Motorcycle personal protective equipment

To improve motorcycle safety many countries mandate the wearing of personal protective equipment such as protective clothing and helmets. Protective clothing may include certain types of jackets, gloves, boots, and pants. Jackets meant for motorcyclists are typically made of leather or specialized man-made fabrics like cordura or Kevlar. These jackets typically include heavy padding on the elbow, spine, and shoulder regions. Gloves are generally made of leather or Kevlar and some include carbon fiber knuckle protection. Boots, especially those for sport riding, include reinforcement and plastic caps on the ankle and toe areas. Pants are usually leather, cordura, or Kevlar. Except for helmets, none of these items are required by law in any state in the USA, or in any part of the UK but are recommended by many of those who ride.

"Off road" riders wear a range of plastic armour to protect against injury from falling off, hitting other riders and bikes, debris kicked up from the rear wheel of leading bikes, and from running into track barriers protecting the public. This armour protects the extremities from breakage and dislocation and the back and chest from strain and broken bones. Although fairly efficient, it is of course not always completely effective. Many riders wear "roost protectors" designed specifically to protect against painful debris from other bikes, but are of no use in a fall or collision.



Leathers are one-piece suits or two-piece jackets and trousers worn by motorcyclists, mainly for protection in a crash. In most cases, the type of leather used is not fashion leather but protective leather, which is thicker, stronger, and only moderately flexible. Today, kangaroo leather is becoming popular for its suppleness, light weight, and strength compared to cowhide. Not all leathers used in garments perform equally; products made from full grain, top grain, corrected grain, and suede can have different levels of resistance to abrasion, as well as tearing and bursting forces.

Leather suits were the first motorcyclists' garments to be tested using the Cambridge impact abrasion tester,[1] Some leather products available have been certified as meeting the European Standard EN 13595-1:2002.

Historical development

Originally, motorcycle leathers were adapted from tank corps gear immediately following World War I. Duster coats, which tended to catch in the wheels, were switched for short coats. Wide-pegged breeches were worn by some motorcycle police and by dispatch riders in World War II. The classic American Perfecto motorcycle jacket with epaulets and diagonal zipper, made famous by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, (1954) was invented in 1928 by Irving Schott, of Schott NYC in New York City. Leather chaps, adapted from cowboy gear, were used by American bikers starting in the early 1960s.

The one-piece racing leather suit, usually referred to as 'racing leathers' was first used by world champion motorcycle racer Geoff Duke in the 1950s.[2] Duke had the suit made for the purposes of streamlining, not safety, and like the majority of the leathers used at the time, was made from horsehide.


Many modern leathers have armour on the inside at major impact regions such as shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and back. The European Standards for these protectors are EN 1621-1:2012 and EN 1621-2:2014.[3] The energy absorbers and load spreaders — constructed from high density foam, foam backed hard polymers, carbon fiber, titanium, and other materials — are designed to prevent or reduce injury by spreading and dampening impact and shear strains to the wearer. In Europe, by law, armour has to have a CE mark. There are also motorcycle jackets that use an airbag system, which deploys in the event of an accident, inflating to protect the riders neck, torso, and lower back (see also Airbag and Air bag vest).


An alternative to leather is clothing constructed of man-made textiles. These can offer improved weather protection from heat, cold, and water, and the increased utility these garments tend to provide in terms of pockets and vents. Common materials include high density (6001000 Denier) ballistic nylon (e.g., Cordura) and Kevlar, or blends of Kevlar, Cordura, and Lycra; and often include waterproof liners made from materials such as Gore-Tex. In both CE marked (meets European Standards) and non-protective garments, localised protection may be provided by armour[4] and airbag systems.

Not all textile clothing is made from synthetic materials. Heavy weight waxed cotton was used for many years before the development of modern materials. There is a wide range of textile protective garments available however it is the hardest area to find a garment compliant with the European Standard EN 13595-1.


Boots are worn by motorcycle riders and passengers to prevent or reduce harm to their feet and ankles while riding and in the event of a crash. They are designed using materials and seam construction that are impact, abrasion, cut, tear and burst resistant. Tough, strong, moderately flexible boots with stiff soles provide the rider protection from a number of risks. Boots with oil-resistant, rubber-based composite soles give a grip on the pavement and help keep the rider's feet on the pegs. Boots may also have energy absorbers and load spreaders on the shin, inside and outside of each ankle. A stiff sole working laterally helps prevent or decrease crash injuries caused by crushing and shear strain. For boots, the European Standard is EN 13634:2002.


Armour increases the chances of a motorcyclist surviving an accident. The most common form of armour is high density foam panels fitted into the shoulders, elbows, back, hips and knees of motorcycle PPE clothing. Separate protectors are also available, typically for the chest and back, which are worn under other items of clothing.


A motorcycle helmet is protective headgear used by motorcycle riders. The primary goal of a motorcycle helmet is to protect the rider's head during impact, although many helmets provide additional protection such as a face shield. In many countries the wearing of motorcycle helmets is mandatory.

Helmets are made in two main layers: hard and energy-absorbing. The hard shell spreads an impact over a larger area, while deformation of the liner (often polystyrene foam) absorbs energy so less is transferred to the skull and brain.[5]

There are three main styles: flip-face, open-face and full-face. An open-face helmet will protect everything but the face. Full-face helmets protect the skull, plus providing protection for the lower jaw as well as the face itself. Full-face helmets offer much more protection than open-face helmets.

Several manufacturers have introduced full-face helmets with a flip-up front, combining the protection of a full-face with the ease of communication and donning or doffing that an open-face gives.

Studies have consistently shown that wearing a helmet:[6][7]

  • Reduces injury and increases a rider's chance of surviving a crash
  • Does not contribute to neck injuries
  • Does not impair vision or hearing

As with other protective gear, a brightly colored helmet improves the user's visibility.[8]


Motorcycling gloves are typically gloves made of leather. They may have gauntlets to protect the rider's wrists from injury, and help reduce drafts while riding in colder climates. Motorcycling gloves typically have reinforced palms intended to protect the rider from abrasion injuries in case of an accident. Under some jurisdictions, if the manufacturer claims the gloves are protective, then they must display CE marking. European Standard EN 13594:2002 is available for this purpose.

Optional features include additional protection or weatherproofing. For touring gloves, such additional features may include advanced insulating materials and waterproof breathable fabric, although touring gloves may still lack advanced armouring features used in motorcycle racing gloves.

Gloves intended for motorcycle racing typically incorporate pre-curved finger sections and the best available protection, obtained through additional armour incorporated within the glove. Additional protection may involve titanium or carbon panels for knuckles and the joints of the fingers. Furthermore, racing gloves may and often do incorporate additional wrist and other protection panels to protect the heel of the hand, back of the hand and other easily injured parts of the hand. Race gloves often have the pinky finger attached to the ring finger to reduce the chance of it being over flexed backwards during crashes.


Motorcycle goggles help protect the eyes from dust, wind and debris while riding and typically feature anti-fog treatment and protection against UV rays. For motorcycle sports such as motocross, goggles typically feature a foam rim which seals against the face and layered, tinted lenses to accommodate for varying light conditions.


The most recognized method for evaluating protective motorcycle clothing and gloves are those developed by the European Committee for Standardization. The clothing standard EN13595-1:2002 is split into four parts. It outlines the general requirements of a garment to meet the lower (level 1) or higher (level 2) protection levels with an emphasis on impact abrasion resistance, fabric/seam burst resistance, stab resistance, fit, retention and comfort.

The standard specifies the use of the Cambridge type impact abrasion tester. This test involves dropping the clothing or glove material onto an abrasive belt moving at 28 km/hr and measuring the time for a hole to form. This method is often criticized for not being similar to that seen on the road however Dr Woods used both accident damage and that seen in manikins thrown from a moving vehicle to ensure that the test replicated the real world damage as close as possible.[9] This test has been used to show that there is a relationship between fabric thickness and time to hole for protective denim products [10]

The Darmstadt impact abrasion test was developed at a similar time but was not adopted by European Committee for Standardization. It involves dropping the test specimen onto a block of concrete and measuring the amount of wear or formation of holes. The specimen is held on the outer edge of a rotating arm and is travelling at speeds of up to 120 km/hr when it hits the surface. As the specimen holder is no longer driven, once dropped, the sample will slide on the concrete surface until it stops due to surface friction between it and the concrete surface.


  1. Woods, R. I. 1996 Belt abrader impact abrasion testing of leathers and fabrics used in motorcycle riders' clothing. In Performance of Protective Clothing Fifth Volume, pp. 57-69
  2. Walker, Mick (2007). Geoff Duke: The Stylish Champion. MBI Publishing Company. p. 53. ISBN 9781859835456.
  3. Smith, Jerry (May 16, 2013). "CE or Not CE? The Hard Truth About Armor What to look for: Armor in the shoulders, elbows and knees will protect you, but not just any armor". Motorcyclist.
  4. Jerry Smith (July 1, 2013), "The Hard Truth About Armor: CE or not CE?", Motorcyclist, retrieved 2013-11-12
  5. Andrew Mellor, Advanced Motorcycle Helmets (PDF), NHTSA, retrieved 2012-10-06, A helmet is designed to protect the rider in the event of an accident by absorbing impact energy and reducing the loading imparted to the head via the helmet.
  6. "Helmets for preventing injury in motorcycle riders". Center for Advancing Health. 2008-01-23.
  7. "Q&As: Motorcycle helmet use laws". Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
  8. Susan Wells; et al. (2004-04-10). "Motorcycle rider conspicuity and crash related injury: case-control study". BMJ. Retrieved 2007-09-02. Abstract, Quick summary
  9. Woods, R. I. 1996 Testing of protective clothing for Motorcyclists: Validation of laboratory tests by accident studies. In Performance of Protective clothing by the American Society for Testing and Materials, Fifth Volume, pp. 43-56
  10. Hurren, C. J., Phillips, P., & Wang, X. G. 2014 Performance comparison of abrasion resistant textile motorcycle clothing. Paper presented at The 89th Textile Institute World Conference, Wuhan, P. R. China.
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