We trail riders are an odd-looking bunch. There are lads (and I use the term advisedly) rocking full MX kit with body armour, others in soft and comfy Adventure boots and a battered road jacket with ex-MoD waterproofs, for special Occasions, and all looks in between. Mad Max to a badly stuffed sofa just about covers the range of kit I see on the trails.
The law has remarkably little to say about how you dress but how you protect your eyes does have a bit of law attached – but it is largely unpoliced. I do occasionally get pulled up by readers for my pragmatic application of the law, so I will tell you what the law is, what I do and the consequences of taking a pragmatic view of what works on the trails and what the law says.
At its simplest, you do not need to wear any eye protection, but if you do it MUST meet either British Standard BS4110:1999 or “another standard accepted by an EEA State” and this is unlikely to change anytime soon, Brexit notwithstanding. So a kite-marked visor is your only acceptable form of eye protection.
I have about four sets goggles – either Oakley or Thor. Not one has a BS kitemark. I may well be wrong because I have not looked that hard but I do not think MX goggles have kite marks. Mine don’t. If I ride in goggles, I am breaking the law.
Goggles need to meet a separate standard – BS EN 1938. Any non-compliant form of eye protection comes under the category of no points and maximum £50 fine.
I prefer to ride in goggles on the trails. I have my favourite coloured set which are ideal for riding the beech woods in my area, and if I am likely to be coming home in the dark, I carry a clear pair. I have never had the slightest interest shown in my goggles from any police officer. Riding in non-BS approved eyewear will not invalidate your insurance unless there is a specific clause in your insurance – if there is such a clause let me know because I have never seen one!
So, it is a rule I am happy to break on two grounds. The first is that riding dusty lanes in a visor is likely to impair your eyesight. Secondly, if I am doing anything technical, especially on a heavy old lump like the 701, I am going to be getting warm and will steam up the visor. Flip it up? Well, yes but then I have zero eye protection and as I tend to spend the summer with bramble scratches over the small bit of my nose that is exposed from about late March to October, I don’t want to replicate those scratches on my eyeballs.
So what about another tried and tested method? A regular clear visor, BS Approved, and a pair of Screwfix special-offer safety specs underneath? Sadly, as illegal as the non-BS visor. If you are wearing items designed to protect your eyes, rather than correct your vision, they must meet the relevant BS. And, clearly, protective lenses worn on a motorcycle with no prescription lenses are designed as protection.
What would be perfectly legal, but less safe than either of the above methods, would be to have no visor at all and a pair of £2.99 market-special sunglasses, or your regular spectacles if you wear them. Obviously, you could spear your eye out in a nanosecond but as the sunglasses were not designed to be protective (probably even of UV) they fall out of the legislation. Ahah – so if I wear dark protective lenses, can the law distinguish these from a cheap pair of sunglasses? I could construct an argument that they can but no prosecutor would waste his or her time on such a pointless exercise. They are busy people, prosecuting kiddy fiddlers, burglars and drink drivers.
I have tried all the systems. In the winter, I ride in an ADV helmet with a pair of ‘happy yellow’ safety specs under my clear and legal visor.
In the summer, or if I know I am doing technical trails, an MX lid with whatever goggles I think will work best is my choice. Both these systems fall out of the ambit of strict legality but then again so is handling a salmon or an eel in suspicious circumstances, yet that does not bother the police much outside salmon poaching areas nor does it restrict me in the fish section at Lidl.
Returning to my Mad Max original observation, if you are looking mean, moody and magnificent in your iridium black goggles, sporting a number plate the size of stamp with a noisy pipe burbling and popping on the over-run, you are likely to attract what ever police interest might be around. Looking largely legal, and riding discreetly and courteously, means much less police attention.
My experience of 37 years’ riding and 29 years’ lawyering is that police officers don’t really want the work of pulling over legal-looking people on quiet bikes unless some overly braided police bonnet has a fresh bee in it.
Trail Riders Fellowship Member Magazine Summer 2022