MotoCAP tests reveal budget and brand don’t always equal protection

Craig Duff

Posted August 08, 2022

Motorcycle gear is too often chosen for its style, rather than safety. MotoCAP testing shows why looks often aren’t what they seem.

Good-looking and good-quality are different things when it comes to motorcycle gear.

Safety should be the defining factor when it comes to wrapping your body in protective clothing when for riders of any kind. However, for a lot of people, style is known to takes precedence over safety.

It is possible to do both, but knowing what gear is appropriate for you is typically a subjective factor. For instance, new motorbike riders want to show off their machinery and their modern gear.

That’s where MotoCAP comes in. The independent body scientifically tests motorbike gear, from gloves to jackets, pants and helmets, for a variety of behaviours in the event of a crash.

The results to date indicate riders can buy gear with great protection without spending a fortune. In short: there is no correlation between price and brand on protection.

Many brands claim high protection; MotoCAP’s remit is to assess whether those claims stack up when riders have an accident.

MotoCAP is funded by a variety of government bodies and safety organisations, including the RACV. Riding gear chosen for testing is randomly bought from a retail outlet, though manufacturers can choose to submit apparel for assessment.

The crash-test body has spent the past years building up a database of tested gear. It has now assessed around 25 per cent of the products on sale and is actively looking to promote the safety ratings with things like “swing tags” on clothing instore and displays at motorcycle events highlighting the benefits of choosing safe kit.

The aim is to put riders on the road in apparel that will protect them in the event of a crash.

Unlike the five-star rating ANCAP endorses for cars, utes and SUVs, the MotoCAP approach is tailored to the conditions you ride in.

Motorcyclists adjusting their helmets before a ride.

Wearing the right gear for the conditions is a key message from MotoCAP.

What constitutes “safe” motorcycle gear?

MotoCAP endorses the approach that a higher star-rating is typically better, but motorbike riding has caveats.

The website notes: “Depending on your riding needs, it will be a balance between protection, thermal comfort and water penetration. Remember that being too hot or wet may affect your riding safety and increase the risk of crashing“.

A one-piece leather suit with impact protectors is great at full-body safety on a track day but can quickly cause a rider to overheat if they’re on a long ride in hot weather.

It also doesn’t have the “breathability” of apparel designed with zips and flaps that can be opened as required to regulate airflow.

MotoCAP’s senior research fellow (fibre science and technology), Christopher Hurren, says riders need to consider the conditions they ride in.

“If you’re commuting in an urban environment the road surface is likely to be less abrasive (asphalt) and speeds are likely to be lower, though there is also a greater likelihood of impact with other vehicles. We’d suggest a minimum of two-star rating for those rides.

“We’d also recommend a three-star rating as a minimum for recreational riders. Country roads use chip-based materials which can be up to 4.5-times more abrasive than asphalt and riding speeds are typically higher.”

“While we encourage riders to buy the best gear they can afford, it doesn’t necessarily have to be five-star rated.”

“We test the same gear that riders buy and wear, across all price points and material types."


Motorbikes on a dirt road

MotoCAP tests include water penetration, breathability, abrasion and burst resistance.

How is motorcycle apparel tested?

The MotoCAP tests cover impact protection (how well the plastic/foam inserts protect your shoulders, elbows hips knees etc); burst resistance (how the clothing seams survive a crash); abrasion resistance (how long the material can survive sliding along a surface before it wears through); breathability (how the apparel allows perspiration to evaporate away from your body) and water protection (how resistant the clothing is to water penetrating its surface and saturating the rider).

Helmets are also included on the MotoCAP website, though they are tested by the aligned Consumer Rating and Assessment of Safety Helmets (CRASH) organisation.

Wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle is mandatory and helmets must comply with a relevant standard (there are no official standards for motorcycle clothing in Australia).

Helmet standards include the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1698:2006 and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regulation No 22 (UNECE22.05 or UNECE22.06) as amended.

CRASH says helmets made after March 31, 2011, to meet AS/NZS 1698 must have an identifying mark from a body accredited or approved by the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) certifying compliance with an above standard.

Talk to riding instructors and they’ll typically tell you to replace your helmet every five years, given the sun’s ultra-violet light and repeated light knocks can damage the helmet.

If you’ve crashed in it, cut off the chinstrap and throw it out. Short of an X-ray, there’s no way of assessing what damage the helmet has incurred.

You only have one head, keep it as safe as possible.


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