When it comes to kit the law only requires you to wear a helmet and I admit to not being an ‘all the gear, all the time’ rider.
Having quit Facebook I do not miss the photos of skinned riders put up as well intentioned warnings of the perils of not being fully clad in Kevlar.
The helmet is a given
The law is much less prescriptive than the safety conscious gore merchants of social media. The helmet is a given.
The Highway Code recommends stout boots, gloves and suitable clothing. Suitable clothing covers a multitude of options and having been the lawyer for thousands of injured motorcyclists I have come to my own conclusions as to what safety gear is my minimum, and, perhaps influenced by my practice, it falls in line with the law.
After your helmet, your boots are your most important item of safety apparel. A 200kg bike landing on your foot, then pinning it as an abrasive layer next to tarmac is not going to be a fun experience, but a rigid soled motorcycle boot with armour in the ankle and good abrasion resistance means you will usually hobble away. The same experience in shoes is likely to result in a below the knee amputation.
As the Highway Code recommendation is for stout boots, it might be ambitiously argued that failure to do so is contributory negligence but it would be a bold defence proposition. The law is silent on guidance as to what is suitable clothing on a motorcycle, but for me abrasion resistance, even at low speed, is essential, 30mph will destroy denim, but not Kevlar and the shock of being skinned can kill a healthy young human without breaking a bone.
The law also gives no guidance at all on armour. I have dealt with a fair few paralysis cases, and in most of them the paralysed rider was wearing a back protector. I do not draw the inference that a back protector is therefore of no use. Before back protectors became almost standard in midrange and upper range motorcycle gear, I dealt with a lot more paralysis. The mechanics of a back protector, or indeed any joint protector, are self-evident. If you can spread an impact over a larger surface area the energy is dissipated. I cannot recall having ridden without a back protector in the last 25 years.
It is obligatory in France to wear CE approved gloves, and in a low speed fall these can save your hands being skinned, but I am more relaxed about gloves than I am about boots. In my line of work, I see many more damaged feet than hands.
Helpfully the law and commonsense intersect on motorcycle safety apparel, if you are knocked from your bike, unless your helmet is off or unbuckled, the wrong doing driver cannot point to any lack of exactly the right levels of armour or airbag protection in getting them off the hook.
However, because hospital food tastes no better from the moral high ground my minimum riding kit is a solid pair of boots, Kevlar denim jeans with light knee and hip armour, a jacket with decent abrasion resistance and a back protector.
If you want to ride in full race leathers or an armoured touring suit, you will never be criticised, just please don’t put up pictures of skinned (usually American) lads on social media.
Bike Magazine January 2021