> SPECIAL REPORT WORDS: Dexter Ford PHOTOGRAPHY: Jim Brown BLOWING THE LID OFF Searching for the truth behind helmet design, helmet standards and actual head protection How good is your helmet? Will it actually protect your brain in your next crash? These seem like easy questions, ones you probably think you can answer by reciting the lofty standards your helmet meets and the lofty price you might have paid for it. But the real answers, as you are about to see, are anything but easy. There’s a fundamental debate rag- ing in the motorcycle helmet industry. In a fiberglass-reinforced, expanded-polystyrene nut- shell, it’s a debate about how strong and how stiff a helmet should be to provide the best possible protection. 64 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 > SPECIAL REPORT Why the debate? Because if a helmet is too stiff it can be less inflammation make it swell. When your brain swells inside the skull, same stuff used in beer coolers and foam coffee cups. Outer keters—pay a lot of attention to the outer shell and its material. WHEN THE able to prevent brain injury in the there’s no place for that extra shells come in two basic flavors: a But the part of the helmet that HELMET HITS THE kinds of crashes you’re most likely to have. And if it’s too soft, it volume to go. So it presses harder against the inside of the skull and resin/fiber composite, such as fiberglass, carbon fiber and absorbs most of the energy in a crash is actually the inner liner. ROAD OR A might not protect you in a violent, tries to squeeze through any Kevlar, or a molded thermoplastic When the helmet hits the road CURB, THE high-energy crash. What’s just opening, bulging out of your eye such as ABS or polycarbonate, or a curb, the outer shell stops OUTER right? Well, that’s why it’s called a debate. If you knew what your sockets and oozing down the base of the skull. As it squeezes, the same basic stuff used in face shields and F-16 canopies. instantly. Inside, your head keeps going until it collides with the SHELL STOPS head was going to hit and how more damage is done to some The shell is there for a number liner. When this happens, the INSTANTLY. BUT hard, you could choose the per- fect helmet for that crash. But very vital regions. None of this is good. of reasons. First, it’s supposed to protect against pointy things try- liner’s job is to bring the head to a gentle stop—if you want your YOUR HEAD crashes are accidents. So you To prevent all that ugly stuff ing to penetrate the EPS— brain to keep working like it does KEEPS GOING have to guess. from happening, we wear hel- though that almost never hap- now, that is. INSIDE THE To understand how a helmet protects—or doesn’t protect— mets. Modern, full-face helmets, if we have enough brains to pro- pens in a real accident. Second, the shell protects against abra- The great thing about EPS is that as it crushes, it absorbs lots HELMET UNTIL your brain, it helps to appreciate tect, that is. sion, which is a good thing when of energy at a predictable rate. It IT COLLIDES WITH just how fragile that organ actu- ally is. The consistency of the A motorcycle helmet has two major parts: the outer shell and you’re sliding into the chicane at Daytona. Third, it gives Troy Lee doesn’t store energy and rebound like a spring, which would be a THE LINER. IT’S human brain is like warm Jello. the energy-absorbing inner liner. a nice, smooth surface to paint bad thing because your head THE LINER’S JOB It’s so gooey that when patholo- The inner lining is made of dragons on. would bounce back up, shaking TO BRING THE gists remove a brain from a cadaver, they have to use a kind expanded polystyrene or EPS, the Riders—and helmet mar- your brain not just once, but HEAD TO A of cheesecloth hammock to hold GENTLE STOP. it together as it comes out of the skull. Your brain basically floats inside your skull, within a bath of cervical-spinal fluid and a protec- tive cocoon called the dura. But when your skull stops suddenly— as it does when it hits something hard—the brain keeps going, as Sir Isaac Newton predicted. Then it has its own collision with the inside of the skull. If that collision is too severe, the brain can sus- tain any number of injuries, from shearing of the brain tissue to bleeding in the brain, or between the brain and the dura, or between the dura and the skull. And after your brain is injured, even more damage can occur. Helmet standards When the brain is bashed or call for dropping injured internally, bleeding and helmets onto a stainless-steel anvil. But roads aren’t made of stainless steel. So we created our own asphalt anvil after stealing a section of Sheldon Street. An even scarier test (lower left) involved dropping lids on an upright steel edge. 66 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 > SPECIAL REPORT > If your brain is injured, swelling twice. EPS actually absorbs the and inflammation often occur. kinetic energy of your moving Because there’s no extra room in head, creating a very small amount your skull, your brain tries to of heat as the foam collapses. squeeze down through The helmet’s shell also absorbs the hole in the base of energy as it flexes in the case of the skull. This injures a polycarbonate helmet, or flex- the vital brain es, crushes and delaminates in stem even fur- the case of a fiberglass com- ther, often posite helmet. destroying the To minimize the G-forces on parts that your soft, gushy brain as it control stops, you want to slow your breathing head down over as great a and other distance as possible. So the basic body perfect helmet would be functions. huge, with 6 inches or more of soft, fluffy EPS cradling your precious head like a mint on a pillow. Problem is, nobody wants a 2-foot- wide helmet, though it might come in handy if you were audition- ing for a Jack in the Box commercial. So > If you’re hit very vio- helmet designers have lently on the jaw, as in a pared down the thick- head-on impact, the ness of the foam, using force can be transmitted denser, stiffer EPS to to the base of the skull, make up the difference. which can fracture and This increases the G- sever your spine. It’s a loading on your brain in a common cause of death crash, of course. And the in helmeted riders—and fine points of how many Gs a very good reason to a helmet transmits to the wear a full-face helmet head, for how long, and in and insist on thick what kind of a crash, are the EPS padding—not variables that make the helmet- resilient foam—in standard debate so gosh darn fun. your chin bar. > When your Standardized Standards brain collides To make buying a helmet in the with the inside of U.S as confusing as possible, your skull, bony there are at least four standards protrusions around a street motorcycle helmet can your eyes, sinuses meet. The price of entry is the and other areas can DOT standard, called FMVSS cause severe damage 218, that every street helmet to the brain itself. sold here is legally required to And if your head is pass. There is the European twisted rapidly, the standard, called ECE 22-05, brain can lag behind, accepted by more than 50 coun- causing tearing and tries. There’s the BSI 6658 Type serious internal A standard from Britain. And last- brain injury. ly the Snell M2000/M2005 standard, a voluntary, private standard used primarily in the U.S. So every helmet for street use here must meet the DOT 68 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 June 2005 MOTORCYCLIST 69 > SPECIAL REPORT standard, and might or might not meet one of the others. each one absorbs a particular hit. And it’s important to understand THE KILLER— gy impact. The next hit, on the same spot, is set at 110 joules, or happen: One, you don’t fully uti- lize the energy-absorbing materi- [on actual accidents] that we have now [when they devised that took 250, 230 Gs [in their accidents]. And they’ve got a dif- majority of accidents? “The whole business of testing Just by looking at the published that as in lap times, golf scores THE HARDEST about an 8-foot drop. To pass, al that’s available. And two, you the standard]. And although fuse injury they’re not gonna get helmets is based on the assump- requirements for each standard, you would guess a DOT-only hel- and marriages, a lower number is always better when we’re talking SNELL TEST FOR the helmet is not allowed to trans- mit more than 300 Gs to the generate higher G loading on the head than you need to. that data has been around a long time, they have chosen, at rid of. The helmet has a good whack on it, but so what? If tion that there is a threshold of injury,” says Ed Becker, executive met would be designed to be the about your head receiving A MOTORCYCLE headform in either hit. “What’s happened to Snell over this point, not to take it into they’d had a softer helmet they’d director of the Snell Foundation. softest, with an ECE helmet very extreme G forces. HELMET TO Tough tests such as this have the years is that in order to make consideration.” have been better off.” close, then a BSI helmet, and then a Snell helmet. On The Highway To Snell MEET—IS A driven helmet development over the years. But do they have any what’s perceived as a better hel- met, they kept raising the impact A World Of Hurt How does the Snell Foundation respond to Because there are few human On the stiff, tough-guy side of TWO-STRIKE practical application on the street, energy. What they should have Dr. Hurt sees the Snell standard the criticism of head- volunteers for high-impact helmet testing—and because they would this debate is the voluntary Snell M2000/M2005 standard, which TEST ONTO A where a hit as hard as the hardest single Snell impact may only hap- been doing, in my view, is lower- ing the allowable G force. in pretty much the same light. “What should the [G] limit on injury scientists from all over the world that be a little confused after a hard dictates each helmet be able to HEMISPHERICAL pen in 1 percent of actual acci- “In my opinion, Snell should helmets be? Just as helmet the Snell standards day of 200-G impacts—it’s done withstand some tough, very high- CHUNK OF dents? And where an impact as keep a 10-foot drop [in its test- designs should be rounder, create helmets too on a test rig. The helmets are dropped, using energy impacts. The Snell Memorial Foundation STAINLESS severe as the two-drop hemi test happens just short of never? ing]. But tell the manufacturers, ’OK, 300 Gs is not going to cut it smoother and safer, they should also be softer, softer, softer. stiff for optimum pro- tection in the great gravity to accelerate the helmet is a private, not-for-profit orga- STEEL ABOUT Dr. Jim Newman, an actual anymore. Next year you’re to a given speed before it smash- es onto a test anvil bolted to the nization dedicated to “research, education, testing and develop- THE SIZE OF AN rocket scientist and highly respected head-impact expert— going to have to get down to 250. And the next year, 200. floor. By varying the drop height ment of helmet safety standards.” ORANGE. THE he was once a Snell Foundation And the year after that, 185.’” “And that impact shocks below and the weight of the magnesium If you think moving quickly over FIRST HIT—150 director—puts it this way: “If that threshold are going to be headform inside the helmet, the energy level of the test can be the surface of the planet is fun and you enjoy using your brain, JOULES—IS AN you want to create a realistic helmet standard, you don’t go The Brand Leading The Brand non-injurious. “We’re going with 300 Gs easily varied and precisely you should be grateful to the EXTREMELY bashing helmets onto hemi- “The Snell sticker,” continued because we started with 400 Gs repeated. As the helmet/head- form falls it is guided by either a Snell Memorial Foundation. The SMF has helped create standards HIGH-ENERGY spherical steel balls. And you certainly don’t do it twice. Newman, “has become a mar- keting gimmick. By spending back in the early days. And based on [George Snively’s, the founder steel track or a pair of steel that have raised the bar in head IMPACT ALL BY “Over the last 30 years,” con- 60 cents [paid to the Snell of the SMF] testing, and informa- cables. That guiding system adds friction to slow the fall slightly, so protection in nearly every pursuit in which humans hit their heads: ITSELF. tinues Newman, “we’ve come to the realization that people falling foundation], a manufacturer puts that sticker in his helmet tion he’d gotten from the British Standards Institute, 400 Gs the test technician corrects for bicycles, horse riding, harness off motorcycles hardly ever, ever and he can increase the price seemed reasonable back then. He this by raising the initial drop racing, karting, mopeds, skate- Hurt Report fame, “a little bit hit their head in the same place by $30 or $40. Or even $60 revised it downward over the height accordingly. boards, rollerblades, recreational excessive.” twice. So we have helmets that or $100. years, largely because helmet The headform has an skiing, ski racing, ATV riding, The killer—the hardest Snell are designed to withstand two “Because there’s this allure, standards were for healthy young accelerometer inside that precisely snowboarding, car racing and, of test for a motorcycle helmet to hits at the same site. But in this charisma, this image associ- Because people are wearing We used a state-of-the-art men that were driving race cars. records the force the headform course, motorcycling. meet—is a two-strike test onto a doing so, we have severely, ated with a Snell sticker that these so-called high-performance helmet-testing rig at Collision But after motorcycling had taken receives, showing how many Gs But as helmet technology has hemispherical chunk of stainless severely compromised their ability says, ‘Hey, this is a better hel- helmets and are getting diffused and Injury Dynamics. An up those same helmets, he figured the headform took as it stopped improved and accident research steel about the size of an orange. to take one hit and absorb energy met, and therefore must be [brain] injuries … well, they’re accelerometer inside the head- that not everybody involved in and for how long. has accumulated, many head- The first hit is at an energy of properly. worth a whole lot more money.’ screwed up for life. Taking 300 form transmits its findings to a motorcycling was going to be a If you test a bunch of helmets injury experts feel the Snell 150 joules, which translates to “The consequence is, when you And in spite of the very best Gs is not a safe thing. computer, which calculates the young man. So he concluded from under the same conditions, you M2000 and M2005 standards dropping a 5-kilo weight about have one hit at one site in an intentions of everybody at Snell, “We’ve got people that we’ve acceleration in Gs over the work that he had done that the can get a good idea of how well are, to quote Dr. Harry Hurt of 10 feet—an extremely high-ener- accident situation, two things they did not have the field data replicated helmet [impacts] on 8–10-millisecond impact. threshold of injury was above 400 AVERAGE Gs Fewer Gs = Less chance of brain injury 204 Gs 211 Gs Red = Average overall Gs 201 Gs 182 GS 181 Gs 183 Gs 187 Gs 188 Gs 174 Gs 169 Gs 171 GS 173 Gs 174 Gs 157 Gs 161 Gs 152 Gs SUOMY: SPEC 1R (ECE) (F) SUOMY: SPEC 1R (BSI) (F) SCORPION: EXO-400 (P) SCORPION: EXO-700 (F) PEP BOYS: RAIDER (P) ICON: MAINFRAME (P) ARAI: TRACKER GT (F) SCHUBERTH: S-1 (F) ICON: ALLIANCE (F) FULMER: AFD4 (P) AGV: TI-TECH (F) VEMAR: VSR (F) SHARK: RSX (F) Z1R: ZRP-1 (P) HJC: AC-11 (F) AGV: X-R2 (F) LF: 148 Gs LF: 152 Gs LF: 163 Gs LF: 156 Gs LF: 192 Gs LF: 151 Gs LF: 156 Gs LF: 166 Gs LF: 171 Gs LF: 168 Gs LF: 179 Gs LF: 185 Gs LF: 192 Gs LF: 193 Gs LF: 195 Gs LF: 207 Gs RF: 176 Gs RF: 173 Gs RF: 199 Gs RF: 199 Gs RF: 215 Gs RF: 180 Gs RF: 200 Gs RF: 187 Gs RF: 198 Gs RF: 217 Gs RF: 200 Gs RF: 212 Gs RF: 226 Gs RF: 243 Gs RF: 230 Gs RF: 236 Gs LR: 153 Gs LR: 175 Gs LR: 185 Gs LR: 195 Gs LR: 197 Gs LR: 176 Gs LR: 190 Gs LR: 201 Gs LR: 166 Gs LR: 189 Gs LR: 179 Gs LR: 193 Gs LR: 166 Gs LR: 203 Gs LR: 231 Gs LR: 226 Gs RR: 130 Gs RR: 130 Gs RR: 152 Gs RR: 129 Gs RR: 126 Gs RR: 137 Gs RR: 140 Gs RR: 141 Gs RR: 162 Gs RR: 152 Gs RR: 175 Gs RR: 158 Gs RR: 167 Gs RR: 166 Gs RR: 163 Gs RR: 176 Gs DOT-ONLY HELMETS BSI/DOT HELMETS ECE 22-05/DOT HELMETS SNELL 2000/DOT HELMETS IMPACT KEY: LF: Left Front, 7-foot drop, Flat Pavement RF: Right Front, 10-foot drop, Flat Pavement LR: Left Rear, 7-foot drop, Flat Pavement RR: Right Rear, 7-foot drop, Edge Anvil SHELL KEY: (P): Polycarbonate (F): Fiberglass June 2005 MOTORCYCLIST 71 > SPECIAL REPORT Gs. But certainly below 600 Gs. A patient’s AIS score is deter- ing the DOT helmet standard, the past may make that head more have. Square each of those THE LIKELIHOOD “The basis for the 300 G [limit mined separately for each differ- with its relatively low G-force susceptible to injury. scores—that is, multiply them by OF DYING FROM in the Snell M2000 standard] is ent section of the body. So you allowance. Is an impact over the theoreti- themselves. Add the three results A HEAD INJURY that the foundation is conserva- tive. [The directors] have not seen could have an AIS 4 injury to your leg, an AIS 3 to your chest and According to both these curves, exposing a human head to cal 200 G/2 millisecond threshold going to kill you? Probably not. Is and compare them with the ISS Scale of Doom below. GOES UP an indication that a [head injury] an AIS 5 injury to your head. And a force over 200 Gs for more than 2 it going to hurt you? Depends on A score of 75 means you’re DRAMATICALLY IF threshold is below 300 Gs. If and when they do, they’ll certainly you’d be one hurtin’ puppy. Newman is quoted in the COST milliseconds is what medical experts refer to as “bad. Heads are ” you, and how much over that threshold your particular hit hap- dead. Sorry. Very few people with an ISS of 70 see tomorrow either. YOU HAVE take it into account.” study on the impact levels likely different, of course. Young, pens to be. But head injuries If you’re between 15 and 44 OTHER INJURIES. So nobody is being hurt by the to cause certain levels of injury. strong people can take more Gs short of death are no joke. Five years old, an ISS score of 40 IT ALSO GOES UP added stiffness of a Snell helmet, we asked. Back in the ’80s he stated that, as a rough guideline, a peak linear than old, weak people. Some prize- fighters can take huge hits again million Americans suffer from dis- abilities from what’s called means you have a 50-50 chance of making it. If you’re between WITH AGE. WHICH “That’s certainly our hope impact—the kind we’re measuring and again and not seem to suffer Traumatic Brain Injury—getting 45 and 64 years old, ISS 29 is MEANS THAT A here,” answered Becker. “At this point I’ve got no reason to think here—of 200 to 250 Gs generally corresponds to a head injury of any ill effects other than a ten- dency to sell hamburger cookers hit too hard on the head. That’s disabilities, meaning they ain’t the the 50-50 mark. And above 65 years old, the 50-50 level is an NICE, EASY AIS 3 anything else.” AIS 4, or severe; that a 250 G to on late-night TV. And the impacts same as they used to be. ISS of 20. HEAD INJURY 300 G impact corresponds to AIS a particular head has undergone in There’s another important fac- For a 45- to 64-year old guy CAN BE THE European Style The Snell Foundation may have 5, or critical; and that anything over 300 Gs corresponds to AIS 6. tor that comes into play when discussing how hard a hit you such as myself, an ISS over 29 means I’ll probably die. BLOW THAT KILLS no reason to think anything else. That is, unsurvivable. should allow your brain to take: If I get two “serious,” AIS 3 YOU IF YOU But every scientist we spoke to, as well as the government stan- Newman isn’t the only scientist who thinks getting hit with much the other injuries you’ll probably get in a serious crash, and how injuries—the aforementioned AIS 3 head hit and AIS 3 chest HAVE SOME dards agencies of the United more than 200 Gs is a bad idea. In the effects of your injuries add up. thump—and a “severe” AIS 4 leg OTHER MAJOR States and the 50 countries that fact, researchers have pretty much The likelihood of dying from a injury, my ISS score is … let’s see, DAMAGE. accept the ECE 22.05 standard, see things quite differently. agreed on that for 50 years. The Wayne State Tolerance head injury goes up dramatically if you have other major injuries as 3 times 3 is 9. Twice that is 18. 4 times 4 is 16. 18 and 16 is 34. The European Union recently Curve is the result of a pretty well. It also goes up with age. Ooops. Gotta go. released an extensive helmet gruesome series of experiments Which means that a nice, easy Drop my AIS 3 head injury to study called COST 327, which back in the ’50s and ’60s in AIS 3 head injury, which might be an AIS 2 and my ISS score is 29. involved close study of 253 which dogs’ brains were blasted perfectly survivable on its own, Now I’ve got a 50-50 shot. recent motorcycle accidents in with bursts of compressed air, can be the injury that kills you if Obviously, this means it’s very Germany, Finland and the U.K. monkeys were bashed on the you already have other major important to keep the level of This is how they summarized the skull, and the heads of dead peo- injuries. Which, as it happens, you head injury as low as possible. state of the helmet art after ana- ple were dropped to see just how Helmet designers have are very likely to have in a serious Because even if the head injury lyzing the accidents and the dam- hard they could be hit before big- devised a number of differ- age done to the helmets and the time injury set in. This study’s ent liner designs to meet people: “Current designs are too results were backed up by the the different standards. The stiff and too resilient, and energy JARI Human Head Impact Vemar VSR (top) uses is absorbed efficiently only at val- Tolerance Curve, published in ’80 stiffer EPS than most, but ues of HIC [Head Injury Criteria: a by a Japanese group who did fur- has channels molded in to measure of G force over time] ther unspeakable things to mon- soften the assembly (to ECE well above those which are sur- keys, among other medically nec- specs) and enhance cooling. vivable.” essary atrocities. The Schuberth S1 (right) As we said, it’s a lively debate. The two tolerance curves agree uses five separate foam on how many Gs you can apply to parts glued together to How hurt is hurt? a human head for how long meet the ECE standard. And Doctors and head-injury before a concussion or other the Z1R ZRP-1(below left) researchers use a simplified rat- more serious brain injury occurs. uses a soft, one-piece liner ing of injuries, called the And the Wayne State Tolerance to soak up joule after joule Abbreviated Injury Scale, or AIS, Curve was instrumental in creat- of nasty impact energy. to describe how severely a The helmets are mounted patient is hurt when they come on a 5-kilo (11 pound) into a trauma facility. AIS 1 motorcycle crash. itself is survivable on its own, magnesium headform means you’ve been barely injured. The COST study was limited to sustaining a more severe injury— and then dropped from AIS 6 means you’re dead, or sure people who had hit their helmets even between relatively low injury a controlled height onto to be dead very soon. on the pavement in their acci- levels—may not just mean a a variety of test anvils Here’s the entire AIS scale: dents. Of these, 67 percent sus- longer hospital stay, it may be to simulate crash tained some kind of head injury. the ticket that transfers you from impacts on various sur- AIS 1 = Minor Even more—73 percent—sus- your warm, cushy bed in the faces and shapes. In the AIS 2 = Moderate tained leg injuries, and 57 per- trauma unit to that cold, sliding real world, your helmet AIS 3 = Serious cent had thorax injuries. slab downstairs. actually hits flat pave- AIS 4 = Severe You can even calculate your ment more than 85 per- AIS 5 = Critical odds using the Injury Severity Department Of Testing cent of the time. AIS 6 = Unsurvivable Score, or ISS. Take the AIS scores In the other corner of the U.S. for the worst three injuries you helmet cage-fighting octagon is 72 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 June 2005 MOTORCYCLIST 73 > SPECIAL REPORT the DOT standard. It mandates a DOT, ECE BSI, SMF—Let’s after all the braking and skidding, home. Because no matter where testing regimen of moderate- Call The Whole Thing Off below 25 mph. This was first you go, you always leave your energy impacts, which happen in In a typical large motorcycle deal- revealed in the Hurt Report but own neighborhood and come 90 percent or more of actual ership you’re likely to find hel- has been recently backed up by back to it. And making it through accidents, according to the Hurt mets that conform to all these two other studies, a similar one in traffic-filled intersections—the Report and other, more recent standards. Thailand and especially the COST ones near your home—is the studies. Most U.S.-market full-face hel- 327 study done in the European most dangerous thing you do on Where the Snell standard limits mets made in Asia—Arai, HJC, Union, where people have fast a street motorcycle. peak linear acceleration to 300 G, Icon, KBC, ScorpionExo, Shoei, bikes and like to ride very quickly The next-biggest group of typ- the DOT effectively limits peak Gs and most Fulmer models—are on some roads with no speed ical accidents happens at night, to 250. Softer impacts, lower G Snell M2000 or M2005 certified. limits at all. often on a weekend, at higher tolerance. In short, a kinder, gen- (The Snell standard did not Actual crash speeds are slow, speeds. They are much more like- tler standard. change substantially from but the damage isn’t. These are ly to involve alcohol, and often The DOT standard has M2000 to M2005.) Most hel- serious, often fatal crashes. Most take place when a rider goes off acquired something of a low-rent mets from European compa- of these crashes hap- the road alone. These two groups reputation for a number of rea- nies—Vemar, Shark, Schuberth, pen very of accidents account for sons. First, it comes from the etc.—conform to the ECE 22-05 close to almost 75 per- Gubmint, and the Gubmint, as we standard. cent of all know, can’t do anything right. Suomy helmets sold under its The DOT standard, like laws own name conform to either the against, say, murder, also relies on ECE or the BSI standard, but the honor system; that is, there’s Suomy private-labels some hel- only a penalty involved if you mets to brands such as Ducati break it and sell a non-complying that are built and certified to helmet and get caught. Snell. Some AGV models sold here Manufacturers are required to do are made to Snell standards, their own testing and then certify some to BSI. And a few Asian- that their helmets meet the stan- made helmets are DOT-only. dards. But it also gives helmet Among major manufactur- designers quite a bit of freedom to ers, Z1R (a subbrand of design a helmet the way they think Parts Unlimited) and it ought to be for optimum overall Fulmer Helmets sell protection. The question is, how DOT-only lids at the well are those designers doing lower end of their their job with all that freedom? pricing scales. You can also get ’em at Pep Boys under the Raider brand name. THE DOT Hurts So Good STANDARD, To talk about helmet design and performance with any measure LIKE THE LAWS of authority, we should first AGAINST, SAY, look at the kinds of accidents that actually occur. The Hurt MURDER, Report, issued in ’81, was the RELIES ON THE first, last and only serious study HONOR on real motorcycle accidents in the U.S. The study was done by SYSTEM; THAT some very smart, very reputable IS, THERE’S scientists and researchers at the University of Southern California. ONLY A The Hurt researchers came to PENALTY IF some surprising and illuminating YOU BREAK conclusions—conclusions that have not been seriously chal- THE LAW BY lenged since. SELLING A First, about half of all serious NON- motorcycle accidents happen All the Snell/DOT helmets we examined use a dual-density foam COMPLYING when a car pulls in front of a bike liner. The upper cap of foam on this Scorpion liner is softer to HELMET AND in traffic. These accidents typical- ly happen at very low speeds, compensate for the extra stiffness of the spherical upper shell area. Some manufacturers, including Arai and HJC, use a one- GET CAUGHT. with a typical impact velocity, piece liner with two different densities molded together. 74 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 > SPECIAL REPORT serious crashes. So the accident met—will have to absorb in a those involved in truly awful, on average, three other injuries we are most afraid of, and the crash. That is, according to the bone-crushing, aorta-popping that would have killed them if the one we tend to buy our helmets Hurt Report and the similar crashes, did sustain potentially head injury hadn’t. for—crashing at high speeds, out Thailand study, going faster when fatal head injuries even though In other words, a crash violent sport riding—is relatively rare. you fall off does not typically they were wearing helmets. The enough to overwhelm any decent Even though many motorcycles result in your helmet taking a problem was that they also had, helmet will usually destroy the were capable of running the harder hit. rest of the body as well. quarter-mile in 11 seconds (or How can this be? Because the Newman put this into per- less) and topping 140 mph back vast majority of head impacts spective. “In most cases, bot- in ’81, not one of the 900-odd occur when the rider falls off his toming [compressing a hel- accidents investigated in the Hurt bike and simply hits his head on met’s EPS completely] is study involved a speed over 100 the flat road surface. The biggest not going to occur mph. The “one in a thousand” impact in a given crash will typi- except in really violent speed seen in the Hurt Report cally happen on that first contact, accidents. And in these was 86 mph, meaning only one of and the energy is proportional to kind of cases, one the accidents seen in the 900- the height from which the rider might legitimately won- crash study occurred at or above falls—not his forward speed at der whether there is any- that speed. And the COST 327 the time. A big highside may give thing you could do.” study, done recently in the land a rider some extra altitude, but How many people were of the autobahn, contained very rarely higher than 8 feet. A high- saved because their helmet few crashes over 120 kph, or 75 speed crash may involve a lot of was designed to a “higher” or mph. The big lesson here is this: sliding along the ground, but this “higher energy” standard than It’s a mistake to assume that is not particularly challenging to a the DOT standard? As far as going really fast causes a signifi- helmeted head because all mod- the Hurt researchers could cant number of accidents just ern full-face helmets do an excel- ascertain, none. because a motorcycle can go lent job of protecting you from But the Hurt Report was done really fast. abrasion. nearly 25 years ago. There have Another eye-opener: In spite of In fact, the vast majority of been a couple of significant what one might assume, the crashed helmets examined in the speed at which an accident starts Hurt Report showed that they does not necessarily correlate to had absorbed about the same the impact the head—or hel- impact you’d receive if you simply tipped over while standing, like a DR. NEWMAN bowling pin, and hit your head on the pavement. Ninety-plus per- PUT IT THIS cent of the head impacts sur- Fiberglass helmets WAY: “IN MOST veyed, in fact, were equal to or less than the force involved in a such as the Schuberth S1 (top) CASES, 7-foot drop. And 99 percent of and the Arai BOTTOMING the impacts were at or below the Tracker (center) [COMPRESSING energy of a 10-foot drop. showed substan- tial damage to A HELMET’S EPS To Snell? Or Not To Snell? their shells after COMPLETELY] IS In analyzing the accident-involved helmets, the Hurt researchers the edge impact. The polycarbon- NOT GOING TO also addressed whether helmets ate-shell helmets, OCCUR EXCEPT certified to different standards such as the IN REALLY actually performed differently in real crashes; that is, did a Snell- Scorpion EXO- 400, were largely VIOLENT certified helmet work better at unmarked. Neither ACCIDENTS. protecting a person in the real world than a plain old DOT-certi- result is essentially better: Either shell AND IN THESE fied or equivalent helmet? The material can be KIND OF CASES, answer was no. In real street used to make ONE MIGHT conditions, the DOT or equivalent helmets worked just as well as excellent helmets. Polycarbonate LEGITIMATELY the Snell-certified helmets. helmets generally WONDER In the case of fatal accidents, there was one more important transmit fewer Gs to the head in our WHETHER discovery in the Hurt Report: testing than fiber- THERE IS ANY- There were essentially no deaths glass-shell lids, THING YOU to helmeted riders from head injuries alone. even when certi- fied to the same COULD DO.” Some people in the study, standards. 76 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 > SPECIAL REPORT accident studies done since. IF YOU TALK TO study estimated that bet- Both of which, by our reading, tend to back up the Hurt THE REPRESEN- ter, more energy- absorbent helmets Report’s findings. TATIVES OF could reduce motorcycle The COST 327 study investi- gated 253 motorcycle accidents MANY OF THE fatalities up to 20 per- cent. If that estimate is in Finland, Germany and the TOP SNELL- legitimate and was United Kingdom, from ’95–’98. APPROVED applied in the U.S., it Of these, the investigators selected 20 well-documented HELMET COM- would mean saving about 700 American rid- crashes and replicated the PANIES, THEY’LL ers’ lives a year. impact from those crashes by doing drop tests on identical hel- IMPLY HELMETS There’s no good reason to think things are different mets in the lab until they got the CERTIFIED TO here in the States than in same helmet damage. This LOWER-ENERGY Germany, Britain and Finland, all allowed them to find out how hard the helmet in the accident STANDARDS— modern, well-developed, super- bike-rich countries. Heads are had been hit, and to correlate THAT WOULD heads, asphalt is asphalt, and the impact with the injuries actu- ally suffered by the rider or pas- BE ANY OTHER pass the softer ECE standard required there. falling bodies operate under the same laws of physics there as senger. STANDARD IN In other words, the latest rele- they do here in America. The COST 327 results showed THE WORLD— vant study, which used state-of- If you ask most head-impact that some very serious and potentially fatal head injuries can ARE SUSPI- the-art methods and covered accidents in countries where scientists or the representatives of the European helmet manufac- occur at impact levels that stiffer CIOUS OBJECTS, there are plenty of 10-second, turers how they like the Snell current helmet standards—such as Snell M2000 and M2005— LIKE SMOKED 160-mph superbikes running around, concluded that current M2000/M2005 standard, they will generally tell you it’s unrealis- allow helmets to exceed. CLAMS FROM standards—even the relatively tic, based more on supposition And remember, these guys are THE 99 CENTS soft ECE standards—are allowing than on science, and forces man- investigating crashes in Europe, where Snell-rated helmets are a ONLY STORE. riders’ heads to be routinely sub- jected to forces that can severely ufacturers to make helmets that are stiffer than they should be. rarity because they can’t generally injure or kill them. The COST If you ask the representatives of many of the top Snell- approved helmet companies, they’ll say the Snell standard is a wonderful thing, and they’ll imply HELMET IMPACT STANDARDS STANDARD SNELL DOT BSI 6658-85 ECE COST 327 M2000/M2005 FMVSS 218 TYPE A EN 22-05 (PROPOSED ECE) helmets certified to lower-energy standards—that would be any FLAT ANVIL Two drops Two drops Two drops One drop One drop other standard in the world—are (all sizes) Small: 63 J (all sizes) Small: 115.3 J Medium: 180 J suspicious objects, like smoked 1st: 150 J Medium: 90 J 1st: 141 J Medium: 132.2 J One drop clams from the 99 Cents Only 2nd: 110 J Large: 109.8 J 2nd: 70 J Large: 157.5 J Medium: 100 J store. And not as good at pro- tecting you in an extremely high- HEMI ANVIL Two drops Two drops Two drops energy mega-crash as a Snell- (all sizes) Small: 47.3 J (all sizes) approved helmet is. 1st: 150 J Medium: 67.6 J 1st: 123 J What the Snell advocates won’t 2nd: 110 J Large: 82.5 J 2nd: 63 J tell you is that when these same CURB ANVIL One drop One drop makers sell their helmets in Small: 115.3 J Medium: 180 J Europe, Japan and the U.K., they Medium: 132.2 J One Drop are not the same helmets they Large: 157.5 J Medium: 100 J sell here, and they’re not Snell rated. They are built softer, tai- EDGE ANVIL One drop lored to conform to exactly the (all sizes) same ECE or BSI standards as the 150 J European makers. If you get these two groups of ALLOWED 300 Gs 250 Gs 300 Gs 275 Gs 180 Gs for folks in a room together and ask PEAK Gs (dictated by 100 J drops these questions, we’d suggest dwell-time wearing a helmet yourself. limits) 275 Gs for 180 J drops Can Less Be More? In the last 10 to 15 years a num- ber of Asian-made helmet brands such as HJC, Icon, KBC and 78 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 > SPECIAL REPORT Scorpion have entered the market Village People concert. In the end, we wound up with send mislabeled, ringer helmets. to challenge the once-reigning In six months of researching 16 models, 32 helmets in all. A We needed somebody to help Japanese leaders, Shoei and Arai. this article, I spoke to many helmet look at the accompanying chart us design the tests and do the These new brands offer hel- company representatives. Some in (pages 70–71) will give you a actual testing. So we hired David mets that look and feel pretty civil tones. Some not so much. rundown of the helmet brands Thom. Remember the Hurt much like the Arais and Shoeis we One, in particular, summed up the that elected to participate and Report? Thom was one of the USC were used to wearing and seeing Snell-or-not quandary best. It was the models they sent. A number researchers who went out to on all the magazine covers, but at Phil Davy, brand manager for the of manufacturers chose not to investigate all those motorcycle substantially lower prices. very popular Icon helmets and rid- participate: Bell, KBC, OGK, Shoei accidents and then helped pull it all Problem is, a lower price, espe- ing gear. “When you build a helmet and Simpson were contacted together. Thom worked at USC cially in a potentially life-saving for this market, meeting the Snell repeatedly, but chose not to with Professor Harry Hurt for piece of safety equipment, can do standard is your first, second, send helmets. We also tested a many years, investigating all the as much harm as good to a third, fourth and fifth concern. You couple of full-face Raider hel- various ways motorcyclists and brand. There’s always the percep- can then start designing a helmet mets purchased from Pep Boys other folk hurt themselves, and tion lingering in a buyer’s mind that’s safe,” he said. for $69.95 a pop. striving mightily to find better that a product can’t be as good It is important to note that Unlike other standards testing, ways to protect them. or protect as well if it doesn’t every one of Davy’s Icon helmets where the test parameters are Thom subsequently formed his cost as much. is Snell certified. He’s no fool. published years ahead of time, we own company, Collision and So what can a lower-priced did not reveal the actual tests we Injury Dynamics. He has his own maker do to enhance its brand The Rules Rule were going to perform before we state-of-the-art helmet impact reputation? Get Snell certified. OK. We promised an actual hel- did the testing. So there was, lab where he does impartial, Whether they think a Snell helmet met impact test, and it’s time to essentially, no chance for them to objective certification testing for is actually better at head protec- give it to you. many helmet companies. The tion or not—and there’s no short- We asked the major helmet DOT standard, for instance, age of debate on that subject— brands sold in the U.S. to each relies on companies they’re essentially over a barrel. If pick one model of their helmets. certifying their they don’t get Snell certified, they We asked for two functionally own helmets, give the perception their products identical helmets in the same continued on are not as good as the others on size, medium or 71⁄4. Why two? page 140 the shelf. And their helmets will sell To give us a look at the con- like Girls Gone Wild videos at a sistency of the manufacturer’s production techniques. Why all one size? To make sure WE SUBJECTED any differences we saw were due to design and production THE SOFTEST differences, not random dif- HELMETS—THE ferences due to sizing. And we wanted to use the same-size Z1R ZRP-1S— headform in all our testing, TO EXTRA, again for consistency. “LET’S-KILL- We were also interested in learning as much as we could THEM-IF-WE- about different helmet construc- CAN” IMPACTS. tions, and about how helmets built to different standards vary. WE RAN THE So if a manufacturer made both RIG UP TO THE fiberglass-shell and plastic-shell MAX AND LET helmets, we asked for a pair of each. And if a manufacturer FLY. THESE made helmets to two different INDIVIDUAL standards, we asked for both as well. IMPACTS WERE Icon and Scorpion sent TRULY both fiberglass and poly- MONSTROUS— carbonate helmets, all Snell/DOT-rated. AGV WAY BEYOND sent a pair of THOSE CALLED Snell/DOT-rated X-R2s and a pair FOR IN ANY of BSI/DOT-rated STANDARD, TiTechs. And Suomy SNELL M2005 sent the same model, its Spec 1R, in both BSI-rated and INCLUDED. ECE-rated versions. 80 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 BLOWING THE LID OFF continued from page 80 and Thom is one of the people they contract with to do the Three of the four impacts we planned for each helmet would they investigated. We also did one high-energy REAL the helmet test rig than to play nice with the helmets. If a single impact testing were exactly as expected—but still surprising helmet designers themselves. All the helmets we tested per- they all handled the low-energy impacts, even the scary-looking actual testing. In other words, he be on that flat asphalt surface— drop with an energy of 150 MOTORCYCLE helmet bottoms out and squishes as hell. formed exactly as the standards edge impact, without strain. knows what he’s doing. We had no interest in checking simply because that’s what real motorcyclists land on when they joules, the same energy—about a 10-foot drop—as the hardest hit ACCIDENTS its EPS liner flat, the total impact goes right into the headform and The helmets ranged from the softest regimen, the DOT stan- they were designed to meet pre- dicted. And they seemed to In fact, in most cases the peak Gs in the edge impact were lower to see whether our helmets con- fall, more than 75 percent of the specified in the Snell standards, DON’T END test rig—as it would to your dard, to the Snell standard, the exceed those standards—that is, than the flat-anvil peak Gs for form to any specific standard. Because a helmet’s job is protect- time. The Hurt Report estab- lished this, and in the recent on the right front of each helmet. That’s 66 percent more violent WITH A HELMET head. And just like your head, the test rig is gonna break. We stiffest. But would the real- world, production-spec helmets the DOT-only helmets were bet- ter at high-energy impacts than the same helmet at the same impact energy. Why is this? ing your head, not passing a Thailand helmet study 87.4 per- than the drop specified by the HITTING A weren’t sure all the helmets actually show that progression they had to be just to pass the Because the edge impact flexes standard. We came up with our own battery of tests designed to cent of the helmet hits were from the road surface or the DOT standard for a medium- sized helmet, and represents the MACHINED would survive the 150-joule edge drop, so we pulled back to the from soft to stiff? In other words, can you predict how stiff a hel- DOT standard, and the Snell hel- mets were better at absorbing and/or delaminates the helmet shell sooner in the impact, letting duplicate, as best we could, the shoulder. Helmets do hit curbs a 99th-percentile impact seen in STAINLESS 100-joule level. Fracturing the rig met will be simply by looking at low-energy impacts than they the EPS inside—the real energy impacts that really happen on a statistically significant basis. small percentage of the time, but usually after sliding along on the the Hurt Report. Which means 1 percent or fewer impacts seen on STEEL ANVIL— would put us out of commission for days, and we didn’t have the the standard label? Absolutely. had to be to pass DOT or Snell. So choosing a helmet, at least absorber in the system—start doing its work sooner. Real motorcycle accidents road first, which means that in the street exceeded this energy THEY END UP time—or money—to risk that. In fact, our results show that in terms of safety, is not a ques- In the high-energy impact, the don’t end with a helmet hitting a machined stainless-steel anvil— most cases they are actually hit- ting a flat surface—the vertical level. So we weren’t exactly tak- ing it easy. WITH A HELMET In the end we were too conser- vative. When we inspected the modern helmets are all made with an amazing degree of precision, tion of choosing high or low qual- ity, it’s one of choosing what 3-meter, 150-joule drop—the kind of hit a Snell helmet is, pre- they end up with a helmet bash- plane of the curb. To see what happens when BASHING DOWN helmets after the full course of with their shell construction, liner degree of stiffness you prefer, sumably, designed to with- ing down on good old lumpy, gravel-studded asphalt. So the For the energy of each drop, we selected a range of hits typi- you’re unlucky enough to rear- end a truck’s lift gate, slide into a ON GOOD testing, the 100-joule edge hit hadn’t come close to bottoming density and liner thickness all controlled very well in the pro- finding a helmet in that range by choosing a particular standard, stand—the differences became more apparent. industrious Thom grabbed a cal of both the DOT and Snell storm drain or be flung into the OLD LUMPY, any of the helmets—even the duction process. In other words, and then worrying about fine The stiffest helmets in the Big square-foot piece of Sheldon Street in El Segundo, California, testing regimens. We hit the left front and the left rear of the hel- Eiffel Tower, we also did an edge hit onto a scary-looking piece of GRAVEL- supposedly wimpy DOT-only ones. We are confident we could almost everybody designing seri- ous helmets seems to know points like fit, comfort, ventila- tion, graphics, racer endorse- Drop test, the Arai Tracker GTs, hit our hypothetical head with an the street out in front of his lab, mets with an energy of 100 upright steel bar. We debated STUDDED have done the edge test at the exactly how to get what they ments or computer-generated average of 243 peak Gs. The when the paving crew tore it up for resurfacing. Set in concrete, joules, which translates to a drop of about 2 meters, or 6.6 feet. whether to do this hit at a 2- meter, 100-joule energy level or ASPHALT. 99th-percentile 150 joules—the Snell edge-anvil test—and seen want—the only variable is decid- ing what they want. And for the spokesmodels. softest helmets, the Z1R ZRP-1s, bonked the noggin with an aver- that would be our “anvil,” as According to the Hurt Report, a more violent 3-meter, 150- results commensurate with those most part, the standards make How Hard Is Hard? age of 176 peak Gs. This is a they say in the biz, for flat- this drop represents the 90th- joule impact level. We opted for we saw from the other impacts. that decision for them, not flash- Not one helmet came close to bot- classic comparison of a stiff, surface impacts. percentile energy of the crashes the smaller hit, more to protect The results of all our laborious es of genius on the parts of the toming in any of our tests. And fiberglass, Snell-rated helmet, the 140 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 June 2005 MOTORCYCLIST 141 BLOWING THE LID OFF continued from page 141 Arai, against a softer, polycar- bonate-shell, DOT-only helmet, mets transferred an average of 20 fewer Gs compared with their a high-priced—that is, fiber- glass—Snell-certified helmet. So unharmed: The slight road rash at the impact sites caused by our IN OUR BIG 3- through our tests with protection to spare. But doubt lingered, in comparable to the others. But it showed, in no uncertain terms, the test, the $69.95 Pep Boys Raiders, also did well in all the the Z1R. fiberglass brothers, which were at the high end of impact energy, stubborn insistence on hitting METER HIT— spite of everything we had seen: just how tough—and how pro- standard impacts. But we can’t OK. So let’s agree that we want to subject our heads to the mini- presumably designed by the same engineers to meet the same stan- we have the Snell Foundation vouching for their performance. actual pavement looked no worse than we’d expect if the THE KIND OF How would they do in a monster, wicked-big impact? tective—an inexpensive helmet can be. recommend them because their chin bars have soft, resilient mum possible G force. Should we dards, and built in the same fac- And our testing, without the helmet had fallen off the seat at BASH ONE So we decided to kill them. We The peak Gs for the monster foam, not the EPS you need to pick an impressive, expensive fiberglass/Kevlar/unobtanium- tories by the same people. Why is this? We’re guessing— extreme two-hit hemi test, says they’re actually superior. a rest stop. When we pulled the ZRP-1s MIGHT EXPECT ran the Z1Rs up the test rig one last time. Not just to the 10- hits were 208 for the curb impact and 209 for the flat- absorb a severe head-on impact. Our advice is to spring for the fiber helmet—or one of those but it’s a really good guess: The apart, the EPS had cracked and WOULD SHOW foot, 150-joule Snell test height, pavement impact. Just a few Gs extra $10 and treat yourself to a less-expensive plastic-shelled helmets? EPS liner inside the shell is better at absorbing energy than the Score One For Faceless Government Bureaucrats compressed at the impact sites, just as it’s supposed to do, and THE WEAK- but all the way to the top of the rig: 3.9 meters, or 13 feet. This more, that is, than many of the Snell-rated helmets transmitted in Z1R ZRP-1. Another helmet that taught Conventional helmet-biz wis- shell. The polycarbonate shells The DOT helmets we had were all just as it did in every other hel- NESSES OF A hit would be at 8.5 meters per their seven-foot hits on the flat us a thing or two was the dom says fiberglass construction is somehow better at absorbing flex rather than crush and delami- nate, and this flexing, far from plastic-shelled, and none cost more than $100. How did they met. But it had come nowhere near bottoming; there was still an PLASTIC second, an energy of 185 joules. That’s higher and harder than anvil. And even after these mega hits, the EPS liners were still Schuberth S-1. The Schuberth is certified to the ECE 22-05 energy than plastic—something being a problem, actually lets the do? They kicked butt. In what inch or more of impact-absorbing SHELL—THE any existing helmet standard nowhere near used up. standard, which dictates impact about the energy of the crash being used up in delaminating the EPS do more of its job of energy absorption while transferring less must be considered a head- impact Cinderella story, the DOT- foam left. And the plastic shell seemed completely unharmed, PLASTIC HEL- impact. And, not coincidentally, the same height and energy The ZRP-1s are also well fin- ished, quiet and very comfort- energies marginally higher than the DOT standard. Like the Z1R shell. And that a stiffer shell lets energy to the head. only helmets from Z1R delivered from the inside as well as the METS ACTUALLY called out in the COST 327 pro- able, though maybe a little short ZRP-1 and the Fulmer AFD4, it a designer use softer foam inside—which might absorb Remember, these polycarbon- ate helmets from both Icon and less average G force to the head- form through all the impacts than outside, even where it had taken the terrifying edge hit and the big TRANSFERRED posed standard, the one that may replace the current ECE 22- on venting. They’re also light: Our ZRP-1s weighed only about has relatively large outer dimensions, leaving room in the energy better. Scorpion are also Snell M2000 any others in the test. three-meter bash. AN AVERAGE 05 specification. an ounce more than the lightest shell for thicker, and presum- Our results showed the exact opposite—that plastic-shelled rated. So they are tested to some very extreme energy levels. And they still excelled in the big-hit, 150-joule impact—a This illustrates just how hard it is to tell from the outside OF 20 FEWER We did one hit on the pave- ment and one on the curb anvil— helmets in the test, the Arai Tracker GTs. ably softer, EPS. And like the DOT-only lids, it soaked up helmets actually performed better And Ed Becker, executive director blast 66 percent harder than any whether a helmet has taken a GS COMPARED the same hits called out in the What’s the cost for all this energy like a sailor soaks up than fiberglass. In our big 3- meter hit—the high-energy kind of the Snell Foundation, is on record as saying that a low- actual DOT test for a medium- sized helmet. severe hit. And why you should never, ever buy a used helmet. WITH THEIR COST proposal. We did them on the back of the helmets, in the excellent impact absorption, com- fort, light weight and highly Schlitz. If you can’t bring your- self to wear a $79.95 helmet of bash one might expect would priced—that is, plastic-shelled— The Z1R ZRP-1s continuously FIBERGLASS center, because that was the only durable finish? In a solid color, a just to get excellent energy show the supposed weaknesses of a plastic shell—the plastic hel- Snell-certified helmet is just as good at protecting your head as amazed us. After all the testing, its outer shell looked essentially The Hardest Hits So the softest DOT helmets came BROTHERS. place we hadn’t hit them before. So this last test is not directly ZRP-1 retails for $79.95. The least-expensive helmets in management, you’ll feel very comfortable with the Schuberth, 142 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 June 2005 MOTORCYCLIST 143 BLOWING THE LID OFF continued from page 143 words, helmet makers should tai- and water weigh more than less which sells for $640 to $700. The other helmets we pulled showing generally lower G-trans- mission than we saw in typical recently? No car bumpers or steel oranges anywhere. “BUT I’M A tion, and the FIM doesn’t really do American. And because the lor the stiffness of their helmets bone and water? are highly comparable. Back in ’91, both DOT and apart used either a one-piece or Snell-rated helmets. Racers don’t typically hit truck RACER,” WE DOT standard doesn’t require to suit the head sizes of the wearers to protect everybody’s And it’s not just us. One study by Mr. Thom concluded that head Snell/DOT helmets routinely a two-piece EPS liner. The S-1, on the other hand, uses a com- The Human Race parts, storm drains, sign posts, tree shredders or the Watts HEAR YOU any outside testing—just the manufacturers’ word that their brain equally. weight does increase with head exceeded 250 Gs in the 7-foot drop, and often spiked past 300 plex, five-piece liner, with sepa- “But I’m a racer,” we hear you Towers. They fall off, sometimes RATIONALIZING. helmets pass. What does this mean to you? If you have a relatively heavy head, circumference. He found there is good evidence that smaller heads Gs in the 10-foot drop. Ouch. rate front, rear and overear pads glued to a central foam hat. rationalizing. “I go really fast. I go so fast, in fact, that I need a very tumble, and almost always hit the racetrack. Or maybe an air “I GO REALLY Yes, Size Does Matter the difference in stiffness weigh less and that smaller hel- In our new results, no helmet exceeded 250 Gs in the 10-foot Leave it to the Germans to use special, high-energy helmet to fence, a sand trap or hay bale. In FAST. I GO SO There’s one more issue with the between a Snell helmet and a DOT or ECE helmet will be rela- mets should thus be softer. As Thom says regarding the drop, and the vast majority of the five parts to do what the Z1R does with one. protect my wonderful manliness and fastness.” other words, the racetrack is the best-controlled, best-engineered, FAST, IN FACT, Snell and BSI standards we should mention, even if we didn’t specifi- tively small. If you are a man, Snell Foundation’s position on this: 7-foot drops stayed well below 200 Gs. So falling at a 10-foot A few of the European hel- Not so, Rossi breath. softest, flattest environment THAT I NEED A cally address it in our testing. woman or child with a lighter head, on the other hand, the dif- “They are not in touch with reality.” energy level today—a 99th-per- mets—the Vemars, the Sharks and the Suomys—use a different If you’re going to land on flat pavement when you crash—and you’re going to find. Racers are even more likely to hit flat pave- VERY SPECIAL, Snell and BSI dictate that every helmet be impact-tested with the ference in stiffness between a All Helmets Are Great. centile crash—is like falling at a 7-foot energy level was back in kind of EPS liner than we’re used you almost always do—you can ment than street riders—and HIGH-ENERGY same-weight headform inside, no Snell helmet and a DOT or ECE helmet will be relatively huge. We Investigate ’91. That means more and more to seeing in Asian-built helmets. Instead of a solid foam liner of a afford to wear a softer ECE or DOT helmet, because softer hel- street riders hit flat pavement around 90 percent of the time. HELMET TO matter the size of the helmet. That is, an XS helmet is required So if you are concerned after The good news in all this is that helmets—all helmets—are getting people are being protected better and better. specific density, these Euro-lids mets do a very good job of The AMA accepts DOT, ECE PROTECT MY to withstand exactly the same reading all this that a Snell helmet might be too stiff for you, Mr. XXL, better. The last time we did an It also means that in well over use stiffer, more rigid foam with deep channels in it to soften up absorbing big impacts—even really, really big impacts—on flat 22-05, BSI 6658 Type A or Snell M2000-rated helmets. That’s for WONDERFUL total impact energy as an XXL. The DOT and ECE standards you should be even more con- impact test on helmets was back in ’91, in the November issue if 90 percent of the impacts we did, the rider would probably have the assembly and vent air surfaces. Remember, the hard going 200 mph on a superbike at MANLINESS vary the energy of the impacts cerned about putting your XS wife or child into a Snell or BSI helmet. you’re rummaging through that come out with no more than an through the shell. The effect is that of a highly vented bicycle part about getting a helmet past the Snell standard involves sur- Daytona. The FIM, which sanc- tions MotoGP races all over the AND by varying the weight of the headform, under the reasonable The Snell Foundation’s position pile in the garage next to your 1929 Scott Flying Squirrel. AIS 3—or serious—brain injury. Helmets are getting better, and helmet stuffed into the requisite viving that mythical steel orange world, accepts any of the above FASTNESS.” rationale that a very small head on this is that they have no proof big heads weigh more than small We did some of the same some of the least-expensive hel- hard outer shell. The ECE-rated Vemars and Sharks and the ECE very hard twice in the same spot on the helmet, simulating a mon- standards but DOT. Why not DOT if DOT helmets are compa- NOT SO, ROSSI weighs less than a very big one. In the eyes of the governments heads. Hmmm. Isn’t a head basi- impacts this time, a 7-foot flat drop and a 10-foot flat drop, as mets provide truly amazing pro- tection. But just how good can and BSI-rated Suomys performed ster hit—or two—on, say, a car rable to ECE helmets? Because BREATH. of both the U.S. and the cally a shell of thin bone filled with water? Doesn’t more bone we (and Thom) did in ’91. So the helmets get? Stay tuned—we’ll well on the impact torture rack, bumper. Been to Laguna Seca the DOT is an American institu- European community, in other results, at least on those tests, explore that topic very soon. MC 144 WWW.MOTORCYCLISTONLINE.COM June 2005 June 2005 MOTORCYCLIST 145 Reply to Snell Rev 2 (Toned down as per Mitch) Dexter Ford The Snell Memorial Foundation is not pleased with our helmet-testing story, “Blowing The Lid Off”, in the June ’05 issue. If you want to review the story itself, it’s on our website, www.motorcyclistonline.com. They have posted a response on their website (www.smf.org). We encourage you to read it. Frankly, we expected more from a foundation that many of us, for many years, have trusted with our money, our lives, our health and the welfare of our families. Our intention in doing the tests and writing the original story was not to attack the Snell Foundation, the Snell M2000/2005 Standard, or any helmet brand. And a fair reading of the story would show that we didn’t. We simply devised our own tests, designed to represent the vast majority of actual crashes we and our readers actually have, based on the best scientific information we could get. We tested the helmets, fairly and objectively, and let the chips fall where they fell. And the overwhelmingly positive response we got from you, our readers, showed that you appreciated the effort. The scientists we quoted, Dr. Jim Newman, Professor Harry Hurt and Dave Thom, were sometimes frank in their criticism of the Snell Foundation. Where were the scientists who are in favor of the Snell Standard? Why didn’t we quote them? The answer is really simple. In all our research, in the U.S., England and Europe, over most of a year, we couldn’t find one. On The Edge If the Snell Foundation wanted to criticize our methodology and our story, we would have hoped that they would have portrayed the story accurately. This quote from their response showcases their selective reading: “They (Motorcyclist) based their comparison on flat impact performance…” They ignored the 32 individual tests we made, not on a flat surface, but on an edge anvil, a nasty-looking piece of upright stainless steel bar Snell uses in its own standards testing. We calculated these edge-anvil tests into the average peak g graphs, just like the flat-pavement tests. We wrote about these edge-anvil tests repeatedly in the story. They are clearly delineated in the key to the comparison graph. There’s a picture of one of these edge-anvil tests on the second spread—complete with a caption. Snell purposely ignored the edge-anvil tests—and then attacked our testing because it was all done on flat surfaces. Which it wasn’t. Major Impact Snell also reasserts their scientifically unsupportable position that taking violent impacts to the head is “non-injurious”, so long as you take less than their 300g limit. Well, the list of scientific papers, accident studies and eminent head-injury scientists the world over who disagree with Snell on this is overwhelming. Dr. Jim Newman, a highly respected head-injury scientist and a former Director of the Snell Memorial Foundation, has stated that a 200g impact to the head can be fatal, that a 200-250g impact corresponds to an AIS 4, or severe, head injury, that 250g-300gs relate to an AIS 5, or critical head injury, and that a blow over 300g corresponds to AIS 6. AIS 6 means dead. Military Standards Even our military disagrees with Snell on this. The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL) has created a g-tolerance standard for helicopter crewpersons’ helmets. For a two-meter drop height, the same drop height we used in 3/4 of our testing, the Army allows no more than 150 gs to the earcup areas of the head, which they have determined are especially vulnerable, and no more than 175 gs on other areas. Should we motorcyclists—who are often older, not as fit, and not quite so willing to die or sustain head injuries as eager young soldiers—accept g tolerance levels of 300g for the same hits? Round Table Discussion In their response, Snell picks a paragraph from the European COST 327 Final Report—the most recent major motorcycle-accident and head-injury study. The paragraph says that helmeted riders struck a “round object” 79% of the time. And Snell is using it to justify their controversial two-hit hemispherical anvil testing, the tests that make Snell-rated helmets stiffer than any others. The “round object” figure directly contradicts the findings of at least 6 reputable motorcycle accident studies, done all over the world over the last 30 years, that have shown that between 75% and 87% of helmet impacts happen on the flat road surface. Which makes sense. Because a huge majority of the time, the road is what you’re riding on when you fall. And when you fall, you fall down. It’s that darned gravity thing. Some scientists we’ve talked to, who are just as mystified as we are with this particular COST 327 finding, have suggested that this data came from examining helmets in the lab after crashes, and finding round marks on the helmets. But when you hit a flexible, essentially round helmet on a flat surface, you get a round mark on the helmet—which may have been misinterpreted by the lab staff as the impact of a “round object”. Or they may have been referring to the surface of the earth as a “round object”. Which, in a large sense, it is. We’re just amazed that the Snell people would know this. If the COST 327 people really thought 79% of victims hit their helmets on “round objects”, one would think they would have put a “round object” hemi anvil into their proposed helmet standard. They did not. The COST people propose to hit helmets on a flat anvil and a curb anvil—no hemi anvils at all. Here’s what Dr. Bryan Chinn, the Editor-In-Chief of the COST 327 Final Report, says about the hemispherical anvils Snell dictates: “From our research, the (hemispherical anvil test) is a particularly severe test and can result in a very stiff liner that possibly detracts from performance in other types of impact, particularly on the flat.” Calculating the COST It’s probably a bad idea, in the long run, for Snell to support their position with a couple out-of-context graphs and snippets from the 327-page COST Final Report. Because there is no shortage of places in which the COST study directly contradicts the Snell “300gs is OK” position. Such as this quote: “Peak linear acceleration (to the head) should be less than 250g.” (COST 327 Introduction, page v) Or this one: “Current (helmet) designs are too stiff and too resilient, and energy is absorbed efficiently only at values of HIC (Head Injury Criterion, a measure of g force over time) well above those which are survivable.” (COST 327 Introduction, page x). Or figure 7.28, page 166. This graph shows how the actual observed head- injury level of accident victims rises with the peak linear gs the victims received in their crash. At 250g, accident victims had an 80% chance of an AIS 3, or serious, head injury. At 300gs, the probability of an AIS 3 injury went up to 93%. As anybody who can read a graph can see, getting hit less hard is, well, less bad. COST Figure 7.28 graph Or the final proposed COST 327 helmet standard itself. This contradicts just about everything Snell espouses. It actually requires higher-energy hits than any single Snell-M2000/2005 impact, and dictates lower allowable peak gs for those impacts—275g vs. Snell’s 300g. It has no Snell-type hemi-anvil hits. It has no Snell-type double hits. It uses a two-tiered impact-test regimen, with lower, 180-g limits for lower-energy impacts, the ones that actually happen a huge majority of the time. And unlike Snell 2000/2005, it graduates the headform masses according to head size, to keep people with lighter heads—small-headed men, women and children—from taking harder hits in a crash. Also unlike the Snell Standard, the COST Standard includes a chin-bar test that limits peak gs. This is important, because a blow straight to the face is a relatively common accident—and one that often results in a fatality, from a basilar skull fracture. We think the COST 327 standard, which is proposed to replace the current UN/ECE 22.05 regimen, is the smartest off-the-rack standard we’ve seen— the best reflection of current knowledge about human tolerance and the helmet making-and-testing state of the art. Malcontents The Snell Foundation has also been less than kind to some renowned head- injury scientists for trying to find, and give our readers, the truth. In one e-mail, to a member of the Norton Owners List, Snell’s Executive Director called our article “an attack”, perpetrated by “malcontents”. Here are a few of the people who helped with our research, or who have expressed their agreement with our testing methods and our conclusions— it’s pretty much a who’s who of eminent head-injury scientists around the world: Dr. Bryan Chinn, Editor in Chief, UN/ECE COST 327 Final Report. Dr. Jim Newman, former Snell Foundation director, and highly respected head-injury scientist. Dr. Newman is an actual rocket scientist, has been inducted into the International Health and Safety Hall of Fame, and holds several helmet patents. Dr. Terry Smith, of Dynamic Research Incorporated, another internationally respected motorcycle- and automobile-accident researcher and head- protection scientist. Andrew Mellor, of the FIA Institute, a renowned helmet-design scientist and originator of the FIA Super Helmet specification for Formula 1 drivers. Dave Thom, of Collision and Injury Dynamics, an enthusiastic rider and eminent motorcycle-accident researcher and scientist. He’s worked with us for many years trying to prevent accidents, improve helmets and save lives. And Professor Emeritus Harry Hurt, of the Head Protection Research Laboratory Professor Hurt ran the HPRL head-injury lab at the University of Southern California for many years. And the Hurt Report he helmed is still one of the most important, most credible studies of motorcycle accidents the world has ever seen. Malcontents, indeed. Dialogue. Not Diatribe. We’d be happy to engage in any productive exchange of ideas with the Snell Foundation, helmet companies, scientists, or anybody else who’s dedicated, not just to maintaining the status quo in helmet standards and helmet design, but to making helmets safer and more protective. The bottom line here is in preventing injuries and saving lives. If anybody sincerely wants to help us in this quest, they know where to find us.
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