- That thing Indians use to not pay that cop 100 bucks.
- The other condom that nobody uses either.
Synonyms: Arm candy, mirror ornament, grocery basket.
A human body is basically a well-mannered Zombie, arms and legs and torso designed to carry the brain around, do its bidding without question. Like all Kings, the brain loves itself, which is why it commanded the hands to make helmets, things that protect one brain from being destroyed by other brains, their body, or their creations.
Of course, not all brains are born equal, some design better, lighter, sexier helmets, and others fight against mandatory helmet rules.
You must realize here that when I refer to myself as I, I’m actually talking about my brain. I am not my fingers, neither my butt, nor the foreskin, I am the brain talking about the brain, through the brain, and as far as brains go, I like to think I have a good one. Over the years, I have made continuous efforts to improve the ways I can keep it safe, buying shinier and costlier helmets.
I’ve been planning to upgrade from my SOL Metal Man since quite a while now, and some deep research about what lid I should go for has thoroughly scrambled my brains. The questions to begin with was very simple:
How do you measure the safety of a motorcycle helmet?
What’s the difference between a 5000 Rupee MT and 50,000 Rupee Arai?
What’s the safest motorcycle helmet that I can buy with 25,000 bucks?
And the answer to all 3 questions is: Nobody fucking knows.
If you’ve ever bought a riding jacket or pant, you might be familiar with CE armor certifications. They are simple, with different Levels and different Types. With helmets however, every country has its own standards, most of them incomprehensibly complicated and difficult to decipher. Let me take you on a journey of things I’ve encountered so far in the quest to find a crown for my head.
What are the different helmet standards and what do they mean?
First off, always remember that the ISI helmet standard that our traffic police loves is complete shit and nobody should care about it. There are many other standards followed all across the world.
- DOT is used in the US of A, and is mandatory for any helmet to be on sale
- Snell is also used in the US of A, but voluntary for the manufacturer. Required if you want to participate in certain motorsports
- ECE is based in Europe, and followed by more than 50 countries over the world
- SHARP is based in the UK and performs tests on helmets and rates them from 1 to 5 stars
There are many subtle differences between all of these standards. Like DOT doesn’t test the helmets itself, but has an honour system where the manufacturer is expected to self-certify, with the threat of big fine if the authorities ever test the helmets themselves and they fail. SHARP on the other hand buys the helmets, tests them, and then reports, which means that the manufacturer is not involved in any step of the way.
There is a huge controversy about what standard is the best, and at a much more basic level, what really should be the benchmark to test against. For a deep look at the various standards, read this article. For an even deeper look at the host of problems with most helmet testing standards, read this one. If you’re not the reading kind, here are 3 diagrams that pit DOT, ECE and Snell against each other on different parameters.
So which one should I follow?
Fuck if I know.
On the face of it, SHARP looks like the most intelligent system out there, since it’s basically an extension of the ECE standard, with a bit more bells and whistles. It has the most rigorous testing, is the only one that compares helmets against each other, and most importantly, the tests are done by SHARP, not by the manufacturer. Here’s a short animation that shows how SHARP testing is done.
However, there are many problems with SHARP.
First off, SHARP people seem to be happy with 275g acceleration on the brain, something that many people don’t like. The argument is that helmets should be designed to limit the g-forces on the brain to less than 200, anything above that will induce major injuries, not just to the brain but to the other parts of the body as well. It’s not hard to make a helmet that can withstand a 400g impact, but the problem is that the priority should be to save the head, not the helmet.
Second, SHARP is based in the UK, so they test the helmets sold in UK only. If, for example, you find a 5 star helmet on the SHARP website and then buy it here in India, there’s no guarantee it’ll be same thing. SHARP doesn’t put any stickers on the helmet. Global manufacturers make different helmets in different countries for different certifications. An AGV sold in the UK that conforms to SHARP may be different from an AGV sold in the US that conforms to DOT.
And then you reach the third problem.
So is it easy to buy a SHARP certified helmet?
I read this article that takes data from the SHARP website and tries to find out which manufacture consistently makes the most highly rated helmets out there. By this time my head was completely liquefied, and I was simply looking for a way to make the task of buying a fucking helmet easy, even if it meant I had to rely on SHARP as a rating that may or may not be perfect.
Looked like Bell was the manufacturer most well-known for producing safe helmets, with almost all of its products scoring 5 stars. So I said awesome, let’s see where I can try a Bell in India. Turns out there’s only one website where Bell helmets are listed, and it’s High Note Performance. Alrighty, no problemo, so which helmets can I try?
Here’s the list of 5 star Bell helmets on the SHARP website. Here’s the list of Bell helmets available on the High Note Performance website. Notice something? None of the helmets, not even one single item, is available.
What the fuck.
Fine, fine, let’s see if we can find some other helmets from some other brands. Let’s check for Arai, what helmets does it make that are 5 stars?
Does this mean that all those MotoGP stars who wear Arai lids are playing with their lives? Or does this mean there’s more to helmet safety than SHARP ratings?
Do you see where this is going? If you want to buy a 5 star rated helmet in India, and you are unwilling to buy it before trying it, the chances of finding a lid are next to impossible. You could buy something from BikeGear.in, or Revzilla for that matter, but it’ll be completely up to you to hunt someone who already owns the helmet that you want to buy, then try it for size, and then order. Even then things aren’t easy.
Icon, one of the better known names in the motorcycling world, doesn’t make a single 5 star rated helmet. HJC, another big name, makes only 2, one of which isn’t available anywhere, while the other can only be found on Amazon. Airoh, one of the more easily available premium brand in India doesn’t make a single 5 star rated helmet.
AGV, probably the most well-known helmet brand out there thanks to Rossi, makes seven 5-star rated helmets, most of which are far too costly. The cheapest 3 are not available anywhere. Lazer makes one 5 star helmet, and it’t not available on the OutdoorTravelGear website. Schuberth makes no 5 star helmets, neither does Scorpion. Nexx, or LS2.
In fact, here’s the entire list of 5 star helmets on the Sharp website. and out of these 44 items, most are either too costly or simply not available in India. What you end up with as choices are MT Revenge and Matrix helmets, the only 2 items in the list that are both 5 star rated, and more importantly, easily available to try before you buy, except that they are not, as neither of them are available on Spartan Pro Gear’s website.
I don’t know what to make of this information. It sounds preposterous, even stupid to suggest that any MT could be better than any Arai. I have long ridiculed people who actually believe a 60,000 Rupee Apple phone has anything that a 20,000 Rupee Android doesn’t have, but in the case of helmets, the stakes are far more than just a slick user interface and a voice recognition system that you can swear at.
It might seem like to a lot of people that I’m over thinking this shit, but I would like to remind them what I mentioned before, I am my brain, and my brain wants to live. I don’t know what helmet I will buy next or how, for now it seems like I’m stuck with the damn SOL.
Update [26/01/2018]: Check out this video posted by Let’s Gear Up. It is by no means scientific, it has been thoroughly dumbed-down, but I guess that’s what you have to do to make something that Bangalore Traffic Police can understand.