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?
Over the years, things in my life have changed; a lot. I’d like to think that as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned quite a bit, hopefully become somewhat wiser, experienced life’s ups and downs and generally lived the life that I wanted, to the fullest. However, what is important to me now may not have been so important to me years ago and vice versa.
This came to me a little while ago as I passed through a small space where we keep the bikes and much of our motorcycle gear. A part of the garage that we lovingly call “The Shrine”. While there, I was hit with a revelation (pun intended) of sorts that over the years, perhaps my motorcycle helmets said something about me. For some reason that resides deep in my subconscious, I’ve kept almost all of my motorcycle helmets as well as many of Kim’s. Seeing them all sitting there lined up on the shelf, they spoke to me. You’ve changed, you’ve abandoned us!
They may be right. What was the single most important thing to me when I was younger was high speed performance. My fear of death or injury was practically nil. I can recall pavement escapades that today seem like insanity. Nowadays, high speed performance is not nearly as important to me. I now know when I fall off, it takes longer to heal and it really hurts! My focus is more on the ride itself and what happens during it, than going from point A to B as quickly as possible. Pavement riding, once the sole realm of my motorcycle riding is now secondary, and riding the gravel or woods is what really burns in me.
So as I stared at the helmets on the shelf, they spoke to me without speaking. Sleek, solid black Simpson Bandits in different versions cloaked with dark visors reminiscent of Darth Vader glared back at me. Several Arai RX series helmets adorned with factory racer replica colors practically screamed high RPM. The ones with the deep scratches from falling off during the years that I was competing in road racing told a story of excitement and falls. Then there were the helmets painted to my specs based upon my somewhat bizarre sense of humor; including one with an attached 18″ black braid of hair which contrasted with my bald head. Finally there were the visor-less dirt bike helmets and helmets designed specifically for adventure riding.
As I stared at them, I think they had a story to tell. They told me that my life had changed and my priorities were different. Perhaps they also reflected the importance I’ve assigned to taking things as they come instead of trying to catch a glimpse of life fueled with adrenalin at warp speed.
So do our helmets say something about us, or was that shrine driven revelation merely a dream?
Oh, yeah; one other thing. My current helmet is a fluorescent “Don’t Run Me Over” yellow. What does that say?
Ride2Adventure – Shrink the planet one ride at a time.