Friday, April 19, 2013

There Are No Mushroom Head Helmets in Motorcycling

I found a picture on Ebay from "Essential Gear" selling a beanie helmet.  In the picture, the essential "problem" with beanie helmets is explained this way. If I may restate the case, as fairly as possible, the seller says a thick helmet is too big and bulky, while a thin beanie is sleek and attractive.  Therefore you should buy a sleek and attractive beanie to satisfy the legal requirements for riding with a helmet.

Let me open my rant with a discussion of "what is attractive".  In all honesty, beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.  And apparently, the eye of the beholder can be gullible enough to believe just about anything. If you look at these helmets, with an open mind, you will notice that there is nothing particularly attractive about the teenie weenie skull cap.  Come on now, be honest with yourself, nobody else will be.  In the right light, it looks stupid.  Possibly even stupider than the "Bulky and unattractive" helmet.

It seems to me that many motorcyclists have been taken in by the story line about a big helmet makes you look like a mushroom.  Let's get that cleared up once and for all.  The "bulky" size of helmet we are talking about is approximately the same as military helmets used on all sides of all the wars in the last 100 years.  It is also approximately the same proportions as construction worker hard hats.  I have never heard any talk about the embarrassment of looking like a mushroom while landing on the shores of Normandy on D-day.  People should not be taken up by this so-called "mushroom head" nonsense.

Now that I have had a chance to clear the air a little, I will say that there may be a bit of a problem with the bulky helmet.  That is because all heads have slightly different shapes.  Often the inner shape of the helmet's EPS liner, will not be the same shape as the head.  This can leave air gaps, and create pressure points. So when you buy a helmet, especially a half-helmet, you should try to get one that happens to be the same shape as your own head if at all possible.  This helmet will generally sit a bit lower than a non-conforming helmet.  It's like how a round peg fits a round hole much better than a square hole.  Unless your head is square, of course.  Anyway, I have taken the liberty of photoshopping the helmet picture to show what it would look like if it fit properly. I added a third picture at the right. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to tell if the helmet fits right in the store, but I'm convinced that with time, people will find a way to make helmet liners conform better to people's skull shapes.  A  helmet that sits a bit lower has a lower centre of gravity, and covers the skull a bit better at the ear level.  And it is a bit less likely to come off in a crash, too.

Compare how close each helmet comes to the top black line in the picture.  The left helmet is right at the top.  The beanie is way below the line, meaning that very likely there is no "crumple" zone to protect the top of the head in case of an impact with a motionless object.  And the helmet at the right (fitting correctly) seems to have less crumple zone, but actually it is only because the gaps have been eliminated, not because any styrofoam liner is removed.


  1. The first chapter of Ecclesiastes sums it up perfectly "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, ... all is vanity.'

    The 'beanie' lid is simply a political and fashion statement ... 'This is as close as I can get to riding without a helmet. I'm cool.'

    Where the law mandates that motorcycle riders wear helmets, the true rebel would ride without - and take the consequences.

    The shorty lid offers limited protection to those parts of the head most often injured in motor cycle accidents ...

    1. Assuming I read the Calsci data correctly, only 38.2% of head injuries would be in the area covered by a half-helmet. I would have expected more, but then I have never done a study like this.

      The open face or jet helmet, would then cover the area where 54% of damage occurs.

      Apparently 45.3% of damage is done in the face/chinbar/face shield area. It seems like we give up a disproportionate amount of protection just by eliminating the chinbar/face shield. Almost half.

    2. Detailed data correlating specific head injuries to the type of helmet are difficult to obtain. Although many jurisdictions do collect detailed accident data, this level of detail is often missing.

      However, a detailed study of a limited number (about 450) of head injuries and helmet use conducted in Taiwan was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology a couple of years ago ...

      Effectiveness of different types of motorcycle helmets and effects of their improper use on head injuries

    3. The part of the conclusion that interested me the most was the difference between full face and half helmets. You would be twice as likely to sustain a head or brain injury with a half helmet as with a full face. Actually, I could have guessed that result. But actual research is better than guessing.