IT’S easy to feel jealous of riders in the rest of Europe. There are no GATSOs in France. There are no speed limits on some stretches of German autobahn. And anyone can walk into their nearest dealer, buy a black visor and wear it on the road without fear of harassment from bored cops.
But the irony is that dark visors are actually as illegal in Europe as they are here – it’s just that authorities on the continent seem more willing to turn a blind eye.
All EU countries have the same light transmission rules. Visors with tints of up to 50 per cent are legal everywhere – as confirmed to MCN by bike industry associations and motorcycle magazines in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Sweden. But wear a visor with a greater tint than that and you’re technically breaking the law in every country
So why don’t the police, trading standards groups and courts on the continent apply the law with anything like the zealousness exhibited by officials and law-enforcers in this country?
Despite the fact that similar restrictions are in force, authorities in each country appear to have a more realistic attitude than Britain to the dark visor issue – and none of them has taken action to prevent the sale of black visors altogether.
Paulo Alburno is boss of the technical department at Italy’s motorcycle industry association, which is also the headquarters of the European association of helmet manufacturers.
He confirmed the official maximum tint accepted by Europe is the same as in the UK. He said: " In Italy, as in other European member states, visors must have no more than a 50 per cent tint for type approval, so it’s officially forbidden to use a black visor.
" But you can buy black visors here and I’ve never heard of anyone having problems with the police for using them.
" Maybe their use is less widespread here than it is in Britain, or maybe the police concentrate on other things. They have more troublewith people riding without insurance. "
Christoph Gatzweiler, director of technical and legislative affairs for Germany’s bike industry association, said new helmets must be sold with visors which comply with the 50 per cent rule. But replacing them with black ones is easy. He said: " I don’t know of any case in which the police have acted. "
Norbert Meiszies, chief editor of German bike magazine Motorrad Reisen & Sport, said: " It’s not such an important issue for the German government and police as it is in the UK.
" We’re more concerned with noise. And most police who deal with bikers are bikers themselves, so they understand the issues. "
Stephane Gautier, who reports for leading French bike magazine Moto Journal, tells a similar story.
He said: " It’s forbidden to wear dark visors in France, but the police don’t charge riders wearing them. It’s simply not a problem here. "
Gautier thinks the French police have more important things to bother about. He said: " I have a friend who’s a policeman. I put the question to him and he said it’s not a priority for them. "
In Belgium it’s the same, too. Joost Kaesemans is the communications manager for the federation of Belgian car and bike manufacturers.
He said: " Black visors are illegal but they are sold freely, though new helmets must be fitted with a visor which complies with regulations. "
Kaesemans thinks riders are a low priority for Belgian police, possibly due to the fact there are far fewer of them than in the UK.
He said: " Apart from speeding, law enforcement concerning motorcycles is virtually non-existent here. It only seems to be dealt with occasionally, when there’s an accident. Otherwise, you can get away with most things, including dark visors, illegal end cans and even bald tyres. "
Anyone who has visited Amsterdam will know the Dutch are pretty liberal on most things – and that relaxed attitude extends to dark visors, too.
Hans Van Der Ree is the technical manager of Arai Europe, based in Holland. He said: " We can sell black visors separately here, but not on a helmet as new. People buy them in shops and use them and the police won’t take any action. "
He has a simple explanation for the Dutch attitude, adding: " People here realise the legislation is mad, because you can wear dark sunglasses. "
One country whereyou would want to wear sunglasses is Spain. José Franqueira, who heads the Spanish motorcycle industry association, thinks the Spanish are more relaxed and sensible about the issue because brighter sunshine makes them more aware of the hazards the sun presents.
He said: " The light is often quiet intense in Spain. I suppose people here just find dark visors more logical. "
Our continental cousins have an additional advantage when it comes to dark visors. Not only are they unlikely to get stopped for wearing one, but on the rare occasion when they meet a bad-tempered cop determined to apply the law, they’re unlikely to have to dig very deep.
German courts fine riders £18. In Belgium, it would be just £11. In the UK, the maximum possible fine is £1000. But you’re unlikely to have to pay that amount – because you probably won’t be able to get hold of a dark visor in the first place. Dealers withdrew their stocks last year following a spate of successful prosecutions by trading standards organisations around the country.
Some insisted they would even prosecute shops selling them for use by racers or track day enthusiasts. Yet, according to Alburno, that restriction is not even a requirement of European legislation. He said: " A black visor can be sold for competition or off-road use, provided it’s clearly stated. "
We contacted Leicestershire Trading Standards, which initiated one prosecution last year, to justify its action. But Keith Regan, the prosecuting officer in the case, refused to comment, referring us instead to a statement he made to MCN last year, when he said: " The legislation governing visors incorporates a bypass procedure, which can make the wholesaler accountable for a retailer’s actions. We’re going after the bigger fish. "
That does nothing to justify to British riders why the UK doesn’t have the same reasonable attitude to dark visors as the rest of Europe.
We like to make fun of other countries for lapping up bonkers EU regulations about the standard shape of bananas or whatever. But this is one issue where we wish we were closer to Europe.