There can be no piece of motorcycling equipment more important than your crash helmet.
The wearing of a ‘lid’ has been compulsory in the UK since 1973 and over the years technology has developed massively, improving the protection and comfort offered to riders, but despite this the crash helmet is not maintenance free.
Look after your crash helmet and it will look after you, is a maxim well worth following. But how do you care for your crash hat, and which is the right one for you? To help you on your way, here are 10 tips from Insidebikes’ team of experienced bikers…
It’s always tempting to buy second hand, especially when starting out, and for most of your equipment it’s a smart way to get onto two wheels without breaking the bank.
The exception must always be when it comes to buying a crash helmet. Helmets have a limited shelf life and are designed to be thrown away in the event of a serious accident. It is vital to know the providence of any helmet you wear, and buying new is the only way to be sure that you know exactly what you are putting on your head.
Get one that fits
Common sense but so, so important. Crash helmets are designed to fit snuggly and will generally mould their shape to fit your head over time. There’s a temptation to buy a larger helmet as it’ll feel more comfortable off the bike, but a loose helmet will most likely move around and cause fatigue at speed, and there’s always a danger that it could fly off in the event of an accident. Even if it stays on, a large helmet is unlikely to offer the same protection as one that fits properly – think of goods rattling around inside a box that’s been padded out with insufficient packaging. That’s your head, that is.
While buying online is fine for most things, it is always best to try a helmet before you buy – taking advantage of trained professionals at the local motorcycle dealership.
Read the instructions
Another common sense statement, but one that’s easily overlooked.
A helmet should last for up to five years, so at least take five minutes to read the instructions.
Sure, they are easy to operate, for want of a better word, but always check the manufacturers guidelines. It’ll tell you how to buckle it up properly (it varies from brand to brand, and model to model), how to clean it and various other hints and tips for the maximum comfort and protection.
These will also tell you anything important that you might need to know, for example helmets with polycarbonate shells should usually not be repainted or have stickers applied to them.
Buy the best you can afford
Legendary racer Kenny Roberts once famously quipped ‘if you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet’. Cheap helmets are a false economy, after all, what value do you place on your noggin?
As a minimum, any helmet worn must meet British Standard BS 6658:1985 and carry a kite mark sticker. It’s also worth checking out the website of SHARP, the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme, a Department For Transport initiative that rigorously tests and rates helmets across a range of 32 impact tests. The results are all published at https://sharp.dft.gov.uk/
In general, the well known brands – such as AGV, Arai, Shark and Shoei – are renowned for their high quality of development, testing and production, although often their top of the range models offer no more protection than the mid-range models. These premium models usually have fancier colour schemes and more advanced ventilation systems to enhance comfort.
Be aware of any super cheap helmets. While they are not very common, it is not unknown for fake knock offs to be produced in the Far East and to make their way into the UK via online auction sites.
Price is not everything though. There are some really good yet inexpensive helmets on the market, while some very expensive lids record surprisingly low SHARP scores.
Most helmets worth their salt will come with a bag, and it’s worth keeping this to store the helmet in when it’s not being used.
Make sure your helmet is clean and dry before putting it away in a cool and dry location. Dampness can attack the lining and no one wants to put their head inside a manky old brain bucket. For that reason, it’s also best to avoid storing your gloves inside the helmet.
If you’re transporting the helmet, make sure that it’s not going to be knocked around. Racers often carry their helmets around in neat little bags (kinda like the ones bowlers use to haul their bowls around in) which are a cool way to take extra care of your most valuable piece of bike gear.
Again, it’s worth following the instructions here but the golden rule is to avoid harsh chemicals.
Wipe down regularly and give it a good going over every now and then, removing the visor and getting into all the nooks and crannies. Avoid solvents not designed for use on helmets at all costs. Warm soapy water is all you need, although there are some great helmet cleaning products out there that can help get all those pesky dead bugs off your lid and leave it smelling nice and fresh too.
We also recommend soaking kitchen roll in water, then leaving it on your helmet and visor for 10/15 minutes until it lifts stubborn grime and summer bugs off. Also, do this on the kitchen drainer so the water running off the soaking paper towel runs on to the draining board, not in to your helmet lining.
Many helmets, especially more expensive ones, have removable liners which can be taken out and chucked in the washing machine.
These are beneficial, as the lining wicks up all the sweat and can get a bit whiffy after a while. If washing the interior is a pain in the posterior, it might be worth wearing some kind of balaclava or additional liner to go over your head to keep the lining nice and fresh.
It’s also important to inspect the lining on a regular basis. Most manufacturers recommend replacing a helmet every five years or so and the reason for this is mainly because of degradation of the liner.
The liner is made of expanded polystyrene and is not just there for your comfort, as it plays a vital role in absorbing any shocks that may occur during an impact. Sweat, greasy hair and chemicals from hair products can all affect the lining and cause it to harden and degrade. After five years, this could cause the liner to lose up to 25% of its effectiveness. If the liner looks loose, or you can see evidence of the material crumbling, it’s time to say goodbye to your lid.
Check your visor
The visor is important because it’s what you see through. Yeah, we know that’s obvious but the scratches can distort your vision – especially in bright sunlight or at night, when you can easily be dazzled by oncoming traffic. Dead bugs are also a nightmare when splatted across your visor and a good tip is to carry a bespoke visor cleaner, like Visorcat, or Motul visor cleaner with you, or even a small packet of baby wipes, which are very effective at removing insects and tar spots.
Replace if damaged
Helmets are designed to take just one big impact in their lifetime, so if it goes down you’re best throwing it away.
If there’s any visible damage then it’s an absolute brainer, but it’s tough to have to throw away an expensive helmet that you’ve dropped in a fit of clumsiness. Chances are that it will be ok, but do you really want to take the chance? It is possible to X-ray a helmet to check its integrity. That will identify any hairline cracks in the shell and determine if you should throw it away or not, but assuming you don’t have that luxury, it’s best not to take risks with your most important piece of bike gear.
Replace every five years
Following all these tips will help you keep your helmet in tip top condition, maximising its comfort and protection throughout its lifetime.
At the end of the day, we always recommend following the manufacturer’s guidelines, and if they say to dispose of the helmet after five years then its best to follow their advice. Sure, they’ll want to sell you a new lid but ultimately it’s advice given out because we know that all helmets will deteriorate over time. Getting a new helmet will also allow you to take advantage of the latest designs and technology.
Whatever you do with your old helmet, please don’t sell it to another rider. You don’t have to throw it away either. Find a shelf or trophy cabinet for your old helmets and you can continue to enjoy them for years to come – remembering all the adventures you enjoyed together in your five years together!