Sorry about the title, but I just saw Shakespeare’s Richard III at a local theater and the doomed king’s quote about trading his kingdom for a horse keeps going through my head. And speaking of heads, I’ve been wondering lately, among other things, why so many motorcyclists wear black helmets. Is it because they don’t clash with the various colors of the motorcycles themselves, or with jackets and other riding paraphernalia? Or is it, as I suspect, that black is considered to be the coolest, manliest (mannish?) of colors? According to the Bad Ass Helmet Store, “Black is never going out of fashion. It is minimalistic, stylish, cool, and attractive all at the same time”. Chuck Norris would definitely wear a black helmet, if he wore one at all. Black helmets do look good in many cases, but I think they’re completely out of place on a motorcycle, for the simple reason that they blend in so well with the surroundings. They’re not particularly visible, and visibility is the most important aspect of passive safety on a motorcycle. The most visible color, according to one study in California, is lime green. And it’s hard not to see something when its color is neon, hi-viz yellow. Now, I understand that not everyone wants to wear lime green or hi-viz yellow, but just about any light color will make a helmet, and thus you the rider, more visible, especially as your head is often above the roofs of the surrounding traffic. In addition to the visibility issue, black is also the color that soaks up the sun’s rays the most, making it warmer to wear in the sun. This is also a safety factor, as a warmer helmet can lead to a warmer head, and subsequently less comfort and concentration (the so-called “mush-brain syndrome”).
I’ve been actively motorcycling for over 20 years and have bought a variety of helmets for different types of riding. My current helmet of choice for commuting in the city and local trips that don’t involve much highway travel is this blue open-face example from MTR. Quite visible, there is no question that in an accident my schnozzola would not be as well protected as in a full-face helmet. Still, it’s lightweight, allows for great peripheral vision, has a drop-down sun visor in addition to the clear full-face visor (wonderful if you wear glasses!), and is fairly cool to wear in warm weather. It’s sort of a modern interpretation of the standard “jet” style of open-face helmet (see below), and although not as good looking, is much more practical. I’ve grown very attached to it as the season has progressed, and I’m tempted to wear it more often than I should.
Here’s the standard open face helmet with it’s small, snap-on visor removed. These can be had for a song and look great, but leave a lot to be desired when it comes to safety, function and comfort. I mainly use this when I ride the 50cc Schwalbe for short trips around town. It’s a classic example of a helmet that looks good but fits poorly. After wearing for a half an hour I always have a painful dent in my forehead, as it’s just not made for my head shape. I bought it quickly without wearing it on a test ride, which in hindsight was not a good idea. Live and learn!
My helmet for longer trips is this somewhat old modular, or flip-up helmet. I love these types of helmets for their versatility, even if they are somewhat heavier and noisier. This type of lid allows you to quickly flip up the front if you want to talk to a fellow biker or cashier at a gas station (if you choose to leave your helmet on while getting gas, which is a controversial topic in itself!), meaning you don’t have to take off the helmet to communicate. It allows you to put on the helmet without taking your glasses off, which is very convenient to us old buggers. While riding slowly through towns and villages it’s possible to ride with the front flipped up, allowing you to get some fresh air and look a little less like an alien from outer space to those pedestrians you pass by. At higher speeds it still offers the protection of a full-face helmet, which is a comforting thought. Finally, it offers the best protection against the rain and wind, but will fog up in cooler weather if the visor is not left open a crack. This particular model has fairly poor ventilation, and is now at least 6 years old, so it’s time to think about a new one. Once again, I love the sun visor, and will never buy another helmet without this feature.
Having bought the Himalayan, I started getting interested in so-called “adventure” or dual-sport helmets. These are the helmets of choice today, as adventure bikes are the best-selling motorcycles at the moment. When this one was put on sale for less than half the original price, I couldn’t resist and bowed to fashion, even though it’s black. It fits well, has a ton of ventilation openings (in fact, it’s too cool to wear unless it’s quite mild), a retractable sun visor and a huge opening, allowing for great vision. The extended chin bar provides protection without feeling too claustrophobic, and the peak visor helps shade the eyes. To make it more visible, I applied some highly reflective tape on the sides and rear, and I hope this helps. I haven’t ended up using it much yet, though, as I find the disadvantage of having to take off the helmet to talk outweighs its positive attributes. It also buffets around a fair bit in the wind on the highway, even though I rarely go more than 110 kmh. I’m sure it’s a great helmet for off-road, but I have yet to try this out. Time will tell, but I have a feeling that in the end, I’ll probably end up wearing my modular helmet more.
This is an old East German helmet I bought at a flea market years ago when I was riding my 1967 MZ ES250. I mostly just like the way it looks, with its image of Berlin’s Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall) on the side and the zip-off leather ear protectors. I did actually use it a few times, as it’s extremely light, but would not want to have an accident with this on my head. It looks good on the shelf, though.
This is just a short overview of my own experience with motorcycle helmets, and should in no way be viewed as anything more than that. There are many different types of helmets and dozens of manufactures, and it’s important to decide exactly what is right for you before buying. The right helmet is critical for riding comfort and safety. I would be interested in hearing what you think of the issue of helmets, though. What do you wear? What colors, and why? Please let me know!