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Protecting The Cranium - Helmets 101 - Tech

There's More To A Helmet Than Its Shell And Padding.

Peter Tarach
Dec 22, 2010
Photographer: Nate Hassler
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Choosing the right helmet might seem as easy as picking out a ball cap that fits your head, but there's much more to protecting the precious cargo in your skull than just throwing on a protective shell. Helmet technology has come a long way, and while helmets are now safer than ever, it's easy to get caught up in the fancy features and forget about the most critical aspects like fitment and material.

Modp_1101_02_o+helmets_101+front_view Photo 2/11   |   Protecting The Cranium - Helmets 101 - Tech

First and foremost, when buying a helmet you want to make sure it's for the intended purposes that you plan to use it for. A motorcycle helmet isn't sufficient for motorsports racing because it's built to resist one major impact, versus several impacts like an automobile helmet. Furthermore, motorcycle helmets aren't made with fire-resistant material, which is mandated by almost all the sanctioning bodies for automobile racing. Your odds of getting burned on a motorcycle are far less than inside a car.

Be sure to check for a proper Snell rating as well. It's typically found under the padding inside the helmet. Also ensure the sticker is an authentic one and up to date. Snell recommends that helmets be replaced every five years, and many racing sanctions abide by the same policy. For more information on Snell, visit smf.org.

The next critical element when buying a helmet is to make sure it fits properly. If it's too big, it can be knocked off completely or become dislodged and partially expose your face. If it's too small, it will cramp your head and make it uncomfortable to wear for long time periods. How do you know what size helmet to get? First, measure your head and match it with the size chart. Try the helmet on and ensure that the top of your head touches the inside lining. Ensure the cheek pads are touching your cheeks and there's no space around your brow. Finally, move the helmet around while keeping your head still; if the padding moves around, then it's too big and you'll need to go to a smaller size.

Modp_1101_12_o+helmets_101+back_view Photo 6/11   |   There's plenty of adjustability with the Defnder unit to ensure a proper and comfortable fit.

Wearing a helmet that's too big can cause your head to bounce around, potentially causing serious brain injuries - hence why it's so important to have a helmet that fits nice and snug. Buying used helmets isn't recommended, either, as the foam padding inside contours to your head and reduces the amount of protection the helmet offers when it's second-hand.

There are many brands on the market that vary in price and features. Stay away from the Internet eBay specials because they rarely offer the proper protection and official Snell ratings. You also can't try them on. We particularly like the HJC lineup of helmets because of how well they fit, the features they come with and the price point.

Modp_1101_07_o+helmets_101+tinted_visor Photo 7/11   |   A tinted visor is a great idea if you frequent tracks that are bombarded by the bright sun.

If you're an entry-level casual driver, then the AR-10 helmet is a perfect choice because it offers all the safety features needed to meet the SA2005 rating and has features like a ventilation system and double D-ring retention strap. On the other hand, HJC's top-of-the-line, carbon-clad HX-11 has all the bells and whistles any serious racer would want, not to mention that awesome carbon look. I opted for HJC's newest addition to its model lineup, the Si-12 helmet. It's built from a superlight composite weave, making it an incredibly strong helmet yet extremely lightweight. Compared to my old Fulmer helmet, I can barely notice the weight of the Si-12, and considering it weighs in at less than 3 lbs, I don't doubt my senses.

From the outside you'll quickly notice the several air vents, including a large titanium one built into the helmet. HJC's Advanced Channeling Ventilation System provides full front to back airflow, dissipating heat around the head. Inside the helmet, the padding and liner are made of a fire-resistant, moisture-wicking, comfort-carbon material that, despite having the word "carbon" in its name, actually feels remarkably smooth and soft.

The polycarbonate visor has an anti-fog coating on it with UV protection that blocks out 95 percent of the harmful rays. Since I do a lot of my driving in sunny California, I opted for the optional RST tinted shield to reduce the strain on my eyes. For those of you who use, or plan to use, a neck restraint device (such as myself), the Si-12 is pre-drilled for the posts, making installation quite easy.

You'll notice I didn't use the word HANS when I mentioned the neck-restraint system, that's because HANS is a brand, not a term (that's commonly used) when describing a neck-restraint device. I was made aware of this fact when I was searching for a unit online. I ended up purchasing a Defnder Neck Brace because it met my criteria for what I wanted in a neck restraint. Its ease to fit on and off is of big importance, while its adjustability and padding makes it fit comfortably and properly. Unlike the HANS device, Defendr's neck brace provides ample left and right lateral support.

Investing in a neck-restraint system is something that more serious racers will want to do, but if you're driving at the limit in advanced group track days and have harnesses, then it's also something to consider. No one ever expects accidents will happen to them, but as I've learned in the past, it can occur to even the best of drivers, so it's never a bad idea to protect yourself as much as possible.

Modp_1101_11_o+helmets_101+demonstration Photo 11/11   |   The Defnder neck brace protects and locks your head in from sudden dangerous movements.
HJC HELMET SIZE CONVERSION
SIZE CENTIMETER HAT SIZE INCHES
XS 53 - 54 6 5/8 - 6 3/4 20 7/8 - 21 1/4
S 55 - 56 6 7/8 - 7 21 5/8 - 22
M 57 - 58 7 1/8 - 7 1/4 22 1/2 - 22 7/8
L 59 - 60 7 3/8 - 7 1/2 23 1/4 -23 5/8
XL 61 - 62 7 5/8 - 7 3/4 24 - 24 3/8
XXL 63 - 64 7 7/8 - 8 24 3/4 - 25 1/4
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By Peter Tarach
351 Articles

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