The company's namesake d3o gel is a proprietary and top-secret material made with "intelligent molecules" that are flexible under any normal situation; on impact the gel seizes up. As the company explains it, d3o molecules instantly "shock lock" together to absorb energy and create a solid pad once a force is imposed, then bounce back to the flexible state after the pressure is gone.
Already d3o has found its way into shin guards, ski gloves, equestrian gear, bike shorts and gloves for ice climbing. It can be stitched into clothing as a thin layer of padding, supple and comfortable enough to wear, though ready to seize up into a solid rubbery barrier on the instant of impact.
To test this magic gel, I biked last month with the D3O Armored L/S Crew and D3O Ultimate Chamois Bike Short, both pricey downhill mountain biking apparel products made by Spyder Action Sports Inc. (www.spyder.com).
The top--a $350 D3O Armored L/S Crew--looks like a race jacket made for the motocross crowd. But this body armor is actually a compression top with padding tacked on from shoulders to wrists.
It zips open and slips on with no stress. Though studded with the d3o pads, your arms are free to move and grip handlebars.
The shorts--$270 D3O Ultimate Chamois Bike Short--fit close and pad your rear with a traditional foam seat. But on the outer thighs and hips d3o panels protect from contact with roots, rocks and other objects that might ruin your day during a wreck.
Although I did not purposefully crash for the sake of journalism, I did test the Spyder apparel while riding for comfort and performance. Its heavily padded structure adds some weight and bulk, though the pads never got in the way while biking.
To test the d3o panels, I knocked my legs with a pipe and a small hammer. As the company claims, the gel locks on impact, instantly distributing and diluting the force.
Conclusion: d3o is a neat new substance for gear companies to deploy. It's a subtle padding that is less noticeable than hard-shell impact plastics yet more effective than regular foam, a thin layer of protection that you might not otherwise have.
Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.