Saturday, 7 June 2014

Skid lids (aka helmets)


I ride a bicycle and I ride a motorcycle. I do not just ride a fancy bicycle for exersize, I ride it as part of my daily transport: to the shops, to work, to visit friends. I don't just ride a racebike and fang around corners (although that's fun too) on the racetrack, I ride a practical town bike which I also ride to work, ride to the shops and ride for enjoyment. I also own and use a car so I'm (just) not a loony fringe biker.

I have been involved in a number of bicycle and motorcycle accidents so I am also speaking from practical experience.

Safety Standards: my view

Basically people have fixed and entrenched opinions. Few actually examine both sides of the argument and almost everyone who is vocal has a barrow to push (meaning there is something in it for them). What's in it for me? Well better safety I hope.

So before you go south on your impassioned view I will ask you this simple question:
how much do you actually know?
By this I mean, what have you read about it, what have you researched about it and what have you actually looked into with your own testing.

My experience is that people tell me frequently "I had an accident and without my* helmet I'd have been killed". *my meaning their brand

Ok, sure, you got a shock, but seriously how do you know? Maybe the outcome would have been an abrasion or perhaps even some skin losses to your head (no doubt) but how do you know? Personally I've had a head on with a car (on my bicycle with no helmet) landed on my head but basically just had the scalp stripped off.

My view is that perhaps if I was wearing a helment I may have got a worse injury (from rotational issues). From that crash I got 3 broken ribs, a broken ankle and a broken wrist. Would the helmet have stopped that? I don't think a reasonable person would say yes.

me new lid

So without further adieu here is my new lid:

its a vented polycarbonate helmet which I bought as a cheapie on eBay for (drum roll) AU$69.95 and that included delivery.

It has chin vents and crown of head vents which also extract from the rear (negative pressure).

The visor attachment system is actually not bad to use (more than I can say for my Arai RX7 RIII which regularly shits me when I'm trying to clean or replace the visor)

In fact the visor system looks awfully like that of the Shoei system ... whatever its a far cry from the crappy flappy systems used on cheapo (and sometimes even $800 top end helmets) of the not so distant past.

Now the helmet has stickered all over it (inside and out) that it meets the Australian Design Rules AS1698-2006 standard, and so it should actually do that. I noted that there is not a product recall detail on it on the ACCC website (although there is for some other name branded stuff). So I reckoned that either someone is lying (possible) or the product is riggi-didge.

All up I just can't see anything "wrong with it" and indeed the price is so right that its almost tempting to buy another one and just do some destructive testing on it to check if it actually passes the specs.

On The Road

I've taken the lid out on the bike already and found a few things immediately:
  • its shitloads quieter than my Arai
  • its fit is not quite as luxurious as my ($800) Arai
  • Good periphery vision (slightly better than my Arai)
  • it fits ok and does not wobble around on my head at speed
  • visor and vents operate well
The liner is nice enough ...

but I doubt that it will stand up to the Arai which after 8 years of having my head in it still looked OK and the Arai is one of the few lids I've had which have a removable liner which you can clean!

Sadly the rest of the story on the Arai was not looking so good, with the rubber trim around the bottom of the helmet falling off (tried re-gluing it) and the vents smelling like ... well ... like something was living in there (rather like my Reach toothbrush).

So it seems to me that I can replace this lid every year and get a fresh helmet for 11 years and probably still break even. To me that's actually a significant point.


I expect already that there are a number of Wangers who will say that "yeah, if you've got a 10 dollar head better get a 10 dollar helmet" ... my responce to that is "yeah goodonya". So here's a few things to chew on.

1) When I lived in Japan I could buy an Arai helmet of the same model as my (now retired) RX7 for $200 .. sure the Wangers will say "yearh mate, but ya know they make em shitty for the asian maket, we get different ones".

Sure ... evidence please?

2) I've seen cheapies destroyed on youtube ...

Sure, me too ... was it this one? I've seen (and held) some really crappy helmets in India that I could have bought for AU$10 ... they felt like they were falling apart in my hands. This helmet is quite different in feel. Unlike those lids this one claims to adhere to the AS1698 standard too ... which brings me to:

3) Standards: Man have I got some beefs with Standards.

First, I encourage you to head over to this site and read their article. Its well written and makes a lot of good points (as well as describes the basics for the person just getting their head into this subject). For instance:
To minimize the G-forces on your soft, gushy brain as it stops, you want to slow your head down over as great a distance as possible. So the perfect helmet would be huge, with 6 inches or mosre of soft, fluffy EPS cradling your precious head like a mint on a pillow.
 Now, how many helmets do that? None, instead they do something actually counter intuitive, they try to not absorb energy by not deforming the Expanded Poly Styrene liner. This means that they have to transmit no more than 300G (that's gravities) to your head.

FFS ... 300G? That's a lot ... let me quote from that article again:
Doctors and head-injury researchers use a simplified rating of injuries, called the Abbreviated Injury Scale, or AIS, to describe how severely a patient is hurt when they come into a trauma facility. AIS 1 means you've been barely injured. AIS 6 means you're dead, or sure to be dead very soon. Here's the entire AIS scale:
AIS 1 = Minor
AIS 2 = Moderate
AIS 3 = Serious
AIS 4 = Severe
AIS 5 = Critical
AIS 6 = Unsurvivable
Ok, so then:
a 250 G to 300 G impact corresponds to AIS 5, or critical; and that anything over 300 Gs corresponds to AIS 6. That is, unsurvivable.
which isn't good ... but it gets worse for us older folks
You can even calculate your odds using the Injury Severity Score, or ISS. Take the AIS scores for the worst three injuries you have. Square each of those scores—that is, multiply them by themselves. Add the three results and compare them with the ISS Scale of Doom ... For a 45- to 64-year old guy such as myself, an ISS over 29 means I'll probably die
So essentially as you get older the effectiveness of the helmets which pass the test at protecting your brain becomes less and less.

But it gets worse ...if you happen to like Snell ratings ...
The killer—the hardest Snell test for a motorcycle helmet to meet—is a two-strike test onto a hemispherical chunk of stainless steel about the size of an orange. The first hit is at an energy of 150 joules, which translates to dropping a 5-kilo weight about 10 feet—an extremely high-energy impact. The next hit, on the same spot, is set at 110 joules, or about an 8-foot drop. To pass, the helmet is not allowed to transmit more than 300 Gs to the headform in either hit.
so the "desirable" helmet actually requires the impact to be twice on the same spot, which means that it can't actually compress that point to absorb the impact because it has to take another hit.

If this strikes you as stupid then you won't be the only one, as researchers (including cited in that article) have been making this observation since the 80's.
Dr. Jim Newman, an actual rocket scientist and highly respected head-impact expert—he was once a Snell Foundation director—puts it this way: "If you want to create a realistic helmet standard, you don't go bashing helmets onto hemispherical steel balls. And you certainly don't do it twice.

But the ignorance of buyers to actually what is happening out there in "Standards Land" causes helmet makers to be merrily pied piperd away on a little path of "tougher" standards, more or less without evidence of benefit, seemingly just to make administrators happy with their increasing efforts at tougher standards.

I think Dr Newmans words are about spot on:
"The Snell sticker has become a marketing gimmick. By spending 60 cents [paid to the Snell foundation], a manufacturer puts that sticker in his helmet and he can increase the price by $30 or $40. Or even $60 or $100.
So, if you're starting to get interested in this subject let me link you to a study done in the 80's here in Australia, its about the best I've ever read and also makes recommendations on how to improve things. Not one of its recommendations has been implimented. That report is here, its really good reading for those who are interested. To me the most damning thing they say is this:

So, essentially the test makes helmets hard enough that they deform you head rather than absorb the impact. That in itself should get you thinking about this topic and your pre-conceptions.

Lastly I'll leave you with the point that having some uncertainty in my mind about if this helmet is or isn't the best of the best of the best (with honours - thanks Will Smith) is not actually a bad thing, as much research has been done on the psychology of risk taking because of perception of safety (engendered by safety gear). I recommend you read this.
Risk compensation is a theory which suggests that people typically adjust their behavior in response to the perceived level of risk, becoming more careful where they sense greater risk and less careful if they feel more protected. Although usually small in comparison to the fundamental benefits of safety interventions, it may result in a lower net benefit than expected

Ok, I'm off on the scoot now to go shopping and will put on my new orange skid lid to get there...

1 comment:

MartinX said...

See - they didn't have to outlaw OMCGs. They just had to introduce helmet laws that mandated "the perfect helmet ... huge, with 6 inches or more of soft, fluffy EPS cradling your precious head like a mint on a pillow."

Can't see the leader of the pack doing that.