Thursday, November 06, 2008

If The Shoe Fits pt2


Let’s start with the helmet. This one is easily the most likely to wind up tangled in debate. We won’t get into laws or which standard is better in this go-‘round. So, what makes a good helmet? It has been said, “If you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet.” I agree, to a point. You don’t need a very expensive helmet to get decent protection for your head. DOT is the minimum standard. Snell is a higher standard in the States. CE or ECE, I would say, is the European counterpart to Snell: a higher standard in an effort to produce the best protection. Oh yeah, in case you hadn’t picked up on it, I’m talking full-face helmets with a visor. Half and three-quarter helmets look cool but severely compromise protection and are for idiots and performers.

Flashy graphics are flashy and have no part on what will protect your head in a crash, so we’ll pretend we want something plain, a solid color. Graphics can add a substantial amount to the cost of a helmet. But image being everything that it is means that some will pick a helmet that isn’t right for them because it looks cool. Get over it! The first important thing to consider is comfort/fit. These go together because comfort won’t help if the fit is wrong. A comfortable helmet that does not fit properly will not provide ideal crash protection.

If it is too loose, the helmet may come off entirely in a crash. On a daily basis it will move around a lot in the wind and create distractions and even headaches from vibrations or the visual strain of a moving object in your face. If too tight, wearing on a daily basis may not happen because it hurts to wear it. If you can’t stand to wear the helmet, you are far less likely to wear one in the first place.

Trying on a helmet before purchasing it should take a long time. A 30-second assessment in a shop will not tell you if pressure points are there which will make your head hurt the first time you are on the bike for more than fifteen minutes. Try the prospective helmet on and wander around the shop. Take your time. Look at other stuff. Take some more time. It may be helpful to find a shop which will allow you to return a helmet. Cycle Gear is one such place. They have a 30-day return policy (check with your shop for their specific policies and details) and will allow you to swap for a better size if all is still well with the helmet.

One of my earlier helmets was Shoei RF-800. It fit like it was made using my head as the form. I loved it. But eventually the need arose to replace it and the 800 was no longer available. I went to the new-and-improved RF model and was very excited about it. It was lighter and had better ventilation than my old helmet. The price had risen a bit with time, but I managed to make the deal happen. At the time, I had a three hour one-way commute that was done two to three times a week. Six to nine hours per week, just in commute time. I had some trouble pretty quickly, but chalked it up to needing to get used to the new lid. I went almost three months before I hurt so bad after the commute, that I had to factor in recuperation time with my trips. My wife convinced me to go ahead and search for a new helmet.

I tried every model and brand in all the bike shops I could find. I kept coming back to one particular model I had never considered before because it was about three times as much as I considered to be reasonable for a helmet. I wound up getting the Shoei X-11, a high-end model that cost what I considered to be a ridiculous amount of money. It worked better than I could have dreamed because it was not only well fit to my head, eliminating any pressure points, but ventilates better than any helmet I have ever tried. I wanted a $10 helmet, but couldn't find one that fit. The X-11 and I are still together, and will stay so attached, so long as Shoei doesn't go and mess with the head-form design.

Do I think about my head as I ride? Nope. It's well fit and cared for.

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