Put a lid on it! AVG fac­tory visit

Think­ing of buy­ing a new hel­met? Stan gets an in­sider’s view on what to look for when choos­ing a new lid.

Scootering - - Contents -

Think­ing of buy­ing a new hel­met? Stan gets an in­sider’s view on what to look for when choos­ing a new lid.

The head­quar­ters of Moto Di­rect, im­porters of brands such as AGV and Arai, is a rather anony­mous-look­ing in­dus­trial unit near Mans­field. In­side it’s a dif­fer­ent story though. For Moto GP en­thu­si­asts there’s a mind bog­gling col­lec­tion of race bikes and au­to­mo­bilia. Col­lec­tors would mar­vel at the se­lec­tion of hel­mets worn by mo­tor­sport’s most fa­mous names.

Sadly I wasn’t there as a tourist; my task was to in­ter­view brand man­ager Stu­art Milling­ton. A keen biker, Stu­art has a life­time’s ex­pe­ri­ence in the in­dus­try and for two weeks of the year es­capes the of­fice to act as pit crew for some of the world’s lead­ing TT riders. I’d been promised a frank dis­cus­sion but was still sur­prised by his open­ing re­mark: “It’s not dif­fi­cult to make a safe hel­met fairly cheaply. The chal­lenge is mak­ing one that peo­ple want to wear.” Sens­ing my con­fu­sion Stu­art changed di­rec­tion,

“Maybe we should start with what a hel­met’s de­signed to do?”

It’s a sim­ple state­ment but the an­swer’s more com­plex than I’d imag­ined. “A good hel­met of­fers two types of pro­tec­tion,” Staurt ex­plained, “ac­tive safety and pas­sive safety. Ac­tive safety is how a hel­met per­forms in a crash and is the area most reg­u­la­tions are con­cerned with. Ob­vi­ously this is im­por­tant but it’s only part of the equa­tion; most of the time it’s pas­sive safety fea­tures that keep a rider safe.” This was a new con­cept to me and when I asked for clar­i­fi­ca­tion the list in­cluded things such as pe­riph­eral vi­sion, which made per­fect sense, but also things that I’d con­sid­ered to be hel­met ‘ex­tras,’ such as ven­ti­la­tion.

“Peo­ple should think about what they’ll use a hel­met for,” he ex­plained. “If it’s a short com­mute, ven­ti­la­tion isn’t a pri­or­ity but for any­one plan­ning a tour in the south of France it’s vi­tal. Be­ing un­com­fort­able re­duces con­cen­tra­tion and puts the rider at risk. Pas­sive safety fea­tures make a hel­met wear­able but they also add cost, widen­ing an open face hel­met’s aper­ture by a few mil­lime­tres whilst re­tain­ing struc­tural in­tegrity is a huge en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenge. Hel­mets are one area where peo­ple re­ally get what they pay for.”

While talk­ing about ven­ti­la­tion I com­plained that on one of my old hel­mets the vent caps broke off eas­ily, only for Stu­art to cor­rect me: “That’s good de­sign. Most mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dents in­volve slid­ing along the road sur­face. Things like vents should break off to avoid grab­bing the road, pre­vent­ing some­thing called ‘ro­ta­tion’. Think of it like shak­ing a snow globe. In an ac­ci­dent the forces in­volved can move the skull more quickly than the brain in­side, rup­tur­ing its mem­brane and that’s never a good thing. A well de­signed hel­met will min­imise this by of­fer­ing very lit­tle drag in the slide. There’s a fash­ion for hel­mets cov­ered in leather and that re­ally does grip. Put it this way, I wouldn’t wear one.”

When asked what his ‘must have’ rec­om­men­da­tions would be, Stu­art paused be­fore an­swer­ing: “I’d look for a hel­met with the widest field of vi­sion. Our Sport­mod­u­lar is one of very few hel­mets to of­fer 180º, the same as a hu­man eye and that makes for a much safer ride. Good ven­ti­la­tion’s im­por­tant and after that a pin­lock vi­sor. Essen­tially dou­ble glaz­ing for your hel­met, they aren’t a mir­a­cle cure but do re­duce fog­ging. Drop down sun vi­sors are also a fan­tas­tic idea, pro­vid­ing it locks in the up po­si­tion.” He then

laughed and added: “A wash­able lin­ing should be high on the list. Peo­ple wouldn’t wear the same socks ev­ery day but seem quite happy with a hel­met that stinks!”

I’ve been rid­ing for over 30 years and talk­ing to Stu­art made me re­alise that I still don’t know ev­ery­thing I should about buy­ing a hel­met. What I’m cer­tain of is that no-one should be buy­ing solely on whether a hel­met looks good. There are plenty of re­sources to help make the cor­rect de­ci­sion but the best place to start is prob­a­bly your lo­cal mo­tor­cy­cle cloth­ing store.

There are few more im­por­tant pur­chases a scooter­ist will ever make than a hel­met. As the old say­ing goes: ‘If you’ve a £30 head then wear a £30 hel­met’.

Words & Pho­to­graphs: Stan

Stu­art Milling­ton, brand man­ager and TT pit crew mem­ber. This Ul­ster Grand Prix slide was so long that the shell par­tially wore through. The rider was un­harmed!

1: All fi­bre hel­met shells are ‘laid’ by hand, an ex­pen­sive but ver­sa­tile process. 2: Polystyrene ab­sorbs en­ergy but de­te­ri­o­rates, one rea­son to change a hel­met ev­ery four years. 3: Fin­ished shell await­ing in­ter­nals.

Top & mid­dle: Part of the his­toric col­lec­tion, hel­mets worn by Agos­tini and Lauda. Above: The world’s first fi­bre­glass hel­met was pro­duced by AGV.

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