Can you tell me something about CE/European ratings for back protectors and other armor?

Here’s a short explanation of the rating system used to measure the effectiveness of motorcycle armor in absorbing and withstanding impacts.

The “EN” stands for “European Norm.” You might also notice armor listed as “CE,” The letters “CE” are the abbreviation of French phrase “Conformité Européene” which literally means “European Conformity”. The term initially used was “EC Mark” and it was officially replaced by “CE Marking” in the Directive 93/68/EEC in 1993. “CE Marking” is now used in all EU official documents. All of this has to do with the European motorcycle safety standards. America has unofficially adopted these standards, but they are not required by law for street use. In contrast, to ride a motorcycle in Europe, you have to have protective apparel that meets these standards.

For North America the only time you need CE- and/or EN-rated apparel is when you are on a race track. Also, since each track has different standards, what rating of apparel you need varies depending on which track you ride on. The same type of difference occurs with helmet requirements. For those states with helmet laws, you only need a DOT-approved helmet to ride on the street, but you must have a helmet with the latest Snell-m rating to ride on a track.

The armor manufacturers are starting to move away from the European standards, however, and are going with an “all world” or international standard. The reason why is because Asia and Australia have different standards than Europe or America. An all world standard will enable you to use the same gear no matter where you are in the world.

OK—here’s the “code” for the rating numbering system:

Let’s take a rating of “EN1621-2:2003.” The numbers following the “EN” are an indication of what the protector is rated for. The “1621” indicates the item is rated for motorcycle use and the “2” tells us the area of protection. A protector labeled EN1621-1:2003 is going to be for pretty much anywhere but the back. A protector labeled EN1621-2:2003 is going to be for back protection.

There are two levels of CE protection, CE level 1 and a CE level 2 protectors. Typically you only need a CE level 1 for most tracks; however, some more advanced and higher speed track schools or races require CE level 2.

Finally, the “2003” refers to the year when the standard was implemented. The standards have to be reviewed or updated every few years. Since the last updates the requirements have not changed. The standard for level 2 has been the same since 2003 and for level 1 it has not changed since 1998.

Level 1 protectors: The maximum transmitted force must be below 18 kN, and no single value shall exceed 24 kN Level 2 protectors: The maximum transmitted force must be below 9 kN, and no single value shall exceed 12 kN.

A lesser used rating you may see sometimes included with the EN1621 rating is “EN340:2003.” The “340” is just a general standard that is not specific to a specific sport or job. So when you see both the 340 and 1621 on a piece of armor, the 340 is really pointless because the 1621 already covers all the requirements for the 340.

The important things you want to look for is the CE level 1 or CE level 2. The CE level 2 is going to offer you the best impact protection for your spine. But above all else, the shape and size of the back protector is what is really the most important. A CE level 2 back protector is not going to do you any good if you can’t fit it in your jacket or if the pocket is too big and it moves around on you.

Here’s a further breakdown of the general labeling requirements for protective clothing using the EN340 standard:

EN 340:2003 – Protective clothing – General requirements

Mark identifying the manufacturer
Product identifying mark
Size or size range designation
EN ### – specific Standard number
Pictogram – for specific hazard protection, plus performance levels, where applicable
Care labeling. May include a maximum number of cleaning cycles (max ## x)
Single use PPE to be marked “DO NOT RE-USE”

And for the EN1621 standard, the labeling requirements for the 1997 standard and the current 2003 standard are as follows:

EN 1621-1:1997 – Motorcyclists’ protective clothing against mechanical impact. Impact protectors

Type of protector:
S – shoulder
E – elbow
H – hip
K – knee
K + L – knee + upper and middle tibia
L – front of leg below a K protector
Plus an indication of the covered area:
A – reduced coverage for specialized applications
B – normal coverage

EN 1621-2:2003 – Motorcyclists’ protective clothing against mechanical impact. Motorcyclists back protectors

Type of protector:
B – full back protector
L – lumbar protection only
Performance level 1 or 2 (2 is better)

EN 13595-1: Protective clothing for professional motorcycle riders. Jackets, trousers and one piece or divided suits

Abrasion resistance level 1 or 2
Impact cut resistance level 1 or 2
Burst strength level 1 or 2 – Level 2 is more protective in all cases.

This last one is for professional riders and you typically will not find it in “off the rack” gear.