Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Noggin Protection

A friend of mine recently boasted that his helmet had saved his life three times already. I congratulated him on chosing to use the proper gear and then listened contently as he recalled all three occoasions in overly detailed regala. What surprised me was when he finished his last story with: " darn helmet I've ever had. Wouldn't change it for the world!". Whoah Nelly, back up the wagon here for a second. Yup, you heard correctly - he's been using the same helmet for close to a decade even after three seperate impacts. That's a big NO-NO!

Of course, we got into a heated discussion about microscopic fractures and compromised protection due to inability of foam to absorb impact. Then he threw me an argument that was like a slap in the face with a rotten cod: "But mine's SNELL, so it's designed to stand up to stuff like that!" Duh, sorry to bust your bubble, Bubba - but it ain't so! Its a real shame that helmet manufacturers have been using the SNELL helmet standard as a marketing punchline for all these years (much in the same way that petroleum companies bastardize Octane ratings - but that's another story). The SNELL standard has been heralded as the holy-grail of helmet safety because it requires a much harder shell that won't crumble as easily as a helmet built according to the US DOT standard. But marketing hype can only go so far.

A few months ago Motorcyclist magazine published a daring report on motorcycle helmets that blew the SNELL standard out of the water. What was so great about their report was that the lowly DOT standard, often considered dangerous by many snob motorcyclists, came out as the winner in many crash categories. Motorcyclist even ended up losing some advertising bucks when some of the big expensive manufacturers got peeved that they's award a "Best Helmet" label to an inexpensive $100 helmet by Z1R.

Essentially, a good helmet will only do its job once by crumbling to absorb much of the impact. A helmet that has too rigid a shell will transfer much of the energy from the impact to your cranium - not a good thing. Think of it in much the same matter as automobile crumple zones; sure your car may look like crap after playing chicken with a telephone pole, but you're still there to tell the story.

Oh, and another thing: most helmet manufacturers suggest that you replace your lid every three years. Considering that some of the safest helmets out there (according to Motorcyclist) only cost a few fingers over $100, why not?

"I like a woman with a head on her shoulders. I hate necks." - Steve Martin

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