Making motorcycle clothing safer

Most motorcycle clothing is not as protective as you might think. But from next year it will be easier to identify the safest gloves and garments, thanks to a rating system developed by Deakin University researchers.

Keen biker Dr Chris Hurren and his colleague Dr Liz de Rome, of the university’s Institute for Frontier Materials, tested fabrics used in biker clothing—such as denim and synthetic protective liners—to measure breathability and durability. More than 60 per cent performed poorly.

Fabrics were dragged across a belt sander running at 28km/hr to assess how long they would take to rip. Thicker, denser materials (like leather and terry loop knitted para-aramid) performed best, with thin, stretchy and water-resistant garments bursting more readily on impact.

Surprisingly, material ruptures quicker at slower speeds due to the ‘grip’ element of a fall compared to the subsequent, less abrasive ‘slip’ motion which starts earlier in high-speed accidents. This is concerning as European statistics show most bike incidents happen below 50km/hr.

Some clothing carries European (CE) standards but there is confusion in Australia with non-labelling and misleading descriptions such as ‘ballistic nylon’. 

“It turns out that if you sell clothing in a motorcycle store it only needs to be protective if you claim it as protective,” Chris says.  

Soon European standards are set to slide. Materials will only have to withstand damage within one second after impact compared to the previous four-to-seven second rule.

This research, backed by the Australian Motorcycle Council, aims to reduce the severity of bike-related injuries and introduce a comfort and protective rating system.

Chris is testing bike pants made from denim and other fabrics to assess their durability in accidents.
Graphic explaining the ‘trip, grip, slip’ phases of a motorbike fall.
Chris with his 1953 BSA Bantam bike. Credit: Chris Hurren

For more information:

Institute for Frontier Materials, Deakin University
Robin Taylor
+61 3 5247 9255