How to buy… a Crash Helmet
So you’ve got yourself a scooter, you’ve invested a few quid in getting it painted and maybe added a few parts to make it go faster too, but ask yourself this; how much have you spent on yourself with regards to what you will wear while riding your pride and joy?
What do they do?
As the name suggests, a crash helmet is designed to protect the rider’s head should they crash. Over the years these have evolved from little more than an optional leather cap, through a cork based pudding-basin shaped helmet to what we have available today, which at the top end is a lightweight piece of kit produced using the latest technologically researched multi-fibres and tested on the race track by the world’s best riders who can walk away from 200mph crash with little more than a bruised ego.
Wearing an approved ‘safety’ helmet is the law in the UK for anyone riding a moped, scooter or motorcycle, except for “a follower of the Sikh religion while wearing a turban.” Whether you opt for a top of the range race replica or retro styled helmet, each and every one sold must legally comply with modern safety regulations. In the UK this means it must either be of the European Union UNECE 22.05 standard or British Standard BS 6658:1985 and carry the BSI Kitemark. Visors and goggles must also comply legally with the same standards if used, but they are not compulsory. The Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme (SHARP) offers some guidance for approved helmets while to go racing in the UK the helmet must also be awarded ACU Gold award.
As the world became a smaller place and manufacturing facilities have expanded in to cheaper locations, today crash helmets with an acceptable safety rating start at a far more affordable price than they once did. However, remember that if possible your money should buy you more than the basic piece of kit that complies with a minimum legal safety standard. Spend a little extra and you can end up with a helmet that is safer still and also offers increased comfort, a lighter weight, reduced noise and other features too like good ventilation. All of these are features that the more established companies invest in regarding R&D, resulting in a better helmet. Yes, it also costs a little more too, but what price your safety and comfort, right folks? Remember, fatigue can cause a lack of concentration and you don’t want that while riding. Equally, excessive wind noise could damage your hearing; both detrimental side effects that some crash helmets combat better than others.
An open-face, half-face or ‘jet’ helmet can offer similar impact protection to a full-face helmet in the areas of the head it covers. At the front however, your face is exposed both regarding an impact, and to anything that flies by as you ride. For the latter we’d recommend that if an open-faced helmet is your choice, then you add a suitable visor or goggles to protect your eyes, and maybe a mask to prevent insects from being ingested while you’re on the road!
A full-face helmet however will protect you far better from the weather, insects and road debris, and if it includes an internal a dark visor (or you have a spare to fit during daylight riding) then it will be effective against bright sunshine too. A good full-face helmet should also offer superior protection over an open-face one too, if required.
But if you’re still sitting on the fence, then what about a flip-front helmet? A good quality example of these can offer the best of both worlds with a full-face style for regular riding, combined with the convenience of an open-face helmet when it comes to asking directions. One thing to note is that flip-front helmets are usually tested for legal approval (homologation) as an open-face helmet rather than a full-face, and as a result some don’t have a particularly strong flip-front section.
Finally, if your choice of type or colour of crash helmet is based simply on ‘how cool’ you think you will look when riding your scooter, then you are probably approaching this from the wrong angle. No one looks cool with a busted nose, black eyes while spitting out their shattered teeth.
Crash helmets can vary in size and fit – even within the same brand – depending on style, and of course the manufacturer, which means that just because your previous helmet was a size ‘Large’ that doesn’t mean a size ‘Large’ of any brand will always offer you the best fit and maximum protection. Remember, a badly fitting helmet cannot do its job properly, so you need to get it right.
This is just one of numerous reasons why you should avoid buying a mail-order helmet. Instead, visit a bike/ scooter dealer and try on crash helmets of different, styles and makes to see what fits the best. The bigger brands like Shoei and Arai are training official retailers to make sure you find the right helmet, so it’s worth doing some research first.
Take your riding jacket with you to make sure it and the helmet fit well together. Take your neck warmer too, and if you wear spectacles make sure the helmet you’re interested in has suitable grooves for them and than any internal sun visor doesn’t foul when it’s dropped down.
Use your gloves to discover whether the vents are easy to operate with them on, and check out the strap too: a double-D is preferred by racers as it is tightened to the correct amount each time you fasten it. The alternative is a seat-belt type catch that better suits one-handed or gloved fastening, but the adjustment often needs to be checked regularly.
Also pay attention to the helmet’s weight. It may not seem like much in the shop, but having an extra 100g on your neck getting battered by the wind over 200 miles of riding can be quite exhausting.
Finally, some of the high-end brands design different helmets for different markets based on head shapes. For example, Asian, European and American heads are apparently all slightly different and at the top end of the market; one size does not fit all. Be suspicious therefore of any online offer that may seem too good to be true, because a batch of cheap Asian-market helmets probably won’t be legal in Europe and the fit is likely to be suspect too.
Where to Buy
It’s easy to think that the best deals are going to be online, but we refer you back to the ‘fit’ section above and remind you that to work effectively, a crash helmet must be tried on first. If you buy a helmet mail order, not only do you not know if it fits or not, but you don’t know it’s history.
Crash helmets do have a ‘shelf life’ and the top manufacturers suggest that is around five years. This begins when the helmet is removed from its box for an extended period time, either for the owner to wear or a shop to display it in their window. So, even if you buy directly from a shop, don’t buy the one that’s been sitting behind glass in the sunshine for weeks on end. Ask for a helmet that’s been stored in its box in the cooler storeroom. And don’t forget to try it on too. After all, the one that fits from the showroom display cabinet may have had dozens of heads in it previously, possibly causing the interior to distort.
A good quality helmet will have the date of manufacture somewhere inside the lining. Shoei helmets even have the name of the person responsible for it inside theirs!
Don’t stuff your gloves into the helmet every time you park up. The interior is designed to absorb impact to protect your head, but it does have a limit to how many impacts it can cope with. Carelessly ramming your hard knuckled gloves into it won’t do it any good. It will also make the lining dirty, and remember, you put that helmet on your head!
Store your helmet in the protective bag it came with, somewhere safe away from getting accidentally knocked. After a long ride, clean the exterior with a gentle soap (children’s shampoo is always a good one) and soft cloth. If the interior is removable and washable, consider doing that every few months, but again use a gentle soap, wash by hand and dry naturally on a washing line.
If you have a plastic helmet, don’t cover it in stickers as the glue can affect the outer shell, as can paint. If you plan to paint any helmet, think twice about it. The chemicals involved could affect the impact protection layer so simply masking vents and trim may not be enough. Ask the manufacturer or UK importer if they recommend anyone and check if the person you choose for the task is capable of both taking apart and reassembling your helmet safely.
If you drop it from anything above waist height – or are involved in an accident – you should seriously consider replacing the helmet, or at least returning it to the manufacturer or importer for a safety examination. Some helmets like Shoei are finished in a way that the user can see from the internal lining if any serious damage has been caused; in this case if the painted liner has cracked at all.
Finally, don’t forget that five years or so down the line you’ll be looking to renew your helmet, especially if you are a high mileage scooterist.
Ignoring the obvious tinted visor and anything that may come with a new helmet, one thing we at SLUK would strongly recommend is an anti-fogging device such as a Pinlock insert. This is a clip in double-glazed inner visor that works remarkably, is simple to fit and remove, and offered as standard by several reputable helmet manufacturers. Essential kit.
Also worth looking at for all-weather riders is effective method to stop rain getting inside the neck of a jacket in heavy rain. This used to be the helmet pelmet, previously offered by brands such as Respro, which attaches by stretch neoprene to the bottom of a helmet and seals out the cold and rain. These are no longer available but Tucano Urbano have come to the rescue with their Water Resistant Throat Collar which does the same trick but has a slightly less camp name.
Finally, if your gloves don’t have a visor wipe built in to them, then you can buy a clip on version from Bob Heath for just a few quid. Essential for clearing your vision in torrential rain.