What are the best harnesses?
If you’re into “go fast” SXSs, you’ve surely asked this question before or have at least seen it asked a few hundred times. What would seem to be a pretty straight forward question actually reveals a pretty complex array of options, which inevitably nobody can agree on…
So, here’s our take on it. We’ll walk you through the most common options, their pros & cons, and tell you a little bit about our preferences.
The short list of the decisions you’ll be up against before it’s time to get your credit card out goes like this:
-2” wide or 3” wide?
-4 point or 5 point?
-What style buckle?
-What style shoulder adjusters?
-Padded or non-padded?
-Sewn in shoulder straps or separate?
Okay, from the top:
2” Wide vs 3” Wide
The tendency here is for people to discuss strength, but that isn’t really the right question. You are not going to break a quality 2” harness… This is really about comfort. There are two big things to consider, rubbing on your neck and support during rollovers or aggressive maneuvers.
2” harnesses tend to rub your neck less, especially if running them through a seat with narrow harness pockets. However, 3” harnesses tend to be more comfortable during those “oops” moments because they spread the load out further across your shoulders and hips.
We’ve run both, and don’t hate either option. If you’re a somewhat conservative driver and are running the harnesses through narrow seats openings, we’d probably suggest 2” so they don’t rub your neck as much. If you do a lot of dumb stuff and find yourself upside down relatively often, we’d say go 3”.
We currently use 3”…
4-point vs 5-point
Either option is wayyy better than the stock belts, but 5-point is the clear winner here.
The anti-submarine belt or “crotch strap” provides an extra holding point for support in a hard wreck, and keeps the lap belt from riding up your stomach and potentially allowing you to “submarine” under it, compromising your security.
If you choose 4-point, make sure you tighten down your lap belts good-n-tight before tightening your shoulder straps to keep your lap belt actually in your lap. But really, just get the 5-points. If you don’t want to use the fifth strap all the time you can simply leave it lay on the floorboard.
What style buckle?
You’ll see three main types here, the most common being a lever & hook type latch which we’ll refer to as the standard latch. There are also automotive style buckles available, as well as a rotary cam buckles.
The standard latch is tried and true, and there is something to be said for that when it comes to safety. You may occasionally have to adjust the detent balls for the latch or give them a little lube, but this setup is robust both in strength and its ability to function in dirt & mud.
The big draw to the automotive style latch is they are easy to put on. You’ll never have to explain to a newb how to latch their harnesses, because it will be just like every normal car they’ve ever been in. The potential downfalls are jamming from dirt and mud, as well as difficulty to unlatch with pressure on them (i.e. You’re upside down and you can’t get out because your buckle is jammed). Again, harnesses with this style buckle would still be an upgrade from the stock setup, but if you ride hard we’d recommend you avoid them.
The rotary cam style is a very good latch, however it is also more likely to suffer from jamming due to mud & dirt. With this style you can latch each belt individually into the buckle, making it generally easier to put on than the standard style, and you then twist a knob (usually) to release the belts. If you’re always in clean conditions this would be a solid choice, however if you’re like the majority of us and find some mud occasionally, we’d probably shy away from this one as well.
Ultimately, we have to recommend the standard latch for its proven ability to keep you safe and operate well in all conditions.
What style shoulder adjusters?
There are two main types here, and for simplicity we’ll just call them “standard” and “fancy” adjusters.
The standard adjusters work perfectly well, with the only complaint that they can be sticky to adjust after sitting for a while. If the same people are in your machine every ride and you never adjust them, no big deal. If you’re constantly adjusting to get in and out or for other riders, then it can become a pain. You might find it is easiest to tighten them up just a tiny bit to break them free before loosening.
The fancy adjusters are designed to be easier to release and adjust, and I (Doug) prefer them personally. Do they still stick a little occasionally? Yep.
Is it a huge deal either way? Nope.
Padded vs Non-Padded
This is mostly personal preference really. I like the pads because I find they are a little less abrasive on my neck and shoulders, and provide some cushion when putting the harnesses to use. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be uncomfortable without them, and in fact I have even talked to people who prefer to not have them.
Padded seems to be the more popular option these days, but you’ll have to make your own call on this one. Yes, you can also add pads to non-padded harnesses afterwards as well.
Sewn-in shoulder straps vs separate?
This is an interesting one.
The major attraction to the harnesses which have the shoulder straps sewn into the lap belts are that they are easier to put on. It’s two less pieces you have to hold together while trying to latch the buckle. One downside is that these can make seat removal more complicated if your shoulder straps run through your seat (depending on how you’ve mounted the straps).
The biggest potential drawback however to the sewn-in style is that it actually makes the lower attachment point for the shoulder straps wider, causing them to be more parallel as opposed to the traditional v-shape (shown above). This can become an issue if you are a smaller person with narrow shoulders, where the shoulder belts may have more of a tendency to slide off. Some manufacturer’s combat this with a separate plastic buckle that holds the harnesses together at the shoulders, but ideally you wouldn’t have to depend on that.
One exception in this area is Simpson, who designed a unique set of harnesses they call D3 that combat this issue. They actually attached the shoulder straps into the metal latch portion of the lap belts, providing the ease of the sewn in style but maintaining the v-shape that helps keep your harnesses properly located (shown below).
Despite all of these opinions, we can’t point you to an exact set of harnesses and claim them to be best for you because like most things, one size does not fit all. You should buy harnesses from a reputable company, and any of those will be a safety improvement over the stock equipment. If you have any doubts about quality, look for an SFI approval.
If you’re curious, I’ve recently gone to the Simpson D3 harnesses because they match my personal preferences, and they’re the only ones who’ve addressed the shortcomings of the sewn in style shoulder belts while still keeping them attached to the lap belts so they’re quick to put on.
P.S. Once you buy harnesses, make sure you install them correctly… There is some thought that needs to go into it and the installation is just as important as having them there. We’ll try to cover that later.