Kelly’s Korner: Quality Goes On Before the Rider Goes Out

June 2, 2017 Tags: , , ,
Kelly puts on her helmet before a ride


Back in March, I discovered – somewhat inconveniently, on the I-17 – that my two-year-old helmet had lost its fit. I shouldn’t have been surprised; I didn’t pay much for it, having settled because the company was the only one at the time offering the Transitions face shield. (Perhaps it’s important to note that I’m only discussing full-coverage helmets here.) A few weeks later, I replaced the helmet that had caved in like a cheap mattress, upgrading once more to my original brand choice (which now also has the tinted shield that changes gradients depending on its exposure to light). What a difference the better helmet makes in my riding. I took the new one for its test run in mid-April and it did not disappoint, reminding me why I will never again cut corners on my helmet purchases. (ed.- Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, would enjoy a discussion about quality)

First, I want to address a common misconception: That helmet price correlates to safety. Not true. But money does buy other benefits and they are so important that I contend they do equate to safety.

So here you have them, three reasons to invest in a high quality (usually pricier) helmet:

The higher the quality, the greater the likelihood the helmet will maintain the fit right.

The contrast in my confidence between the March and April rides was significant. I was a little stunned by the disparity, to be frank. Much of the improvement came because the new helmet does not have the room to move around in response to wind or vehicle buffeting, thus affecting my vision. My cheeks are all nice and squished against the pads, as they should be, and when I turn my head, the scenery does not turn with me – always a plus. And because I spent more money, the fit will stick around for a long while. If the fit should change, the pads are easily replaced.  From a purely pecuniary point of view, shelling out more cash up front for a good helmet makes more sense than spending smaller amounts over more frequent intervals on lesser alternatives. The big takeaway, though, is that if the helmet does not fit correctly, the rider adds one more distraction to the list of possible reasons for danger.

The higher the quality, the quieter the helmet.

The other improvement I noted immediately related to sound. The old helmet was loud, even with earplugs. While I can’t speak for you, wind noise saps my energy the longer I’m exposed to it. No helmet eliminates all wind noise but the new one blocks so much ambient sound from seeping in that my fatigue on the April ride came from heat, not wind noise. The more expensive helmet models feature better liners, shells and foam cushions that don’t break down like their cheaper counterparts. I still wear earplugs on long rides to protect whatever remains of my hearing but now I almost feel like I’m riding in a bubble. (Not to worry, I can still hear vehicles.)

The higher the quality, the better the ventilation in the helmet.

Tmotorcycle helmet aerodynamicshis matters, especially in hot locales such as Arizona. Cheap helmets are cheap in part because they do not have useful vents – it costs money to design and manufacture helmets with the levers and louvers that moderate the amount of air moving across one’s head. Keeping the head area cooler is a definite point in favor of safety. I personally don’t buy helmets for the vents because they tend to invite dust and debris into my contact lenses. However, the advantages that accompany a helmet with vents more than make up for not using them.

The bottom line is, spend as much as you can on the helmet that will protect you and keep the proper shape for as long as possible. Oh, and the pricier ones are prettier, too. That counts for something.

What’s your experience been with helmets of varying quality? Leave a comment.

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