There's an old saying: if you've got a ten-dollar head, wear a ten-dollar helmet. Well, it's certainly true that a lot of the time, a more expensive helmet will give better protection than a cheap one, but it's also worth reflecting that in many accidents -- quite possibly most -- you would get adequate protection from one of those 'pistachio shell' bicycle helmets, or even from the polystyrene liner that you find inside most helmets.
We prefer GRP helmets (glass-reinforced plastic, fibre-glass, 'glass hats') to polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is usually lighter (which can be a significant advantage -- heavy helmets have been implicated in neck injuries) but the life of an undamaged polycarbonate helmet is shorter and of course their integrity can be grievously compromised by adhesives (on decals) and solvents used for cleaning.
The sort of helmet you wear is very much a matter of personal choice, and the three of us all wear different styles. Karl normally wears a full-face; I normally wear an open-face 'jet style' (and retain to this day a great weakness for the old 'piss-pot' or 'bone dome' that I wore when learning in Bermuda in the 1960s); and Frances wears two different helmets, depending on whether she is riding solo or behind me. Solo, she prefers a jet-style like mine. On the pillion, she wears what might best be called a 'semi full face', more comprehensive than a jet-style but still with an open area in front of the chin: she finds full-face helmets claustrophobic.
And we all have other helmets as well. For example, on the Indian tour, we wore trials-style 'shortie' helmets. We also wear them in summer for short journeys at home. Sure, they offer less protection than our regular helmets, but they are a lot cooler; you can hear better; and in India in particular, speeds are low anyway (cruising at 40-60 km/h, 25-35 mph, 'high speed' at 70-80 km/h, 40-50 mph). In fact, we have ridden hundreds of miles in India without helmets, though we don't necessarily recommend doing so.
Fit, comfort and noise levels should all be considered when trying on a new helmet. They may not matter on short runs at home, but after a few hundred or a few thousand miles, you really appreciate a good hat. For instance, I find that most jet-style helmets tend to lift uncomfortably at speed (over about 80 mph/130 km/h), but Cromwells don't, so I buy a new Cromwell every few years. Your head and riding position might well be different. As for noise levels, we cover [ear plugs] later in this section.
The most serious test we ever made of a helmet was in Italy. We had stopped at road-works when we were rear-ended with such force that Frances was thrown in the air and landed on her head. If she hadn't been wearing a helmet (not a legal requirement in Italy at that time) she would almost certainly have been killed. The helmet (a glass Bell 'jet-style') was badly scratched but not broken. Needless to say, we replaced it as soon as we could.
This isn't telling you much, but it does make four simple and important points. The first is that any helmet is better than no helmet. The second is that you don't need to feel guilty or nervous if you aren't wearing a state-of-the-art 'head protection system'. The third is that a comfortable helmet makes riding more of a pleasure. The fourth is that if a helmet does its job, and protects your head in an accident, replace it as soon as possible.
It hardly warrants saying, but as soon as a visor becomes scratched, it needs replacing. You may be able to live with a few scratches at home, but when you are tired, and quite possibly riding on the 'wrong' side of the road, first-class visibility is even more important than usual.
I wear 'Mark' goggles (Spitfire-pilot style) and Frances goes one better: her 'Marks' are glazed with prescription lenses. Most good opticians can do this; indeed, one measure of whether they are good or not is the enthusiasm with which they greet a request to glaze something unusual.
This information has been verified as far as possible but should not be taken as definitive. You alone are responsible for your safety on a motorcycle (or elsewhere) and should always ride and behave accordingly. Click here for the Official Health Warning.
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last updated: 28/10/03
© 2003 Roger W. Hicks