RE: Lifting the lid

RE: Lifting the lid

Friday 3rd March 2006

Lifting the lid

Need a helmet for track days or racing? Let Andrew Noakes be your guide.


Jenson Button's helmet
Jenson Button's helmet

Itโ€™s a generation old, but still the most famous line in helmet history: โ€œIf youโ€™ve got a $10 head,โ€ ran Bellโ€™s ad, โ€œget a $10 helmet.โ€ Things have moved on a bit since then, of course. The retail price of a Bell RS helmet like the one Jenson Button uses is โ‚ฌ5200 โ€“ call it ยฃ3,500. The fancy paint job and VAT are extra.

At the other end of the scale a brand new budget helmet could be yours for ยฃ35, and there are plenty of options in between. So how do you decide what you should spend? Letโ€™s narrow down the choices.

Approved for use

Button's Bell helmet
Button's Bell helmet
Club racer Mark Durrant
Club racer Mark Durrant
BS6658 Type approval
BS6658 Type approval
Open face
Open face
Nomex
Nomex
Twist test
Twist test
Pull test
Pull test
Double D-ring
Double D-ring
Visor
Visor
Removable ear pad
Removable ear pad

Life would be much simpler if there was a single, universal method of approving helmets. But there isnโ€™t. In Europe youโ€™ll commonly find three different sets of approval initials: BS, ECE and SA.

BS6658-85 is the British Standard for crash helmets. Any helmet meeting this is legal for road use on a motorcycle. The standard is divided into three categories: Type A/FR (red label) for helmets with a fire-resistant lining, Type A (blue label) for high-performance helmets and Type B (green label) for lower-rated helmets.

ECE is the Economic Community of Europe approval system. ECE 22-05 is also legal for bikers in the UK, but the older and less stringent ECE 22-04 standard is not.

SA is the US Snell Foundationโ€™s โ€˜Sports Activityโ€™ standard for car racing helmets. SA-standard helmets have tougher visors than bike helmets and are required to pass a rollbar impact test. Snell also has a less stringent series of standards for motorcycle helmets, the latest being Snell M2005.

In addition to those you may see the US Department of Transport (DOT) standard for bike helmets, the FIAโ€™s 8860-2004 โ€˜super helmetโ€™ standard for top-level racing helmets, another American standard called SFI31, and the ACU Gold and Silver standards which approve helmets for bike racing.

Whether these approvals actually help riders and drivers to choose helmets which best protect them is a moot point. The hardest standards to meet are the SA2005 and (similar) FIA standards, and these force helmet manufacturers to stiffen the energy absorbing layer inside the helmet to ensure that it doesnโ€™t squash completely in a major impact. The problem with that comes in impacts which are less severe, but still serious, where these stiffer helmets transmit higher forces to the wearer. The dilemma is whether or not those bigger impacts are relevant to real-world accidents and therefore worth designing for โ€“ and youโ€™ll find eminent experts on both sides of that argument.

Helmet standards

But the merits of the different approval systems donโ€™t really concern us here โ€“ whatโ€™s important is that you choose a helmet which carries the approval labels required at the events where youโ€™ll be using it.

Helmet standards for track days vary from one organiser or circuit to the next, and checks on the day are often only cursory. Most of the time you could probably get away with any helmet, provided it was in good condition and fitted properly. But to avoid being caught out, be aware that many organisers will not allow Type B bike helmets, and some will only allow open-face helmets in hard-top cars. If you run an open car youโ€™ll need to get a full-face helmet.

Increasingly, track day organisers specify the same helmet standards as those which apply to motor sport. These are easier to pin down because theyโ€™re spelt out in section Q of the โ€˜Blue Bookโ€™ โ€“ the MSA Motor Sports Yearbook. For club racing or speed events, you need a helmet which meets one or more of the following: FIA8860-2004, SA2005 or 2000, SFI 31.1A or 31.2A, BS 6658-85 Type A/FR or Type A (but not Type B). Helmets used in competition must be scrutineered before use to check their suitability. The scrutineer will attach a blue MSA approval sticker.

Which to choose?

The first fundamental choice is between open-face (or โ€˜jetโ€™) helmets and full-face lids. Some people find full-face helmets claustrophobic, or find communication easier with an open-face (which is why they are still popular in rallying). But the safety advantages of a full-face helmet are indisputable and as weโ€™ve already mentioned, some track-day organisers insist on them in open cars. So unless you find the open-face helmetโ€™s advantages compelling, full-face is the way to go.

Weโ€™d steer clear of Type B bike helmets because theyโ€™re no good for competitive motor sport, and increasingly inadmissible for track days. Instead aim for a BS6658 Type A or A/FR helmet โ€“ the latter will have a fire-resistant Nomex liner. British Standards approved helmets are zero rated for VAT, so these tend to be cheaper than equivalent lids which only have Snell SA approval.

Each helmet manufacturer produces helmets which are a slightly different shape, so try on several and find the one that best matches your head. The helmet should be a snug fit, but not so tight that it gives you headaches. Youโ€™ll feel like a berk, but wear it around the shop for half an hour to see if it becomes uncomfortable. Try these two useful tests. With the helmet on and the strap tight, try twisting the helmet around on your head, or get a helper to do it for you. Only a slight movement should be possible. Then try pulling up and forwards on the back of the helmet โ€“ you shouldnโ€™t be able to roll the helmet off your head.

Some helmets have quick-release straps which can be unreliable, so most premium helmets stick to the tried-and-trusted double D-ring straps. Look for one with a Velcro pad or press-stud to tidy the loose end. Check that you are happy with the ease of use and security of the visor. If you plan to fit an intercom, look for a helmet with removable ear padding. On some helmets the liners can be removed for cleaning, which is a handy feature.

Keep your helmet in a protective helmet bag to avoid damage: if you drop it onto a hard surface you could easily compromise the protection it would afford you in an accident. Even if you paid a little less than ยฃ3,500 for your helmet, it pays to take care of it.

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Author
Discussion

riverproaudio

Original Poster:

1,120 posts

185 months

Friday 3rd March 2006
quotequote all
just about to buy a new helmet, very useful advice. I shall start my quest.

cross-eyed-twit

6,779 posts

224 months

Friday 3rd March 2006
quotequote all
I have a BS 6658-85 red label open face and a ECE R 22-05 full face helmet. If I wear them both at once, do I get the benefit of both fire resistant lining and Euro compliance?









Seriously though, excellent advice for the forthcoming trackday season.
CET

>> Edited by cross-eyed-twit on Friday 3rd March 18:36

DennisTheMenace

15,598 posts

232 months

Friday 3rd March 2006
quotequote all

Had to be

daydreamer

1,409 posts

221 months

Saturday 4th March 2006
quotequote all
article said:
Instead aim for a BS6658 Type A or A/FR helmet – the latter will have a fire-resistant Nomex liner. British Standards approved helmets are zero rated for VAT, so these tend to be cheaper than equivalent lids which only have Snell SA approval.
All is true, but the big difference between the helmet designs that these two standards lead towards is the size of the visor opening.

The BS helmets tend to have a much bigger opening (as a result of the front impact requirements), which is great for visibility - and possibly a good compromise for hard top cars for those that don't want to buy full face. The Snell standard is possibly better for those in single seaters (OK, not that many on the track day scene), where suspension components coming towards your head at great velocities is not beyond imagination.

FWIW, most competitors at national level in this country tend to go for the SNELL type - although that may be down to these tending to occupy the area of the market slightly above area inhabited by the BS helmets.

Finally, if you are in an open top car put the fg visor down. It is bloody scary when a bit of rubber hits you in the visor at 100mph plus - and this is likely to happen several times in a 20 minute race (and therefore likely at some point on a track day). The consequences of not having the visor down when this happens do not warrent thinking about.

zevans

307 posts

189 months

Monday 6th March 2006
quotequote all
cross-eyed-twit said:
I have a BS 6658-85 red label open face and a ECE R 22-05 full face helmet. If I wear them both at once, do I get the benefit of both fire resistant lining and Euro compliance?



Who's your co-driver, Zaphod?

Serious question for road use... do people wear them in Caterhams? Is it actually legal to do so? Or would it be illegal not to?

Shaun_E

744 posts

224 months

Monday 6th March 2006
quotequote all
People do wear them in Caterhams but usually only if they have an aeroscreen rather than a full windscreen. Rain and road debris at motorway speeds is pretty uncomfortable. There is no specific law preventing you from wearing a helmet in a car on the road.

Damo V

2 posts

227 months

Tuesday 7th March 2006
quotequote all
Thank you Perfect report and of great help

dinkel

25,755 posts

222 months

Thursday 9th March 2006
quotequote all


Love this one . . . without the fun: great report.

Twincam16

27,646 posts

222 months

Wednesday 15th March 2006
quotequote all
Thanks for the info Andrew. I'm looking to buy two helmets, actually - one for karting (full-face) and another for when I start doing track days (open-face) - full-face helmets might be safer but inside a closed car they seriously hamper sideways visibility when you're having to look past pillars and roll-bars too.

Incidentally, a mate of mine had a motorbike helmet which was both styles - full-face, but the whole visor and 'jaw' section swung up fighter-pilot style and could be removed completely and be used as an open-face helmet too. I understand it was quite expensive but as a way of owning two types of helmet it seemed worth it - anyone know anything about the track-day legality of that kind of design?

benyeats

10,557 posts

194 months

Friday 17th March 2006
quotequote all
Twincam16 said:
Thanks for the info Andrew. I'm looking to buy two helmets, actually - one for karting (full-face) and another for when I start doing track days (open-face) - full-face helmets might be safer but inside a closed car they seriously hamper sideways visibility when you're having to look past pillars and roll-bars too.

Incidentally, a mate of mine had a motorbike helmet which was both styles - full-face, but the whole visor and 'jaw' section swung up fighter-pilot style and could be removed completely and be used as an open-face helmet too. I understand it was quite expensive but as a way of owning two types of helmet it seemed worth it - anyone know anything about the track-day legality of that kind of design?


Ones with a flip up front count as open face for approvals etc, whilst they offer the same debris protection (from rubber etc) to a full face they do not offer the same overall impact protection. If the trackday operator is strict then they will not be approved for use in open cars. On the other hand I have never had my helmet checked and I am not sure if many others have at a trackday (mine is a full face Snell one)

Ben

gilescooperuk

1 posts

177 months

Tuesday 11th July 2006
quotequote all
Just discovered that BB6658 helmet are no longer VAT free.

The government has decreed that they are "non-essential" safety equipment (if they cost over £100) and hence need to have VAT applied to them.

pdV6

16,442 posts

225 months

Tuesday 11th July 2006
quotequote all
gilescooperuk said:
Just discovered that BB6658 helmet are no longer VAT free.

The government has decreed that they are "non-essential" safety equipment (if they cost over £100) and hence need to have VAT applied to them.


Non-essential, but required by law? They're having a girrafe...

code monkey

3,266 posts

221 months

Tuesday 11th July 2006
quotequote all
pdV6 said:
gilescooperuk said:
Just discovered that BB6658 helmet are no longer VAT free.

The government has decreed that they are "non-essential" safety equipment (if they cost over £100) and hence need to have VAT applied to them.


Non-essential, but required by law? They're having a girrafe...



like car insurance getting taxed as well i suppose.

abarthchris

2,259 posts

179 months

Tuesday 11th July 2006
quotequote all
DennisTheMenace said:

Had to be



Nice lid, HJC ZF-7??

NikB

1,832 posts

229 months

Tuesday 11th July 2006
quotequote all
gilescooperuk said:
Just discovered that BB6658 helmet are no longer VAT free.

The government has decreed that they are "non-essential" safety equipment (if they cost over £100) and hence need to have VAT applied to them.



When I recently bought one in Demon Tweaks, the guy that fitted mine told me that it was to do with the potential to fit a HANS device to the helmet. This apparantly classes it as motorsport equipment and not safety equipment. Dunno how true it is, but I do know it cost me a more than it should

Alfamale1

4 posts

157 months

Friday 30th May 2008
quotequote all
I am looking for a crash helmet for Track Days, possibly leading to competition.

The report is really helpful for someone who has not bought one before. The only place I can find suppliers of Arai or Bell etc are Demon Tweaks and other internet companies. Can anyone tell me if there is a shop in the Cambridge area that sells helmets suitable for car track days; as I need to try on several makes to find the best fit.

Thanks driving

MECL Wheels

3 posts

3 months

Friday 29th January
quotequote all
I’m a wheelchair user after breaking my neck. I’m going to be driving through Africa in an open top vehicle. I’m looking for a flip front helmet due to heat and communication ( as well as I physically struggle to get a helmet on and off without help). Only problem is I want to fit a HANS device to one. I can’t find one anywhere. Any suggestions?

Bill

44,656 posts

219 months

Friday 29th January
quotequote all
AIUI HANS are designed to mitigate a "hangman's" odontoid peg fracture due to high velocity angled impacts that you might experience in a race car. They also (again AIUI) need a full harness to brace the shoulder component.

I suspect you're better off with a foam collar as used by stuntmen more than racers.

Sounds interesting though, what's the car and the route you're planning?

MECL Wheels

3 posts

3 months

Friday 29th January
quotequote all
It’s called a woodstar ATC (google it as very hard to describe). It has shoulder harness. I’ll look into the foam collar. Still planning my route but from Namibia to Uganda.

Bill

44,656 posts

219 months

Friday 29th January
quotequote all
Looks cool! I drove to Cape Town and en route met a disabled guy (plus support team) doing the same thing in an adapted Discovery auto.