If you don’t need a head, you don’t need a helmet.
I don’t know who said that - I think it was an ad campaign years ago - but it makes sense. I think if you’re going to get onto a motorcycle and ride fast (or even not so fast) on roads where cars, trucks and buses aren’t looking for you, often don’t see you and sometimes run into you – your head and the brain inside it need the best protection you can give them.
A good helmet is essential. To be legal, all helmets sold in Australia have to have the AS1698 sticker affixed, meaning they pass the Australian Safety Standard. Prang in a stickerless helmet and you risk being booked for “not wearing a helmet”. Truly.
My helmet is a Nolan. I have a Nolan shaped head. I’ve tried on many different helmet brands, including the expensive Shoei and Arai ones, but my head just isn’t the right shape for them. No point spending big bucks on something that doesn’t fit properly.
The fit is really important. Too loose and it will move around – that’s not safe, especially if you hit the road or something else. Too tight and it will give you a headache and make riding an ordeal. It has to be, as Goldilocks said, “juuuuust right”. Snug.
Somehow a helmet, like a lot of bike gear, has become a fashion statement as well as a bit of safety kit. There are some fabulous designs and colours available. You can match your helmet to your bike or your gear, pick something that looks artistic or aggro, retro or revolutionary, pretty or punchy. Some helmets are a real work of art. But this is where it starts to get weird. In some circles, the look of the helmet seems more important than its function – keeping your scone safe.
I chose my helmet on the basis of fit and visibility. It’s comfortable and it’s bright. I like the thought that I can be seen on the road. When I bought it, the guy at the shop said “Oh, you got the Casey Stoner replica – nice choice.”
Now, I’d heard of Casey Stoner – I knew he was about to become world champion in motoGP racing, but at the time I wasn’t the race fan that I am now. I thought it was a funny coincidence that the helmet I liked just happened to be the same as Casey’s. And I liked the helmet – it has Aussie motifs on it and a kangaroo on the back that I thought was a nice touch. What I didn’t realise was that I was about to enter the dark side of motorcycling where some people judge you by the gear that you wear.
And then I read a long thread on a bike forum about race replica helmets. The prevalent view seemed to be that people who buy race replica helmets are wannabes and wankers.
I met someone in real life who’s actually on that forum, and I noticed he kept looking at my helmet and doing weird things with his eyebrows and his head to communicate with his friends. He even commented on it – said something like “Nice helmet” but I felt instantly paranoid, and was sure what he was actually thinking was “Oh, a Stoner replica helmet – Wotta wanker!”
I don’t get it. I’ve never heard people called wannabes for wearing their favourite footy team’s jersey. People in AC/DC or Led Zeppelin t-shirts aren’t wannabe musos, and nobody will accuse you of wanting to be Marilyn Monroe or Marilyn Manson if you wear clothes emblazoned with their image.
I’m thinking that maybe – just maybe - the comments of some people say more about themselves than about the people they’re criticising. Wankers!