Helmets, helmets and old helmets

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Some riders have two, three, four or more motorcycles in the garage. I have one. But, I have four helmets in the closet. Two of them get used regularly. I decided recently to take the oldest one for a spin, and it re-opened my eyes to a different view.

I bought that open-face helmet in 2004 when I bought my 2004 Honda Shadow Spirit VT1100. Black bike. Black helmet. I even wore a black leather jacket and rode in black cowboy boots. Even though I was wearing a helmet, I looked the part of a biker. I bought a red/black rain suit to repel a little rain.

Good rain gear and apparel, along with waterproof bags, keeps everything dry.

Eventually, I decided that black was not the color to enhance being seen by drivers. And, that open-face helmet was not the best one for riding in the rain. I started to upgrade my gear about the same time I started looking for an adventure bike. At the time, I was writing a few stories for a motorcycle travel magazine, and it never failed. I’d get out there on my tour, and I would end up on a gravel road or riding in the rain. Every ride. I learned that long distance rides in the rain an open-face helmet is not the best choice. So, I upgraded my helmet and jacket before my next feature tour article. I was still riding in the rain, but better protected from the elements.

Intersection of Illinois SR 84 and US 20, east of Elizabeth.

Making the adjustment from an open-face to full-face helmet took a little doing. I like the breeze in my face, and often ride with the visor up. The new helmet provided a narrower view like looking through a port hole. It’s harder to see the full landscape with a full-face helmet, but I knew I was better protected, and decided to wear only the full-face. My old helmet started gathering dust in the closet.

In my search for riding gear that increased my visibility to other drivers, I finally purchased that adventure bike, a yellow V-Strom 650, and a new graphic helmet that lasted about 30,000 miles. The seal around the visor gave out, and so that was was replaced with a new graphic helmet, another HJC. I also upgraded my riding jacket to something brighter.

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When the bug bit to buy another helmet, I decided to try a modular helmet. The modular is very nice. Flip it up, put it on, flip it back down before you start rolling. It’s easy on the glasses, and all of us who wear glasses know what a pain in the butt full-face helmets are if we’re wearing glasses.

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It seems to me, that the visor on the modular has an even smaller portal on the world. It’s probably the design to accommodate the flip-up mechanism. There’s only so much space to work with.

These helmets have taken me safely to beautiful landscapes across the USA—the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the deserts of Arizona, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, crossing Puget Sound on the ferry to Seattle, the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, the Great River Road along the Mississippi River, the Natchez Trace, Tail of the Dragon, the Ohio River Scenic Byway, and the many small towns and farms dotted throughout the Midwest. All beautiful landscapes in their own right. All through the portal of a full-face helmet.

And that brings me to yesterday’s ride, when I decided to dust off that open-face helmet and take it for a ride. I have not worn it since I replaced it in 2006 with my first full-face helmet.  It’s a little worn after loaning it to my brother for a couple of years. The chin strap is frayed. The liner has never been washed because it’s not removable. The visor was replaced at some point, so it is not scratched—clear as … well, clear as glass. In all honesty, the helmet should probably be replaced. What is the life expectancy of a motorcycle helmet anyway?

As I slipped that black HJC CL-33 on my head, I found it to be remarkably lighter than the other helmets. My glasses were not an issue. Because there was no helmet protruding to protect my chin, the field of view was wide, so wide in fact, I could not see the edges of the helmet. It was like having an unimpeded view of the world around me and yet my head protected. Even with the visor down, it was a new view. It gave me permission to look at the landscape differently as I motored down the back roads near my home. I could look down at the map in my tank bag without having to shift my head down—there was nothing blocking my view. Peripheral vision was fantastic. Everything caught my eye, and I wanted to take it all in, breath in the magnificence of being part of and one with the environment.

Now, you may be wondering where I’m going with this. ‘Is he going back to an open-face helmet?’ ‘Is he going to get all religious on us?’The answer is no, but not 100% no. I am still going to tour with a full-face helmet, because its protection is so much better. Wearing the open-face in rain, water comes up under the visor and sprays my face and glasses—not good for a safe ride or tour. And about that religion, it is always a good thing to enjoy and share a spirit-filled ride, and who hasn’t felt some euphoria on a ride some time.

My point is this: Sometimes, we need to go back and review our decisions, to try old things on again. The one thing we all share in motorcycling is the open road, to be part of the environment and the landscape—something we can’t experience within the confines of a car or truck. Putting on that open-face helmet gave me a renewed, different view of the landscape and reminded me why I ride—to see the open road and smell the flowers, the fresh cut hay, the rain in the distance, and the sweetness of the pines as I roll by.

Take time to smell the flowers, and remember the reasons you bought that scoot. And one other thing: don’t forget to wear your helmet.

See you on the highway.

Brent

P.S. While I was out riding yesterday, I saw a guy on a Harley riding past me doing about 30-35 mph, no helmet, talking on his cell phone with his left hand up to his ear, and right hand on the throttle. Yup. I asked myself, “Is he using a smart phone?”

6 Replies to “Helmets, helmets and old helmets”

  1. Brent-

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I’ve heard and read a lot recently that a motorcycle helmet should be replaced every five years or so. Beyond that the adhesives and other materials begin to break down and the helmet may not offer the protection it did when new. Granted, that advice comes from people who want to sell us helmets. But with good lids available for way less than $300, what does that work out to per day of riding? Less than a dollar? A few cents, perhaps?

    Was riding in the Eastern Sierra this past weekend when a thunderstorm rolled through. Rain, then hail, and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in a few minutes. Saw a group of riders pulled over grabbing rain gear to put on over their t-shirts and leather vests. They were getting soaked, standing in the rain. I was comfortable in all-weather textile riding gear and had a great day in the canyons.

    -J.

  2. Thanks, J. I’ve heard that 5-year rule also. But, at the end of five years, when a helmet looks good and serviceable, it seems questionable to add the helmet to the list of disposable items. Granted, I think this helmet is ready for replacement at nearly 10 years old, and who knows how many miles. The big question is: will I replace it when I have three other helmets in the closet? Do I need an open-face helmet? For one brief day of riding, I sure enjoyed the view. –Brent

  3. Hay Brent, Never had a open face till I got an old Vetter for $5 at a garage sale. I look lilke Steve McQueen. Kind a . My first lid, still have a secong gen Bell Star full face. The cop said “who do you think you are Mario Andretti? I’ve got a Arai, it fell apart. Looks good, never again! The Shoei is good just not great. Looking for a modular, just don’t want to spend $5-800 . The helmit should last around five years. My color is BLUE. Barry Sheen had a duck on front. I’m not that brave. C U later. ;Fish on. Dave

  4. I’ve tried full face helmets at various times and still have a 14 year old Bell full face that I’ve worn maybe once. There’s no doubt that the full face helmets are safer in a crash but they also make me feel like I’m riding in a tiny, tiny car with my face pressed to the windshield. I especially dislike the restricted visibility, to me to SEE is to have a greater chance of reacting and avoiding. Anyway, safety is always a compromise between comfort, cost, and function. We make choices about jackets, pants, boots, gloves, and helmets and even tires; few of us opt for the very best and safest across the board. For me, my preferred helmet is an Arai SZm open face with the Arai face shield. I’m on maybe my 4th or 5th one now and they have been fantastic to wear and live with.

  5. Great post, Brent. Made me want to get off my Duff this weekend and dispose of no less than 9 helmets that I don’t routinely use.

    Yes, that is NINE!

    I will donate what I can’t sell locally.

    Excellent article.

    Dan

  6. Yikes! Nine helmets, Dan? Yes, I would guess it’s time to clean the closet. Frankly, I think I want to get down to two or three. I like the idea of an open-face helmet, but this one is almost 10 years old, and a little frayed. So, I think it is going to get recycled at the end of this riding season. –Brent

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