Go to pretty much any motorcycle show and you’ll find traders flogging off cheap riding gear. Should you snap it up or run a mile? In particular, is it a good idea to buy a cheap crash helmet. Insidebikes gives their opinion…
‘No’ is pretty much the standard answer to the question ‘should I buy a cheap motorcycle helmet’ but chances are that you didn’t click on this link for a two letter answer, so let us elaborate some more.
The difference between a bargain helmet and a cheap helmet
There’s a big difference between a bargain helmet and a cheap helmet. Bargains are good, everybody loves one, and can cover everything from a good quality crash helmet that’s great value, to a top end Arai or Shoei that’s got a few quid knocked off it – perhaps because its being sold with last year’s colours.
Cheap, as in cheap and nasty, is rarely good – and it’s never good when talking about motorcycle safety. The helmet is the most essential piece of protection for anyone who rides a motorbike and cutting corners here is just not an option. Indeed, while other riding gear is recommended, the helmet is the only one mandated by law. And all crash helmets worn on UK roads have to pass certain tests before they can legally go on sale.
Much of the cost of a good quality helmet comes from the research and development that’s gone into it. Established companies have been in the game for years, constantly developing, testing and improving their lids. That expertise doesn’t come cheap.
A quality helmet needs to go through a rigorous testing programme before going on sale. The helmet is then tested and must go through British Standard testing (BS 6658:1985 to be precise) in which case it will carry the BSI Kitemark. An equivalent test carried out in a European Economic Area country or to a satisfactory UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) standard, there are some additional markings – such as an ACU (Auto Cycle Union) sticker for race track eligibility, but it’s that BSI (or equivalent) that means it’s good to go on British roads.
Occasionally, particularly through online stores or at shows, helmets go on sale that have not gone through these tests – or which are counterfeits of established brands. These may or may not be of satisfactory quality (but the likelihood is not…) but why take that chance? There’s no second chance when it comes to protecting your head. Buy the best you can!
Likewise, it should not be necessary to buy the most expensive helmets on the market. Buy a carbon-fibre Arai GP-6RC and you’ll be in for three grand. For that you get a helmet that’s immensely strong and extremely light, a million miles away from a £30 lid picked up at a badly lit bike show stall, but it’s also unrealistic for most riders. Arai’s RX-7V is the top of their ‘normal’ range. At nearly £800, you’re getting a cutting edge helmet, but a lot of that cost comes from the intricate paint schemes, complex ventilation systems and race style visor systems. Half the money will get you a helmet from the same manufacturer, but without all the bells and whistles, and which has passed all the same tests.
But £400 is still a lot for many people to pay for a crash helmet, and there are a lot of surprisingly inexpensive options out there which can do the job for a day-to-day rider.
A good place to start is the Government’s SHARP website. SHARP is the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme, which takes all helmets on sale in the UK and subjects them to a number of tests, before rating them and listing the results on their website (www.sharp.dft.gov.uk).
While it’s fair to say that the established brands are most trusted by motorcyclists (such as AGV, Arai, Shoei, Shark and Schuberth) there are some surprising results on there, which prove that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a helmet that meets the safety standards. The Ducchini D832, for example, is an obscure helmet that retails in Halfords for less than £60 and gets a five-star SHARP rating. Of course, budget helmets are unlikely to feel as plush as the more expensive one, or to have the same level of ventilation or visor mechanisms that mark out the more premium brands, but from a safety point of view, the government testing has at least proven them to meet a high safety rating that is, in some aspects, better than that provided by more expensive offerings.
Should I buy a second hand motorbike crash helmet?
It does seem appealing, doesn’t it? After all, we all know that buying a second hand or pre-registered motorcycle can offer better value than a new one, but its best avoided when it comes to buying a helmet.
The problem with buying a second hand crash helmet is simply that you don’t know the history of it. Helmets are designed to sustain one impact and then be thrown away, and while helmets often show signs of damage when they take an impact, it’s not always the case – meaning that a visual inspection is not enough. It’s also important to understand that even if the helmet hasn’t been involved in an accident, it still has a shelf life of around five years and should have been stored and cleaned properly, as failure to do this can have a negative impact on the integrity of the helmet. You can X-ray a helmet to check that there’s no damage but, for most of us, that isn’t really an option.
In conclusion, it’s hard to recommend buying a cheap or second hand motorcycle crash helmet. Most experts suggest buying the best you can afford, so shop around and try before you buy, as correct fitment is absolutely essential in providing adequate protection in the case of an accident.
Checking the SHARP website is also a good way check how the various helmets you may be considering compare for safety, while traditional motorcycling publications like MCN and RiDE regularly offer reviews on products to show what they’re like to use in day-to-day life.