In the early days of motorbikes there wasn’t much protection in case you fell off while you were riding. The first protective motorcycle helmets weren’t introduced until 1914 at the Isle of Man TT. Since then, motorbike lids have gone through a number of changes and here is a full breakdown of how far they’ve come.
The beginning of crash helmets can be traced back to a medical officer called Dr Eric Gardner. At the Brooklands race track in 1914, he noticed riders were getting head injuries every 2 weeks. To remedy this, Gardner worked with a Mr Moss to make a canvas and shellac helmet strong enough to endure a heavy blow.
His design was later adopted at the 1914 Isle of Mann TT. Gardner brought 94 lids with him to the races and the number of head injuries was reduced.
Lawrence of Arabia’s death
A major event in the history of lids is the death of T.E. Lawrence in May 1935. Lawrence crashed his Brough Superior SS100 on a road near his cottage in Wareham and he was thrown over the handlebars. He suffered head trauma and died six days after the accident. Hugh Cairns, a neurosurgeon who attended Lawrence began a long study on the loss of life for motorbike riders through head injuries. His research led to the use of crash helmets for military and civilian riders.
1950s and beyond
The 1950s saw the introduction of a lid that was influenced by military tech. US firm, Bell designed a helmet called the Bell 500, named after the Indy 500 race. In 1957, the ‘Jet Style’ Bell 500-TX was produced. It became popular because of people like Steve McQueen and stuntman Bud Ekins.
In the 1960s, helmets became less about style and more about safety. They were made with fibreglass shells and cork lining for added protection. However, there was no facial protection, so riders needed to wear a separate pair of goggles to shield their eyes from wind.
Facial protection became prominent in the 1970s, with racers like Kenny Roberts and Mario Andretti advertising them. These full-face lids covered the entire head and wrapped around the eye and nose areas.
Today, vintage helmets are in style. Cafe racer culture has caused a renewal of the ‘jet style’ of helmet, leading to many replicas being created.
The future is bright for motorcycle lids, as the next step will likely be influenced by military tech. A new HUD inside the helmet means we could be see something out of a sci-fi film very soon.