You Can't Buy Safety - Jimmy Rigged - Dirt Rider Magazine

From The Editor
Safety has always been a popular topic for discussion, but lately it has been getting a little hot inside our industry, and among Internet pundits it's nearly boiling. What's coming out of the hot pot is this: You can buy your way to a safe ride.I'm calling BS.Whether it's neck braces, chest protectors, knee braces or helmets, there are a few sides to every story. For this column, I'll focus on the helmet. A case of safety drama occurred when a magazine editor smashed a helmet's chin bar-allegedly by hand and easily at that-and concluded that the helmet was crap, even though he never wore it. Once this "test" hit the newsstands, my own boiling point was reached and I couldn't help but get involved in the issue on a few message boards and address it on my blog at His point and the overwhelming surge of opinion was that inexpensive equipment, especially a helmet, has no place in our sport because it's inexpensive. In this example, the price was confused with the helmet breakage. The scientific reality: At some point, helmets are supposed to break, they're designed to break, and this particular helmet passed every test the safety industry threw at it.Now let's get to the really sticky point of price. The argument of higher price equaling better safety has some problems. Helmets, specifically, have to pass at least a DOT (Department of Transportation) safety standard to be sold. Many brands are also subjected to other tests, such as Snell, ECE and BSI. Each of these tests is slightly different in method, and in the forces they subject the helmet to. None of them, mind you, are specific to off-road helmets, but they are a baseline. If you're putting your head in a helmet, shouldn't you be aware of what those stickers on the back mean? Some of these standards are truthfully designed with more of a street accident in mind and cause a helmet to be built heavier, which in a lot of off-road crashes can be a bad thing. With the randomness of the way helmets are slammed into the ground by riders like you and I, no test can certify a helmet as being 100 percent safe. If you were to show helmet engineers how you're going to crash, then they'd certainly be able to build you a safer helmet. Frankly, I can't do that. But as a consumer I trust that these tests are telling me that the helmet is safe for me to use; and these tests do that for the most part. You can also factor in quality control and brand reputation as well as the experiences you and friends have had. And yes, you're putting a price on your head, too.However, tests-whether conducted in the lab or by the staff of this or any other magazine-don't mean a thing if the helmet tested doesn't fit properly. Fit (that good, snug, all encompassing and secure grasp of your skull) is the most important part of your helmet purchase, regardless of price. If you don't fit in a $600 helmet, it isn't worth squat. Next comes the life span of the helmet. No matter the price, after the helmet absorbs the first good hit that compromises the foam inside the shell, the helmet is junk. You have to replace it, no matter how much you paid for the now-disposable brain bucket.But expensive is better, right? If that argument holds water, then a plain, solid white helmet from brand XYZ isn't as safe as the same helmet in a racer-replica fancy-painted version. What about a paint job will make you safer? What really matters are the fit of the helmet and the scientific tests that it passes, not the price tag.The science behind safety says it's not for sale. Safety starts with your brain and how you choose to operate your motorcycle. I believe everyone should have a choice in what they wear. I don't feel safer when I put on a chest protector, neck brace or a helmet. Better protected? Sure. Safer? No. The level at which I ride my motorcycle determines my safety, and my gear is there to protect me when an accident happens. In the end, it all comes down to minimizing the ill effects of a crash, rather than dreaming you can eliminate them.Jimmy Lewis