Racing seasons are winding down, Christmas is coming, and all the new 2013 gear is on its way into stores for you to purchase. Many of you might be considering getting a new helmet this year, which is great. Your head is the most important thing you own and you should take care of it. Helmets come in a variety of styles, colors, and prices which give a lot of options to consumers. One option riders shouldn’t overlook is the little sticker on the helmet that denotes it meets Snell certifications. Snell destroys thousands of helmets. Thousands of helmets. That’s to ensure that the one thing between your most valuable asset and sudden impact is doing its job – your helmet.
So why Snell and not just DOT? Snell has exceedingly high standards, and they do a lot of testing to ensure that manufacturers are making helmets to meet these requirements. Helmets must first pass Snell certification through in-house testing by Snell technicians in Snell labs to qualify. Then samples of qualified helmets are regularly acquired directly from retailers, and manufacturers must continue to pass test requirements in order to remain in the Snell programs. And Snell certified helmets come in every price range, which is good for people who can’t afford a helmet on the more expensive end of the spectrum. Snell’s website explains it like this: “…features such as style and comfort are also important in determining helmet price. However, building consistently protective performance into a helmet does cost money. The costs are in the design and development, the materials and, most of all, in quality control. Snell certification is your best assurance that the manufacturer has made, and continues to make this investment in your safety…The Snell Standards do not measure factors like comfort, ventilation, brand recognition or style, and only indirectly look at fit, weight, materials and workmanship. These are factors that frequently drive helmet cost.” So rest assured that the $800 helmet, the $500 helmet, and the $200 helmet protect your head and pass the same certifications Snell requires (if they have the Snell logo on them), but the $800 helmet might have diamond coating or baby seal fur lining. In reality features like magnetic cheekpads, venting, soft and comfortable padding, or construction materials (like carbon fiber) are some of the features of higher-end, more expensive helmets. Considering you spend more time wearing your helmet than crashing in it (hopefully) these are considerations that will also drive your purchase.
Speaking of purchasing a helmet, do you know when it’s time for a new one? If it’s had an impact with your noggin in it, or about every 5 years, whichever happens first. If you drop your helmet on the ground, empty, chances are it’s fine to wear. However, repeated dropping of the helmet, or if it flies off your truck on the highway, will most likely cause some internal damage to the helmet and when the time comes for it to rescue your head, it might not work at it’s peak performance level as some degradation of materials probably occurred. Just use your best judgement – if you think it’s been damaged, you should replace it. If you have crashed with your head inside your helmet, you should replace it. It did it’s job by protecting your head and that is a “one-time-use!” The best advice comes from Snell, “The Foundation recommends that if you are participating in an activity that requires that you wear a helmet, you avoid hitting stuff with your head.”
Why should you replace your helmet every five years?
The five-year replacement recommendation is based on a consensus by both helmet manufacturers and the Snell Foundation. Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production can affect liner materials. Hair oils, body fluids and cosmetics, as well as normal “wear and tear” all contribute to helmet degradation. Petroleum based products present in cleaners, paints, fuels and other commonly encountered materials may also degrade materials used in many helmets possibly degrading performance. Additionally, experience indicates there will be a noticeable improvement in the protective characteristic of helmets over a five-year period due to advances in materials, designs, production methods and the standards. Thus, the recommendation for five-year helmet replacement is a judgment call stemming from a prudent safety philosophy.
What should I do to take care of my motorcycle helmet?
Do not place your helmet so that a projection or any hard object, such as the motorcycle mirror, can damage the inner foam liner of the helmet. Only use mild soap water to clean the inside pads. Never use any chemical cleaning products for the inside or outside of your helmet. Never repaint your helmet with paints that are not authorized by the manufacturer.
How do I choose a helmet?
Buying a helmet is much like buying anything that is important to you. You should choose a helmet based on its ability to do the job it’s intended for, regardless of whether or not it’s to satisfy a law or if you want the best protection available. First you need to decide about the things that matter to you. There are a number of items that are important in finding a helmet that suits you. Snell recommends the following no matter what helmet you buy:
Fit – Make sure that the size and shape of the helmet are suited to your head. Sizing in helmets, even many of the numerical sizes may not be consistent from brand to brand or even model to model. Additionally make sure the retaining system is effective comfortable and easy to use.
Comfort – Make sure the helmet is as comfortable to wear as possible. It is likely to be on your head for a while and it should not become so annoying that you are distracted from the important task of riding safely. Also, choose an appropriate helmet for the type of riding you will do most frequently and the environment you’re riding in. Full face helmets offer a measure of protection from impacts to the face, and flying debris like cigarette butts and gravel as well as helping to avoid the dreaded insectus dentus adhesion affliction, or “Bug Tooth Syndrome”. Full face helmets do tend to retain more heat though which is a consideration as well.
Style – This may seem trivial and not related to safety, but it does have it’s place. Get a helmet you like. For many riding is a big part of their life. It’s not just transportation, but also an important recreational activity, even a lifestyle. It is common sense to conclude that a rider is more likely to consistently wear something he or she likes rather than something that they do not.
Safety – The only thing that can be added is that Snell has been concerning itself solely with helmets and head protection for over fifty years. Our focus does not include trying to sell you a helmet, trying to require you wear a helmet or trying to limit the innovation of helmets. For years Snell has merely tried to educate consumers about the importance of a good helmet and point riders who are concerned with protecting the stuff between their ears toward helmets that perform to the Snell standards.
You can visit Snell’s website by going to http://www.smf.org or click here to visit their Facebook page and give them a Like!