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Two Cents On Buying A Helmet

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The helmet which I’ve worn daily for the past five years, an ’04 Suomy Spec-1R, is near retirement age, so recently I went shopping for a new replacement…

For the past five years, the Neil Hodgson autographed Suomy Spec-1R has served me well

Stores in town offer many different brands of helmets and chances for you to actually try them on (briefly) and sometimes they are even willing to match the low low prices advertised online. Over the Internet, unless you’re buying the exact same brand, type, model, and size of helmet that you’ve worn before, it is often a difficult task, or should I say, guesswork, when it comes to picking a new helmet.

When I purchase a helmet, I have a few requirements:

  • Full-Face Helmets Only*: Let me ask you, when you insure your car, your boat, or your roof, would you ever get it partially-insured? You wouldn’t, right? They won’t even write a policy like that, either. While the latest European standards may support one theory that side impacts are more common than frontal impacts, they only further underscore the fact that the entire head must be protected. Stop and think!  Do you really want to go down like this poor guy you see below here without full protection?  You wouldn’t, right? (*As for modular helmets, the jury is still out.   I strongly recommend the full-face helmets for the complete protection, even though the modular helmets do provide some chin protection.  Of course, that is only a matter of personal opinion.)
Photo: MCN

Photo: MCN

  • Fit/Comfort: It is often said that a proper helmet should fit snugly, yet comfortably around your face and head. Slightly pushed up cheeks are fine; while a loosely-fit helmet could spell troubles. Helmet manufacturers Arai (pdf) and Shoei have their own standards, and Snell has more guidelines on how to select the right helmet based on the proper fit. My own personal test is also known as the “One-Hour Test”. I believe it would be rare for a store to let you wear one for an hour before purchase, so you may have to buy one first and try this sitting still in the comfort of your own home (but check with the store first about its return policy, and this goes for online purchase as well). Based on my personal experience, if a helmet “becomes” too tight to the point that it pinches your temples or hurts your head in anyway in less than an hour, it is not a proper fit, and it must be replaced. If the helmet ain’t comfortable for you; you ain’t gonna want to wear it everyday, right?
  • Face shields: It should be clear and optically-correct, not distorted. Most claim to be UV-resistant, and some would even say theirs are fog-resistant, but only a ride on a cold or rainy day can tell.  Tinted or mirrored face shields are not good a good idea for an all-day ride unless you bring along a clear one, too.  I prefer to wear a pair of proper sunglasses behind a clear face shield.
  • Colors/Graphics:  Be seen, be safe.  Bright colors such as white, yellow, or red (or even pink) are great because you get noticed more when in motion. Sharp-looking graphic designs with brilliant colors can accomplish this goal, too; but that just may be my personal opinion.
  • Features:  Cooling vents are great, but only an actual ride on a hot day (80+°F) can prove that they actually work.  They should be easy to operate while riding with gloves on.  Don’t get me wrong; but if it ain’t cool, you wouldn’t want to wear it, right, especially if you live in Texas? Some less-than-perfect placements of these vents may actually cause undesirable, or high-pitched whistling noises while riding (a library of helmet-specific mp3 files can be found on webbikeworld.com).  Some helmets have top-rear spoilers and bottom-rear spoilers to improve and enhance their stability during the ride, especially in high-speed conditions.  You may think that it is rather insignificant, but for someone who rides a lot and does not have a windshield on his scooter, this extra helmet stability will greatly relieve the strain on neck, shoulder and back areas, especially on a long ride.  The only helmet that I’ve personally tested (for a two-month period) so far that embodies all the great features discussed here is the Shoei RF-1000.  Those top vents should be called A/C vents instead.  They’re cold!  The spoilers on the RF also work superbly on the freeway!  Unfortunately this helmet failed my one-hour test (because it wasn’t designed for a round-oval head like mine).  Last but not least, plushy, comfortable, removable and washable internal linings are a must to keep the helmet not only looking, but also smelling new and clean inside.

Cheeks pushed up wearing a Shoei RF-1000

For online shoppers, especially since you can neither see nor examine the merchandise before hand (except falling in love with some pixels on the computer screen), it is strongly advised that you ASK the online dealers for the manufacture date (or what’s common known as the “chin-strap” date) of the helmet that you intend to buy.  If the dealers are legit and want your business, they will provide you with the date.  “Special Buys” advertised online with crazy-low prices could also mean that they’re crazy-old.  Recently, I received a FIVE-YEAR-OLD helmet from a large online source and I immediately returned it and got a full refund!  How dare they, you ask?  For some graphic helmets from Arai or Suomy, you can actually find some online database for comparison since certain graphic designs are only released for a limited number of years.  But if you don’t ask, you still have no ideas. When buying a (discounted) solid-color helmet, you definitely want to ask about the date.

In 2009, theyre still selling 2004 helmets?  You bet!  Times are hard, and (some) merchants are desperate.

In 2009, they're still selling 2004 helmets? You bet! Times are hard, and (some) merchants are desperate.

So which helmet did I end up with after a three-month period of trial and searching.  Well, I finally purchased an Arai Quantum II full-faced helmet from an online store called Competiton Accessories.  Why?

  • It’s both DOT-approved and Snell-certified.
  • This helmet also passes my own “One-Hour Test” and fits my round-oval head* very nicely with both cheeks pushed up sightly.  Actually, I only took it off after an hour 15 minutes because I got bored. (*Round-oval heads/helmets are rare, while intermediate-, or long-oval heads/helmets are more common in America.)  In the helmet trade, one either has an “Arai-head” or a “Shoei” head, so they say.  After trying on both, I am happy to say that I have an “Arai-head”.
  • It’s red (and that goes well with my scooter, too).
  • It comes with a clear, undistorted face shield that closes with a very secure clicking sound.
  • It comes with nine easy-to-use cooling vents (whose efficacy will soon be revealed in an upcoming 1,000-mile test).
  • Dealer provided me with the manufacture date, as requested, in an overnight e-mail.  “October, 2008”, I think this is reasonable considering the hefty discount.

My new Arai Quantum II and some of its nine cooling vents

My new Arai Quantum II and some of its nine cooling vents (noticed that none is placed in the forehead area)

Parting words:

A fresh, new DOT-approved helmet will last you about five years.  For some, that relationship is considered a commitment, so please choose your partner carefully.  There’s a right DOT-approved helmet out there for everyone who rides and cares enough about not only his, or her own life, but also the lives of the ones he, or she loves.–Lorenzo

Resources:

DOT/NHTSA

Snell Memorial Foundation

SHARP (UK)

Arai (PDF)

Shoei

Motorcycle Helmet

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