Motorcycles can be dangerous, and the current road safety standards are there for a reason. Knowing those standards and what’s behind them will help you make smart decisions about rides and gear, but they’re also a way to show respect for the mighty machine you ride.
Tire safety standards
Motorcycle tires are covered by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard #119. These standards ensure every tire is safe to take on the road and easy for the average consumer to understand and use properly.
To be sold as road-legal, motorcycle tires have to make it through an endurance test without any evidence of separating, or any cracking or splicing. At the end of the test, the tires can’t have lost any air pressure.
The test involves mounting the tire at proper inflation and then loading it to the maximum weight that it’s meant to endure. Testers then spin the tire for a very long time, and in phases. This ensures a make of tire can handle real-life road conditions the way it should.
The manufacturer must make it clear exactly which rims can be used with any tire, so there’s no chance of inadvertent mistakes if a consumer chooses to change rims. The tire has to perform perfectly on any rim the manufacturer claims it matches.
A motorcycle tire has to be able to handle a breaking energy of no less than 150 inches per pound to 400 inches per pound, depending on the load it’s meant to handle.
All tires need to have at least three places where you can easily tell when the tread drops to 0.8mm or less. Other margins must include a DOT certification, the tire size, the load and speed restrictions, and inflation information.
In California, any motorcycle helmet must meet Department of Transportation standards, but you shouldn’t wear one only because the law says you should. Your helmet protects your head, your jaw, the skin on your face; even your veneers. Your head is the last thing you want to play around with.
Be aware that while tires are inspected by officials before they get their certification, helmet makers are responsible for testing their own products. Look for the DOT sticker on any helmet. That’s how the manufacturer signals they have done the tests.
Helmet standards require that your peripheral vision be no less than 105 degree from the helmet’s midline. The helmet also can’t have anything on it, like a rivet, sticking out more than 5 millimeters.
The helmet has to undergo an impact test, a penetration test, and a retention test to prove its worth. The first test is done by dropping the helmet from a certain height onto a flat, hard surface. The penetration test involves dropping a piercing striker onto the helmet to see if it can get through far enough to reach your head.
No standards have been set by the US government for wearable gear other than the helmet. Yet confusion reigns when you purchase motorcycle protective clothing. You may have seen some clothing marked with labels that suggest they conform to a standard of some kind.
The reason for this is that many manufacturers want to sell the same clothing in the EU or Australia and New Zealand as they sell in the US, which means they have to adhere to CE (Conformité Européene or European Conformity) standards.
You can choose to wear whatever you like, but you’ll be safest if you look for gear with the CE label. CE certified protective gear is made and tested to keep you safe from impact abrasions, contusions, cuts, and heat. Here’s hoping the US adopts similar standards soon.