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MotoCAP explained

MotoCAP is a motorcycle clothing assessment program, funded by government agencies like ACC and its Australian equivalents, for measuring the protection and breathability of gear. MotoCAP goes into stores in New Zealand and Australia and secretly buys gear for testing, so it’s the same gear you’re buying and wearing, with manufacturers only aware when the results appear on the MotoCAP website.

MotoCAP has been around for three years and has posted the results of more than 300 items of motorcycle clothing. It’s been designed so that the same tests and conditions are used for jackets, pants, and gloves to ensure easy comparison.

There are multiple levels of information available with the starting point being protection and breathability stars. Protection is calculated from abrasion, burst and impact protection, and indicates how a garment will perform if you hit the road. Breathability is a measure of how a garment will perform on a hot day and measures the ability to keep you comfortable while riding. How and why, we collect these is explained in detail below.

When we fall from a motorcycle there are three main risks that we are exposed to. The first is impact. Impact can be small or large, and could occur with the road, other vehicles, our own vehicle, and items on or beside the road. The second risk is burst failure of seams or fabrics. Burst failure occurs when we first hit the road as the rock grips the materials and stretches fabrics, leathers and seams beyond their breaking point. The third risk is impact abrasion. Impact abrasion is where clothing and the body is pushed into the ground by the force of falling off the motorcycle combined with dragging it over a rough surface.

There is a fourth risk that is often forgotten about which is overheating while riding. In hot weather uncomfortable, thick, poorly designed clothing can retain heat affecting a rider’s ability to control their bike. Clothing breathability is measured in the same way as sports clothing, using a thermal sweating hotplate. This measures the ability for the clothing to let out moisture vapour from sweat. The performance of gear against each of these risks is evaluated separately.

Abrasion protection

Abrasion protection is measured using the Cambridge type impact abrasion machine. This machine is a large belt sander travelling at 28km/hr that has the test sample dropped onto it. This is the same test method that was adopted by the British and European standards and is well established with over 27 years of use.

Deakin University research has shown that the test results from the laboratory machine are similar to those achieved on chip seal from on-road testing conducted in Whangarei, Auckland and Christchurch.

In the test the sample is dropped onto the belt and the time it takes to form a hole is measured. The image below shows a sample from a leather jacket part way through the abrasion test. Debris can be seen coming off the sample and floating in the air at the right of the image.

Although the belt is only travelling at 28km/hr (8m/s) Deakin University research has shown that the distance the sample travels on the belt is directly related to the distance a person’s clothing will slide before holing on a typical chip seal road.

Speed has little effect with clothing forming a hole after the same distance travelled at 30km/hr as at 5km/hr. An example is a fabric that lasts 2 seconds on the test machine will last 16 meters of sliding before failing (2 s x 8m/s).

Cambridge impact abrasion tester with leather test sample in test

The Cambridge impact abrasion test method was selected as it has been used for testing motorcycle clothing since 1996. 

The new European standard EN17092 uses the Darmstadt Advanced Abrasion Resistance Tester. This machine uses a concrete abrasion surface that replicates asphalt as this is what most roads in Europe are made from. Whilst it may be effective for a rider in Germany or France it must be remembered that it is a European test for a European standard. Asphalt is 4.5 times less abrasive than chip seal, so the standard does not need to certify to the same level of protection as needed by a rider in New Zealand.

Burst failure

Burst failure is measured using a hydraulic burst tester. The test determines how strong the materials, zips and seams are in a garment. A seam or zip is selected to be present in each test sample as these can be points of weakness.

The layers of material present at the test location are placed over a rubber diaphragm and clamped in place. The diaphragm is then hydraulically inflated until either the seam or fabric fails, or the pressure reaches 2,000 kilopascals (kPa). Higher pressures represent better seams with good seams starting around 1,000 kPa.

The image below shows a mesh fabric being tested and the photo has been captured as the orange-coloured seam thread is failing.

The hydraulic burst test loads the seams and materials in all directions, so it's better than just pulling the seam apart in a single directional test. This is especially important as loading from the road can happen in any direction in a crash.

This test was chosen as it is the same as has been used in the European Standard EN13595 and is well established and known. There is also a relationship between tear resistance and burst strength so there is no need to do additional tear resistance testing on garments.

Gloves use the single directional tensile test for seam strength measurement as the fingers are too small to get samples for burst testing. The results are given in Newton force per millimetre (N/mm) with seam strengths above 13.0 N/mm being good.

The wrist restraint that holds the glove onto your hand during a crash is measured by pulling the glove off an artificial wrist whilst fastened. 200 Newtons of restraint force is considered good, this is equivalent to a 20 kilogram (kg) weight being hung from the fingers without the glove coming off.

Hydraulic burst tester with mesh fabric sample in test.

Impact abrasion

Impact protectors/armour are tested using a falling weight guided by two wires. The drop height is slightly over 1 meter for elbow, shoulder, hip and knee impact protectors with a faller weight of 5.0 kg so that the impact energy is 50 Joules (J).

The image below shows the impact protector held over the anvil with the image captured just as the faller strikes the impact protector.

The force being transmitted into the body is measured by a load cell attached to the domed anvil under the impact protector with below 15 kilo Newtons (kN) being considered good. The lower the number the better the protection.

The percentage area of coverage and the ability for a garment to hold an impact protector in the correct place are also measured with these figures given a percentage value as of their coverage of the Zone 1 risk area.

Testing of glove knuckle and palm impact protectors uses the same test machine as limb impact protectors however the drop height is reduced to approximately 0.2 m and the faller weight is reduced to 2.5kg so that the impact energy is 5.0 J. The peak force transmitted into the body should be less than 2kN for the armour to be considered good.

Twin wire impact tester with elbow impact protector in test.

Breathability

Breathability is measured using a thermal sweating hotplate. The measurement is done in two steps and then the breathability measurement is calculated from the results of both tests.

The first measurement is to determine the dry thermal insulation value or R-Value (like roofing insulation). This is measured using a dry hotplate at 35°C in a atmosphere controlled chamber at 20°C and 65% humidity. The R-Value is calculated from the amount of heat required to keep the hotplate at body temperature.

The moisture vapour transfer rate is then measured using a wet hotplate. Water is sent to pores in the hotplate surface and released into the clothing at a controlled rate by a thin membrane stretched over the hotplate surface. The hotplate temperature is again 35°C however the chamber temperature is changed to 35°C and 40% humidity.

As moisture vapour takes heat with it when it can escape through the clothing, materials with good breathability will require more heat added to the hotplate to maintain skin temperature.

The image below shows a textile jacket laid out on the hotplate surface when the plate is set up in wet mode. The edge of the garment layers have been folded back so that the membrane and two of the moisture pores can be seen on the front right corner of the hotplate.

Test samples are taken from the front of a jacket or the seat of a pair of pants and include all layers present within the garment at that point.

The breathability stars were set by measuring different non motorcycle clothing and assigning them with thermal comfort levels.

A cotton t-shirt fabric was considered to be five stars, a pair of denim jeans were considered four stars, a cotton t-shirt with polar fleecy jumper on top was considered three stars, a cotton t-shirt with good breathable water-resistant membrane was two stars and a polyester t-shirt with polar fleecy jumper and low-quality water-resistant membrane was considered one star. Half a star was achieved with a polyester t-shirt with polar fleecy jumper and a water impermeable plastic film on top.

Most would consider that the breathability rating is only relevant to riding in a hot environment like is found in Northland in summer however this is not the case. Whilst doing ergonomics testing in a 22°C laboratory the discomfort becomes quite obvious after only a few minutes if a garment with a half and in some cases a one-star breathability rating is being worn.

The breathability rating is also there to stop manufacturers producing five-star gear that is uncomfortably hot.

Thermal sweating hotplate with textile jacket sample folded back on one corner t

To conclude

After reading this article you may want to visit the MotoCAP website.

If you find one of the current garments you wear is not rated highly on MotoCAP don’t stop wearing it unless you have a more protective alternative. Wearing any type of protective motorcycle gear is better than riding in normal clothing.

When you have the time and the money go and get a new garment. Use the information from MotoCAP to help you get the level of protection that you feel comfortable with. Gear must look and feel right so that you want to wear it every time you ride.

A good rule to follow is two protection stars or better for around town and three stars or better if you are heading out on the open road. Two breathability stars or better is useful in selecting riding gear that will be okay in cold and warm weather.

Summer is coming and the riding season is upon us. Enjoy your ride and remember to use the MotoCAP website next time you or a friend need to buy new gear.