Friday, March 5, 2010

We Buy Some Helmets

I already wrote a blog about checking out the helmets at the Toronto Motorcycle Show, which was a bit of a disappointment. Today, Mary Ann and I went out and each got a new helmet. Again, I was looking for helmet with the flip down inside sun shield, and Mary Ann agreed that it seemed like a worth while feature, although it limits the choices.

I decided to start the search at Zdeno's in Kitchener. I have been going there for 28 years, they are a motorcycle recycling yard, and sell accessories, gear and used motorcycles, all at reasonable prices. They also do repairs on motorcycles. They are one of the few remaining old school motorcycle shops, with plenty of "character", one of those things that is hard to explain, but you know the minute you walk in the door. For example, they allow you to watch as they work on the bikes. Ever seen that before? I also am a very big fan of places where they keep a lot of broken bikes out the back for spares, and they let you wander around to look for the parts you need. When and if you find it, they send someone out to help you remove it.

Today they were having a no-tax sale on all helmets. That's a good start (15%!). We started browsing on our own after being greeted at the counter by Janet, who later came over to help Mary Ann find the perfect helmet. The first one I showed Mary Ann was an aptly named Icon Speed Cretin helmet with crazy graphics and "Fin Kit" vents that looked like devil horns. She was not amused. After a little bit of browsing, she was ready to talk to Janet. Mary Ann does not make purchases like this quickly or often. Her previous helmet was an Arai that we bought in 1990.

Mary Ann wanted to know what makes some helmets so expensive. Janet explained that it was the brand names, and the certifications mainly. In the past I have occasionally gotten annoyed at some helmet salespeople, who seem to imply that buying anything but the most expensive helmet is gambling with your life. Janet was not like that at all, and seemed very interested in helmets, in fact was a motorcycle road racer herself, and had once fallen off at nearly 300 kph. People like that tend to have a more rational view of helmets, or at least a different view. Anyway Janet did explain that the certifications such as "Snell" added to the price of the helmets. But the DOT certification was the minimum required and probably adequate for most recreational motorcyclists.

Mary Ann put on one helmet and asked how it fit. Janet seemed to not like the way Mary Ann was moving her head while the helmet stayed still. She got a smaller one. Then Jerry (she is one of the owners of the shop) came over and reminded Janet that some people got headaches when they wore helmets as tight as motorcycle racers. Now in a normal modern motorcycle shop, this kind of exchange of view is impossible, or at very least would be a breach of ethics. Not at Zdeno's, where people often express their views whether you like it or not, but in the end everybody seems to enjoy working there, at least as far as I can tell, most of the time.

So we went back to the helmet fitting, and finally Mary Ann settled on an HJC IS-16 Medium size. Janet went to get a new helmet of that style and size, but came back saying the only new one they had was PINK. Mary Ann and Janet had already discussed pink helmets for ladies, and both seemed equally disgusted by the idea. Mary Ann took a look at the pink helmet and decided she would rather go with the matt grey demo model than wear a pink helmet.

Meanwhile I was trying on the HJC IS-16's and found that they felt completely wrong for my head. I even tried on a plain jane HJC CL-15. None of the HJC' felt right, which is very strange because my current helmet that I have worn for 6 years is an HJC CL12, and fits fine. So I decided to try on a Scorpion Exo-1000, which is about $120 more than the HJC IS-16. The Scorpion XL felt right for me, and I really did like the white "Apollo" graphic, which is mostly white with a few grey accents and a bit of red. And of course, it has the flip down sun visor.

The HJC flip down visor lever is on top of the helmet, and it retracts by spring when you touch a button, also on the top of the helmet. That should be fun for making Mary Ann mad when we are out for a ride and I'm passenger. Janet cautioned against doing that, because blinding the driver is not a good practice on a motorcycle. Nor is making Mary Ann mad, I reflect to myself. On the Scorpion, there is a simple up/down lever on the left side for the sun shield.

When we got home, we were checking out the features, and found that it was easier to remove the face shield and replace it on the HJC than on the Scorpion. Both were fast, but the Scorpion lost out because it took a few tries to snap back in place.

The $320 Scorpion was Snell and DOT approved, and also had a pump to inflate the cheek pads. The $200 HJC was only DOT approved. Except for the fact that the HJC felt all wrong on my head, I probably would have got it and saved about a hundred dollars. But The Scorpion does at least look like it's worth the extra money.

If you check the Snell website you will find that helmet manufacturers do not need to submit their helmets to the Department of Transport to get DOT approval, it is a self administered test. The Snell standard must be passed before selling the helmets with the Snell certification, and the test is done by the Snell foundation. So that finally explains why you can buy stupid helmets that are not DOT approved, then buy DOT stickers to put on them.

However, the well known brand helmets always conform to DOT standards, because even if HJC (for example) does not do the test right, another maker (Scorpion, for example) will test an HJC helmet themselves and report HJC to the Department of Transport, which then investigates. Anyway, you can kind of tell if a helmet is going to protect your head, just by looking at it. Hard plastic shell, thick styrofoam liner is way better than a tin bowl and a doo rag. And no helmet is going to save you if you hit a post at over 30 kph with your head.

One more thing Mary Ann wanted was the quick release catch from the Arai helmet, because she thinks it's a drag dealing with D rings. Because the quick release catch on the Arai was an accessory I added years ago, I took it off and put it on the HJC.

Picture: Clockwise from top left. Scorpion, Cretin front, Cretin Back, HJC. These were the styles and colours we ended up with. Except the Cretin of course.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting timing on this post. As the days get longer, one's thoughts turn to getting out on bikes again (not all of us are nuts enough to insist on at least one ride each month during the winter! ;-)

    Although I've been careful not to bang my trusty old helmet (especially with my head in it) it is getting a bit 'long in the tooth.' The Snell Foundation recommends replacing a helmet after five years of use, so mine is effectively on its third lifetime :-(

    That flip down sun visor idea sounds great. I normally ride with sunglasses on inside my lid. But late afternoon rides require pulling over to remove the shades (or, like our last Port Dover run, finishing the run home in a blue-gray fog because I was too lazy to stop and take off those shades).

    On the other hand, my riding jacket is getting rather beat up (too many wet-dry cycles, I suppose) and I'm not sure my budget will stretch to replacing both my lid and my jacket this spring.

    Decisions, decisions :-(