It could be argued that a large proportion of motorcycle kit available for the last 24 years was, technically, not legal. Since 1994, any garment described as Personal Protective Equipment has had to be demonstrably able to meet a CE standard – in the case of motorcycle jackets, trousers, and one/two-piece suits, this has been by testing to EN 13595. But most bike kit has been sold as being ‘non-protective’, with only the armour being tested to CE-standards.
The dodgy part comes from the fact that many manufacturers’ marketing departments – and the motorcycle media – had been describing these garments as protective, leading to confusion for the consumer.
From 21 April 2018, new legislation came into force that should at least see the beginning of the end for this confusion.
We spoke to Paul Varnsverry, technical director of PVA-PPE Group, which provides advice to companies around the world looking to sell protective equipment within the EU. Paul was originally involved in the manufacture of motorcycle clothing, running his own business for ten years – Swift Leathers – which at the time was a high-end made-to-measure manufacturer. He later helped to establish a range of off-the-peg CE-marked motorcycle clothing with RS Performance Protection, then in 1996 went freelance as a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) consultant covering various fields, including industrial, sports, police and motorcycle.
“For years, the choice of motorcycle kit has been down to CE – Conformité Européenne or Caveat Emptor,” Paul tells us. “You could buy something that had been independently tested, or you could judge the quality for yourself.
This RS Performance Protection jacket was fully CE-approved, and won magazine awards for its level of protection
Employers have long had an obligation to provide staff with PPE where necessary, hence police riders for instance using CE-approved BKS and Hideout leathers. But as the standards were very tough, consumer bike kit has generally been sold as not being protective to avoid being deemed PPE.
“The European Commission had 20 years’ experience of how the motorcycle industry – en mass – had tried to avoid its legal obligations under the 89/686/EEC Personal Protective Equipment Directive of 1989. This is presumably why, in January 2016, it got the MEPs in European Parliament to say that from 21 April 2018 – the date of full implementation of the new PPE regulation 2016/425 – all motorcycle clothing would be PPE, and must be independently tested and certified by an independent body.
“The Commission presumably looked at all the loopholes that the industry had used, and how to close them. The only item of motorcycle clothing now that will not be deemed to be protective clothing is specific, dedicated rainwear with no other purpose, and no capacity to take any form of protector. Just an outer shell that keeps the wet at bay.”
Disclaimers in some bike kit were there to avoid the testing involved in PPE
What about wax cotton jackets?
“If there are no protectors in there, it’s a rainproof garment,” says Paul, “because of course wax cotton is also worn as a fashion and shooting accessory. It just so happens that some people wear it on a motorcycle because it fits in with the style and era of their bike. But if it’s described in any way as being for use by bikers, it’s PPE.
“There are still one or two exclusions, but the Commission and European parliament have evidently looked very closely at where exclusions had been mischievously applied, and they have dealt with it.”
Is this going to make bike kit more expensive?
Potentially, it could have done, and many brands will have seen costs increase. For a start, everything has to be tested and certified, but also, compared to the testing fees that those companies already making products to EN 13595 have paid, the new testing process could have cost as much as three times more; however, competition in the marketplace among test houses has kept a check on fees.
In addition, the more data companies get, the more they can implement what they’ve learned into new products and spread and recoup the costs involved. It should also be pointed out that some of the first companies to release fully CE-approved kit – like RST and Hood to name two – showed no noticeable increase in costs to their consumers.
Most good-quality boots for sale in the UK have been CE-approved as PPE for a long time
Who’s behind all this?
The regulation that says all bike kit is now Personal Protective Equipment is from the European parliament. The way manufacturers can comply with this legislation is through standards set by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), which is a separate body to the parliament in the same way that the British Standards Institute (BSI) is not a government body, rather a separate business that happens to be the national standards agency. CEN’s membership is made up of all the national standards bodies in the European member states, which also includes DIN in Germany, AFNOR in France, UNI in Italy etc, as well as BSI.
CEN commissioned a working group (WG9) – made up of the interested parties in motorcycle clothing, like manufacturers, test houses etc – to come up with the standards required for motorcycle clothing.
Regulation 2016/425 is the legislation with which all bike kit must be comply. prEN 17092 was the provisional draft of a testing method that, if met, enabled a manufacturer to comply with the regulation, and their products to be CE approved. Put simply, from 21 April 2018, all kit should have had proof that it’s protective.
Initially, proof came from either already having been certified to EN 13595 (until April 2023 when existing certificates, issued under the PPE directive, become invalid), or by certifying to the new standard, prEN 17092, which from March 2020 became EN 17092, as it’s no longer provisional.
EN 13595 was expected to continue to run alongside EN 17092, but was withdrawn in error by the European Standards agency, with efforts being made to correct the mistake so that it can still be available to certify new clothing, or update the existing ‘EC’ certification to ‘EU’ under the new regulation.
Any CE-approved product must come with a certificate of conformity, and the declaration must be readily available to view online
But it was just a draft standard when this started
“As of April 2018, there was a lot of stability in the draft standard,” says Paul, “and it was much the same as it was around the middle of 2017.” Earlier than that, and prEN 17092 was evolving extremely rapidly – goal posts sometimes moving on a weekly basis – making it very difficult for companies to adapt their product lines, especially given a typical two-year or more design and production cycle.
After a series of delays, prEN17092 was finally circulated to the National Standards bodies of the EU Member States for final approval, and EN 17092:2020 was published in March 2020.
“The draft standard was a logical approach,” says Paul. “If you met the draft standard, and there were any minor changes by the time the final standard was published, all you did was retest those affected material or components. Or it was just a paperwork exercise.”
For years, the responsibility to choose effective protection has been left with the customer
With Brexit, can’t we just ignore all this?
Any manufacturer in any country – including the UK, China, USA, India etc – who wants to sell motorcycle clothing to members of the European Union from 21st April 2018 – regardless of whether they’re selling online or not – must comply with Personal Protecting Equipment Regulation 2016/425.
A small UK company that wanted to seriously limit its potential for growth might think it could decide to ignore the European Regulation and only sell to UK customers after we leave the European Union, but that might not be the case. The British government said that from 29 March 2019, all existing EU legislation in place on that date would be automatically adopted into UK law, then over the following weeks, months and years, Parliament will sift through it in order of priority to decide what to keep, what to modify and what to repeal.
Also, the British Standards Institution (BSI) has already made it clear that it will (sensibly) continue its membership of CEN, regardless of what decisions are made about our country’s future. So BSI will continue to contribute to the development of European standards and generally publish them as British Standards (as they have done in the past).
For two years after the end of the Brexit transition period, the CE Mark will continue to remain valid in the UK, but during that time the UKCA (United Kingdom Conformity Assessed) Mark will be set up, and will replace the CE Mark for the UK market.
Finally, the majority of European brands assemble their products in Asia, so if they’re making a jacket with a CE mark for 27 member states, they’re not likely to make a different one for the small UK market, although they will in time need to dual label their products with the CE and UKCA marks to cover both bases.
Most gloves are already PPE, as CE-approval is a legal requirement for them in France, and riders must wear them by law
Why was this dumped on the industry at such a late hour?
Some might argue that it wasn’t. Anything deemed personal protective equipment has always had to meet PPE Directive 89/686/EEC, which was introduced 21 December 1989, and fully implemented 30 June 1994. To comply with this legal requirement, jackets, trousers, one and two-piece suits needed to be tested to EN 13595:2002.
Boots needed to meet EN 13634:2015, gloves EN 13594:2015, elbow, knee, hip and shoulder protectors to EN 1621-1:2012, and back protectors to EN 1621-2:2014. EN 1621-4:2013 covers lanyard-activated air bag protectors, while EN 14021:2013 is for specialised protectors like those used off-road.
Besides testing and certification being a cost to factor into production, many products – particularly some textiles – simply wouldn’t meet the required standards. So manufacturers just avoided saying their products were protective (you’ll often find a label saying the product isn’t meant to be protective).
This was confusing for customers, compounded by some brands placing huge ‘CE-approved’ labels in the garments that related to the armour, not the clothing. Others got into the habit of declaring their brand as a manufacturer of CE-approved PPE on the label of a product that was not certified. Some even used spurious testing standards, like declaring gloves as being CE-approved when they simply met EN 420’s industrial standard for dye-fastness.
Large labels like this require some understanding of the law to know they only refer to the armour inside, not the actual jacket
Motorcycle clothing either had to become a lot tougher – and heavier – or the industry needed to agree a new set of standards that its products could meet. A committee had been trying to come up with these since 2010. In January 2016, the European Parliament made the decision to put an end to any ambiguity and forced the industry to take immediate action.
How does the new testing compare to the previous standard?
EN13595 uses two test levels, with the body divided into four zones: Zone 1 must have impact protectors, and along with zone 2, needs to last four seconds on the Cambridge Abrasion Machine to meet Level 1 protection, and 7seconds to meet Level 2. Zone 3 requires 1.8seconds for Level 1 and 2.5 for level 2, while zone 4 can be used for ventilation and stretch panels, but must still last 1second on the abrasion rig for Level 1, and 1.5seconds for Level 2.
EN17092 has five test levels, covering three key zones of the garment – Zone 1, Zone 2 and Zone 3, with samples tested on a Darmstadt machine that spins them at a set speed until they’re dropped onto a slab of control concrete where they slow to a stop.
Classification AAA: The highest level, with the machine spinning at 707.4rpm (the velocity of the sample holder being equivalent to 120km/h) in Zone 1, at 442.1rpm (equivalent to about 75km/h) in Zone 2 and at 265.3rpm (equivalent to around 45km/h) in Zone 3.
Classification AA: More suited to touring gear, this specifies Zone 1 at 412.6rpm, 265.3rpm in Zone 2 and 147.4rpm (the equivalent of around 25kmh) in Zone 3.
Classification A: Deemed suitable for urban riding, with Zone 1 requiring 265.3rpm and 147.4rpm in Zone 2. There’s no requirement for abrasion resistance in Zone 3 materials.
Classification B is the same as A, but impact protectors are not required.
Classification C covers garments such as the mesh under-suits that have impact protection for off-road riding.
It’s important to understand that the velocity of the sample holder is not a true indication of the speeds at which protection will be provided in a slide along the tarmac in the real world. Experts like Paul point out that it’s inadvisable to suggest that speeds, times or distances calculated from laboratory tests will be achievable in real world incidents, simply because one uses controlled conditions and a single specification of abrasive surface to generate data, while the other occurs in chaotic circumstances that can involve multiple factors influencing the outcome.
Having had hands-on experience of the concrete bed used in testing, I agree that it feels less abrasive than the tarmac typically found on UK roads.
Samples are taken from each zone to be tested for seam strength and abrasion resistance, for instance. A company using the same materials and construction methods in two or more jackets, for example, could meet approval with one test, as long as the tested parts are put together in the tested way within the tested zones, and subsequent garments are added to the certificate. Once these materials and construction methods are approved, they cannot be changed, and that includes the specific supplier of the material.
The Cambridge machine formed part of the testing standard for many years
What’s the Darmstadt machine?
From the mid 1990s, all CE-approved motorcycle clothing has been abrasion tested on a ‘Cambridge’ machine, which uses a specific grade of abrasive belt running at 18mph. The test sample is dropped at a specific force, with a brush cleaning the belt of debris and a fine metal wire behind the sample breaking and ceasing the test when the material has abraded through.
The machine releases the test sample at prescribed revolutions per minute and the pass/fail criteria is set by whether a hole appears in the test sample. No hole is permitted to be larger than 5mm in any dimension. The earlier draft versions of prEN 17092 also required calculation of the slide distance from the sample first contacting the concrete surface, until it stopped, as well as the time to slow to a stop, until it was pointed out that if clothing companies used this information in their advertising, and a rider was injured at a lower speed or in less time than the claims, then the supplier could find it very difficult to defend those claims in court. The Darmstadt test creates a benchmark, in a similar way to the Cambridge machine – a nine second abrasion time on its belt didn’t mean you were guaranteed to be able to slide for nine seconds. It could be less, or it could be more, depending on so many different real-world factors.
Because the Darmstadt machine can’t keep going until a sample is destroyed, it’s not as useful for research and development as the Cambridge machine – a company has to submit its sample for the standard it wishes to meet, then see if it passes, which means a company going for AA, might have been able to meet AAA, but wouldn’t know unless they paid for the test again. Equally, if they went for AAA, they won’t know at what point a failure happened, if it did occur. The end point of the test is when the machine stops spinning, not when the sample fails.
This Darmstadt machine is in the Technical University of Darmstadt
The Darmstadt machine arguably doesn’t produce as severe a test a test as the Cambridge, but that’s not what the industry needed – this method helps establish a level of performance that many materials in current use can pass. “There’s anecdotal evidence that fabric and leather suits that couldn’t pass EN 13595 have saved people in real-world crashes,” says Paul. “EN 17092 is a very necessary standard that allows the current technology of products to be certified, and we are seeing some of the materials used in the bottom end of the market being filtered out.”
Manufacturers will increasingly use combinations of materials, as testing has shown that a single layer of extremely tough material can sometimes be compromised quicker than two layers of lighter material – the opportunities are there to look into new manufacturing technologies.
What does this mean for custom-made kit?
Custom leathers for instance will not be exempt from this legislation, but many of the major UK brands are already meeting EN13595. By certifying the materials and the seam types used in each zone, the company, however bespoke their products, will still be able to legally sell their kit.
Will motorcycle riders be forced to wear CE-approved clothing when riding?
From 21 April 2018, all bike clothing placed on the market will be deemed PPE. But you don’t have to buy it. While for a period there will be products available that are not CE marked, and others that are, over time the dealers’ rails will be filled with prEN 17092 / EN 17092 (and perhaps some EN 13595) clothing. If things stay as they are, you won’t be forced to buy them, though in France, it’s already a legal requirement to wear CE-approved gloves.
These days though, most sensible bikers do wear some form of protective kit, and generally buy motorcycle clothing. There’ll be jeans, lightweight jackets and even hoodies available that meet CE approval, so the people most likely to be annoyed should compulsion happen are those who still think we shouldn’t be forced to wear helmets, or for some reason refuse to wear gloves. The biggest impact, if it were to happen, could be for scooter riders who wear basic waterproof jackets to get to and from work. At this stage, it’s guesswork.
“As part of the working group that developed the original CE standards, I never wanted to see riders forced to wear protective kit,” says Paul. “I just wanted a customer to be able to go into a shop, make a judgement and complete an informed purchase based on an independent testing standard. It still is my position, and I think the blanket categorisation of all motorcycle clothing is illogical. But it’s an extreme reaction that the industry as a whole is responsible for creating; if every company had produced a niche range of CE-approved products – even 5% of its entire range – I don’t think we’d be in this situation. But for too long the majority stance was to ignore the standards, while continuing to market clothing as being protective.”
All of this bike kit already conforms to the new PPE legislation
Will your bike insurance be void if you’re not wearing CE-approved kit?
With no legal requirement to wear CE-approved clothing, an insurance underwriter wouldn’t be influenced by what you or your pillion were wearing in the event of a claim being made. However, a suitable helmet is a legal requirement in the UK, and if you or your passenger were to suffer an injury while not wearing a lid approved to ECE 22.05, any underwriter could have grounds to reduce compensation or even dismiss the claim.
While technically you can currently wear whatever clothing you like, we strongly recommend that you do use the best protective equipment you can afford, and keep yourself as safe as possible.
While you can ride in shorts and a tee-shirt if you want, a legal term called ‘contributory negligence’ could see an injury claim payout being reduced if you were hurt by another driver – the third party’s insurer could use the case of Froom and others versus Butcher. Check out this short article to understand more about contributory negligence.
Does this mean we won’t have to pay VAT on motorcycle clothing?
Bike helmets are VAT-exempt, but this legislation won’t necessarily impact paying VAT on your jacket, gloves, trousers or boots. There have been efforts in the past to secure VAT-exempt status for CE-approved bike kit, but they were unsuccessful.
Realistically, the only way it might happen is if it becomes a legal requirement to wear CE-approved kit, but there are other precedents where PPE isn’t exempt, so it seems unlikely.
What bike kit can I buy now?
There’s a huge range of kit for sale; some of it will conform to prEN 17092 or EN 17092 – and be CE marked as such – and some of it will meet EN 13595. And a lot of it won’t be CE marked at all, because while anything deemed protective should have been independently tested for many years now, it’s simply not been the case, and there’s still a lot on the shelves.
It’s plausible that we might see some discounts as older stock is cleared, and you’ll also likely see many products that are the same, but one has the CE mark and another doesn’t – it depends on the build quality that was already in place.
Ultimately, for the vast majority of motorcycle riders who value their safety, the new legislation can only be seen as a good thing. Any ambiguity is gone, so Customs and Trading Standards will find it much easier to remove from sale any products that are not independently tested, and the consumer will be able to get the best value when they spend their money.
We’ll still have a choice, but it’ll be an informed one, though as manufacturers get to grips with the new standards, we’re already seeing some relatively lightweight products meeting high rating standards, while others, with sometimes tougher construction – but not meeting certain criteria – are appearing to be of a lower standard. It’s a learning curve for consumers and manufacturers, but if nothing else, as least there’s an onus on the brands to now prove that their products are protective, rather than just claim it.