The legal requirements do not help much. I know an ECE 22.05-compliant helmet is essential, but what else? The Highway Code says, “Strong boots, gloves and suitable clothing may help to protect you if you are involved in a collision,” but does not go much further.
First things first. Make sure your daughter gets a decent full-face crash helmet that fits her. Brand is of no consequence. Fit is all. The EUtesting for helmets is pretty close to useless, in my opinion. The compliance sticker on the back makes the helmet legal, but apart from that it adds little value. I have seen so many cases involving helmet ejection that I have no faith in the testing.
Then her feet. I’d strongly urge her to get proper armoured boots that stop mid-shin. When high motocross boots were popular I used to see a lot of really complex injuries to the knee. In the event of a sideswipe, the energy has to go somewhere, and while nobody wants a break, breaking a long bone such as the shin bone is much less medically complicated than damaging a complex joint like the knee. In my experience, feet suffer the worst in a crash and they are complicated and fragile things.
The next step is a comfortable and abrasion resistant layer of cordura or leather. I see riders, day in, day out, who have slid along the road in all of the three forms of protective layer. At ordinary road speeds the protective performance of all is equally impressive. Leather is still the best in my book, but about as waterproof as a teabag and not especially practical off the bike.
I am not personally sold on technically protective gloves. The hand and wrist injuries that I see are rarely abrasive and are usually decelerative injuries. Some glove manufacturers have concentrated efforts to protect the complex network of bones around the wrist, but I remain to be convinced, while still admiring the technology and thought that has gone into these gloves. Gloves are essential as the hand always gets thrown out in protection. I have seen many good glovesthat have taken a beating but saved the hand from being shredded.
I would insist on a back protector. If you understand the biomechanics of spreading force in the event of an impact, you would never ride without a back protector. The law doesn’t say you need to wear any armour at all, but if you are looking for gear built to the highest standard, check the swing tags in search of Level2 of CE standard EN 1621.
To the parents of any youngster who wants to ride, I would say this: the most dangerous place for a teenager on the road is as a front-seat passenger in a car driven by another teenager. I’d be happier for my daughter to be in control of her own vehicle and her own destiny, on a motorbike, rather than as the passenger of any other teenager.
RiDE October 2015