Fall off a race bike at speed and it can seem like a week before you stop sliding. This is where a suit made of thick leather earns its keep. But in a motorcycle crash at typical street speeds, you’re just as likely to be injured by the initial impact—with the ground, a car fender, or some other solid object—as by the subsequent slide, which probably wouldn’t even get a MotoGP rider’s attention. Armor in the shoulders, elbows, and knees of your riding gear helps protect you, but not just any armor.
The CE standard for protective motorcycle gear was created by a broad group of industry and medical consultants in Europe. Many riding-gear manufacturers equip their products with armor that meets CE standards, which set limits on the amount of energy transmitted by a pad, as well as the size of pads used in various applications.
CE-certified shoulder, elbow, and kneepads are marked EN1621-1, which is the limb standard; back protectors are marked EN1621-2. A back protector that’s also marked Level 2 or B2 passes a higher standard than one marked just EN1621-2. Both EN1621-1 and EN1621-2 indicate the energy-absorbing characteristics and the minimum coverage—but not the shape—of the armor. Type B pads are larger than Type A in either application, and better for motorcycle use.
Armor functions like a helmet for your body. Although a few brands of armor are capable of withstanding multiple impacts in the same spot, play it safe and replace any pads you land on in a serious crash. That’s especially true of back protectors, most of which are definitely single-impact pads—one hit and they’re history. Armor consisting of padding bonded to a hard plastic shell should be replaced if the shell cracks on impact or wears through in a slide.
If the pads in your gear are marked with the CE logo, but not with EN1621-1 or -2, they might be approved for some other purpose like skateboarding or bicycling, and probably won’t protect you as well as the right armor. If they don’t have any markings at all, get your hands on some real CE-approved armor.