What’s the safest motorcycle gear? CE ratings explained

Safest motorcycle gear CE ratings explained_THUMB

 

Every piece of motorcycle clothing you buy in the UK should now have a rating on it that gives you some idea of how protective it could be in a crash. But because so few riders are aware of the value of the information on this label, there aren’t many manufacturers taking the opportunity to shout about the results. On the other hand, some might also prefer you didn’t pay too much attention.

When you’re next shopping for bike kit, be sure to check out the safety ratings; it could make a big difference to where you spend your money.

Here’s everything you need to know about motorcycle clothing safety ratings in as easy-to-understand form as I could make it…

This article will be kept updated with any changes to any of the standards.

 

Quick links to the key points

What’s the safest motorcycle helmet?
What’s the safest motorcycle jacket, trousers or leathers?
What’s the safest motorcycle body armour?
What are the safest motorcycle gloves?
What are the safest motorcycle boots?
What do I HAVE to wear when riding a motorcycle?
Is VAT charged on motorcycle riding kit?
How does Brexit affect this?

 

Safest motorcycle gear CE ratings explained_04

This lid meets ECE 22.05, which means it’s legal in the UK. Snell relates to an American standard that isn’t accepted in the UK. There’s also an ACU sticker on here, which means it can be used in racing and on track days

 

What’s the safest motorcycle helmet?

What label should I look for? All helmets sold in the UK must meet ECE 22.05, and you’ll typically find it mentioned on the back of the lid, though there’ll also be a label on the strap.

What’s the safest helmet? ECE 22.05 is just a minimum standard that ALL helmets sold in the UK (and Europe) must meet to be legally sold. You might also find an ACU sticker on the outside, though there is no additional testing carried for a helmet to receive this.

The best way to find more detail on the potential safety of a helmet is to visit the SHARP website, which gives star ratings for many of the most popular lids on the market.

 

The ‘P’ on the strap here denotes it’s a full-face helmet. A ‘J’ would be for an open-face, while P/J denotes a flip-front that can be ridden in while open or closed

 

Anything else I need to know? The first ECE 22.06 helmets will be appearing in 2021, though it’s not until January 2024 that ALL helmets sold will have to comply with ECE 22.06, which includes – among other changes – a ‘glancing-blow’ test, which examines the potentially life-threatening rotation of the brain during an impact.

 

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This leather jacket has been rated AAA under EN 17092

 

What’s the safest motorcycle jacket, trousers or leathers?

What label should I look for? All new motorcycle clothing should carry a label with the above pictogram, showing that it’s been certified to EN 17092. You might see it as prEN 17092, or even FprEN 17092, but that’s fine. If you want to know the full background to this new CE standard, click here.

What’s the safest jacket or trousers? EN 17092 is divided into four classifications that as a motorcyclist you need to know about: B, A, AA and AAA.

  • B: This is deemed suitable for urban riding but without impact protectors
  • A: Also for urban riding but including impact protectors
  • AA: More suited to touring gear
  • AAA: The highest level of protection specified by the standard

You might also still find some kit tested to EN 13595, though this is to Level 1 and the higher Level 2.

While it’s currently focussing mostly on products that feature in the Australian motorcycle market, the MotoCAP website is thoroughly recommended and does include products available globally, including in the UK. Like a garment-version of SHARP testing, this puts bike kit through a more rigorous set of tests and is well worth referring to before spending your money.

 

Safest motorcycle gear CE ratings explained_13

This is NOT a CE-approved garment, despite having the pictogram. Compare it to the label in the pic above

 

Anything else I need to know? Before EN 17092 we had EN 13595, which was a much tougher test to beat (too tough for most textile gear). But once all motorcycle kit was deemed PPE (personal protective equipment) in April 2018, there needed to be a testing standard that bike kit was more capable of passing: enter EN 17092.

A lot of textile clothing is A rated, but know that plain jeans could often have the abrasion resistance to pass this, so if you have two garments that you’re trying to choose between, I’d go for the higher-rated one.

When it comes to leather kit, I’d really expect to see a AAA rating. Certainly, on leathers intended for track use or fast road, I would strongly recommend that you only go for AAA-rated kit.

Due to the way areas of risk are ‘zoned’ in testing, a garment might contain material that could pass AAA, but could still be rated A or AA – the entire test rating is what you’re looking for as it takes into account the seam strength, likelihood of impact in certain areas and other key points like how likely the arms are to pull up and expose flesh in a slide. Don’t let a brand try to fool you with claims of ‘material that passes AAA’.

It’s also worth knowing that CE-approval includes ‘innocuousness testing’, which looks for chemicals that could be seriously harmful to your health, and that any protectors fitted must be approved to the standards shown below…

 

Safest motorcycle gear CE ratings explained_11

This is a D3O back protector that offers full coverage (FB) and is certified to the latest standard at Level 2

 

What’s the safest motorcycle body armour?

What label should I look for? Impact protectors (the armour in your riding kit) must be tested to EN 1621 – look for the pictogram above stamped into them, though the text beneath will vary as below.

What is the safest armour? The various impact protectors have different test standards, so you’ll see these:

  • EN 1621-1:2012 for shoulder (S), elbow (E), hip (H), knee (K) and lower leg (L) protectors
  • EN 1621-2:2014 for back protectors: full back including shoulder blades (FB); centre back only (CB) and lower back only (LB)
  • EN 1621-3:2018 for chest protectors (one piece or divided)
  • EN 1621-4:2013 for mechanically-activated air vests
  • EN 1621-5 for electronically-activated airbags (this standard is in development)

These protectors will be rated to Level 1 or Level 2, 2 being the higher and thus reducing the transmission of force to the body even further.

You may find T+ and T-, which indicate that the protectors have been tested at +40°C and -10°C respectively.

Other letters present will relate to the intended use (see the letters in brackets above), while for EN 1621-1 limb protectors ‘Type A’ means it’s the smallest size of armour and ‘Type B’ means it’s the largest. Back and chest protector sizes are based on the wearer’s waist-to-shoulder length.

 

Safest motorcycle gear CE ratings explained_12

This is a D3O elbow or knee protector (E/K) that is the smaller size (Type A) and meets Level 1

 

Anything else I need to know? Be very wary of companies confusing a garment that is CE approved (to EN 17092 or 13595), and a garment that only has CE-approved protectors fitted. The law surrounding motorcycle protective equipment has been in place long enough that you shouldn’t see this with legitimate brands.

All protectors MUST be CE-approved, but to be fitted to current clothing they should also meet the latest standards, so don’t accept armour that isn’t certified to the dates shown above. Foam should never be found in armour pockets.

When it comes to airbags, be very careful to check that the certification matches the numbers shown above as some sellers – who clearly have no interest in our safety – are selling ‘motorcycle airbags’ with declarations of conformity to BS EN ISO 12402-4:2006. This is the standard for personal flotation devices, NOT for impact protection. They also don’t need to inflate anywhere near as quickly to meet this standard.

 

Safest motorcycle gear CE ratings explained_03

This pair of gloves are approved to Level 1 and include knuckle protectors (KP)

 

What are the safest motorcycle gloves?

What label should I look for? Motorcycle gloves should be tested to EN 13594:2015 – look for the pictogram label above.

What are the safest gloves? Gloves will have a number 1 or a number 2 beneath the pictogram. Level 2 is the higher performance class.  Testing at both levels involves assessments for the gloves’ ability to resist being pulled off in a crash, tear strength, seam strength, cut resistance, impact abrasion resistance (at palm) and knuckle impact protection (optional for level 1; mandatory for level 2).

The MotoCAP website also puts bike gloves through a more rigorous set of tests and is an ever-growing and hugely valuable resource.

Anything else I need to know? The cuff length is also rated level 1 or 2, so if it’s a short cuff, regardless of the results of the other tests, it’ll always be a rating of 1.

In level 1 gloves, the ‘KP’ symbol means knuckle protectors, which are optional, have been tested. In level 2 gloves, protectors must be fitted and they have to absorb more energy than specified for level 1, so if they’re fitted, you should see this under the pictogram of a rider.

It’s very important to see the pictogram and the exact wording above as some gloves have been known to use the CE certification for dye-fastness in gardening gloves!

 

Safest motorcycle gear CE ratings explained_07

These boots have been tested to Level 2 for boot height, impact abrasion resistance, impact cut resistance and transverse rigidity

 

What are the safest motorcycle boots?

What label should I look for? Motorcycle footwear should be tested to EN 13634:2017 – look for the pictogram label above.

What are the safest boots? Under the pictogram and standards text, you should find four digits; either a 1 or a 2. Level 2 is the higher rating for the following (in this order):

  • Boot height (ankle boots are 1, taller boots are 2)
  • Impact abrasion resistance
  • Impact cut resistance
  • Transverse rigidity (the resistance to crushing if trapped under a bike)

 

Safest motorcycle gear CE ratings explained_14

These boots have also been tested for water resistance, slip resistance on a steel floor with glycerol and water absorption / desorption of the lining materials

 

Anything else I need to know? You might also find several acronyms, which are for optional tests:

  • IPA: Impact protection at the ankles
  • IPS: Impact protection at the shins
  • WR: Tested for water resistance
  • FO: Resistance to degradation of the sole through contact with fuel
  • SRA: Slip resistance tested on ceramic tile wetted with dilute soap solution
  • SRB: Slip resistance tested on smooth steel with glycerol
  • SRC: Slip resistance tested on both of the above
  • WAD: Water absorption and desorption of the lining materials
  • B: Water vapour permeability of the uppers

While there’s a lot to think about, those four digits being either 1 or 2 will really help you compare the protection that different boots can offer.

As with gloves, make sure you look for the pictogram of a motorcycle rider to be sure you’re buying kit designed for motorcycle use.

 

What do I HAVE to wear when riding a motorcycle?

By law, the only thing you MUST wear when riding a motorcycle or scooter is a helmet. You could be naked otherwise, but please don’t.

There is no legal requirement to wear personal protective equipment (beyond the helmet), but as all new kit is PPE, and as the last two years have proven that retail prices haven’t really been affected by the testing that manufacturers must carry out, there’s no obvious reason not to.

You can ride in shorts and a tee-shirt if you want to, but I’d strongly recommend that you don’t. Also, if you were in an accident involving a third party, any injury claim could be reduced by that third party’s insurer due to ‘contributory negligence’.

 

Is VAT charged on motorcycle riding kit?

Motorcycle helmets aren’t chargeable for VAT, but they are a legal PPE requirement. There’s no legal requirement to wear any of the other protective equipment, so HMRC has no reason to not take that cut.

 

Safest motorcycle gear CE ratings explained_15

 

How does Brexit affect this?

Products sold in the UK must be UKCA certified from 1st January 2022, and must include the UKCA mark on any labelling from 1st January 2023 (you might see it on some kit already), but this will be in addition to the CE mark, and the standards are the same.

Any products sold ONLY in the UK could carry just the UKCA mark, but it’s unlikely you’ll find any of these in motorcycling apparel.

 

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