History of the motorcycle helmet – Past, Present and Future

History-of-the-Motorcycle-HelmetThe motorcycle helmet is and rightly should be an essential part of your riding gear. It is the most important safety accessory to any motorcyclist. This was however not always the case.

In the below article I would like to share a brief history of the motorcycle helmet, how the technology evolved to what we have today and then discuss future developments in the motorcycle helmet construction.

The Introduction of the helmet

When the first “motorized bicycle” was introduced in the late 19th century, it was primarily for getting from point A to point B, granted that it was short distances and at very low speeds. The use of a form of head protection, or any protection for that matter, was never considered.

As the “motorized bicycle” or as we know it today, the motorcycle or motorbike, developed, a natural tendency towards competition between riders and manufacturers started. Motorcycles became faster and the risk greater.

The first recorded version of head covering was introduced by Gottlieb Daimler, who also invented his own motorcycle in the early 20th century. This “head cap” consisted of molded leather which was lined with fur. The actual function of this primitive helmet was to keep his hair in place. Go figure!1930's-Vintage-Helmet

It was in 1914 that the first helmet-type protection was introduced by a medical officer, Dr Eric Gardner. Dr Gardner noticed that concussion related injuries, under motorcyclists, were directly associated with motorcycle accidents and that these injuries to riders were increasing at an alarming rate. He designed a crude type of helmet made from varnish covered canvas and had 94 of these helmets manufactured and introduced them to the 1914 Isle of Man TT. There were no concussion related injuries recorded at the TT that year.

It was after the death of T E Lawrence or better known as, Lawrence of Arabia, in 1935, that the emphasis and study of head injuries, caused by motorcycle accidents, was highlighted. In particular, a thorough study done by a neurosurgeon, Dr Hugh Cairns and the release of his research results, highlighted the importance of wearing head protection. This led to the increased use of the motorcycle helmet for safety purposes.

The major advancement in the history of the motorcycle helmet and the birth of the modern crash helmet came in the 1950’s. Herman Roth, from California, designed and patented a helmet that had energy-absorbing material carefully lined on the inside. He did not stop there and also fitted his design with a visor and chin strap. There was no stopping manufacturers now and the race for the best motorbike helmets was on.

Safety Ratings for Motorcycle Helmets1912-Motorcycle-Safety-Helmet-Test

There are 4 main safety ratings for motorcycle helmets.

  • DOT (US Department of transport) standard rating. This is the most common of the helmet rating standards and includes the testing of the chin strap, the visor, penetration testing and then of course, the all important, impact test. Unlike the other standards, the DOT rely on 3rd party contractors to do random testing for them. The tested helmet will either “fail” or “pass” the basic tests. DOT approved motorcycle helmets are more than equipped to keep you safe.
  • ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) standard rating. ECE rated motorcycle helmets undergo a more complex range of testing than those done by DOT. ECE tests include testing on the visor as well as the rigidity of the outer “shell”. A very important differentiation is the fact that every helmet model will need to undergo the ECE’s rigorous testing before it can be labeled as ECE approved.
  • SNELL (Snell Memorial Foundation) standard rating. Snell rated motorcycle helmets were born on the racetrack. As a result, the testing done on a helmet to be certified, is the harshest of all the mentioned certifications. Apart from the FIA certified helmets, the SNELL approved helmets are allowed at approved race tracks. What sets this certification apart, is the fact that helmets are tested multiple times and at different areas. Possible weak points are especially tested for durability.
  • SHARP standard rating. This is the newest of all the rating certifications and actually intended to enhance the ECE standard. Only motorcycle helmets that have already passed the ECE certification, are considered. The SHARP rating is primarily there to give the European consumer the added information when deciding on the different ECE certified helmets. This is simplified by the star-rating used.

The above information is intended to give you an overview of motorcycle helmet certification, but there are many other factors to consider when choosing your helmet. I’m thinking of features like the proper fit, the comfort, the quality of finish, the ease of use and whether it comes with any accessories like a Bluetooth headset for the helmet.

Of all the factors mentioned above, I cannot emphasize the importance of choosing the correct size helmet. It doesn’t matter whether you are using a helmet approved by all the above, if it’s not the correct size, the crash helmet will not be as effective. Let’s choose the correct size and live to ride again.

The Motorcycle helmet today

The history of the motorcycle helmet shows an impressive evolution to what it is today. The helmet has developed into a very well-designed and mass-produced piece of equipment.

Todays helmets come in all different shapes, sizes, designs and accessories. There are 8 distinctive helmet categories and it will depend on your personal preference and most common riding style, which one you choose. I help you make the right choice in another post.

The 8 categories are;

  • Full Face Motorbike Helmets
  • Open Face Motorbike Helmets
  • Half Helmets
  • Modular type helmets
  • Kids Motorbike Helmets
  • Motocross Helmets
  • Dual Sport Motorcycle Helmets and the
  • Novelty Motorcycle Helmets

I review the pros and cons of all the above categories in a series of posts.

There are two main helmet “shells” used in our standard helmets today and they are distinguished by their material compositions and they are:

  • the polycarbonate or plastic shell and the
  • Mixed Composite (Carbon, Kevlar and Fiberglass mix)

The Polycarbonate helmet shells are manufactured and “welded” in 3 parts. This of course gives it a more flexible and “springy” characteristic. These helmets, because of the material used and the way they are assembled, are relatively cheaper than the mixed composite helmets.

The “Carbon Fiber” or Mixed Composite helmets are mold injected and consists of a one piece design. The shells are firm, strong and lighter than the above mentioned shell. These helmets normally carry a heftier price tag but are also ranked higher when it comes to the safety certifications.

The assembly of the inner part of the helmet, for both the above shells, are very similar. You have the expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner which acts as the shock absorbing “cushion” inside the helmet. The density of the liners differ for each model of helmet and is depended on the so called “strategic shock resistance” which refers to the areas of the helmet where the hardest impact is expected. The EPS would be thicker in these areas.

Following the EPS liner will be the addition of padding to help make the helmet as comfortable as possible. The pivot mechanism on the side of the helmet for attaching the face shield or visor is secured and lastly the chin strap with its quick release mechanism is fitted.

Helmets of the future

Helmets of the future will have significant safety upgrades to the liners (think of the new “Koroyd” liner used in the new KLIM F5 Koroyd adventure helmet). Helmets will also incorporate AR (Augmented Reality) and integrated electronic enhancements with assistant integration (think Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri) making them the perfect Smart Helmet.

Imagine your helmet being integrated and communicating with your bike. You may have your helmet spoiler extending when you speed up, helping with aerodynamics and your vents opening and closing based on the reading of the bike thermometer.

I hope you are as excited as I am to experience the awesome upgrades we can expect in the future?

Watch this space for more information as it comes out and subscribe to my mailing list for the latest updates.

The Motorcycle Helmet is here to stay

The motorcycle helmet is the most important safety equipment all riders should wear. What is evident, throughout the history of the motorcycle helmet, is that safety enhancements are the focus of all manufacturers. We can be assured that the future holds exciting developments in helmet technology and that helmets will be made safer and smarter.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed the above post as much as I enjoyed the research and sharing it with you?

Keep your helmet on and stay on two wheels.

Please share with fellow bikers

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