How safe is your motorcycle gear?

Man rides motorbike with safety gear and helmet.

Peter Nugent

Posted April 26, 2019

Scientists test and rate motorbike clothing for safety and comfort.

I love my motor scooter. It runs on the smell of an oily rag, I can park it anywhere free of charge and it’s the best way to beat Melbourne’s chronic traffic congestion, now that I can legally use lane filtering to zip past all those stationary cars and trucks clogging the roads.

But when I get to my destination I want to be ‘cafe chic’, ready for a latte and not looking like an extra from Mad Max. So how do you choose stylish and comfortable motorcycle clothing without compromising on safety? MotoCAP (the Motorcycle Clothing Assessment Program) has the answer.

In a dedicated laboratory just outside Geelong, Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials puts riding apparel through its paces. Each day they’re testing jackets, pants and gloves to see how they stand up to the rigours of riding, and falling down, as well as their levels of comfort and durability.

The researchers test each item to see how it will perform in a crash, from the initial impact to a burst test that examines how the seams of your protective gear will hold up under pressure, and an abrasion test to see how it will perform if you’re unlucky enough to go sliding down the road.

Once an item’s safety level is determined, it’s time to find out how comfortable it is. Alarmingly, researchers have found that riders are three times less likely to wear protective clothing in hot weather.

“With comfort we measure both the insulation of the fabric, but more importantly we measure the amount of water vapour that is able to move through the clothing, so that we are looking at the ability of the clothing to be worn in a warm environment,” explained Dr Christopher Hurren, chief scientist on the MotoCAP project.

While each rider’s idea of ‘comfort’ is different, the MotoCAP researchers are looking at the factors that keep motorcyclists and scooter users safe. If you’re too hot or too cold this can reduce reaction time or increase the risk of fatigue. As well as thermal comfort checks, the researchers also measure water protection. If you’ve ever ridden a motorbike or scooter in the rain you’ll know that keeping water out is almost impossible.

Once the testing is complete each item is given a star rating out of five, for both the level of safety and the comfort it provides. Run by a consortium of government agencies, private organisations and motorcycle stakeholders, including the RACV, the TAC and VicRoads, MotoCAP tests about 10 per cent of the gear sold in shops and online across Australia and New Zealand each year. All testing is independent and internationally recognised. 

The website makes it easy to see what apparel suits you best, whether it’s leather or textiles, and to match the gear to the type of riding you like doing. MotoCAP continually publishes test results, so it’s worth a regular visit to the website

A quick look at the site reveals the most expensive gear is not always the safest or most comfortable. For example, at the time of writing, Draggin Next Gen seamless jeans received a four-star safety rating and three stars for comfort. At $319 rrp they’re far cheaper than the equally rated Hero Riding jeans by Triumph at $500 rrp. If you’re after a leather jacket for cruising the RJAYS Calibre, at $400 rrp, receives a five-star safety rating, with none of the competition coming close, despite some costing more than double the price.

Whether you’re one of the smart scooter set who wants to stay safe on your trip to the local cafe, you’re setting off for a weekend ride along the Great Ocean Road, or heading to Phillip Island for a track day, MotoCAP has you covered.

But remember, no matter how good it is, the best gear can only provide so much protection.