While speaking to motorcycle clothing companies that attended EICMA and Motorcycle Live, as well as professional riders who use personal protective equipment, BikeSocial has learned that there are some within the industry that don’t want riders to have the freedom to choose the safest possible motorcycle kit. They don’t want motorcyclists to be able to make informed choices, which is a big step back for all the good that EN 17092 has done…
As you should be aware, all motorcycle protective clothing sold in the UK and Europe has – by law – to be certified as PPE (personal protective equipment). You can find out more here. The only reason for jackets, trousers, gloves or boots to not be correctly tested and certified is if they entered the market before 21 April 2018. If something in any way infers it offers protection for motorcycle use, it has to meet the legislation (which of course means that tee-shirts with a bike logo on don’t have to be certified as PPE).
This is good for us riders as the new standard for jackets and trousers – EN 17092 – has three levels; A, AA and AAA. The more As, the higher the protection offered based on a series of lab tests looking at abrasion resistance, tear resistance and seam strength.
But let’s remember why EN 17092 was introduced. Since 2002, the European Standard EN 13595 was available to test motorcycle clothing to, but this standard was tough, and many manufacturers couldn’t meet it… certainly not at a competitive price. You couldn’t have it cheap, comfortable and highly protective; one of those three had to give.
So a kind of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ was reached; clothing brands didn’t have to certify their kit to EN 13595 if they didn’t lead consumers to believe it was protective.
But any armour fitted did have to be CE certified to a standard (EN 1621), and some brands would put very large labels inside their garments boasting of this. So lawyers came up with a suggested label saying that the garment didn’t promise to offer protection. Of course, all this assumed we riders were only interested in how we looked, not whether the gear we were spending our money on would actually provide any protection in a crash.
Labels like this did nothing to help buyers
Confused? So were many buyers, to the point that the European Commission called enough, and decreed that ALL motorcycle riding kit must be tested and certified as PPE (using the Personal Protective Equipment Regulation 2016/425).
Back in October 2010, AFNOR (the French national standards body) requested a more easily achievable standard than EN 13595, so a working group (WG9) made up of brands from the UK and Europe started looking at a new series of test criteria that they could all agree they’d be able to meet. It wasn’t until plans to publish the PPE Regulation were confirmed that WG9 started work in earnest on producing EN 17092.
It was, quite rightly, a much easier-to-achieve target, but the tougher EN 13595 – which professional riders like police forces and other emergency services choose to ensure the utmost safety in the most dynamic of riding conditions – remained in place.
Until Europe decided to withdraw EN 13595 that is, and now we’re left with a standard in EN 17902 that tops out at a much lower level. Great for some brands, but not so great for those looking for the absolute highest levels of performance. Remember: now the UK has left the European Union, we effectively mirror certification standards for ease of trade, but with Europe withdrawing EN 13595, we’re left with a gap.
EN 13595 clothing of the last few years has not been cheap, probably because it’s generally been provided by those producing made-to-measure kit, but as material technology has improved, you only need listen to the opinions of owners of – for example – Hideout and BKS Made to Measure textile suits, as well as Scott Leathers, to understand why the higher standard has proven so popular.
It’s quite simple really; if a manufacturer specifically claims or implies (and possibly in legal proceedings if a consumer might reasonably infer) that product offers some form protection to motorcycle riders, it’s classified as Personal Protective Equipment, so must be properly tested and certified as such.
That might take the form of being called a ‘protective motorcycle jacket’, or it might be that there are protectors fitted. Where some say they’re seeing a ‘grey area’ is in garments that ‘look’ like motorcycle kit, but apparently aren’t.
You’d hope common sense would prevail, and many traders are now labelling clothing that’s just styled like a ‘biker jacket’ as fashion wear. In a motorcycle-focussed location (like a bike dealer or a show), this is particularly important as, while experienced riders might well think they know the difference between proper protective kit and a lightweight faux-leather Marlon-Brando-style jacket, there will be plenty – not least new riders – who don’t. And isn’t it reasonable for them to assume that if they buy something that looks like motorcycle riding kit at a motorcycle show, it must be designed for riding a motorcycle?
There is legal precedent: In 2004 a Sheriff in Scotland at the court of appeal stated that if 100 reasonable men were shown a Kawasaki 125 off-road trail bike and asked if they thought it was a motor vehicle, all 100 would answer in the affirmative. Using this hypothetical reasonable man as a decider became know as ‘the man on the Clapham Omnibus’. Try applying that rationale to some of the kit you see for sale.
Research carried out by leading scientists has shown that the test method of abrasion resistance used in EN 17092 is much less demanding than that of EN 13595. You’ll hear arguments for and against both machines used to test for these standards, but the fact remains that the Cambridge machine of EN 13595 – while not perfect – has been proven to provide an accurate analogue to surface-dressed roads.
In the UK, the only legal requirement is to wear a helmet certified to ECE22.05, ECE 22.06, or BS 6658:1985 (though one bearing the latter mark would likely be very old by now).
While I personally would always recommend wearing some form of protective kit when riding, it’s rightly your choice. And I’d certainly never say that you HAVE to wear the highest-rated kit.
It’s true that feeling comfortable contributes to rider safety, if nothing else due to the amount of attention you can give the road if you’re not frustrated by heavy or ill-fitting kit. However, some of the best motorcycle clothing on the market can provide comfort AND high levels of overall protection. Though it can sometimes be relatively expensive.
The most important thing to remember is that motorcycle riders should be able to make informed choices.
If riders want something extremely lightweight, as long as they understand the protection levels the kit can offer then they should be free to be able to choose the products that suit their riding style and budget.
Equally, if a rider wants the very highest levels of protection possible, then they shouldn’t be misled by marketing hyperbole: they should be able to choose based on test data.
EN 13595 was withdrawn as a standard for CE marking on 5 September 2022, leaving only EN 17092 levels A, AA and AAA; but based on solid scientific research, garments tested to AAA could be up to 89% less protective than those certified to EN 13595 Level 2. You can find out more here.
The answer seems simple; add AAAA and AAAAA levels to EN 17092, so riders who want to be able to choose the highest levels of safety – and those responsible for buying high-performance PPE – can choose based on testing.
Alternatively, as EN 17092 is a European standard, a national standards body such as the British Standards Institution could create its own higher (but entirely optional) standard that companies could test to in order to provide evidence of higher levels of protection; a replacement for EN 13595.
But BikeSocial has learned that there is serious opposition to this. Why? Let’s try to find out…
We’ve been unable to find out which brands have opposed the introduction of higher standards, but we think there might be three reasons why…
1: If EN 17092 level AAA is the top standard, it puts many products into the same category as the very highest-quality made-to-measure race leathers, for instance, which can mean potentially enormous differences in performance that can’t be proven. Some brands take advantage of this with messaging like ‘These high-performance single layer jeans are the pinnacle of the… collection. This is due to their amazing strength and high-performance Class AAA rating that conforms to EN17092-2:2020. To put this in perspective, the AAA a [sic] class is normally reserved for one piece leather race suits.’
2: Producing very high performance motorcycle clothing that’s also comfortable can be difficult. Even more so if you want to make it as affordable as possible. Some brands might not want to see their competitors achieve this, and would prefer to use marketing messages to infer their products excel.
3: Police forces and other emergency services look for the highest protection possible for their riders, so discrediting higher safety standards might open the market up to more brands.
Messaging like this is potentially misleading buyers that don’t fully appreciate the test methods and criteria
In April we posted a video and article comparing single-layer to lined jeans. This content was intended to explain the potential protection offered by different constructions, and highlights the claims by one shop that its single layer jeans were more abrasion-resistant than leather.
We were surprised to be contacted by a brand that wasn’t mentioned at all in the video, demanding it be removed. Some claims were made in this email that we at Bennetts BikeSocial believe might be used as arguments about safety standards…
Claim: “EN 17092’s test standards are a more realistic comparison to UK roads.” Responding to the fact that the Darmstadt machine of EN 17902 uses a concrete slab in abrasion testing, whereas the EN 13595 test uses a 60 grit abrasive belt, the email stated that “EN 17092 uses an accurate abrasion base that reflects the actual road surface whereas EN 13595 does not.”
“The 60 grit belt travels at 18mph,” the email went on to say. “The closest road surface to 60 grit sand paper is freshly laid Shell grip, which is why Dr Woods [the inventor of the ‘Cambridge machine’ used for this test] chose this as he wanted the worst case scenario. But Shell Grip only represents a tiny percentage of the UK road structure and is only there to enhance the stopping distance before certain roundabouts and traffic lights.”
While researching for the video, Bennetts BikeSocial spoke to Dr Christopher Hurren, Research fellow at Deakin University in Australia and Bachelor of textiles, textile sciences and engineering. He’s also the man behind MotoCAP, the government-supported Australian scheme that gives very detailed and full test reports of motorcycle kit that far exceeds the requirements of EN 17092. He explained that, through extensive testing, the Cambridge machine provides a very accurate analogue of the ‘chip-seal’ roads commonly used in Australia.
However, the company disputing our video said “The Australian road surface is not relevant to the UK nor to a European safety standard.”
We believe this is incorrect.
While UK roads are often thought of simply as ‘asphalt’, which is about four times less abrasive than chip-seal, it’s not used on all our roads. In fact, in England, motorways and major A-roads are looked after by National Highways, who told Bennetts BikeSocial that, while they generally use what’s called a ‘thin surface course system’ (asphalt), which provides a smoother finish for road users, this government agency only looks after about 2-3% of the country’s roads.
National Highways pointed out that surface-dressing (or chip-seal) is more commonly used on the local authority roads of minor A and B roads.
Which is where motorcyclists tend to spend much of their time.
Councils throughout England increasingly use surface dressing because (and this is in the words of the councils):
How many times have you ridden down your favourite road to find it covered in loose chippings? That’s recently applied surface dressing.
The road is first sprayed with a sticky bitumen binder, then the chippings are spread over it. This is then rolled to push the stones into the surface, and any remaining stones are pushed in by vehicles going over it.
It’s these small, sharp stones that make for great grip, but also a highly abrasive surface that’s more akin to a 60 grit abrasive belt than a smooth concrete slab.
While some have misled the industry by claiming that there's barely any surface dressing in the UK, Bennetts BikeSocial submitted freedom of information requests to EVERY local council in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as Transport for London, Transport Scotland and the Welsh government – that’s 92 requests in total – asking them what distance of roads they’re responsible for and what percentage is surfaced dressed.
National Highways isn’t included in this as we'd already covered the fact that it's only responsible for motorways and major A-roads, which account for 2 to 3% of England’s roads. The agency doesn’t use surface dressing, but those roads are also where most motorcyclists try to avoid.
We got 77 responses, which amounted to 168,530.63 miles of road in Great Britain.
Of those, not all gave percentages of surface dressing, despite going back several times to discuss what was needed. We did though get useful responses from 42 authorities, which accounted for 97,114.49 miles. That’s 58% of all the roads that councils who replied are responsible for.
Of those, 41,610 miles are surface dressed, which is 43%.
Given that this includes a huge variety of locations – as well as Transport for London, which being a city centre we knew wouldn’t be surface dressed and accounts for 9,190 miles – it’s fair to extrapolate this 43% out to ALL roads in Britain besides the 2-3% of motorways and major A-roads controlled by National Highways.
And that 43% is a very conservative figure. Lincolnshire County Council for instance would only say that its 5,742 mile network is PREDOMINANTLY surface dressed but that it doesn’t have a number to put to it. For that reason, we just recorded it as 51%.
The same for Norfolk’s 6,173 miles, which said 'the VAST majority of Norfolk roads are surfaced dressed'. Based on that and our experience, we’d say 75% easily, but as they refused to put a number to it, we logged it as 51%.
Keep in mind too that surface dressing is more likely to be used on rural roads – the ones motorcyclists tend to like.
Suffolk County Council told us that 53% of its 4,094 miles of roads are rural, but that 75% of those are surface dressed.
Argyll and Bute Council explained that its 1,420 miles of roads are 81% rural and 19% urban. It told us that ALL of its rural network will have been subject to at least one surface dressing treatment, with the majority treated several times. Urban routes are, it said, less suited to surface dressing, so accounts for only about a sixth of them.
This ties in with the data showing that predominantly urban councils typically use far less surface dressing – like City of Edinburgh’s 3.8% or Essex’s 10% – so it’s reasonable to assume that if we could look ONLY at rural roads, they’d have an even higher percentage of surface dressing than these Freedom of Information requests indicate.
A quick poll asked the Bennetts BikeSocial Facebook group which type of road they like riding on most… 34% said fast sweeping A-roads, 66% said tight, twisty back-roads. Nobody voted for urban roads or motorways.
It’s fair to say then that the majority of riders are likely to be on surface dressed roads for a large proportion of their time, especially when you look at the fact that Cumbria’s 4,712 miles of roads – rural AND urban – are 73% surface dressed, or Shropshire’s 3,200 are 81%.
Claim: “Riders don’t need protection above speeds of 70mph.” Elsewhere in the email we were told that “We doubt very much that WG9 [the working group behind EN 17092, of which this company is a part] or any European industry body such as MCIA [the UK’s Motorcycle Industry Association] would support the idea of products being tested at speeds higher than the national speed limit. By doing so would reveal that motorcycle riders are expected to be travelling at more than the road going legal speed limit and also we doubt that insurance companies would support this.”
This relates to the Darmstadt machine originally being designed to spin at an equivalent of approximately 70mph before the samples are dropped a short distance onto the concrete slab and allowed to slow down. Any correlation to road speed was removed while EN 17092 was still in draft form as quoting it could provide grounds for litigation should a rider have an accident at or below that speed and sustain injuries. It’s the same reason no brands or stores with any sense claim ‘slide times’.
Besides the fact that riders might be buying protective equipment for use on track, which is typically asphalt but the speeds could be much higher, this argument also ignores the fact that many riders will be on surface-dressed roads that are around four times more abrasive. Using crude maths to over-simplify the matter by dividing that theoretical 70mph by four, this could mean an equivalent speed of about 17mph.
The argument also attempts to restrict the choices of riders who might be looking for evidence of the highest levels of protection. Something that can only be achieved with a test standard that pushes materials beyond what EN 17092 AAA requires.
The Darmstadt machine spins samples on a concrete base
“The Darmstadt machine is a laboratory test device that’s required to function in a controlled and repeatable manner, whereas real world incidents are random and chaotic,” said Paul Varnsverry, Technical Director of PVA-PPE and an independent expert in personal protective equipment. “For this reason, it is inadvisable to make direct comparisons between one environment and the other.
“The way in which comparisons are being promoted is that in the Darmstadt test the sample impacts with the concrete doughnut test surface at a specified initial rotational speed, and continues to spin around the machine’s axis, slowing down until it comes to a halt – just like a real-world incident in which the rider hits the road and slides to a stop. This is claimed to make it a more ‘relevant’ and ‘realistic’ test method.
“I was recently informed about a Police motorcyclist who fell from their motorcycle at just 5mph, and the hip area of their EN 17092-conforming trousers sustained severe damage contrary to the reasonable expectations accompanying the garment’s classification. That may of course be an extreme example of a chaotic and random real-world incident defeating a product which performed to what was deemed an acceptable degree in controlled and repeatable laboratory conditions, although it would be reasonable to expect that the garment should have functioned better.”
Claim: “Having a higher standard could lead to government demanding all riders buy kit that complies with it.” This seems far from plausible given that EN 13595 has been available for so many years with no compulsion to use it. Nobody wants that.
While Bennetts BikeSocial believes that the chance to prove higher performance in riding kit should be kept available to manufacturers, we in no way would try to compel riders to buy or wear it. Besides a correctly certified helmet, we believe riders should be able to choose to wear whatever they want. But it’s the responsibility of manufacturers and traders to help them make those choices in the full knowledge of what kind of protection they’re buying.
Claim: “Having two standards would cause problems.” If the way to certify to higher levels were to have an additional, optional higher standard, it seems unlikely it’d cause much difficulty when EN 13595 and EN 17092 have run in parallel for several years.
Claim: “Kit that meets higher standards is too uncomfortable to be safe.” This is a surprising argument to make given that professional and ‘consumer’ riders have been wearing kit that conforms to EN 13595 for many years. The idea that you might not be able, for instance, to safely conduct a life-saver shoulder check in this clothing simply doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny when there’s overwhelming anecdotal evidence from users. Not to mention the fact that ergonomics performance is required by the PPE legislation and is consequently a part of testing to EN 13595, EN 17092, and would be part of any other standard too.
It's also worth pointing out that the high-performance suits that have been worn for so many years were generally certified to EN 13595 Level 2; what most would consider the pinnacle of safety performance. Level 1 has lower demands so could use lighter weight materials.
It’s very true that a rider must be comfortable when riding, not just though freedom of movement, but also body temperature. Designing for movement in many ways comes down to fit, but heat is also within the ability of most decent clothing brands through using breathable materials, minimal layers, heat-reflecting colours and treatments and by allowing heat to escape through vents.
Riders should be able to make choices based on their own body shape, as well as where and how they plan to use the kit: something rated to Level A could well be ideal for them, but so might something meeting much higher levels.
These higher standards don’t have to be the reserve of made-to-measure companies; there are leading – and very affordable – off-the-peg brands that believe they can make products that can offer significantly better protection than AAA requires. And they want to be able to prove it…
The Cambridge machine uses an abrasive belt to test samples
I asked various companies and individuals if they’d like to provide an opinion on whether higher safety testing standards should be available as an optional way of proving higher performance. For instance, a UK equivalent – or similar – of EN 13595…
“I was a cop for 30 years and retired in June 2022 as a Superintendent. For six years I was staff officer to Chief Constable Nick Adderley, who held the strategic lead across all UK police forces for everything motorcycle related. I picked the PPE work up as a result of that as it became apparent that there was no consensus of kit provision, and quite a few forces had bikers riding in sub-standard PPE.
“The higher EN 13595 certification standard was very important as it gave a clear indication of the testing regime that the kit had been through to achieve the certification, and this in-turn allowed informed choices to be made as to purchase or not.
“I am not an expert in the PPE arena, but I have had a few years now in the company of those that are and from speaking with and listening to them – as well as checking out kit certified to EN 17092 levels – it is my belief that we have taken a backwards step when it comes to the protection offered by this new standard. We need to remember that sometimes, emergency service riders will be riding at speeds far in excess of the legal limit and we should be providing them with PPE of sufficient quality to protect them if the worst happens.
“I get why some PPE manufacturers might want to retain the inferior testing regime of EN 17092 AAA as they can market kit that they can say has been tested to the highest level. The sad fact is, that level isn’t a very high one and for little effort or outlay, they could provide kit that achieves a far higher testing standard. Having that higher standard (such as the old EN 13595) would mean consumers, including emergency service riders, have an informed choice to make.
“Costs will inevitably play a part in decision making but from my experience, kit made to the higher standard is at a comparable price point to all other PPE.”
We asked Aaron Travell, Operations Director of Planet Knox if, given the withdrawal of EN 13595 as a certification method, the company thinks this should be replaced with a higher standard that manufacturers can certify to if they so wish, and whether without such a higher standard in place, riders who want the safest possible kit could be losing the opportunity to make informed buying decisions. He told us that “Knox is wholly committed to the EN17092 standard. EN17092 is the result of over 20 years of work from a panel formed from the most experienced experts in Europe, from nominated test houses, industry associations and brands. It is a well-developed standard, using sound research, risk assessments and well established data. It has been subject to thorough testing. Knox is committed to EN17092 and its future development. There is already an agreed system in place to ensure that all standards are reviewed.
“Secondly, let’s be clear, riders are 100% free to choose what they wear. Other than wearing a helmet, it is not mandatory for riders to wear any motorcycle PPE. In fact, riders have the freedom to choose to wear shorts and flip flops if they so desire, but of course that wouldn’t be a wise idea.
“Since 2019, in Europe, motorcycle clothing manufacturers have been required to certify their PPE to EN17092 [the legislation actually came into force on 21 April 2018]. This is one of the biggest improvements to motorcycle rider PPE since it was invented. It means riders across the world are now able to select from a huge range of motorcycle PPE that is tested and approved. Furthermore they are able to choose the correct level of protection for their requirements, riding style and climate.”
Hannu Malinen, Global Sales Director, Motorsport of Luhta Sportswear – the company behind Rukka – declined to provide an official comment, saying: “At EU level we do not have any programs to develop categories other than we have now in EN 17092, which seems to be well accepted but is still in a learning process by all consumers. From the UK we heard some rumours [of a desire] to have something else, but the latest rumours are telling that even that project or whatever it is has been frozen.”
He went on to mention that “In the EU, we do not call this standard EN 17092 and its categories ‘higher’ or ‘lower’, they are just categories.”
Franco Gatto, Homologation Coordinator at Dainese didn’t supply us with a comment following our request.
In a survey of 1,898 UK riders, 59% told Bennetts BikeSocial that they check the label for the safety rating before buying.
We asked Brian Sansom, owner of BKS what he thought about the idea of a higher safety standard:
“BKS (Made to Measure) Ltd – the original BKS – has always believed that higher safety testing standards should be available as an optional way of proving highest performance to the end user. With my company setting the benchmark back in 1994 and the first brand to ever achieve full CE approval (using Cambridge Standard, the basis for EN 13595), it has been a constant disappointment that specifications for higher performance have always been resisted by those controlling the industry.
“It has not been helped either by market surveillance failing to uphold trade descriptions and other brands playing the loophole to avoid testing to a standard altogether.
“Since 2002, products claiming protective performance have been allowed to confuse and deceive end users, and only when the PPE Regulation 2016/425 decreed that motorcycle clothing be officially tested and certified by law have we seen an end to hypocritical behaviour from the majority of the industry.
“If it weren’t for this I suspect nothing would have changed. When EN 17092 came in to do the right thing, it missed a big opportunity to capture the higher end of product performance such as what BKS (and a few others) make. To have extreme performance kangaroo leather racing suits lumped into the same category as textile jeans makes no sense and is disrespectful to the efforts required to push the boundaries for the safest of riding kit. The new BKS textile suit has reached over 50 seconds of abrasion resistance on the Cambridge Abrasion Machine (CAM) and gets no additional recognition in a standard category to help tell it apart from others that fail at less than 2 seconds.
“In the beginning, there was an assurance that EN 13595 would be left in place until EN 17092 was first revised and with that there was hope of both standards being merged to create AAAA (4A), AAAAA (5A) and maybe even a 6A level. It would appear that interest has never got going from the powers that be, but resistance to higher specifications than are currently provided by EN 17092 AAA do not serve riders’ interests – they only serve those whose commercial interests who are satisfied by the current version of EN 17092.
“Surely as any manufacturer of PPE, you would encourage the highest levels of safety for the end users you all serve?
“You can trust, however, that BKS will never stop trying to reach new heights.”
We approached BSI (the British Standards Institute), but they declined to comment, saying that “Unfortunately we aren’t currently in a position to provide an industry view of certification in relation to motorcycle PPE.”
“I think we need standards that exceed EN 17092 Level AAA”, said Ian Wilson, owner of Roadskin motorcycle clothing and manufacturer of the AAA-rated Roadskin Taranis Elite jeans. “We get asked a lot about the safest kit, and people often buy our Paranoid jeans – even though the current version are not the most comfy in our range – because they want the extra protection. They want to be as safe as possible, which is why we’ve made our new Paranoid X lined jeans.
“We certify all our kit to EN 17092, but we’ve been testing the new jeans using the EN 13595 test standard. I think it’s important that people should have the choice; while our AAA-rated kit offers excellent protection, we’ve seen that there are people out there who do want to buy based on having the safest possible kit.”
“I find it crazy that a pair of denim jeans are the same standard as a leather race suit,” said Jim Aird, MD of Scott Leathers. “It makes the standard so low that it’s not worth bothering with… it’s just ridiculous.”
“I joined Traffic in 1990,” said Shaun Cronin, Regional Manager of IAM Roadsmart and a retired Police Inspector. “I got my first BKS made to measure Police suit in around 1992 and it was light years ahead of the breeches and nylon jackets that had come before.
“My ‘current’ BKS Police leather suit was made in 2005 and is still in use, fits perfectly and still offers excellent protection to this day. The quality and fit are second-to-none. If I had to have an off, I would want to be wearing my BKS suit every time.
“I have three off-the-peg textile suits from a leading premium brand, and one off-the-peg leather suit from another, but only the BKS fits perfectly. The leather in that one-piece off-the-shelf kit looks fabulous, but it must have been a really lean cow compared to the one used in my BKS.”
“Looking at the EN 17902 A, AA, & AAA standard, it offers riders clear certified levels of protection that are easily understandable, which is really important and helps make for informed choices. But professional riders such as those who race or ride for an emergency service will always expect the highest levels of innovation and protection available. With EN 17902 you will get manufacturers that will just meet the standard, those who meet it reasonably easily, and of course those who will simply smash the standard out of the park.”
“I wholeheartedly support the addition of higher safety standards,” said Chris Easterford, who – with his wife – owns Hood Jeans. “We design products which we are completely confident exceed the requirements for Class AAA of EN 17092; however, this cannot be officially proven as Class AAA is the highest level available for the standard and there is no mechanism to demonstrate differences in performance between garments sharing the same classification.
“Testing by MotoCAP and Bennetts, along with our own testing of certain materials, has shown certain constructions achieve half the abrasion resistance protection or less compared to our type of jean – yet all are credited with exactly the same AAA classification for EN 17092. This denies the consumer information which may inform what they choose to buy and is even more pronounced for manufacturers of products offering the very highest protection, whose achievements are also restricted to the AAA classification.
“The fact this allows certain companies to imply their lightweight, thin garments are as protective as racing suits or stronger than leather is at best disingenuous. I would hope the introduction of higher standards would stop this type of misleading marketing.”
Andrew on a Bennetts track day, riding with John McGuinness
Andrew Howard from Warrington recently emailed Bennetts BikeSocial. His comments aren’t unusual, and they help shine a spotlight on the fact that, contrary to what some might say, riders are increasingly interested in the protection that the kit they’re spending money on offers…
“I’ve recently been shopping for a one-piece suit for track-days and have been really surprised by how some of the premium manufacturer’s suits that are marketed as ‘race' suits are only AA rated.
“Most seem reluctant to publish the ratings at all, and it’s really difficult to find what rating a suit is without seeing the label inside (difficult online anyway). RST seems to be the only manufacturer that is up front about CE ratings.
“I learned this lesson after buying a Dainese race suit and was disappointed to find only a single layer of leather in the seat and an AA rating from what I thought was a premium manufacturer.
“I can understand road riding kit being different ratings, but would have thought anything marketed as ‘race’ or ‘track’ should be AAA.”
I replied, asking if, as a consumer, Andrew would be interested in kit that could prove it reaches a higher level: “I think it would be great to see a higher standard than AAA. I guess my thought is that if a suit is marketed as ‘race’ or ‘track’ – and by that I am thinking if it’s a one-piece or has knee sliders (inferring race or track use) – it should perhaps meet a minimum standard that is higher than you might expect for casual bike gear.
“It just feels to me like some premium manufacturers are hiding behind their brand to sell suits that aren’t as good as you might expect, otherwise the CE rating would be front and centre, just like they are with the likes of RST. I have no affiliation to RST by the way!”
“There has to be [a higher standard]. Look at Sold Secure with their locks… it used to be that the Gold standard was the best one, now there’s Diamond. If there wasn’t a four A CE standard at some point, I’d be gob-smacked.
“There are different user categories. The guy who’s commuting into town still wants the best safety possible and we’ve got to strive to try to provide that in a garment that works for his commute, in the same way that a guy who’s doing a track day absolutely expects the highest levels of security when he’s doing 180mph. We’ve just got to try to make sure all of those people have access to that same high level of safety.”
“We already believe we’re producing garments that exceed the AAA standard,” said Stuart Millington, Head of Brand and Product at RST. “For manufacturers to demonstrate that their products exceed AAA by a certain level is beneficial to the consumer and gives more choice.
“Our view is that in the future, as things move on, there will be the scope for more products to meet what could be AAAA and AAAAA. My position would be things like mandatory Level 2 armour and mandatory chest protectors to give an overall safer product, especially for professional riders.
“I don’t see any reason why not to offer higher standards, and I’ve not heard a convincing argument from anyone against it.
“There are probably only one or two products in our collection that we’d want to apply this higher level to, but it’s certainly doable, and if the customers are out there that want this type of thing, then why shouldn’t the UK lead the way?”
“For me this discussion is about safety not commercial interest,” said Kate Jennings, owner of Hideout leather. “It's also about how clearly the end user understands what they are buying so they can match their safety clothing to the use they intend it to be put.
“At Hideout we have been making motorcycle clothing to EN 13595 since 2002, and to the Cambridge High Performance standard which came before it since the mid-1990s. The Police officers, racers and road users who have purchased from us across almost 30 years have had the peace of mind that our garments have been tested both in real life environments to high speeds, and in the laboratory to simulate these high speeds.
“I appreciate that AAA may cover the average crash at 45 miles per hour, rather than the 70 miles per hour some believe it simulates, but the reality for some people is that their speeds and crashes exceed 45 miles per hour. In fact we have a repair department full of failed EN 17092 certified clothing to prove it. These are garments from multiple manufacturers which have been in incidents at various speeds and in different environments.
“It’s difficult to understand why some manufacturers and their trade bodies feel they are speaking for motorcyclists when they say we riders don’t want or need a state of the art standard which would ensure a garment would not fail to protect at these higher speeds. I believe we need to keep this higher standard so that the rider has the choice in the level of protection they need and therefore feel confident that the kit they choose will afford them the right protection for the manner and speed they wish to ride.”
Doctor Ian Mew wears an EN 13595 Level 2 textile suit from BKS, but had no problem with ergonomics when we spoke to him: “Being an air ambulance critical care doctor but responding on a motorcycle requires a huge degree of flexibility to both ride safely and comfortably yet deal with any eventuality when I arrive at the incident.”
“Riders need to get the best kit they can afford,” said Chris Smith of DocBike, a charity that puts consultant level doctors and critical care paramedics on two wheels – often working with local air ambulances – to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads.
“Our charity riders are equipped with the highest level of protection, whatever that level is. We will be monitoring developments to ensure the PPE we issue to riders fits their needs and offers the best protection we can.”
Dr Ian Mew is a consultant in anaesthetics and intensive care medicine, and added “When it comes to PPE, we tend to say; absolutely, high-quality PPE makes total sense, but if you're really interested in reducing your chances of being hurt, becoming a more aware and skilful rider is probably going to be more effective.
“Our research suggests that around 80% of fatally and critically injured motorcyclists could avoid most collisions – even when it's not their fault – by having the awareness of why bike crashes happen and by becoming a more skilful rider
“I have always been – and will continue to be – a firm believer in freedom of choice. I never want to see compulsion in the use of PPE for motorcycle riding; I simply want riders to be able to find the best garments for their personal needs.
“Due to the industry’s wider embracing of EN 17092 than was the case with EN 13595, the standard is providing consumers with a clearer indication of the respective safety performance capabilities of motorcyclists’ clothing than would be available if the standard did not exist at all; simply, ‘the more A’s the better’. The AAA class does not represent the pinnacle of the extent of protection which riders can be provided with, however. That distinction belongs to EN 13595 Levels 1 and Level 2.
“In very simple and hypothetical terms, the Personal Protective Equipment Regulation requires that users of PPE enjoy ‘appropriate protection of the highest level possible’, so if we allocate to that highest level a value of 100%, then (still speaking in simplistic terms), EN 13595 Level 2 represents this highest level possible, while EN 13595 Level 1 might represent ~80%; whereas with EN 17092, AAA might equate to ~60%, AA to ~40% and A to ~20% – values which might be entirely adequate for use at commensurate levels of risk, such as low speed urban riding for class A. Regrettably, EN 13595 was recently withdrawn and there is currently nothing to replace it, so that top 40% of protection is no longer represented in a published standard.
“The headline abrasion test in EN 17092 does not permit identification of the respective performance capabilities of different materials. It reports a pass/fail outcome, which means a product may just meet the AAA requirements, or it may exceed them by a significant margin. Intuitively, it does not seem at all credible to suggest a thin, lightweight, flexible textile garment is equivalent to a substantial leather racing suit, although developments in textiles may be closing the gap; however, with both grouped in the same AAA classification, the true respective capabilities of both are concealed.
“What we do know, from testing conducted in the MotoCAP lab, and revealed in the soon-to-be-released MotoCAP publication ‘Making Good Gear – A guide to designing and manufacturing motorcycle protective clothing’, is that for a garment to satisfy the abrasion resistance requirements of EN 17092 at the highest AAA classification, a relative abrasion resistance time of just 1.4 seconds generated on the EN 13595 Cambridge machine is sufficient; yet in MotoCAP’s assessments of other garments marked to the same AAA classification, these achieved up to 7.28 seconds [RST Sabre CE leather trousers, MotoCAP five star rated for protection] – a result which is truly in racing suit territory!
“Clearly, EN 17092 is not meeting its full potential in terms of providing riders with all the information they need to differentiate between competing products in the marketplace. EN 17092 groups together products within a wide range of capabilities. Fortunately, for garments sold in Australia and New Zealand, and which are also available in the UK and EU, MotoCAP provides added information which will enable riders to make a better informed purchase. The solution for how to provide better information than is offered by EN 17092 alone on the true protective capabilities of motorcycle clothing is obvious!
Talking to a rider at Motorcycle Live this year, I noticed he had a Roadskin Jeans bag. “Did you buy the Taranis jeans?” I asked him. “No,” he replied. “I bought the Paranoids as I wanted the safest they had on sale.”
He was a young Blood Biker who owns a Fazer 600, and he had made a choice based on his own needs. The Taranis and Paranoids are both AAA-rated jeans, but he’d decided that he believed the fully-lined Paranoids would give him more protection.
Another rider I met had just got back into biking, and completely unprompted told me how he had been amazed to learn that motorcycle kit was now tested and certified. It helped him when buying his new gear, and he said how important he thought it was that people could choose the kit they wanted with confidence.
These aren’t rare cases: I regularly receive messages asking about kit safety.
I believe that a higher testing standard in place of EN 13595 is urgently required, but that conforming to it should be entirely optional. I can’t see any valid reason not to allow brands to use it if they’ve got a product they believe offers riders even higher levels of protection.
I think people should be as free to choose to wear whatever clothing they want when riding a bike, as they are to be able to make informed choices when they decide what level of protection they want to spend their money on. It’s their money, and for any brand to assume that buyers aren’t interested in the protective performance of what they invest in is rather insulting, and not a good reflection on those whose business is based on producing personal protective equipment.
Higher levels could take the form of an extension to EN 17092, for instance with ‘AAAA’ and ‘AAAAA’, or continuing to offer an optional standard that uses EN 13595’s proven test criteria would be an immediate and logical solution.
Testing standards provide a very valuable resource when comparing products, as long as they cover all that can be achieved. I’ve been one of the most vocal journalists in celebrating EN 17092’s effect on rider safety, but I can see no reason not to provide buyers with the informed choices that would come from optional higher levels of testing.
Do I think everyone should wear the highest performing protective equipment on the market? No, absolutely not. But I think they should have the choice.
After one UK brand halted progress of BS13595 – much to the dismay of many others in the industry – Bennetts introduced the High Performance Awards. These recognise garments, gloves and boots that have reached the highest standards under existing certification with the Gold Award, and also offer garment certification through independent notified bodies to Platinum and Diamond.
These higher levels effectively mirror what would have been BS13595 and use data collected from EN17092 testing, additional abrasion testing on a Cambridge machine, an inspection of the garment to ensure it has Level 2 armour in all locations, and that the armour is appropriately sized and properly secured. The full criteria can be downloaded from the Bennetts High Performance page here.
Some brands and sellers continue to make misleading claims about the protection the products they offer can provide, and some also try to add confusion to the existing certification and to the Bennetts awards. Note that while EN17092 has its flaws, it's helped provide a foundation for more informed choices in riding kit. Interestingly, some of the European brands that try to draw your attention away from the certification methods were involved in setting them up in the first place.
If a product has wild claims of protection (like jeans being 50% more abrasion resistant than leather), the tools are in place to prove it. The Bennetts High Performance Awards help riders to make informed choices...
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