Confessions of a helmet hoarder
Self-confessed helmet hoarder and motorcycle instructor Andy Ward has some questions about helmet ratings. In the first of a two-parter, he explores just what helmet ratings actually mean.
I have lots of motorcycle helmets. Sixteen currently. Some get used on a daily basis, others just sit around waiting to be aired again when I have another bike that matches them. Helmets are to me as handbags and shoes are to my wife.
The reason for penning these notes comes from a conversation at this year’s Motorcycle Expo with a friend of mine and the guys from SHARP.
Most of you will have heard of SHARP – the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating
Programme. But would I use it as a buying guide when looking for helmet number 17?
I’m a part-time motorcycle instructor, so I often find myself giving helmet advice with safety equipment talks and I use the information provided by SHARP to support this. SHARP information covers fit, comfort and safety. To this, I add helmet materials, shell and internal construction.
A trainee recently asked me what speeds helmets were impact tested at and which would be better: a polycarbonate or composite helmet?
My question to you is: What speeds do you think helmets are impact tested at?
At 30-70mph? That’s the sort of average speed we all travel at.
No, SHARP’s top equivalent speed is 8.5mps or 19.01mph. So, if you were to hit a wall or tree at our lowest guess of 30mph, do you think you’d get up and walk away?
Now, I know we were all invincible when we were younger, but the wise head I now have on my shoulders tells me that, if you hit a solid object head-on at 30mph, you’ll feel the worst you’ve ever felt… at best.
ADVICE ON GIVING ADVICE
SHARP isn’t just about impact testing, though. They advise that the fit of the helmet is probably even more important. To quote SHARP: “even a SHARP five-star helmet won’t protect you if it’s not on your head at the point of impact.”
Personally, I’d never buy from an online shop. I want to feel that everything is right about it before handing over my hard-earned cash. We try to educate people that turn up for CBT, MOD1 or 2 that wearing their grandad’s Achilles Stadium helmet purchased from a Kay’s catalogue in the early ’80s is not best practice, even if it has only been used a handful of times and only dropped twice. As a Trainer, it’s impossible for me to discuss all the important information about buying a helmet and expect people to remember it when they need it. So now we give them a SHARP information booklet (pocket-sized and very handy).
But do I practise what I preach? This is a difficult one because I’m a bit of a helmet hoarder. When I was younger, I’d make my own Barry Sheene replica helmets with sticky-back plastic on a helmet that was a size too small and then climb on board a Yamy YB100.
My mum bought me and my girlfriend (now my wife) matching helmets (aw, bless) back in 1982. Mine lasted about a year before I changed helmets – pretty much with every bike, which is a tradition true to this day.
SHARP RATING FOR HELMETS
It’s now time to have a spring clean and I’ve used the SHARP test to help me decide which helmets need to go. Of course, the SHARP test can’t list every helmet and we need to remember that manufacturers don’t give helmets for testing willingly, so SHARP purchase these from UK dealers themselves.
The rule of thumb seems to be to replace a non-damaged helmet every five years, and here’s why: The five-year replacement recommendation is based on a consensus by both helmet manufacturers and the Snell Foundation. Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production can affect liner materials. Hair oils, sweat and cosmetics, as well as normal wear and tear, all contribute to helmet degradation. Petroleum-based products present in cleaners, paints, fuels and other commonly encountered materials may also affect materials used in many helmets, possibly degrading performance. Also, experience indicates that there will be a noticeable improvement in the protective characteristic of helmets over a five-year period due to advances in materials, designs, production methods and standards. Thus, the recommendation for five-year helmet replacement is a judgment call stemming from a prudent safety philosophy.
But what if a helmet was manufactured in January 2010? With the ‘five year plan’, that helmet would be ready for the scrap heap by now. However, if the same helmet was made in January 2010, sat in its original box on a shelf until Jan 2011, that’s one year that the helmet was not in use or exposed to any damaging effects, particularly sunlight. Would this helmet have an extended life expectancy of greater than five years?
What about the amount of road use? If I take the Nitro F346V that I use professionally, I can calculate approximately 1,000 hours spent on my bonce in all weathers per year. On the other hand, I have a mate who only rides when the sun is shining – May to September, weekends – only logging 150 hours’ riding time.
SHARP testing is a valuable source of information that is easy to understand with just the right amount of techy info. I’d even advise helmet shoppers to take their leaflet with them when looking for a new helmet. Buy from a reputable source and ask questions if you’re in any doubt. I’ve seen too many people pop a helmet on, take it off and walk out of a shop saying: ‘that’ll do’. In all probability, this is a life-saving bit of kit – treat it as such.
However, it appears to me that there are more variables and things to consider than the SHARP rating system includes.
I once met a guy in Matlock who boasted that his Arai Quantum had served him well for 15 years. He was convinced it would last another five at least. It is worrying that riders consider a helmet’s fine to use as long as it hasn’t been crashed.
What surprised (and disappointed) me was how many of my helmets come bottom of the class when using the SHARP rating. In particular, my Dainese Airstream gets only one star! And I thought it complemented the Mille quite nicely. I’ll have to use the AGV XR2 instead. Hold on, that’s now too old apparently. OK, let’s think: the Arai Astro J? No, that’s as old as the AGV. What about the Shoei? Wrong colour. I only use the flip-ups for training, so it’ll have to be the Arai Tour X. But that won’t go with the Mille. Maybe this could be an excuse to buy a Tiger 800… a year’s worth of chores might just do it… or I could be off helmet shopping again!
For more information about SHARP, go to www.direct.gov.uk/sharp
Helmet picture by Darryl Braaten