A couple of years ago, there was a major shakeup in the way motorcycle clothing was rated for its protective abilities.
The European Union (remember that?) decided that motorcycle clothing should be considered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and should be rated in its ability to protect the wearer in the event of a fall, making consumer choice much easier. A new standard was proposed – EN 17092:2020 (an abbreviation of Europäische Norm, or European Norm) that all motorcycle jackets and trousers must comply with.
While the UK is no longer a member of the EU, it was decided that this pan-European standard would be adopted in the UK so that no different testing or assessment process was necessary – particularly handy as many manufacturers are based in Europe and a different standard in the UK to that for Europe could have a variety of potential implications.
The net result was a series of CE (Conformité Européene) ratings for all elements of motorcycle clothing with the exception of crash helmets, which come under a different safety standard.
The new CE rating system applies to jackets and trousers, as well as leather suits and there are also CE rating systems in place for boots and gloves. Helmets are still covered by ECE standards in Europe while armour in jackets and trousers also has its own CE rating system.
So, let’s start from the top and work our way down to the feet, explaining what each element is about.
The current standard for crash helmets is ECE22.05 and no helmet can be legally sold in the UK unless it meets this standard.
ECE22.05 comprises a series of tests that each helmet must satisfy and is based on prescribed impacts against the helmet, including flat and angled impact contact.
While ECE22.05 shows that a helmet has achieved a minimum safety standard, it doesn’t give any indication of relative safety performance. However, the British government has developed an in-house safety testing system as part of the Department for Transport. Named SHARP, it tests and rates helmets for relative safety.
It awards an overall rating based on a series of impact tests using both flat and angled (kerb) forms at three different speeds, measuring the actual acceleration forces apparent at the ‘head’ form. It provides a star rating, from one to five, five stars being the best performance and rating and the one to look for.
It’s worth noting that not all helmets are tested so if you are looking at a helmet and it isn’t rated by SHARP, that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t perform well. Although if you are choosing between two or more helmets that are SHARP rated, we would always suggest the one with the higher SHARP rating, assuming a proper fit and good comfort.
Related: MCN's favourite helmets right now
However, a new standard – ECE22.06 – was recently introduced. It states that all helmets will need to satisfy safety requirements in future. This effectively builds on the previous standard and adds a variety of changes, including increased velocity for some tests, a random selection of impact areas, assessment of sun visors and testing flip-front helmets with the chin bar raised as well as closed. It also adds a requirement for protection against rotational injuries, which are a significant contributor to brain injuries in addition to direct impacts according to research.
As of January 2024, all helmets must legally be approved to the new ECE22.06 standard for sale in the UK – you can still wear a helmet that is certified to ECE22.05 if you want, but bear in mind manufacturers recommend changing your lid five years after it is manufactured, as the EPS liner starts to break down after that period of time.
Our favourite budget helmet
Agrius Rage SV
Four Sharp stars for safety, comfortable and reasonable venting with a drop-down visor u2013 all for less than £70. Bargain!
Our favourite everyday helmet
Superb comfort and venting, quiet, not heavy and very compact (due to no drop-down sun visor). Five Sharp stars. Love it.
The first ECE22.06 helmet
The first of the big players to be approved to the new standard. Premium feel and quality and reasonable price.
Jackets and trousers
Jackets and trousers, whether formed in textile material, leather or denim, are tested and given a CE rating that comprises a letter or combination of letters. In its simplest form, the ratings are, from worst to best:
• C (worst)
• AAA (best)
Basically, the higher the rating, the more protective the garment is.
If you take nothing more from this story, then look for the highest number of ‘A’s in the CE rating when looking for jackets and trousers. In addition to seeing the ratings explained in adverts and any promotional material, you will also find a CE label confirming the rating within each garment as well.
If you are looking at garments in the flesh – such as at an event or a show – then you may need to go underneath a thermal liner to find the CE label. It must be there – if it isn’t, then walk away.
The ratings are determined from a series of tests and assessments. One is impact abrasion resistance which is a measure of how well the garment will protect you if you are sliding down the road surface. Sample garments have sections of their material held in a test rig and abrasive tools passed over them to simulate sliding on a road to assess their resistance.
Another rated area is seam strength and that of zips and fasteners while the tear strength is also tested in several directions across the material to assess its strength under the action of a fall from the bike. The strength of joining methods for two-piece sets is also tested, as is sleeve rigidity and restraint and fit and stability under washing are also rated.
The armour fitted to jackets and trousers is also rated against EN Standards; EN 1621-1:2012 is for shoulder, elbow, hip and knee armour and EN 1621-2:2014 is for back protectors. There are only two performance levels: Level-1 and Level-2. Again, at its most basic level, Level-2 is more impact-absorbent than Level-1.
Generally, garments will come with armour installed though it is not uncommon for jackets to have just a pocket for an optional back protector. But any garment that is AA- or AAA-rated should come with armour already at the shoulders, elbows, knees and hips as a requirement for that certification though it could be either L1 or L2 – there is no specified level here.
The armour itself will be marked with a series of symbols, including its intended location and the level of protection – it’s the latter that is most important when you are buying the kit.
Just like the garments, if you are in any way concerned, then remove one of the pieces of armour and check the markings – if there are none, then walk away – it isn’t CE approved and there are no guarantees as to how protective it is.
One thing to bear in mind is that generally - though not exclusively – speaking, the higher the protection offered by a garment, the stiffer and less flexible it will be.
However, that isn’t necessarily always the case and is one reason why, if you can, you should try any items of motorcycle gear before you buy for fit and comfort as well as that flexibility.
Our favourite textile jacket
The latest jacket from Oxford Products is laminated to keep water out and stay lightweight while offering great breathability and keeping you warm. CE rated AA, with Level-1 armour.
Our favourite touring jacket
The Spidi is of great value and packs a host of features, including a thermal liner, cooling-air vents, a CE rating of AA and Level-2 armour.
Our favourite leather jacket
A classic, slightly retro styling with a removable thermal liner and a five-piece suit of armour. An overall CE rating of AAA and Level-2 armour in shoulders, elbow and back.
As one of the first things that are likely to hit the deck if you fall off, particularly at low speed, are the hands, then protection here is crucial. Gloves are rated to EN 13594:2015 and a bit like armour, are rated as either a basic pass (1) or a superior pass (2) while knuckle armour is also rated – KP indicates it has been tested and passed the test.
In real terms, you may see gloves that are CE-rated 1 or 1 KP but anything that is CE-rated 2 will always be 2 KP – the knuckle protection test is optional for Level-1 gloves and mandatory for anything going for Level-2 certification.
The assessment process tests the gloves in several areas; one is the cuff length, with Level-1 requiring only 15mm and Level-2 needing at least 50mm. The second is restraint, where a force is applied to try to pull the glove off a ‘wrist’ with the fastenings done up. A 2 ranking indicates a higher force necessary to remove the glove while the tear strength is also checked, in several areas and orientations.
Related: Best three-season motorcycle gloves
Seam strength is also assessed, to ensure that the gloves don’t come apart in an incident while impact abrasion resistance – perhaps the most important element – is also checked similarly to jacket and trousers’ material.
The results of these tests will generate a rating of either 1 or 2 for the glove overall. Alongside this, the knuckle protection can be rated and for a Level-2 glove, it must transmit less force from a standard test impact internally than for a Level-1 glove.
Our favourite sporty glove
Soft and supple leather with hard knuckle armour means these are superbly comfortable and give great confidence, despite a CE rating of u2018onlyu2019 1 KP.
Our favourite three-season glove
Richa Street Touring
Formed with a leather outer and a Gore-Tex lining, these offer a great feel and will keep your hands dry even if they may get chilly in the depths of winter.
Our favourite winter glove
Like gloves, boots are tested against an EN standard and given ratings to display their protective abilities. However, unlike gloves, there are two possible test standards and the results are presented as individual test scores, rather than a single, overall result.
The two standards are EN 13634:2015 and EN 13634:2017. Each gives a score for the boots in several areas, with a 1 (basic pass) or a 2 (superior pass) in each of those areas, like gloves overall. The areas are broadly the same across both standards, though there are three for the 2015 standard and four for the 2017 version.
For the 2017 standard, the first digit indicates the height of the boots – 1 is a short or ankle-height boot and 2 is a full or shin-height example – but this is absent from the 2015 standard. After the first digit in the 2017 rating, both are then the same and show a rating for abrasion resistance, impact cut and transverse rigidity.
Again, by this point, we are fairly familiar with abrasion resistance – it is how well two areas of the boot stand up to sliding along the road.
Impact cut shows how well the boots resist cutting by a sharp object and is tested by the amount a falling blade penetrates the material while transverse rigidity shows how well the boot will prevent your foot from being crushed if the bike falls on it and is tested by applying force to the side of the boot and measuring how is compresses.
The results are presented as a series of numbers. The least protective would be 1-1-1-1, indicating a short boot with basic protection while the best is 2-2-2-2.
However, in addition to these ratings, you may also see other markings as part of the CE label though these indicate additional features, such as IPA or IPS demonstrating Impact Protection to the Ankle or Shin; WP shows water resistance ie waterproofing and several other markings show the resistance of the sole to fuel and oil and also, slippage.
Our favourite sports boot
Superb comfort, huge levels of protection and confidence and amazing feel for the bike. Also available in vented and waterproof versions.
Our favourite touring boot
Alpinestars Web GTX
Not particularly exciting to look at but extremely comfortable, dry and warm and work very well on the bike. The staple of any commute or long tour.
Our favourite adventure boots
These high-leg adventure boots fasten with three chunky buckles and straps and they are super comfortable, protective and waterproof.