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Home > Business > Special

Tips to buy a good helmet

BS Bureau in Mumbai | August 26, 2006

What's the big deal? It's just an ugly plastic (it is plastic, right?) shell that goes over your head, is uncomfortable, claustrophobic, causes hair loss, blocks traffic sounds and stops cops from catching you, right?

Actually, all of that is wrong.

All of the attributes associated with helmets in the previous sentence are myths. Pure fiction. Helmets, in fact, can be extremely comfortable and airy, do not cause any physical problems in prolonged use, do not obscure your sense of traffic in any way and do not stop the cops from catching you, either.

The origins of motorcycle helmets lies in the aviator style caps and goggles early motorcyclists used to wear.

For one simple reason. It would keep flying debris out of the eyes, and  hair manageable and clean. In time they evolved, and gained a protective function as well.

How does it work? The helmet has a hard outer layer - polycarbonate, fibre glass or composites - meant to absorb and spread impacts. It resists penetration by sharp objects and the shell disperses the forces of the impact.

Between your skin and this shell is an energy absorbing layer, usually polystyrene, that is designed to gather this energy and self-destruct, transferring as little force as possible to the head.

The polystyrene is covered with a comfort-oriented layer of fabric, which is sometimes removable for washing. Add a good, scratch resistant visor and a secure retention  system, and you have a helmet.

To buy a good one, be prepared to spend some time hunting for one at the shop. You're looking for the tightest helmet you feel comfortable in.

The foam and the comfort lining shrink in time, and the more snug the helmet is, the longer it will do its job well. Holding the helmet by the straps, you should pull it down over your head. If the fit is right, you should feel a gentle, but firm pressure from the helmet evenly all over the head.

The cheek pads pushing your cheeks up slightly is normal. Now adjust the straps and fasten the helmet. Wag a vigorous no sign with your head, if the helmet does not move seamlessly with you, it isn't snug enough.

Wear the helmet for ten minutes or so. If you have never worn a helmet before, some aches in the neck area will go away once you get used to it. Serious ache means you need a lighter helmet.

When you remove the helmet (not sliding off your head easily is normal; push up rather than roll up and back at the same time), look for redness of skin or signs of pressure points. If the lining is pressing a specific area, it will give you a headache later. You want an even fit.

The one thing to ensure is that there is minimal contact between your ear and the helmet. On long rides, this will give you a really painful earache.

Once you find your fit, all you have to do is pick a graphic design you like. Don't be tempted by the simplicity of pattern less helmets. Dark hues, unadorned helmets can be hard to spot in traffic, unless it's stark white. Go for a nice pattern of your choice and a colourful helmet, ideally with reflective elements to make you more visible at night.

Among the features, look for effective and lots of venting for Indian conditions. They might look gimmicky, but a properly vented helmet can feel cool even on a really hot day. Some Indian helmets come with fake vents, so be sure that it actually has vents.

Now that you have a helmet, the job isn't all done. Helmets need to be treated like fragile objects. If it's always banging against stuff and keeps being dropped, when you do need it to protect your head, it will fail.

Also, they are not meant to be family heirlooms, to be passed down the generations. Even the best helmets in the world come with a printed "discard after five years" sign. Our helmets should be good for about two-three years with careful use.

Cleaning a helmet requires nothing more than mild soap, a clean, soft cloth and very little time. A clean face shield is essential. We wipe our shields every time before we head out. That's at least twice a day.

Some of the better brands (this is not a comprehensive list) in India are Bieffe, GP One (both made by Steelbird), AGV(made by Forma Sports), Studds is an evergreen brand as are Vega and Aerostar.

Of these, the GP Ones have the best fit, AGVs have the best venting and brilliant faceshields while Vega's helmets are well-priced. Prices wise, decent helmets start at about Rs 500 and go up to Rs 2000 for Indian ones, while imported ones (good brands: Shoei and Arai) can touch Rs 25,000.

Needless to say, helmets save more motorcyclists from serious head injuries every day. Studies across the world suggest a forty per cent lower chance of serious head and neck injuries due to helmet use in motorcycle accidents.

Besides, they look good, and the first time you cross 70 kph wearing one, you'll actually be able to see where you going without squinting. Which, anyway you look at it, is worth it, no?

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