Jan 7, 2009

That New Helmet Smell

In Louisiana, motorcycle helmets are the law. Again. They used to be required by law back when I first started riding, then we got a governor who loved motorcycles and equally loved to feel the wind across his fat, bald head so the law was repealed. Then Kathleen “New Orleans Can Float” Blanco came along and re-instated the law. I guess she doesn’t ride anything other than drowning poor people. No matter the vagarities of the law I still wear a helmet. I like my brains on the inside, thanks. Having just successfully walked away from a wreck in which my helmet prevented my head from being cracked open I'm FURTHER leaning toward wearing a helmet. Always.

Having worn one for all of my riding life I really mean it when I say a motorcycle helmet is a lot like a pair of really well-made boxers. If they fit well you don’t notice them, they’re a nice bit of extra protection between you and the roughness of the outside world and if you don’t clean them often enough they can get a bit rank. Plus, as they age they get more comfortable up to a point but then they start to decline in quality until it’s time for a change.

The decline point came for one of my helmets three Xmases ago. When I bought my first Arai helmet a decade ago it was with the sure and certain knowledge, quite unexpected in a mook as young as I that shouldn’t scrimp on it (again with the self-preservation.) I laid out almost $500 for that helmet and never regretted it for a moment. As with a lot of things, when you buy a helmet you really get what you pay for, above and beyond the simple aspect of personal safety in the event of an unplanned get off. That Arai fit like a dream. Like a really good hug from a really enthusiastic but thoughtful lover it was snug in all the right places but didn’t constrict. Looking out of the visor when it was clean was like staring through a window—-the edges of the helmet were just past the periphery of vision so there was never any feeling of being hemmed in, or of having your vision limited.

The chinstrap had a soft flannel lining on the skin side and leather on the business end, so that when the strap was threaded through the steel D-rings there was security without pain. And vents—-there were more vents and cleverly designed air channels through the inside of the helmet that you could shake a windsock at. With a few simple adjustments you could have any amount of air moving through there and across your scalp. The soft padding around the neck was close without being choking, and the whole effect was light and silent.

Seven years later it was time for a new one. The useful lifespan of a helmet is five years, and mine was showing its years of hard use. Oh, I’d kept it clean and mostly free of scratches and dings, but seven years of nearly daily use has a way of doing in anything. So that Xmas I asked for and received a brand new Arai helmet, same style and model, different colours and seven years more advanced.

Bliss! Comfort! Joy!

I was astounded at how much further an already excellent design had come. Lighter, better air flow from a different variety and shape of vents, and the padding design inside made the helmet fit even better. A year and a month later one of the side covers that conceals and protects the visor mechanism broke off, leaving me with a visor that wouldn't lock in place. No big deal. I simply requested warranty work on it (five year warranty!) and in no time I had the free part, installed it, and was back riding in comfort.

Then I fell down went boom one October afternoon.

Actually the sound was less of a boom and more of a muffled thump, but we're splitting hairs here (and not skulls.) The manufacturer says that helmets, like car seats, must be inspected by the manufacturer before you use it again for safety's sake. Now, I'm no moron, so I started worrying and ordered a new one. Which promptly backordered. Since the other guy's insurance was paying, I bought another (my third) Arai. This time the price had climbed a bit, but again, this is my brains we're talking about, not a pair of socks. I ponied up happily. It arrived yesterday evening, and I unpacked it and took a deep, meditative breath of that marvelous New Helmet Smell--fresh material, new foam, the faint whiff of long-chain polymers...mmmmmm...smells safe AND sexy. Then I slipped it on.

Showers of golden light and angels farting rainbows, this one is even better that the last two!

It's hard for me to believe that in three short years a company can advance THIS FAR with something as basic as a motorcycle helmet's design, but they did. My gawd did they. Noticeably lighter, vastly improved airflow (with a sort of wing across the back to create negative pressure on the outside of the vent, drawing air through) and quiet, far quieter than the old designs, which goes a LONG way toward rider comfort. Wind roar can leave your ears ringing. This helmet is quiet as a tomb. Plus it matches Sally to a tee.

So yeah, I'm smiling. I'm safe, I'm comfortable, I can't wait to NOT sweat in my helmet this summer, and I've got a silver mirror-finish visor so I can be Just. That. Much. Cooler.

We're talking State of The Badass Art here, kids.

Arai "Vector" Helmet

This morning at work I got a clever idea, which I found out this evening is a LOT harder to pull off with a real camera, and a cellular phone camera hides a lot of evils. Since I'm no whiz with Photoshop (can't actually AFFORD it, wot?) you get to see me, the camera, my aquarium and a fair bit of the corner of my office. Bonus!

And remember kids, like the man says--keep the shiny side up.


Gordo said...


I keep forgetting to mention my cousin, the reformed GP125 racer. She wrecked in a race at Mosport Speedway 10 years ago. She would up with a serious head injury, followed by emergency brain surgery and a marked change in personality.

She swears to this day that if the salesman hadn't talked her into an "ill-fitting HJC" helmet that her outcome would have been markedly different.

Louche said...

I was pointed to this buy a chum (a fellow blogger) and I completely agree with what you are saying, not wearing a helmet is just silly.

What do you ride?

Anonymous said...

Hey! Irr, I was thinking about a good name for your new Woman. How about Gretta? Just an idea.


Shao said...

I remember a funny story involving your motorcycle helmet and a certain degree of post-it note vandalism.

Irrelephant said...

Oh Gordo, I'm sorry. And yes, I think I can totally agree with her--HJC makes a mediocre lid at best.

Louche, scroll down one post and you'll see her! She's a brand new '07 Star Roadliner S, from Yamaha. I had an '06, and if you scroll down about two months worth of posts, you can see what a sorry state she ended in.

Kim, "Gretta" is nice! Like Garbo, from that era when women were glamourous in movies and not just somewhere to put the T&A.

Shao, I seem to forget that. A lot. *lol*

Nancy Dancehall said...

I don't even ride and I want to wear that helmet! You make everything sound good.

Send me the photo and tell me what you want done with it. I have Photoshop.

Bitterroot said...

I used to ride a 1986 VFR500F (among other bikes, but she was my favorite from that era), and Arai was the only helmet I'd put on my head. Last year, I bought a Road King, and tried to find an Arai locally - with ZERO luck.

I've already done the shattered skull thing (wearing a 3/4 Bell® helmet), so even though I'm on a Harley, I won't ride with less than a full-bucket.

I chickened out on the mail order approach and bought an HJC full-face in carbon-fiber. Yeah, I pretty much HATE that thing. The shell is oversized, creating more drag and wind noise than an ill-fitting cardboard box. The fit is fine - for about 30-45 minutes. Then, it sprouts iron-maiden-like spikes. That thing has pressure points everywhere. And for even greater amusement, at 65-70mph it develops a cavitation off the back when I ride with my windshield on. To experience the sensation yourself, walk into any Lowe's and ask them to strap your head into a paint shaker and turn it on...

The final straw was when I saw a photograph of myself on a ride... I look like a fat Darth Vader Bobblehead!

I've already made the decision to buy an Arai - in large part because I stumbled across your blog, but mostly because I remember the quality, the fit, and how it would "disappear on my head." I'm classic Arai "long oval" fit - which few other manufacturers provide.

And for the record - yes, my pipes are loud, but my leathers are my bug-encrusted daily-wear - even today, when it was only 26F on the ride to work. ;)

Irrelephant said...

Nancy, comfort and style CAN be sexy! See!

Bitterroot, the guy who got me into bikes used to ride an old VFR500! That is so excellent! I loved that bike so much I bought a basket-case '84 700, but didn't keep her. I still regret that.

Cracked skull, eh? Yipes!

Aaaah, that cheap-helmet wobble! *lol* Excellent description!

And don't get me wrong, I dog Harley guys a lot, but that's only because down here 99.9% of them are the white-collar weekend riders, the ones who wobble like old men when they come to stop lights and such. That stuff scares me more than anything. And loud pipes? Son, I've got my drag pipes on order! *lol*