The history of motorcycle protection

The history of motorcycle protection

The rush of wind whistling past your ear, the vibration of your precision engine beneath you, burning fuel to propel you further on the road. The sweet smell of freedom. These are all that motorcycling is all about. Motorcycles have always been a symbol of freedom, it inspires the dream of setting off on the road towards some dream. For some, motorcycles are a symbol of rebellion from the norm. The idea of hopping on a motorcycle, gunning the engine to its full capacity and hitting the road has a certain appeal that not many things in life can compete with. Often times, protective gear serve the purpose of completing the rugged look, riders tend to favor, like the motorcycle skull helmet.
However, this feeling of freedom also comes with its own risks, most especially the risk of injury. To help improve motorcycle safety, many countries have mandated the wearing of personal protective equipment such as protective clothing, helmets, and add-ons. Motorcycle protection gear are designed to keep you dry when it’s wet, warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s hot and increase your chances of surviving a crash. Safe to say, most biker safety gear is the most advanced apparel you’ll ever see this side of a space suit. These protective clothing may include certain types of jackets, gloves, boots, pants and motorcycle skull helmet. Though this personal protective equipment can be cumbersome, awkward, and intrusive, they help to protect the rider’s extremities from breakage and dislocation, strain and broken bones during accidents.
Before investing in motorcycle gear, there are two things to note:
Motorcycle gear can be quite expensive.
It’s worth it as they are fundament to the act of riding a bike as the motorcycle itself.
Nearly every motorcyclist today understands the risk involved when riding and takes precautions in order to protect themselves, this has not always been the case. The history of motorcycle protective gear is a surprising one, as some of what we take for granted today has not always been so. In this article, we will look at the importance and history of the different motorcycle protection equipment we have today.
In general, we have five types of protective equipment available today and all motorcycle protection equipment can be divided into one of the below:
Clothing (Leathers, Armor, Textiles)
These equipment types were not all created at the same time or even in the same century and some are more recent inventions than others like the motorcycle skull helmet. So in order for us to have a wholesome understanding of their history, we have to approach them individually.


Safe to say, very little thought was given to the type of clothing one might wear when out for a ride, during the early years of the motorcycle’s existence. This changed, however, during the First World War, when motorcycles were first used in the military, this opened up the fact that certain safety equipment must be set in place in order for a person to safely ride.
At first, coats were used and they became shorter in order to avoid them being caught in motorcycle spokes. During this time also, pegged breeches and heavy boots replaced the older uniforms for soldiers who rode motorcycles. By the end of the war, this practice had caught on. Civilians also began to take the need for safety-wear during motorcycle rides seriously and adopted similar clothing for riding.
However, this look was really not very fashionable. In 1928, the classic American Perfecto motorcycle jacket, was invented in by Irving Schott, in New York City. This did not catch on until Marlon Brando appeared wearing this very same leather jacket with epaulets and diagonal zipper and riding a motorcycle in the film The Wild One in 1953. The jacket became the new public biker look and this look stuck. It became so popular, bikers still wear it to this day.
The leather jackets proved to be quite capable of protecting the rider from road rash. This is especially true of the newer jackets, designed just for motorcyclists and made specifically for safety. Leather jackets are actually quite capable of protecting riders from road rash, especially the newer jackets, which are designed specifically for motorcyclist’s safety. Racing leathers (one-piece racing leather suit) was first used by world champion motorcycle racer Geoff Duke in the 1950s. Although leather jackets and trousers are favored among bikers for protection, we have other clothing based protective equipment namely armor and textile.
Armor is usually added to the insides of most modern leathers, specifically at major impact regions such as shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and back. Armor usually feature high grade energy absorbers and load spreaders they are constructed from high density foam, foam backed hard polymers, carbon fiber, titanium, and other materials. Clothing armor is designed to prevent or reduce injury by spreading and dampening impact and shear strains to the wearer. Some motorcycle jackets also use an airbag system, that deploys automatically in the event of an accident, inflating to protect the rider’s neck, torso, and lower back.
Clothing constructed of man-made textiles were introduced as an alternative to leather. They offer highly improved weather protection from heat, cold, and water. Textile protective gear are usually favored as they provide greater utility in terms of pockets and vents. These protective clothing are made from common materials including high density ballistic nylon, like Cordura and Kevlar, or blends of Kevlar, Cordura, and Lycra. They often include internal waterproof liners made from materials such as Gore-Tex. However, not all textile protective gear are made from synthetic materials, heavy weight waxed cotton was originally used before the development of modern materials. Today, we have a wide range of textile protective garments available.


Surprisingly, even though the motorcycle was invented sometime in the late 1800s, motorcycle helmets were not even thought of until 1935. Motorcycles had been around for ages before anyone thought of head protection. The first person to come around to inventing a helmet was Hugh Cairns. As a neurosurgeon, Cairns invented the motorcycle head protection gear when he lost one of his patients in a motorcycle accident. The first motorcycle helmet patent was submitted in 1953 by Professor C. F. Lombard even though Dr. Cairns had begun his research and invention in 1935.
These first inventions were not very effective. They were sadly, crude attempts at head protection, constructed almost solely of leather. They did little more than prevent road rash. By the 1960s, improvements had come to the helmet, most helmets were constructed using fiberglass and cork or polyurethane foam. Today, helmets are made of two main layers: hard and energy-absorbing. The outer hard shell deflects impact over a large area, while the polystyrene foam liner absorbs energy so less is transferred to the skull.
Helmets generally come in 3 variants: flip-face, open-face and full-face. Open-face helmets protect the head but not the face. A full-face helmet will provide protection for the lower jaw, the face and skull, plus. Needless to say, full-face helmets offer much more protection than open-face helmets. Today we have motorcycle skull helmet types which have become quite popular
The advantages of wearing a helmet include:
Increases the chances of surviving a crash and Reduces injury
Also prevents neck injuries
Does not contribute to vision or hearing impairment
Helmets also perform the function if increasing a riders visibility due to their bright colors


As far back as history serves, people have been wearing protective eyewear. Since we have always had the need to keep snow, wind, bugs, and sunshine away from the eye. The earliest known protective eyewear was worn by the Native American peoples in the far north of America. These natives, called Inuits, carved simplistic goggles from caribou antlers. This design enabled it fit much like the wraparound goggles of today. It included a small slit where the user could see through. Their primary purpose was to protect an individual’s eyes from the snow, and were surprisingly effective.
In 1880, inventor P. Johnson created the next big advancement in safety eyewear history, a pair of safety goggles for use by those who worked with very bright light. The lenses were made out of a double layer of semi-opaque cloth, however, they didn’t provide the wearer a great deal of visibility. In 1885, another inventor by the name of Arthur Fullicks bonded several layers of glass together to make the world’s first safety glasses. To improve upon the glass, Mr. John Crane Woods introduced transparent cellulose nitrate between sheets of glass. However, visibility was still low and the idea of safety eyewear didn’t really take off.
Luckily, in 1910, French chemist Edouard Benedictus established patents for his laminated safety glass which was used in a variety of items, like the gas masks used during World War. It made its way into other fields, including the motorcycle industry. The creation of motorcycle goggles was well welcomed by motorcyclists of the early 1900s. Nearly every motorcycle rider in the 1910s was sporting something to protect their eyes from the bugs and wind. It has been almost 150 years since the first major breakthrough and we are still working on ways to improve on the safety of motorcyclists.
Today’s motorcycle goggles help protect the eyes and typically feature specialized anti-fog treatment and protection against UV rays. When used in motorcycle sports such as motocross, goggles typically feature a foam rim and layered, tinted lenses to accommodate varying light conditions.


Boots protect riders and passengers feet and ankles from harm while riding and in the event of a crash. They are designed with the outside of a typical boot but with a low heel to control the motorcycle. The materials used to make biker boots seam construction are impact, abrasion, cut, tear and burst resistant. For safety, biker boots are made from thick, heavy leather and includes energy absorbing and load spreading padding, materials to protect the motorcycle rider’s feet, ankles and legs.
Wet weather motorcycle boots have a waterproof membrane lining with materials like Gore-Tex or SympaTex. You’ll want to take great care in selecting a motorcycle boot as each type performs a specific purpose. Sport boots provide good articulation and are designed for protection. Dirt boots limit the articulation of your ankle and are designed to provide a solid, comfortable platform to stand on for extended periods. Touring boots are designed to provide decent protection while being comfortable no matter how bad the weather. Biker boots also interface better with motorcycle pants, together they increase weather protection, control and comfort.


Motorcycling gloves offer great protection for the arms because of its construction. They are made of leather and most models feature gauntlets to protect the rider’s wrists from injury. Motorcycling gloves also feature reinforced palms which protects riders from abrasion injuries an accident. Some glove manufacturers offer optional features which include additional protection or weatherproofing. For example, touring gloves may include such additional features as advanced insulating materials and waterproof fabric. Racing gloves typically incorporate pre-curved finger sections and offer the best available protection due to the additional armor incorporated within the glove. For additional protection, titanium or carbon panels may be added to the knuckles and the joints of the fingers.


The European Committee for Standardization is the most recognized method for evaluating protective motorcycle clothing and gloves. The general clothing standard number EN13595-1:2002 is split into four parts. The standard outlines the requirements of a protection garment to meet the lower (1) or higher (2) protection levels. Emphasis is placed on impact abrasion resistance, fabric/seam burst resistance, stab resistance, fit, retention and comfort, for example before the motorcycle skull helmet was allowed, certain tests were carried out.
The standard uses the Cambridge impact abrasion tester type. The clothing or glove material is dropped onto an abrasive belt moving at about 28 km/hr. to ensure that this method remains similar to that seen on the road, information from accident damage and that seen in manikins thrown from a moving vehicle are analyzed to ensure that the test replicated the real world damage as close as possible. The most significant finding so far is the relationship between fabric thickness and time before a hole forms on protective denim products
Another mode of testing is the Darmstadt impact abrasion test. This test was not adopted by the European Committee for Standardization, although it was developed at the same time as the Cambridge impact abrasion test. This method involves dropping test specimen onto a block of concrete and measuring the amount of wear and formation of holes.

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