invisible force field of safety. Your body was never meant to be flung against things at speed. With that said, safety gear is all about numbers; velocity, mass, angle of impact and even your own age and bone health (you've been taking your calcium and vitamin D, right?). What can cause major trauma in one person may leave someone else completely unscathed.
In order to quantify the level of protection these gloves offer, we have to compare it to CE requirements.
For the top of the hand, transmission of less than 4kN of impact force is required from 5 Joules of energy. Most conventional gloves actually meet this with no problem. Especially the ones with hard knuckles with a soft, cushioning underlay. Our gloves, however, are designed to sustain more than double that. The top of the hand is designed to a higher impact spec while transmitting less energy; it's actually similar to the standard for hip and shoulder armor. Why? Because it takes only 1.5kN to fracture those tiny bones in your hand. In any accident, you will definitely transmit many, many times that.
Then, there's the palm bridge, which we designed to meet the same 4kN force transfer as the top of the hand. Palm impact protection is not required by the CE standards, but we did it anyways. That means your average, healthy, 165lbs adult can fall directly on their palm from a height of three feet and walk away without a fracture. But, it's designed to avoid that in the first place, by facilitating a slide so you don't have to land directly perpendicular.
As far as abrasion goes, if you fall and slide on asphalt with our gloves on, you can sustain a slide for at least 15 feet in the worst conditions. We also designed the tips of the fingers without any seams or breakpoints to prevent blowouts. The instinctive reaction for people is to grab a the road when they're falling in order to slow themselves down. That can cause the fingertips of the glove to rupture, exposing your fingertips and causing some gnarly road rash.
Lastly, there will be two liners included with the glvoes. A CoolMax liner for the extreme heat and a flame retardant liner for tactical use. The flame resistant liner is also beneficial in reducing friction heat during a slide.
IW: What can't these gloves protect you from?
JDR: The same type of dangers that can cause fracture to your spine. Dorsi Hyper-Flexion (extreme upward movement), Palmar Hyper-Flexion/Extension (extreme downward movement), Radial Hyper-Flexion (extreme inward lateral movement) and Ulnar Hyper-Flexion (extreme outward movement).
It's got to be said that it's not just one piece of equipment that protects you, it's the sum of many. For example, most people wear back protectors to guard against spinal injury. But, to really mitigate that injury, you'll need to cover the neck to protect from axial loading and wear some hip pads to allow for the sideways force on the spine. You can wear the greatest helmet ever, but if you sustain enough trauma to the rest of the body, it's still lights out.
These are only short cuff gloves by the way; the impact protection doesn't extend to the wrist or fingers. We are developing a longer, gauntlet version that should have those safeguards built in.
IW: Why did it take a random jerk like you to come up with this?
JDR: We never meant to be here at this point. It was only after exhausting all funding avenues that we decided to try the self-funding route. My head is still with the helmet project and I'd like to get that off the ground as soon as possible, there's so many new designs and technologies possible that it's driving me crazy! Thing is, you need a nice big ecosystem to bring these to market, an infrastructure of money, logistics and machinery.
So, I reached into my stash of designs and pulled out the one thing that might be easies for us to build right away.
We didn't discover the stuff about motorcycle gloves being unrated and unsafe until after the fact. I just assumed everyone had super high CE ratings and it was really surprising and unsettling to discover they didn't. I thought I had really stuck my foot in my mouth by promising to have a better product than anyone else, but it turns out, we do.
IW: When do they go on-sale?
JDR: A few loyal fans from our Facebook page ordered the first few pairs. We really couldn't have made it this far without those guys as well. I'm planning some great stuff for them. We're also meeting with distributors after we get a deal with a good factory sorted out. Fortunately for us, there's plenty of interest, we just have to provide the product. We missed a deadline for distributor samples a few months back just because of factory shenanigans, so there's definitely a sense of urgency on our part to get this right and make it good.
[The Del Rosario Resistors are expected to enter production and go on-sale Q4, 2014]
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