I've mentioned helmets a bit on this site. I mentioned their importance in the item on clothing, and I've described buying a helmet myself - twice, in fact. But if you value your head, (and I think most of us do!), then helmets are important. So here are a few tips from The Old Bloke on buying a helmet. I should mention that these tips are not just my opinions (although some are), but are gained from authorities such as the Motorcycle Safety Council Of NSW (click here to go to their web-site), and other researched material.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU REPLACE YOUR HELMET
This is a bit of tricky one, as opinions and advice vary, but one thing's for sure - don't leave it as long as I did with my mid-1980s Arai! (See the item "Buying A Helmet" in the "Happenings" section). The short answer is "when it needs replacing". And that can vary depending on how often you use it. I still think it's only logical that if you use your helmet every day, rain, hail or shine, it will deteriorate more quickly - and therefore need replacing sooner - than if you only use it on weekends. In use the padding will compress, and the helmet will get looser on your head. When it gets loose, it's time to replace it! I've heard people who use their lid every day say they've worn-out a cheap helmet in a year! I've heard others say they've had their helmet for almost as long as I had my old Arai and it's still been okay. Arai say to replace the helmet 5 years after it is first worn, or 7 years after it is manufactured; which ever comes first. That's probably a pretty good guide, although I'd have to point out again that the amount of use is a factor. Needless to say, if it has been damaged in a crash, then it has to be replaced. But let's bust a myth here. You've probably heard that you should replace your helmet if you drop it; even if it just falls off your bike while stationary. That never made sense to me! How can something that is designed to protect you in a crash on the highway be rendered unsafe by falling a couple of feet off your stationary bike? Well, basically it can't! As they say on the Motorcycle Safety Council, if you threw it violently at a brick wall then it might get damaged, but it shouldn't get damaged just by falling off your bike. (Unless your bike is parked on the top floor of a multi-story!). So if you drop your helmet or it rolls off your bike, inspect it for damage by all means, but it shouldn't need replacing.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR HELMET
There are many factors involved in the process of deciding what helmet to buy. So let's look at some of them.
Cheap helmets are unsafe, right? Well, no. So it's time to bust another myth. The top-shelf models might be safer, certainly, but even the cheapest helmets, provided they carry the AS1698 sticker, have been certified as providing a level of protection that meets the Australian standard. And it's a pretty high standard too. The Motorcycle Safety Council gives good advice when it says not to put all your money into the helmet and then scrimp on the rest of your clothing. A cheap helmet will give good protection and leave you with more money to put into a good quality jacket, good quality riding pants and so on. It's important to protect your head, but the rest of your body is important as well! I'm writing this after buying the Arai I described in the second episode of "Buying A Helmet" in the "Happenings" section. So I've just bought an expensive helmet. A helmet like that costs about the same as one year's registration. So looked at that way, it's not really that expensive. And as I said there, you do notice a difference in the comfort of the lining and the quality of the construction etc. So for your own comfort I'd recommend not buying the cheapest thing on the shelf. More expensive helmets will last longer too. It comes down to a budget thing. Choose something that you can afford. And whatever that is, you can be assured that it is still "safe".
FIBREGLASS OR PLASTIC?
Okay, time to shatter another myth! Fibreglass is much safer than plastic, right? Well, not necessarily! To understand this you have to realise what part of the helmet does the actual protecting. The shell is what holds everything together, and is a "container" for the Styrofoam type stuff which is what actually absorbs the impact. The shell must withstand the initial impact of what you crash onto, and keep all the insides intact. If it split open as soon as it hit the ground it wouldn't do much good! It must also withstand a certain amount of friction against whatever you crash on. For example, if you come off on the road and slide down the bitumen, the shell must withstand the grinding-away that the bitumen is inflicting upon it. The Styrofoam type stuff inside the helmet is what protects your head against the impact of hitting the road. Now, fibreglass has traditionally been the best material to provide these features. And it probably still is. But the plastic type shells have been designed to withstand pretty high forces of impact and friction also, so they are actually very safe. Remember both types have been certified as meeting the required Australian standards.
We're back to that same thing again; all brands on sale in Australia have been manufactured to a high standard - high enough to gain approval by the testing authorities. Of course the more expensive brands are a bit "better" than the "cheap" brands. If they weren't then they wouldn't sell any, would they! And I've covered this in the "Price" section above. For example, Shoei is a "better" brand than THH. And so it will be a "better" helmet. But both are safe. Make your choice on what you can afford, and what is comfortable and what fits you, rather than on price alone or on brand.
This is a biggie! Remember you will be wearing your helmet for a long time, so it has to be comfortable. If you are being distracted by a helmet that is uncomfortable or giving you a headache etc, then your ability to ride safely will be effected. In fact you might even find yourself not wanting to ride because you have to wear that "uncomfortable thing" on your head! So make sure what you buy is comfortable, and that you will be happy to wear it for a few hours at a stretch. To help make your choice here, don't just put the helmet on in the shop and take it off again. Leave it on for a few minutes and walk around with it. Shake your head a bit. Try to evaluate how comfortable it feels, and how you will feel after wearing it for an extended period of time.
There is a guide for what size you should get for the size of your head. Web-sites of the major manufacturers will have the table, and you will also find it on the Motorcycle Safety Council's web-site. Get a dress-maker's type tape and measure your head just above your eyebrows. Then compare it to the table to see what you should be wearing. But, and this is a big "but", this is meant as a guide only. It's a pretty important guide, but it is just a guide. The main thing is that it should fit your head snuggly. You shouldn't be able to move it around on your head. But neither should it be excessively tight! For example, if there is pressure against your forehead then it is too tight. One test is to put the helmet on, do up the straps, then grab the back of it, at your neck, and try to pull it up over your head. It will move up a bit, of course, but it shouldn't move too far. If you can pull it off your head that way then it is definitely too big! The important thing with fit is how it fits your head, not how the cheek-pads fit your face. This is important because the cheek-pads can give you a false sense of fit. For example, a helmet can be tight on your face, but loose on your head. That's no good! The more expensive helmets usually have removable cheek-pads, and they recommend taking the pads out to assess how the helmet fits. (These helmet brands can supply different size cheek-pads so you can taylor that part to the particular shape of your face).
WHEN WAS IT MADE?
Something that surprised me when I was looking at helmets when I bought the Arai (and I looked at a lot!), was how old some of them were! It wasn't uncommon for helmets on the shelf to be a couple of years old or more! From what Arai say about when to replace your helmet, it appears that they expect there might be up to a couple of years between leaving the factory and being sold to the customer. And to some extent you can understand it. After all, there are so many different combinations of brand, model, size, colour and graphics, that it is inevitable that some are going to sit in stock for a while. But I still think it should be relatively new! The oldest I saw was well into it's 4th year! I wouldn't have bought that! If you find a helmet you want, but it is more than two years old, I would be asking the shop to order in a new one. That was what I intended doing if the situation arose, but as it turned out they had to order one in anyway to get the size / graphic combination I wanted. Although I still mentioned the age issue, and told them I didn't want to pay that sort of money for something that was too old. What I got was still well over a year old, but I accepted that as it seemed to fall within Arai's guide-lines, and it had been boxed up all it's life, so not subject to shop wear-and-tear etc. Okay, well I hope that helps you a little bit when you go to buy your next helmet. It's a big choice (and gets bigger the more you spend on it I suppose), so you need to know what to look for, and what factors are important etc.
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