I like Arai helmets; and I've owned a few over the years. In fact, for a period of well over 10 years from the mid 1980s, my helmet-of-choice was an Arai - a full-face, of course, and solid silver in colour. The trouble was, it was the same helmet. No, I mean the exact same helmet! (That's it in the photo at the left).
Now, this did span a period of about 4 years when I was "S.B". ("sans bike"); so for that time it sat in a cupboard not being used. And of course a helmet doesn't deteriorate just sitting in a cupboard does it! (Well, actually it does!). So I kind of took 4 years off it's age. So when it was around 7 years old, I considered it to be only about 3 years old.
And even when it was 10 years old, well, it had still only had 6 years of use. And considering that it was mostly only used on weekends, and generally not out in the rain etc, then I figured it should last three or four times as long as one that is used every day. So I reckoned that my 10-year-old-plus helmet was probably no worse than one that was only a couple of years old that had been ridden every day in all weather conditions.
But I kind of knew I should replace it. For one thing, it had got looser. Now this is something you don't readily notice; because it doesn't just suddenly get loose, it happens gradually as the foam packs down. But I did realise this was a bit loose, and I was getting a fair bit of wind up inside the helmet at highway speeds.
The final thing came though one day when I was out on a ride and my head got very itchy. And it got so bad that I had to stop, pull off the helmet and give it a good scratch! As I pulled off the helmet, a few yellowish flakes fell out. "Gee, the dandruff's bad today" I thought! Then I brushed my head, and a heap more flakes fell to the ground. And I realised it wasn't dandruff; it was tiny pieces of foam! The thin layer of foam under the lining had started disintegrating from age and was falling out in little chunks! I rode home very carefully, and the next day went in to buy a new helmet.
I knew Arais were pretty expensive, but I didn't realise just how expensive until I got to the shop. I looked at the price-tags, and started looking for the bike; I figured at that price it must come with a little motor-scooter or something to ride home with it on! Seriously though, having already looked at helmets prior to this (I told you I knew I should replace it, so I had looked!), I had already realised two things. One was that you can get a quite respectable helmet for around $200; and the other thing was that I realised just how much helmets had improved over the ten years or more since I'd bought the Arai. For example, even the most basic helmets had ventilation - something unheard of with my old Arai!
At the cheapest end of the range there were helmets for around $100. But I was a bit suspicious about those. They felt and looked cheap! You could even see a "join-mark" or "mould-mark" over the top of the helmet. But get up around the $200 mark and the quality standard was much better.
But what about safety? How safe are these "cheap" helmets? Well the answer is, of course, that everything sold in Australia has to have the Australian AS1698 approval rating. And it's a pretty tough test! Not only tough, but they test them in batches; basically taking random samples off the production line from each batch made. So they can't make a few good ones to get past the test and then churn out rubbish! One of the salesmen I spoke to put it in context: "If you were going to come off at 150 and slide on your head down the road for a few hundred metres, then the more expensive helmets, with fibreglass shell, would give you greater protection. But anything that has the AS1698 sticker on it you know is going to be a safe helmet that will still give you good protection". Fair enough. You get what you pay for, but even when you pay a small amount, you still get a good product, not rubbish.
The helmet I ended up with was a THH brand. These days you can get a THH for well under $100 if you shop around, but the model I bought (T992) cost just under $200. Then all I had to do was remember to renew it well before the foam lining turned to "dandruff"!
P.S. For some professional advice on buying a helmet click here to go to the Motorcycle Council of NSW's web-site. Or click here for some more tips from The Old Bloke - gained after considerable research into the process of buying a helmet.
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