December 22, 2010
Space Material Prevents Motorcycle Road Rash
A French company has found business success by blending high-tech fibers used in ESA space mission with old-fashioned denim to create comfortable, stylish protective gear for bikers.
Like 75% of European motorcycle riders, Pierre-Henry Servajean was wearing regular jeans when he took a bad spill on his bike in 1995:"I realized everything I had on my body was perfect "“ my helmet, gloves, jacket "“ except the jeans. I had suitable things for every part of my body, except my legs."
The realization triggered a decade-long quest to find a fabric that combines the comfort and breathability of denim with the strength and abrasion resistance of protective gear like motorcycle leathers.
It ultimately led him to the founding of ESquad, a fashion label devoted to ultra-durable motorcycle jeans.
Pierre-Henry knew there were many fabrics that might fit part of the bill. Kevlar, for example, is legendarily tough.
But Kevlar has some major flaws when it comes to apparel. It doesn't "Ëbreathe', in the woven form it is uncomfortable to wear and starts to disintegrate when it's exposed to the ultraviolet in sunlight.
To find a fiber that could beat Kevlar, Pierre-Henry had to go further afield. After extensive research, he lit upon a fiber known as "Ëultra high molecular weight polyethylene' (UHMWPE).
It is a form of polyethylene, the world's most common plastic, but the fibers are twice as strong as Kevlar, and 10"“100 times stronger than steel.
Held ESA satellite on 30 km tether
UHMWPE is so strong yet so lightweight that in 2007 it was used to produce a very special line for the YES2 tether experiment that piggybacked on ESA's Foton-M3 microgravity mission.
Only half a millimeter thick, a 30 km-long line of UHMWPE fibers dangled a small reentry capsule in orbit, demonstrating that 'space mail' can be sent using a relatively simple and cheap mechanism.
By taking the same fibers and wrapping them in cotton, Pierre-Henry managed to create a fabric that combines the qualities of jeans with the toughness and strength of UHMWPE: "In the core of the yarn, instead of cotton you have high-performance fiber.
Working with ESA's technology transfer broker in France, Nodal, Pierre-Henry's Armalith fabric is being highlighted by ESA as part of its Technology Transfer Programme to find use in other non-space sectors.
The fabric is a perfect combination of abrasion resistance, strength and comfort.
Tested to European standards, it measures up to motorcycle leather in terms of crash protection.
To demonstrate the fabric's strength, Pierre-Henry orchestrated a unique publicity stunt: he suspended a 2700 kg Hummer from a pair of the jeans.
The motorcycle community has gotten the message already: ESquad jeans are sold in motorcycle shops all over Europe, and have earned rave reviews from motorcycle magazines in France and Germany.
Image Caption: ESquad's light, comfortable motorcycle jeans rival protective leathers thanks to fibers used on space missions. Credits: E-Squad
On the Net:
- More on ESA's Technology Transfer Programme on ESA TTP website
- YES2 - Young Engineering Satellites