I was never one to get into the ride with or without helmet argument. For me, wearing one seemed to make sense. During my short racing career, I learned that my neck was not up to the job of keeping my head from contacting the ground. That that orb of skin, bone and brain affixed to the top of my shoulders was pretty vulnerable. No matter how hard I tried, my head often struck the road whether my falling off was precipitated by a high side or a low side. So my choice was limited to what make of helmet to wear and whose rating system I should consider. Snell, ECE, BSI or DOT.
The choice of helmet has been made even more difficult with many manufacturers claiming that they have premium protection over the competition. You could spend less than $50 on a DOT sticker beanie, and less than $100 on an open or full face helmet. The choice is made even more difficult with helmet manufactures making all kinds of claims about the certifications they’ve obtained, while others have remained silent on the subject.
I used to think that having a Snell or ECE sticker on my helmet marked it as a quality helmet. Having a DOT or BSI sticker was OK, but not a sign of cutting edge protection. But over the last couple of years a debate has broken out as to whether these ratings were based on good science and real world situations. Some claimed that the Snell certification did not represent real world scenarios and resulted in a helmet that was too “hard” that would transfer more energy to the rider than a “softer” (i.e. DOT/BSI) helmet.
A major magazine did an article that questioned the ratings systems and postulated that indeed, the generally cheaper and softer helmets DOT helmets were a better alternative to the harder more expensive Snell helmets. From there a major firestorm erupted. If the ratings system didn’t tell the truth, what can we rely on when choosing a helmet?
Well arguably there’s a new sheriff in town and it is gaining wide acceptance throughout Europe and perhaps soon in the United States. It’s called the SHARP Helmet Safety Scheme. It’s based in the United Kingdom and it claims that it takes the best elements from each of the safety standards, while using a more rigorous targeted testing process.
SHARP evaluations take testing one step further than the other major certifications. Using a 5 star rating system, instead of just earning a “certification” SHARP ratings compare helmet performance against the SHARP standard and assign the helmet from one to five stars. Because of this, you can compare the tested results not only against the standard, but against other helmets.
So with all these choices, certifications and claims, what do you use to help you make a decision as to what certification you should trust when choosing a helmet? Want to know how your Arai RX-7 GP rates against an AGV GP Tech? You can compare them right on the SHARP website and get the star rating for each (in this case 4 stars for the Arai RX-7 GP and 5 stars for the AGV GP Tech). You can review all the helmets tested so far here:
The only problem is that they are still testing many makes and models of helmets so you may not find yours or the one you want to purchase. But we now have another source to assist us in making our helmet choices.
Are you even more confused now? I don’t know a lot about the exact science of helmet testing, but I do like having the ability to compare helmets against each other. What do you think?
Forgive me everyone, but I’ve got to tell it like it is and at the same time make a confession. Each month I receive several opportunities to take a brief vacation from the day to day grind. This short diversion arrives in the form of bound and stapled glossy paper, complete with photos delivered come rain, snow or gloom of night by the United States Postal Service. Yes, each month I am filled with the anticipation of the arrival of a pile of freshly printed motorcycle magazines. Like a kid waiting for his/her once a year present from a distant family member, the anticipation builds with each passing week until the next edition of the magazine arrives.
First days, then weeks, pass and suddenly it happens. With a rattling stop of a blue and white beat up right side drive delivery truck and the squeak of the mailbox door, the excitement is repeated. Upon the opening of the mailbox door, smooth glossy paper and sexy bright colors assault my senses and stimulate my mind. It’s like a paper version of the anticipation of an overnight date with that supermodel you’ve been dreaming about for years.
You quickly glance at the cover and there she is. That new bike you’ve been lusting after, wrapped in silky paint and sporting voluptuous curves. It’s a feast for your eyes and food for your motorcycle soul. That cover photo freshly seared into the frontal lobe of your brain, you can’t wait to open the magazine and get to know her even better.
But then it happens. You open to the page where your dream girl is supposed to be waiting. There’s another picture, not quite as large and glossy as the cover, but still sufficient to send another rush of adrenaline surging through you. You gaze upon her and she seems hotter and more exciting than ever.
Your eyes move from the glossy photo to the accompanying text. It can’t be, no it can’t be! Beside the glossy photo and smaller randomly placed and tilted snapshots are a couple of captions and two little paragraphs of text. To make things even worse, most of the text comes straight out of the manufacturers brochure!
Where’s the review? Where are the opinions, the comparisons and the road test? Where is the evaluation and the conclusion on how good or bad she is? There’s nothing; nothing at all for your brain. This can’t be! So close and yet so far, they’ve pulled a fast one on me. They’ve pulled a bait and switch and I’ve fallen for it hook line and sinker. Again!
Motorcycle magazine publishers, I’ve long been an admirer. You’ve been like family to me, at times bringing me closer and tighter into the fold. But I can’t deal with the continuing heartache. Propelled to a zenith by a big glossy cover photo of excitement and suddenly, unceremoniously dropped from the heavens into the pits of hell by the lack of data and the failure to opine. I can’t put up with this forever.
Please, please don’t torture me any more. Your loyal readers and I are getting restless. We understand that publishing is a business, and that you have to sell magazines. But you do your readers and yourselves a huge disservice when you print little more than a photo and a byline just to sell a couple more copies.
Leave the ill-gotten sales to the other guys and you’ll gain the respect and loyalty of a bonded community. Take the easy way out, and you’ll alienate us from your pages. Sorry to come across so hard, but when you care about something, we’re driven to tell you like it is and let you know that there’s a problem to be fixed. So step it up folks, there’s a line of faithful readers lining up by the door… and it’s not the entrance.