Saturday, September 10, 2011

Protect the Mellon - Best Snell 2010 Helmet For Your Money

The helmet as an art expression: SMIG's dazzling graphics by Luke Dobie
are worthy of an exhibit at the Guggenheim.

I was putting my helmet on at a recent autocross school when my student took one quick look at my old beat up helmet and innocently asked:

“This must be one of the loaner helmets?”

I paused for a second.

“Actually, it’s my 10-year old helmet. The loaner helmets are all new and MUCH nicer”!

Over its extended lifetime, my helmet had picked many scratches and chips in the paint. Most of the foam piece around the eyeport had torn off. It had probably been dropped on a couple of occasions. And, well, the interior smell could probably give a raccoon a headache.

Helmet Ratings
The Snell Foundation certifies helmets after extensive testing for each model. Racing helmets can be rated “SA” (Sports Application), “M” for motorcycles and “K” for go-karts. Snell 2000+ SA and M helmets are allowed at most clubs’ driving events this year, including our own. Starting with next year, only Snell 2005+ SA and M helmets will be allowed. Even though motorcycle helmets are a bit cheaper than SA helmets, there are some key differences between the two that you should factor into your decision:

SA standard requires flammability test while the M standard does not.
SA standard has rollbar impact test while M standard does not.
SA standard allows narrower visual field than M standard (some SA helmets aren't street legal).

How Do I Choose A Helmet?
Here is a basic list of questions to ask yourself when choosing a helmet:
Do you want an open face or full (closed) face helmet?
Full face helmets provide better protection in case of impact. On the downside, they are a bit heavier and more expensive than open face helmets. Open face helmets cannot be used in open wheel cars and karts.
Do you wear glasses or sunglasses?
If you do, look for helmets with a wider eyeport and make sure you can fit your glasses in after you put the helmet on (but before you buckle it).
Do you wear (or plan to wear) a HANS device?
Some helmets come pre-drilled for a HANS device. Even if you do not use one now, you may want to consider buying a helmet that would allow you to use it with a HANS device should you change your mind down the road.
Do you want a solid white colored helmet? Gloss black? Flat Black? Or a helmet with graphics?
Even though this is strictly cosmetic, it’s important that you like your helmet. It matters for self-esteem and the     more you like it, the more likely it is you will feel comfortable in it and you will take good care of it.
Approximately how much do you want to spend?
This question is strictly a function of your budget. You know what they say: cheap head, cheap helmet. On the other hand, you CAN find reasonably priced helmets that offer great features and protection.

        More on Measurement
Good helmet fit is essential to best head protection. There is no way to know whether a helmet will fit well based on its manufacturer size and your head circumference. People with the same head size may have different head shape. To complicate things further, sizes do differ by manufacturer. That’s right, they all have different circumferences for the same size designation.

For the helmet to perform well during an impact, it must stay securely on the head. Measuring the head is a starting point for the entire sizing procedure. Due to varying shapes, heads that seem to be the same size when measured by a tape may not necessarily fit the same size helmet.

The circumference of the head should be measured at a point approximately one inch above the eyebrows in front and at a point in the back of the head that results in the largest possible measurement. Take several measurements to make sure you find the largest one. If you have a beard or a birds’ nest for hair, you may want to order 1 size up.

Trying The Helmet On:
1. Grasp the helmet by the chin straps, with the front of the helmet facing you and the top of the helmet facing down.
2. Place the thumbs on the inside surface of the straps and balance the helmet with the index fingers.
3. Spread the helmet apart with the hands, and slip down over the head.

If the helmet slides down on the head with no resistance, you have your first indication that it may be too large. Obviously, if it will not slide down over the head at all it is too small. Many people unfamiliar with helmets are reluctant to pull down if they meet resistance as the helmet goes on. Most people will select a helmet that is too large for them. The eyes should be approximately in the center of the eyeport with the top edge of the liner padding just above the eyebrows.

Checking Horizontal and Vertical Movement
Now that you are wearing the helmet, look carefully at the way it fits. Check to see if the cheek pads are in contact with the cheeks. Is there excess pressure on the cheeks? Look for gaps between the temples and the helmet. Check the back of the helmet where it makes contact with the neck. Does it touch at all? Or is it pushing the helmet away at the rear, causing it to roll down over the eyes in front? After you have made your visual check, grab the helmet in your hands, one on either side, and try to rotate the helmet from side to side. Note any movement of the skin and resistance while doing this.

Next, check movement up and down, again noting skin movement and resistance. If in either test there was little or no skin movement or the helmet moved very easily, the helmet is too large. Keep in mind that the helmet’s interior will break-in and loosen up over time. The helmet should be as tight as you can stand to wear it.

Retention Check
This test may be a little uncomfortable, but it is very important! Fasten the chin strap, so you can check it. After the strap has been tightly fastened, while holding your head steady, reach over the top of the helmet grabbing the bottom edge with your fingers. Then, try to roll the helmet off your head. If it comes off, it is undoubtedly too large.

Pressure Point Check
Finally, unfasten the chin strap and remove the helmet. Check your skin coloration on the forehead and cheeks. Any redness may indicate a pressure point. Pressure points may not be noticed for several minutes. They sometimes cause headaches and in general, give you an uncomfortable feeling. Pressure points and discomfort indicate the helmet is too small. A good friend of mine used to sit in front of the TV with his new helmet on to do the check. If he didn't get a headache by the time the Daily Show was over, it passed.

Helmet Features
Here are some helmet features to consider when making your buying decision:
1. Does the helmet have a removable and washable Nomex liner?
2. Does it have interchangeable cheek pads?
3. Is the eyeport large enough and do your glasses fit through it? Is the seam between the cheek pads and headliner is situated about where it needs to be for sliding the glasses back over your ears?
4. Does it have vents in the chin-bar area, as well as exhaust ports on the top/rear of the helmet?
5. Is it pre-drilled for the HANS Device?
6. Does it have a nice visor pivot design with infinite adjustments and is the visor optically correct?
7. Does it have a rubber seal around the eyeport opening and is it good quality?
8. Does the helmet feel light? Cheaper helmets’ shell is usually made of fiberglass whereas lighter helmets’ shell contains more carbon fiber. Except for very extreme applications, all full-face helmets in size Large weigh between 3.0 and 3.99 lbs. Even though this does not look like a significant weight difference, its effect under high G loads is magnified.
9. Does the finish look high quality? Do you like the color and graphics?
10. Does the helmet come with integrated electronics, air supply and hydration?

Buy Your Helmet Locally
Just like shoes, helmets should be bought in person and not over the web. Find a store with a wide selection. A place that will have a helmet for you whether your head is shaped like a Conehead or a South Park character

I went to HMS Motorsport and tried a few different brands and models and I felt that the new Stilo helmets offered the best overall fit for me. They are also the only Snell 2010 helmets that come with integrated electronics, air supply and hydration.  In the end, I settled for the brand new Zeronine Z9-APX SA2010 helmet because it also has a great fit, a wider eyeport that allowed me to slide my glasses through it more easily, and it was within my budget. It has the top 9 of 10 features that I listed above and it weighs only 3.20 lbs in size Large. At the track and autocross, I can tell it's a lot easier on my neck than my old and much heavier Bell M3. Oh, I almost forgot - it comes with a nice soft cloth helmet bag too. It should help protect the helmet better, so it will look as good as the Snell 2020 loaner helmets when they come out in 10 years!!

Zeronine Z9-APX SA2010

1/22/2013 UPDATE
The Zeronine helmets were re-branded in 2011, after this article was originally put together. The helmets are now made by Solo Racer - it's essentially the same helmet with different branding.