The kit you buy is all that stands between you and the road
Since April 2018, all motorcycle clothing has been classed as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a move that legally requires ALL manufacturers selling into the UK and European Union to test their products in accordance with set standards, and to present clear information on the results with a CE marking. You don’t have to wear it, but it creates a level playing field when it comes to the claims of protection made by those brands. It helps YOU, the customer, to make a more informed choice.
Unfortunately, almost two years since the law that was intended to clarify protection standards was passed, some manufacturers continue to muddy the waters. And much of the motorcycle media, who riders rely on to deliver complex information in an accessible form, is adding to the confusion.
Sa1nt jeans is promoting its ‘Unbreakable Denim’ by lifting a 2.4 tonne skip
Sa1nt jeans – an Australian brand – has released its ‘Unbreakable Denim’, stating on its website that the ‘Fabric [is] tested to AA Rating on impact abrasion resistance (Darmstadt) prEN 17092-1:2017’.
AA classification sits between the top, AAA, and the bottom, A, for motorcycle kit fitted with impact protectors. The jeans have also been shown suspending a skip weighing a claimed 2,400kg. One leading motorcycle publication was so impressed with this that it went on to describe the “wonder material” from the “cutting-edge clothing company” as being “AA rated for safety”. The jeans cost 379 Euro, but “What price on staying safe?” they ask. You can read the original article here.
While these single-layer jeans are designed for comfort, the confusion for the buyer lies in the actual rating for ‘safety’. Only the material used is claimed to meet the AA classification for impact abrasion resistance, but true certification to prEN17092 – the set of testing standards established in order to certify products for a ‘safety rating’ – also requires tests for impact protection, seam strength, tear strength, innocuousness, dimensional stability, performance after cleaning, restraint, additional constructions and fit/ergonomics; only with all this information can you make any assessment of the potential safety on offer.
And we’re not just being pedantic; by simply asking the manufacturer, Bennetts BikeSocial can confirm that the Sa1nt Unbreakable Jeans featured in the article will actually be rated as PPE (for ‘safety’) to prEN17092 Class B. Class B garments are tested to the same abrasion resistance, tear strength and seam strength level as Class A, but take on a lower classification because they don’t have any armour. As a buyer, or simply as someone being influenced by an article, would you consider this valuable knowledge?
It’s tough to explain it all, but the danger is that readers are led to believe products have higher safety ratings than they actually do. The fabric in these Unbreakable Denim jeans might be capable of meeting AA on its own, but the way the fabric is used, and many other elements of construction, come together to determine the final rating. Claiming a pair of jeans whose main protective function is abrasion resistance are made from a ‘wonder material’ because you can hang a skip from them, and using phrases like ‘what price safety?’ when they cost twice as much as higher rated products is not telling the story clearly to riders. Sa1nt itself sells other jeans that do have armour – the 'Model 3' and 'Model 4' – which are classified as A and AA respectively, so buyers should check carefully what features they want most out of a product.
The Darmstadt machine is used to test the abrasive resistance of materials by spinning them on a concrete base. You can read about how the test is carried out here
Because all motorcycle clothing with pockets for protectors is classed as PPE (only rain over-suits are excluded), by law it has to have been tested to prove it complies with standards set by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN). Experts from across the UK and Europe have long been instrumental in setting the standards that keep the public safe, from restricting the use of toxic materials in children’s toys, to demanding safety in electrical devices.
While all motorcycle clothing is now PPE, you’re only legally required to wear a helmet here in the UK (hence it being VAT-exempt). Your own insurance policy shouldn’t be affected by your choice of kit, but it’s possible that a third-party’s insurer could reduce a payout in relation to a claim where their customer caused injury to a rider who wasn’t wearing suitable motorcycle clothing (it’s called contributory negligence, and you can read about it here.)
Following Brexit, the British Standards Institution (BSI) will continue to remain a member of CEN, though there will be an additional labelling requirement.
As with Euro emissions regulations, leaving the EU will not see Britain ‘relax’ its requirements; besides the UK market being too small (relatively) for most manufacturers to make a ‘special’ version of its products (especially cars and motorcycles), any manufacturers in the UK would end up only able to sell to a domestic market, which would stifle much-needed growth. If anything, given the stringent nature of BSI tests previous to entering the EU, it’s likely a BSI-specific test would have been more demanding than what we have now.
Labelling like this is how manufacturers got away with selling kit without having it tested
Technically, all motorcycle kit should have been tested for its protective qualities since 30 June 1994, but manufacturers strongly opposed this, and governments turned a blind eye to motorcycle kit being PPE until the claims of safety and protection made by some brands became so overwhelming that the loopholes used – like small labels stating that the garment wasn’t considered protective, dwarfed by large ‘CE impact protectors used’ logos – were finally closed.
Separate testing standards for helmets (these are set to tighten up soon), gloves, boots and for jackets and trousers have all been in place for a many, many years, but it’s the standards for jackets and pants that have changed. EN 13595 was – and still is for now – a solid standard for testing to PPE certification, but it was quite demanding.
Several years ago, when the French government started to enforce the previous PPE Directive, and prosecuted brands that had not tested and CE marked their motorcycle clothing, new domestic testing standards for garments and gloves, known as the ‘French Protocols’, were drawn up with lower performance requirements than EN 13595, which made it easier for textile materials to pass certification.
prEN17092 is very similar to the French Protocol and has been under development since about 2010. However, uncertainty among some manufacturers (if not a few heads in sand) has led to delays in submitting products to testing houses like SATRA in the UK for certification. Though the fact that huge brands like RST and tiny family-run businesses like Hood Jeans managed to comply with the law in time lends little credibility to the excuses given by some manufacturers. To be fair, there is a sizeable backlog at testing houses across Europe, leading to some brands struggling to get all of their garments certified as quickly as they’d like.
Ultimately though, there’s now no reason any motorcycle clothing should be on sale without clear CE markings that indicate it’s been tested to perform as PPE, and that show the level of protection.
The best motorcycle denim will depend on what you want from it; are you looking for ultimate safety, are you looking for style, or are you focussed on comfort? As with any bike gear, there will always be compromises to be made.
Sa1nt jeans use a single layer of denim with Dyneema woven in; this Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) has a tensile strength up to 15 times greater than steel. It’s also potentially stronger by weight than Kevlar (a DuPont brand name for an aramid fibre), though it has a much lower melting point. That’s why the two materials are sometimes used together; the Kevlar shields the Dyneema from the heat caused by friction when a rider slides down the road. Dyneema can also be quite tricky to test on an abrasion machine as it can melt into the abrasive bed, potentially reducing the wear on the sample as it’s abraded over the same spot.
Single layer motorcycle jeans will almost certainly be easier to wear than those that have a separate protective aramid layer underneath, but they’re very unlikely to achieve as high levels of protection. And as the cotton in single-layer jeans degrades, so the overall protective quality is reduced more quickly than in a multi-layer design.
Remove the armour from any bike kit – something I would personally never recommend doing – and the protection level drops even further, as indicated by the B classification of the Sa1nts.
Of course, no real crash is completely replicable, so we need to buy our bike kit based on a level playing field of testing, which is what the new PPE Directive and prEN17092 has finally brought us. Then it’s simply down to the compromises we’re willing to make between comfort, style and safety.
The Sa1nt Unbreakable Jeans are a single-layer design with no armour – riders looking for something predominantly comfortable and stylish may well find they’re exactly what they’re after. Of course, there are lots of manufacturers offering motorcycle riding jeans; here's are examples of just three...
Roadskin’s Paranoid jeans (shown here inside-out) are fully-lined with Kevlar, though the company also offers single-layer jeans
Roadskin’s Paranoid jeans are fully AAA rated as PPE to prEN17092 and cost £169. They’re completely lined with Kevlar, which will make them heavier, hotter and bulkier than single-layer motorcycle jeans, but they’ll offer more protection. The company also makes single-layer jeans for £159, which have achieved class AA in the full prEN17092 garment test.
These Draggin Rebels use a woven aramid in key impact areas in order to reduce bulk – as you can see here with them worn inside-out
Draggin’s fully-lined Holeshot jeans retail at £259.99 and meet the previous – and in many ways tougher – testing standard of EN13595 Level Two – very impressive for any motorcycle garment. Again though, these are much heavier and hotter to wear, hence why Draggin’s best sellers are its part-lined jeans. The Draggin Rebels are a good example – they’re AA rated because the protective ‘Roomoto’ lining (Draggin’s own aramid-based protective layer, which is capable of achieving AAA on the abrasion rig) only covers key impact areas, not the whole garment. Draggin uses a towelling-style knitted aramid, which can offer good protection but is bulkier and warmer than some woven styles used by other brands.
Shown inside-out, the lack of coverage of the aramid fibre at the groin and bottom of leg in the Hood jeans is all that stops them achieving Class AAA; a compromise made for increased comfort
Hood jeans has opted for more coverage than Draggin’s Rebels, but still leaves the groin clear for comfort (a low-risk impact area), as well as the bottoms of the legs (which are covered by the boots) in order to make it easier to adjust the leg length for each individual buyer. Because the aramid liner inside the Hood K7 Infinity jeans – which cost £159.99 with D3O hip and knee armour included – doesn’t cover all of the inside, they achieve Class AA.
Not everyone cares about the testing standards, and that’s fine; it’s all down to personal choice. But if you care about the money you spend, I believe you should be able to make an informed choice, and that’s where it’s the responsibility of the motorcycle media to help.
prEN17092 was established to give a guide to the level of protection offered by the products you buy, so it’s worth spending half an hour to get your head around what it means. An overview of the standards can be found here, but you can also check the superb MotoCAP website, which has independently tested many biking products in Australia. I spoke to the man behind this testing, Christopher Hurren, Senior Research Fellow (Fibre Science and Technology) at Deakin University, who told me “From the testing conducted by MotoCAP on ‘Protective Denim’ products, the best performance has been in multi-layer products where a separate protective liner is present inside the jeans.
“The Saint single-layered product performs the best of the single layered products reported on so far but all three single layer products fall towards the bottom of the multi-layered product performance levels. All of the products achieving over two seconds of abrasion time were multi-layer products
From the testing carried out by Dr Hurren, motorcycle jeans often perform better for overall protection than many textile pants – while these have additional layers at the knees, the sides of the legs and bum are typically constructed from a single layer of 600 Denier polyester or nylon that can have an abrasion time as low as 0.4-0.6 seconds on the test rig. Protective jeans that have their protective layer covering the bottom, sides of the legs and knees often perform better in these areas.
As an example of material strength alone, Hood has had its K7 jeans certified without armour, in case you want to buy them without it for £129.99. Like the Sa1nts, with no armour they’re certified to prEN17092 Class B, but if you tested the denim and the protective lining material for impact abrasion resistance, it would achieve the highest level – AAA.
Some of the best denim and separate aramid layer combinations can exceed the abrasion resistance of leather, but again – only you can decide what you want to wear on and off the bike.
Wear what you like, but spend your money based on compromises you understand
I’ve not worn the Sa1nt jeans, and I’m not trying to tell you that you shouldn’t. I’ve not intended to single them out, but seeing the claims made online and in the press – which have been repeatedly pushed on social media – made it just one example of many instances of buyers still being misled (not necessarily intentionally) when it comes to how ‘safe’ a product is.
Sa1nt’s website boldly states that “With no bulky layers or liners, our denim range provides the very best in strength and impact abrasion resistance, while maintaining a McQueen-esque style.” With clarity in the presentation of test results, you can be the judge of whether they do indeed offer the best in strength and impact abrasion resistance, and base your purchases on what you want.
To be honest, I’ve not worn any single-layer jeans because – personally – I choose to go for what I consider a more protective multi-layer design. Personal choice is key to a free society, but uniformed or ill-informed choice is rarely a good thing…
This label told the buyer that they should ‘use the correct protections’, despite the garment it was in having been through no test that would give any indication of how protective it was
We approached Sa1nt for a comment and received the following: “SA1NT are proud of our determination and innovation in pursuing safe single layer denims for motorcyclists. We have multiple garments currently being tested and approved with SATRA in line with new standards. We will only place CE markings and certification on our approved Moto garments tested to these prEN17092 standards. We don’t use the CE marking on any garments previously manufactured or with fabric only tested to past CE abrasion resistance standards.
“This has taken some time given testing backlogs at SATRA. As soon as we have the final certificates to circulate we will make publicly available our results and classifications and our website will be updated accordingly.”