Helmet

/ˈhɛlmɪt/

  1. That thing Indians use to not pay that cop 100 bucks.
  2. 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.

  1. DOT is used in the US of A, and is mandatory for any helmet to be on sale
  2. Snell is also used in the US of A, but voluntary for the manufacturer. Required if you want to participate in certain motorsports
  3. ECE is based in Europe, and followed by more than 50 countries over the world
  4. 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?

Nopes.

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?

None.

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.

Huh, strange. Let’s try Shark helmets. Here’s the list of 5 star Shark helmets on the SHARP website. Here’s the list of Shark helmets available on the High Note Performance website.

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?

None. Zero.

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. 

comments (35)

  • Reply

    November 29, 2016

    ..being a current user of a SOL on a D390, I have been in the same dilemma for some time now, and hope you have found some alternative and better upgrade by now? Thought of loosening the purse strings a bit and planned to upgrade to a Shark or Bell, when this article and MT revenge and other models surfaced..have been so confused that I had shelved this project for about a year now and would really welcome any new opinions..

    • Reply

      November 29, 2016

      I can’t say that my situation has improved at all mate, still no idea what is good and what is not. Feels like a gamble that you just have to take.

      • Reply

        December 5, 2016

        Guess that is the only way out of this..Will keep you posted if I find something interesting..

  • Reply

    September 26, 2016

    Coming back to this, the MT matrix costs rs 12k and is now available in some stores in Bangalore.

  • Reply

    July 2, 2016

    Being a well wisher of AK (puns intended) I will recommend you to replace the SOL, with a better one, I personally dont trust the DOT rating of a SOL considering SOL isnt sold in USA so nobody is going to call out a bluff on SOL if the DOT is indeed a bluff. Your move next.

  • Reply

    July 2, 2016

    I was equally confused and “My Brain” did a lot of research before if finalized a model to buy, turns out my brain was not the only one and quite a lot of brains at Tbhp as well, did a lot of reading and understood below,
    1. SNELL must be taken with a pinch of salt, a hard helmet does not mean your head is safe.
    2. ECE is the best rating out there in terms of protection, (some argue for DOT as well)
    3. Sharp ratings are mostly for old and obsolete helmets. (MT Revenge is OOS).
    Finally zeroed in on HJC CL17 which is both DOT and SNELL certified, its design is very similar to model IS17 so my brain believes it is safe to assume it may pass ECE and SHARP too, as the similar design by the manufacturer have passed. Another reason to buy HJC CL17 was the popularity of this model and lot of +ve reviews tested by other brains, Got one imported from USA by a friend for 7K what a steal deal. My brain is happy now for the next 5 years, until i replace this for a new one.

  • Reply

    June 25, 2016

    While doing my own research on helmets and helmet ratings, I found quite a few riders say that ACLU is now meaningless. It used to be serious up until the 1900s-2000s, since then they are just a rubberstamp in exchange for money.

    When comparing SHARP ratings, I too was suprised to see no Arais with 5 stars and so few Shoeis, whereas some like Shark have several.

    And let’s not compare retail helmets with MotoGP – those are custom made per rider, so an Arai worn by Pedrosa or KYT worn by Crutchlow/whoever , is nowhere related to what we buy in the shops. That said, I do hold Arai, Shoei, AGV and few others, like Nolan, Shark, Scorpion to be more reliable brands than the where-did-they-come-from brands like KYT, even if they have MotoGP presence.

  • Reply

    June 25, 2016

    Just checked the SHARP rating on my helmet (HJC IS-17) and was surprised to see that it got 5 stars. When I bought it in 2014 I had no idea about the SHARP rating. This was my first helmet purchase ever for my first bike ever (Duke 390) and my criteria were fit and cost. I figured that the costlier the helmet, the better the protection. But the SHARP ratings seem to suggest otherwise.

    I’d recommend the HJC IS-17, but it has a flaw that could be a serious issue for you since you wear contact lenses. And that flaw is in the visor locking mechanism (just above the chin vents). There’s a small gap in the lock and very fine dust particles can enter and go straight to the eyes. It has happened to me about 5 or 6 times in two and a half years of riding.This only happens when a vehicle kicks up a lot of dust in front of you.

    I’m just trying to warn you since IS-17 is 5 star rated and within your budget range.

    Here’s a video link about it: https://youtu.be/iuNlvWk8jQM

  • Reply

    June 23, 2016

    This is my gripe with the Indian automotive market. The sellers and (majority) buyers are content with products that conform to the established Indian Standards.
    It’s just unfortunate our safety standards don’t exist…

    • Reply

      June 23, 2016

      They exist, but suck deeply.

      • Reply

        July 2, 2016

        can you back up this claim with Data points ? ISI vs ECE and ISI vs DOT ?
        i kind of agree with you but would be nice to have facts to back up the hunch.

        • Reply

          July 2, 2016

          ISI is based on a pretty old version of ECE, and while ECE moved on, we did not. More importantly, it’s the enforcement of standards that’s the biggest problem with ISI.

  • Reply

    June 23, 2016

    Motion.de or chongaik
    25k budget, get a HJC RPHA10+ and you’re set.
    Have had this helmet debate many times in my circles. 25k is actually a sweet spot. Anything over that doesn’t justify cost.
    The only issue is import duty, if you’re lucky you don’t pay anything, if not then the standard duty is 30%.

    • Reply

      June 23, 2016

      Here’s the SHARP rating page of RPHA 10+. http://sharp.direct.gov.uk/testsratings/hjc-rpha-10-plus

      3 stars. Look at the photos of the head on the left bottom corner, scroll them to see how it performs in side impacts.

      • Reply

        June 23, 2016

        You can’t take the tests over real world scenarios.
        Sharp has rated Arai Helmets at 3 stars too. But that doesn’t mean they cease to be the best helmets you can buy.
        If one just goes by the ratings then there’s no difference between a 5k MT and 25K HJC. Sounds weird right?

        • Reply

          June 23, 2016

          I agree with you. We can’t take tests over real life scenarios. But we can surely buy the helmet with the highest safety rating that our budget allows.
          A 3 star rated helmet is better than unrated but not quite the best. The best is a 5 star one. Don’t you agree?
          And a 25k HJC would have either features(padding,weight)/branding(stickers) superior to a 5k MT.

        • Reply

          June 23, 2016

          Sounds weird indeed, but here you have 2 choices, to base your judgement on numbers that come out of scientifically done experiments, or your gut feeling. It sounds stupid to compare MT to an HJC, but it’s also hard to ignore the test results.

          SHARP tests are probably the closest ones to real world situations, out of all the standards out there.

  • Reply

    June 23, 2016

    I too tried searching for helmets with 5* ratings in india, couldn’t find a single one. Why don’t you try snell certified helmets? Snell seems like the highest standard for helmets right now

    • Reply

      June 23, 2016

      Snell has problems of its own. Many people feel that standard is too “hard”, in the sense that it gives more importance to the safety of the helmet than the safety of the head inside it.

      I tried going with SHARP because it seems like the most logical system, and has the fewest detractors out there.

      • Reply

        June 23, 2016

        Sounds interesting, “we can assure you the helmet will survive the crash. If you don’t, well, we’ll ensure your kid can use it.”

  • Reply

    June 23, 2016

    ohh man…the study you have done…you have been getting too high man..

  • Reply

    June 23, 2016

    i have a sparx rebel…sharp has given 3 rating ..still not bad for the price u pay.

    • Reply

      June 23, 2016

      This is the problem I’m facing. It’s easy to compromise on a washing machine with that logic, that it’s not bad for the price. How do you work that out with something that’s supposed to save your life?

      • Reply

        June 23, 2016

        hmm…….thougt that ls2 ff352 is inferior to sparx (bcos of price) but sharp has given a 4 star to a much cheaper helmet….donno if duke 390 owners face any wind noise issue with the ff352..also my fb request is pending……:)

        • Reply

          June 23, 2016

          I can’t trust any LS2 helmet anymore, too many fakes out there.

          SHARP ratings are confusing for sure, but they are independent of what bike you have.

          I rarely accept friend requests, I don’t want to see random stuff in my timeline.

          • June 23, 2016

            ok.. but i rarely add stuff on my timeline.:)

  • Reply

    June 22, 2016

    sol helmets “its a waffle cone with radiator ” fucking 16 vents for nothing!!

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