How do I know what motorcycle armor is best? If I’m going to spend money on gear, I want it to be safe. What do CE certifications mean when we’re talking about armor? Any help you can provide would be great.
So glad you asked, Sam, because it can get kind of confusing. While riders can (and do) have lots of different opinions on a lot of things, most of us can generally agree that we’d like to avoid serious injury when we’re out riding. Now, how each of us chooses to go about that task may vary widely—but that’s a matter of opinion, and we’re here to talk about standards, ratings, and facts. With those parameters in mind, here’s what’s current as of June 9, 2022.
When we talk about how safe motorcycle gear is, there are multiple ways in which things are rated. Abrasion resistance and impact resistance, for example, are not the same thing. Jackets and pants may have separate ratings for abrasion resistance and impact resistance that you’ll need to consider—with the impact resistance ratings relating to the armor that comes installed in that particular article of clothing, not to the entire garment. Just so we don’t get ahead of ourselves, though, here’s a brief explainer about where motorcycle gear safety was up until a few years ago, and how it changed in 2018.
The EN Standards and What They Mean
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, became a household phrase over the course of the pandemic, but it existed long before that. Emergency workers, for example, usually should have gear that is required to meet PPE standards. Back in June, 1994, Europe’s PPE Directive 89/686/EEC went into full effect for motorcycle gear manufacturers. Unfortunately, its wording was vague, unenforceable, and seemed more like a wish list than a set of demands.
That’s why the first CE (that’s an acronym for Conformité Européenne , which is French for “European Conformity”) certification standard for motorcycle apparel, EN 13595, was created. This standard was specific in its language, laying out a general overview, as well as both a set of testing methods and a set of criteria gear must meet in order to achieve CE certification. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Think again.
Where most would argue this certification left a gaping loophole was in its use of the phrase “professional use.” While some riders do, in fact, use their motorcycle gear for professional use—like delivery riders and couriers—most ride for leisure. Thus, most of the motorcycle gear industry completely ignored this standard, because their gear wasn’t intended for "professional use" in the first place. Racers and those participating in track days usually had higher requirements to meet for their gear, but not your everyday rider out in the street. There had to be something better, but what?
How and Why Things Changed In 2018
After literally years of knowing there was an elephant in the room—in the form of no realistically enforced standard for motorcycle safety gear—Europe’s Working Group 9 hashed out the details of a new, more realistic standard. Crucially, they wanted to ensure that it was both practical and enforceable.
The group included up to 40 European representatives from different points in the industry, including testing outfits and manufacturers, according to REV’IT! Incidentally, if you’re concerned about the implications of any industry regulating itself, that’s why an independent testing outfit like Australia’s MotoCAP exists, and you might want to check out their tested gear database no matter what country you ride in. We’ll include a link to their database in our Sources on this piece so you can check it out.
The standard all parties eventually agreed upon is called EN 17092, and it’s what you’ll find on motorcycle gear intended for leisure use since 2018. This standard takes into account a garment’s abrasion resistance, tear strength, seam strength, dimensional stability (that’s ability to stand up to being cleaned, as a garment would be in normal use, and still function as it should to protect riders), and something called “innocuousness,” which is basically whether chemicals used in the garment’s manufacture will irritate your skin or cause other health hazards.
That’s Great, But What Does It Mean for Motorcycle Armor?
The short answer is, nothing. However, it’s important context to have, because most of us don’t wear armor by itself. Your armor is generally going to get tucked into specifically constructed pockets in your motorcycle gear, so it’s important to understand how they work together to protect riders.
Motorcycle armor sold for road use is certified to standards EN 1621-1 through EN 1621-3. If you’re an off-road rider and you’re shopping for that type of gear, you may also see EN 14021:2013, which governs specialized stone shields for off-road riding. Specification EN 1621-4:2013 was created for mechanically-activated air bag protectors. A separate standard, EN 1621-5, is currently in development for electronically-activated air bag protectors.
How Do The EN:1621 Moto Armor Standards Break Down?
The EN:1621-1:2012 standard governs your shoulder, elbow, hip, and knee protectors. Meanwhile, EN:1621-2:2014 covers back protectors, and EN:1621-3:2018 applies to chest protectors. All CE certifications are considered valid for five years from the date certified.
When you’re looking at the tag on a CE-certified armor, you’ll see additional letters and numbers that tell you more information about its particular certification. Here’s what all that means.
Letters A and B indicate the coverage area of impact protection, with A indicating a smaller area and B indicating a larger one. These protectors may differ by size of garment; for example, you wouldn’t want extra-large armor in your extra-small jacket, nor vice versa.
Beyond that, the following letters indicate what part a piece of armor has been certified to protect, as follows:
- E: Elbow
- H: Hip
- K: Knee
- L: Lower leg, below the knee
- K + L: You can figure this one out
- KP: Knuckle protection; found on gloves, generally
- S: shoulder
On back protectors, you’ll see some additional letters:
- FB: Full back, including shoulder blades
- CB: Center back
- LB: Lower back
Protection levels on all armor will be listed as being either Level 1 or Level 2. Level 2 is the most protective in all cases. Additionally, some armor may give temperature test range information. If you see T+ or T-, those indicate that the armor in question has been tested at +40°C and -10°C, respectively (that’s 104°F to 14°F).
Why Do CE Certifications Matter If I Don’t Ride in Europe?
Most motorcycle gear manufacturers sell in multiple markets in 2022. From their perspective, getting one piece of gear CE certified and then offering it in a bunch of sizes and colors in multiple markets makes sense. Currently, CE certification is the most stringent motorcycle gear safety standard that exists in the world. Some countries don’t have recognized standards for motorcycle protective equipment, and so gear makers from those countries may choose to design to CE certification standards so they can sell their gear in Europe. Thus, most gear from reputable manufacturers sold in 2022 will have CE certification of some kind.
Besides, it’s a question of safety. For example, as a rider who lives in the state of Illinois, I’m not legally required to wear a motorcycle helmet. However, I always choose to do so, because it makes sense from a safety standpoint. From my perspective, why wouldn’t I want to take that extra step to try to stay safer on the road? It seems like a better idea all-around for my loved ones, as well as for my own personal safety.