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?