• Whizbang's Spinning Wheels: December 2003

    An X-Rated Head

    When in the process of buying a motorcycle helmet you might hear, "well, how much is your head worth?" Though usually considered a rhetorical question used by helmet sellers to encourage you to buy higher end products, I thought I'd add it up. Taking into consideration the costs of my glasses and eye care, youthful orthodontia, yearly facial skin and hair products, the education which though deteriorating by the minute is in my head, and all the money I've made as a professional actor who relies on his head to get work - I'd say it's somewhere around $676,516.87, give or take a few thousand dollars, the value of my presence on the Earth as a force of good or evil (depending on the day), and my immortal soul. Since we all know that the human head weighs about 12lbs, that's roughly $56,376.41 per pound. I'm sure this will be wildly different for everyone - depending on how straight your teeth were at birth, your daily hygiene regimen, and how much beer you've drank since you were old enough to know better - but you get the point.

    I'm not here to debate the pros and cons of helmet wearing. While it's the choice of the rider in some states, to me there is no choice. You wouldn't scuba dive without your extra regulator, skydive without your back-up chute, or go curling without your curling broom. It's one of your most important pieces of gear next to your brain. Literally. Instead I'm gonna to assume you'd like to hear about buying a second helmet. A radical assumption perhaps, but you're most likely a Beginnerbiker so I'm assuming you're totally rad yourself.

    I just typed "totally rad." 80's kid.

    Before buying my first full-face helmet I listened to the wise folk here on Beginnerbikes.com as well as my new friends at Midwest Cycle Supply, my favorite motorcycle shop in Minneapolis, as you should know by now since you read Spinning Wheels religiously, memorizing various passages as you go along. Based on fit, price, and the fact that my tattoo artist had one, I wound up with a medium HJC CL-12, a mid range DOT/Snell approved lid that cost me around $135 on sale in August 2002.

    It fit snugly making my face look like a Campbell soup kid, as well it should, but has since loosened up so much that if I hold the helmet in place and turn my head there's what I would consider an unreasonable amount of play. Since the cheek pads are not replaceable, there's nothing I can do to improve it's fit aside from stuffing kiwis in my cheeks. In addition, there are cracks in the rubber molding around the visor and the plastic around the bottom edge, the sliding door on the front vent is broken after a year of normal use, and the visor flies up if I turn my head over 65mph, scaring the crap out of me with a sudden blast of air. Though the visor assembly can be replaced, I've gotta say I'm not real thrilled with this helmet's overall durability. The sad thing is that I've heard that the CL-14, the model which replaced the CL-12 last year, is actually of even lesser quality due to the movement of their manufacturing facilities to China. I ride almost daily so I need a helmet that's going to last and can be upgraded. Something lightweight with a better fit, better cooling and anti-fogging ventilation which is a big cold-riding problem for me, and a replaceable liner and cheek pads. For me it was already time to go helmet shopping again. I was torn between "aw crap" and "oh goody."

    "Well, you can't go wrong with Arai or Shoei. They both make truly high quality products," said one of the guys at MCS. I knew it. You've heard it all your life but you do, in fact, get what you pay for. After trying on a number of Arai lids I realized that no one that works for them has a Polish nose like mine. My potent proboscis smashes up against nearly all of their chin guards and gets tangled in their breath guards. Arai was out. Bummer. On to Shoei's TZ-1. First thing I noticed was that Shoei's idea of medium was completely different than HJC's. The small fit me better. I learned that many helmet manufacturers only change the fit of the lining and pads rather than the actual shell sizes. Shoei works from the outside in with a different shell size for S, M, and L. No surprises there. The TZ-1 had a great fit all around, but had the fewest features: a non-replaceable liner and no rear venting. It was Shoei's version of the CL-12. Nah.

    Next up, the RF-1000, the new version of the venerable RF-900, which was their reasonably priced best-selling mid range lid, but had non-replaceable liners as well. The new RF-1000 is an egg-shaped tour de force with all kinds of vents, removable cheek pads, and a weird flippy fin thingy coming off the back of the shell. Cool. "It's supposed to have better venting than the 900," said the smart guy behind the counter. I flip-flopped my CL-12 with the 1000 a few times and noticed how much lighter this thing was. Niiiiiiiiice. Unfortunately, I was having trouble getting the right fit between the S and the M. The S was for people with no ears apparently, and the M was for people with ears the size of avocados. (I have no idea what the deal is with fruits and vegetables and helmets in this article. I'm just gonna run with it). So I moved onto the Z-Two. Ah, now there's a helmet. Simple. Understated. Smooth. Replaceable liners and pads. I knew this was it. Not cheap, but we knew going in the new lid would be about quality. I tried it on and alas, my Polish sausage of a nose was an issue once again. Not as bad as the Arai's, but do I want to spend this much money for something that fits only OK? Maybe after the pads start to break in-

    "Have you tried the X-Eleven?"

    I froze. The X-Eleven. The top. The most. The flagship helmet in the Shoei line. I hadn't even considered it. Can you say MSRP $559.99? Great Scott! What, was it made of gold? Was I worthy? I'm not a well-sponsored racer. I'm a 1.34-year Beginnerbiker! I could buy a leather suit for that! I could buy a cheap Japanese Fender Stratocaster knock-off for that! I could buy 0.68lbs more of my own head for that! Then the smart man spoke up again. "It's the best helmet out there. I think Shoei's got Arai beat with their high end stuff. It's the lightest, best ventilated, best fitting helmet with a completely replaceable lining. I'm getting one next spring."

    "Do you race?" I asked with a dash of skepticism.

    "No. But think about it this way: do you want to keep buying a new $150 mediocre helmet every year and half or so, or do you want to buy one kick ass helmet that will ride like a dream and last for 4 years or more?"


    "Wanna try it on the road?" I nodded. "Medium or small?"


    "I try to wear the smallest one that I can fit my head into to make sure it doesn't move around at all." He handed me a metallic yellow S. Aha! They ARE made of gold. It was so light, I had to hang onto it to keep it from floating away. I raised it over my head. I pulled it down. The pads slid softly buy tightly over my face. My ears snapped into place. My nose…fit! Though restricted by my appropriately squished cheeks, a smile crept across my face.

    "Now how long will the visor mechanics last? With my last helmet, when I got over 65mph, it would flip up. I don't want that to happ-" He flipped the visor down with a slap and then clicked something on the left side of my head.

    "It has a locking mechanism for just that problem. But I'm telling you, you're never going to need it. It's a Shoei. Now go ride."

    Alrighty then.

    Dual anti-fogging vents which actually keep the breath off of the inside of your visor at even 15mph. Venting I could actually feel. A removable chin screen to keep the air from hitting your neck and chin. Best of all, it was so lightweight I could barely tell it was on when I did head checks. It sliced through the wind. THIS was what motorcycling was all about. I blazed back to the shop.

    "Well, it's amazing, but it's five-hundred fifty-"

    "388.95 plus tax." My head turned to the side like a dog that just heard something really high pitched. "We were just at the big motorsports show downtown yesterday. Show price."

    "OK. But I want a black one."

    So Whizbang bought an X-Eleven. You're probably going, "goody for you. What's the point, Whiz?" I don't mean to suggest that everyone should only buy a top of the line helmet. No no. Instead, as with home computers, I'm suggesting you buy the most of what you can afford. The better your gear works for you, the better your riding experience. Buy what fits you best. Buy what you need for your style of riding. Do you ride around town on a cruiser? Do you tour? Do you sport ride? Think about how often you ride. Take your time and choose wisely. Don't buy a lid off of the Internet before trying on that exact model in person in a store. Shoei has an excellent helmet selection guide on their website that applies to buying any brand of helmet, and it sure helped me while I was in the store. Go there and check it out.

    The fat squirrel that just went by my window told me it's cold and icy outside, so I won't be riding today, but perhaps you are - unless you're in New England. I hear you folks are getting blasted with snow. Sucks. My Vulcan is now fast asleep, but my new X-Eleven and I were tearing up the highway two days ago on the YZF. Heated clothing, ladies and gentlemen. Go get ye some. Winter is just getting started.

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Whizbang's Spinning Wheels: December 2003 started by Whizbang View original post
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