Who doesn’t tell the Motorcycle Helmet Story–the manufacturers

There’s two groups that don’t tell the Helmet Story, and I don’t mean the rabid anti-helmet folks.

No, one group is the helmet manufacturers themselves. And my next guess is that many of you are strenuously objecting right now—so let’s take a look at the most popular helmets in the USA (in no particular order).

First of all, all helmets sold in the USA have to meet, at minimum, DOT standards—and that information is available on the sites. But, we’ll take a look at standards in another entry.

Arai “You could go through a bunch of cheaper helmets in the lifespan of just a single 5-year-warranty Arai – and wind up spending more in the long run. Worse, you’d miss out on Arai’s legendary comfort, fit, features, and feeling of confidence along the way. A helmet is something you’re going to spend too much time and too many miles in to not ensure that every bit of it is a pleasure. So compromise somewhere else.”[i]

Iow Arai takes the same approach L’Oreal hair color took with women: yes it’s more expensive, but you’re “worth it.” But nothing in the manufacturer’s site says safety is what the rider is buying.

Shoei doesn’t say it’s reduces injuries or prevents death either: In the section “Inside A Shoei Helmet” there’s a subsection, “SHOEI ACTIVE SAFETY”: “As opposed to “passive safety” that is ensured by compliance with Snell and DOT safety standards, “active safety” defines the further improvements made by SHOEI to ensure that maximum comfort is achieved, allowing the rider to devote all of his or her focus to riding. Advanced helmet features such as our anatomically-shaped comfort liner for optimum helmet fitment, lowest possible weight to reduce stress on the neck muscles, and effective ventilation system for temperature regulation and reduction in wind noises all serve to further improve the safety of the rider. Further development and continued improvement in the areas of safety and comfort technology are SHOEI’s primary goals.”

Shoei implies that safety is synonymous with comfort and that’s “active” safety. Safety is defined as the rider paying more attention, having a cooler head (which is only hot because they’re wearing a helmet) and is quieter (though the helmet itself is causing much of the noise which Shoei then dampens). All that is a limited truth because comfort can just as easily led to inattention. But that’s not why we buy helmets.[ii]

HJC doesn’t claim its helmets do anything either:  “With the addition of the helmet models mentioned above, it is clear that HJC continues to be a brand that is friendly to motorcyclists around the world providing safe, comfortable, stylish and affordable helmets.”

In the section “Helmet Usage” HJC comes the closet to claiming that its helmet will reduce injury or death:  “To reduce the risk of serious injury or death…” “and to help prevent damage to your helmet” …“always use your helmet correctly.” However, this doesn’t say the helmet reduces the risk. Rather, its what the rider does that will reduce the risk.

But that’s a half-truth. A rider can vastly reduce the risk of a crash by what he or she does (and that includes using the helmet correctly) but once the crash occurs, the rider can’t reduce the risk of injury or death—that’s exactly what a helmet is supposed to do. But that’s not what HJC claims.

Nolan Helmets has a truly ridiculous claim: “…since the early 1970’s, Nolan began using sophisticated materials to bring optimum performance to motorcycle riders at a competitive price.” Iow, it’s not skill or judgment that makes a rider perform as best  (but not necessarily safely) as they can. Iow, helmets are like tires or a trellis frame or a few hundred extra cc’s. Safety—or even comfort—aren’t appeals that Nolan uses in its advertising.

KBC comes the closest to referencing safety in terms of helmets with its slogan: “Ride Long. Ride Hard. Ride Safe.” It’s also the only manufacturer that states a direct though somewhat ambiguous warning on its website: “PLEASE NOTE: A.  No helmet can protect the user against all foreseeable impacts.”

Scorpion has a section on safety but it doesn’t say its helmets will protect you. Instead it references MSF training (without saying that will keep you safe), has a link to the MSF’s .pdf on helmets and directs readers to the Snell Foundation.

Safety seems to be the last thing on Icon’s mind—as does grammar and coherent thought. Rather, Icon courts and encourages both risk and violence: For example, it describes its new “Airframe Sacrifice” helmet as: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Some will thrive whilst others wither. The Airframe Sacrifice is the former. A warrior’s helm. A leader destined for glory amongst the disposable ranks. Legions of weaker willed troops will break upon it’s chromed brow. There will be no legends passed down to glorify their sacrifice. Only this single heroic helmet and magnificent crest will remain.”

The Airframe Predator is described as: “When this bird shows up, trust us, it’s no party. This foul predator eats your dog’s food, craps over the driveway and one day will probably carry off the cat. We’ve seen it a thousand times.” And the Airframe Death or Glory as: “Some live their life in moderation – a careful balancing act devoid of excess. And that’s fine, the world needs those people. Then there are those who are destined to leave their mark on history’s pages. Those courageous (or stupid) souls who know no such balance. For those few it’s all or nothing. A pure digital lifestyle – Zero or One, Black or White, Death or Glory.”

Icon, though, does have a section called “Survivors” where Icon purchasers relate their various crashes and attribute their well-being to Icon.

Only one manufacturer claims that its helmet saved a life—while Bell also advertises its helmets in terms of ventilation, weight and price it’s the only manufacturer that directly claims that once a helmet saved someone’s life: “In 1955 a guy named Cal Niday plowed into the retaining wall during the Indianapolis 500 and the first Bell comeback was officially underway. The impact fractured his skull, but one of our helmets saved his life.”

But from that point on it uses euphemisms to imply it saves lives without directly claiming they do: “Cal returned to racing a few months later. We’ve been engineering spectacular comebacks ever since….Bell was there when the world’s best riders went down. And with innovations like energy-absorbing liners, the first full-face motorcycle helmet, and more design patents than any helmet company in history, we’ve always been there to help them get back up again. Over the years we earned enough trust to make our name synonymous with motorcycle helmets.”

Iow, if one didn’t know the Helmet Story one would never ever guess from what those who make them that the primary purpose of helmets is to reduce injuries and prevent deaths. But then we do know the Helmet Story thanks to NHTSA and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, which is one of two organizational sister corporations to the Motorcycle Industry Council—to which all the helmet manufacturers belong.

The easy answer is that helmet manufacturers don’t say a helmet can save your life because of fear of liability suits—if they say it, and someone is hurt or dies, then they’ll get sued.

So let’s look at life jacket/vest manufacturers as a comparison. Certainly their products also are supposed to save lives and if they failed, they, too could be sued.

Like helmet manufacturers every one states their products meet standards—but, unlike helmet manufacturers they don’t stop there:

The Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association is a trade group like MIC and states on its homepage, “Most drowning victims had access to a Personal Flotation Device, but did not wear it. A wearable PFD can save your life – if you wear it!”

Float-Tech “Safety in the water is something we should all take seriously. One of the easiest things we can do is wear our life preserver, a habit that would have a significant impact on annual drowning.”

Jim BuoyModel #SO-1 – Features Jim Buoy’s remarkable new LIFE-SAVING design that enables an unconscious person to roll over, face-up, with their mouth more than 4 3/4″ above the water in LESS THAN 5 SECONDS!”

Or this from manufacturer Extrasports, “Wherever safety is needed most, rescue experts turn to Extrasport® Swiftwater® rescue PFDs. The right equipment can mean the difference between success and failure, life and death. Our accomplished Swiftwater® rescue line is often called to unexpected places and dangerous water conditions.”

Or Mustang Survival Company that states, “For more than 40 years, Mustang Survival has been committed to providing lifesaving solutions for people exposed to the most hazardous environments. Through constant innovation and application of new technologies we have established ourselves as a leading supplier of survival solutions to the most demanding military, professional, and recreational users.”

The difference between helmet manufacturers and personal flotation device manufacturers could not be more pronounced. And the latter aren’t afraid to mention the elephant in the room—that their products are meant to be used in terrible times. They aren’t afraid to say that their products can mean the difference between living and dying. In fact, they flaunt it.

Nor do they try to justify the purchase by waxing on about comfort or how side effects will make the boater safer. They know why their consumers buy their products and that’s what they sell: we save lives for a living.

The helmet manufacturers sell comfort, ventilation, comparative weight, graphics and swappable faceshields. Notice the difference?

Or how about the opposite side of the spectrum—not preventing death but preventing unwanted life? Durex condoms advertises “Durex condoms …they’re not just about protection against sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.  They’re designed to excite and enhance.”

Or Trojan: “TROJAN® Ultra Thin Spermicidal Lubricant Condoms…

  • Thinnest TROJAN® Latex Condom-Designed for ultra sensation
  • The Strength of a Regular TROJAN® Latex Condom
  • Made from Premium Quality Latex-To help reduce the risk
  • Nonoxynol-9 Spermicide Is On This Condom for extra protection against pregnancy ONLY – NOT for extra protection against AIDS and other STDs
  • Special Reservoir End – For extra safety
  • Each Condom is Electronically Tested – To ensure reliability

CAUTION: Spermicidal lubricants are for extra protection against pregnancy. Spermicidal lubricants are not for rectal use or more-than-once-a-day vaginal use.”

Or, on the feminine side of sexual protection, here’s what Meyer Labs says about Today’s Sponge: “Today Sponge provides effective birth control without “pill” side effects. It is a proven contraceptive with over 150 million sponges sold…”

So if it’s liability that’s the concern, there’s a far greater chance that pregnancy or disease would result trip for trip, so to speak, than a rider has of sustaining a head injury or dying from one. Yet there’s absolutely no doubt about what condom manufacturers are selling—and it’s not reduction but prevention. Comfort and pleasure are added values and not the main benefit when it comes to birth control.

To put this into perspective, then, if helmet manufacturers advertised condoms, it would be all about comfort and pleasure they give without the slightest hint that they’re supposed to prevent pregnancy or disease. Iow, rather like Arai and Shoei advertise helmets.  Personally, I doubt comfort or pleasure are why people buy condoms.

Yet we’ve certainly heard of situations where condoms break or were defective and pregnancy or disease resulted yet that doesn’t stop these manufacturers from stating what their products are meant to do.

Iow, while fear of consumer liability lawsuits is a reasonable explanation for the startling omission of any reference to what helmets are supposed to do, it’s not a very good answer.

Or maybe it’s just a different type lawsuit they fear. Stay tuned…

[i] Arai really does spend a great deal of time justifying its cost: “In the end, what are your comfort and confidence are worth to you? Can you really put a “price” on them? An Arai helmet isn’t inexpensive. It isn’t made to be.” “And when you wear one, it isn’t made to feel good for just an hour or two. It’s made to feel good all day, every day – and to keep feeling good for years, long after cheap helmets have become loose and shabby (and probably had to be replaced more than once).” Notice that the only benefits Arai claims have to do with comfort and not safety:” “You can’t always see the reasons why an Arai feels better, but they’re there: lower weight from aerospace fiberglass-based construction; a lower center of gravity for better balance and less strain; softer single-piece multiple-density liners (whose technology still hasn’t been able to be copied in almost 20 years). Ventilation systems that work in the real world, not just in drawings. A helmet with no “minor” parts. And the result is major: you just feel good. You want to keep riding.”

“That’s why we build our helmets the way we do. Because it’s not about what you pay, it’s about what you get.” “Few of us can afford to own the very best of most things. But with an Arai helmet, you truly can own the very best of something.”

[ii] However, Shoei disagrees with the true experts in helmet’s effectiveness like the late Harry Hurt: “Very thick, soft padding provided good wearing comfort, but it did not hold well at high speeds, leading to helmet buffeting and instability.” http://www.shoei-helmets.com/Safety_ActiveSafety.aspx Hurt, the foremost advocate of helmets and truly effective standards, was very clear:  very thick soft padding absorbs more kinetic energy and is thus safer for the reason we wear helmets: reducing injuries and preventing deaths.

Explore posts in the same categories: Motorcycle crashes, Motorcycle fatalities, Motorcycle helmet use, Motorcycle Industry, Motorcycle injuries, Motorcycle Rights, Motorcycle Safety, Uncategorized

23 Comments on “Who doesn’t tell the Motorcycle Helmet Story–the manufacturers”

  1. Dr. Gary Kieffner Says:

    You’re right as rain, as usual. I have a publishing opportunity for you. I’m thinking about a piece you wrote a few years back partially titled “Riding Half….” but you may want to submit another piece to this publisher. Email me for my new phone number. There is Freedom in the Wind. Revvv

  2. wmoon Says:

    OMG! Gary! DOCTOR Gary! Congratulations! How are you??? Would love to talk to you.

  3. Monster Says:

    Hi Wendy,
    Nice research on helmets. I talked to one of my friends in the helmet business and he backed up what you have pointed out – liability issues. He also mentioned the death by internal injuries thing where the helmet would not even be involved. Related next is a story of a litigation he is in right now and uses it as an example of why the makers won’t use strong language touting the life saving advantages of wearing helmets.

    The case is a 20 something inexperienced rider showing off for his friends at speed on a Yamaha R6. His girlfriend was on the back. He lost control and crashed. The police were told it was a tire blowout due to a faulty tire installation. The girl’s family is suing for 40 million, 10 mil for each set of parents (both the boy’s and the girl’s) and 20 mil for the uninjured boy who had to watch his girlfriend die in his arms. Being sued are Yamaha, the service shop that serviced the bike, the technician who installed the tire incorrectly(?), the mail order house where the helmet came from, the factory that made the helmet, and the U.S. representative of the helmet line. Doesn’t hardly seem fair does it?

  4. vstromer Says:

    Marketing is a fascinating art/science. Icon and Airframe must have hired marketing folks who used to work selling beer, cigarettes, or soft drinks. To sell your product you have to make your potential customers “feel good” about your product. Drink our beer and you’ll be surrounded by beautiful girls. Drink our cola and world peace will result. Smoke our cigarettes and have fun, fun, fun. A “warrior’s helm” indeed!

  5. wmoon Says:

    Monster, re: the case–if it’s true that there was faulty tire installation, well, then that’s a real issue that I don’t have a problem being settled by the court (or more likely before it gets to court). What they’re asking for is totally ridiculous–was the girl moments away from curing all kinds of cancer or some such equal contribution to the good of humanity? and if so, what the hell was she getting on a motorcycle for? If it was faulty tire installation, it doesn’t matter if he was showing off “at speed” as it would’ve blown out, probably, at another time he was “at speed”. But I hate jerkhole attorneys who name everyone they can think of and stupid greedy plaintiffs that let them.

    But then there’s a whole lot of people who blame others for things that are their own damn fault, aren’t there? So that part isn’t new…

  6. wmoon Says:

    Vstromer–so is Icon saying “wear our helmet and you’ll be surrounded by war”? : )

  7. Monster Says:

    I’m guessing that it will prove out that the tire was fine. If it was just the tire, why bring the helmet people in. I only relayed the Reader’s Digest version of the case. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. I’ll try to let you know when it is settled.

  8. wmoon Says:

    Thanks, I look forward to hearing more about the case. My guess is that the idiot lawyer knows nothing about riding and just sued everyone he could remotely connect with the case.

  9. Bill Says:

    “just sued everyone he could remotely connect with the case.”

    In reading, and commenting on, your previous work, I am somewhat confused by that statement.

    As you have theorized, certain organizations are organized in such a way to shield motorcycle manufacturers from liability. Said liability being selling to the public, what are essentially race-ready motorcycles. Chrysler corporation understood this liability, which is why they sell the Tomahawk without the chain installed.

    So here we have a case in which the aforementioned liability may be tested. In which some of your theories may be put to the test. And your reponse is, not what I expected.

  10. wmoon Says:

    Bill, because–with what we know about the accident and even what we non-lawyers know about the law–the helmet was not the proximate cause of the crash nor the cause of the girl’s death. Nor, if what we know is true–does there appear to be gross negligence on the part of the helmet manufacturers (that the helmet was badly constructed). And nothing that was presented stated nor applied (nor is it possible to imagine) that the helmet failed to meet the standards it was supposed to–which is the standard to which it would be held. And, as we’ve just seen, the manufacturers don’t claim a helmet will save a rider’s life–or even prevent injury.

    It may be a lack of imagination on my part but it’s hard to imagine any way that the helmet itself caused her death–and without that, I find it difficult to believe that the manufacturer would be held liable.

  11. Bill Says:

    Ah, gotcha. This is in the comments for a helmet article, so you are thinking specifically of helmets.

    I am focused more on this part:
    “being sued are Yamaha”

    Which may be grist for another entry. How often have motorcycle manufacturers been sued directly, for what reasons, and how successful have those suits been?


  12. Mark Weiss Says:

    From the bicycle helmet standards folks:
    “And if a manufacturer has a new helmet that is much more protective, their corporate attorneys will not permit it to be advertised as superior in preventing injury because they would anticipate losing every lawsuit involving injuries received in that model. So helmet advertising is an exercise in creativity as marketers try to tout their products while never saying anything about their performance.”


  13. Mark Weiss Says:

    A current Arai ad (May 2010 Roadracing World) reads: “Through three generations of he Arai family business, a helmet shell’s job has never changed: Impact energy management. In other words: protecting riders.

    Rider protection comes first.”

    I don’t doubt in the slightest that helmets work and are very effective. My concern is that available motorcycle helmets may not work as well as they could. Football helmet’s energy absorption structures have evolved tremendously in the past decade or so. My 30 year old Shoei S12 however, appears to be disturbingly similar to my newest lid.


  14. wmoon Says:

    Harry told me years ago that helmets have gone as far as they can go with available materials–however, he said, there was a new lining material–little cone shapes–I forget the name of it and am not going to take the time to look up my notes from that conversation with him. He said it would be far more effective at absorbing energy and would be safer. Not only that, it would be much lighter and the helmet would be thinner/weigh a lot less. However, helmet manufacturers were afraid to use them because of fear of lawsuits and none would try them until one of them tried it. It would be a matter of one breaking ranks–or a new company coming out with helmet with the liner and then the others would follow suit–with less fear of lawsuits.

    He was quite disgusted that our safety was compromised because of their fear mixed with greed…

  15. Monster Says:

    I find it interesting that the Motorcyclist testing that was done about two years ago measured the “G” forces that were transmitted through to the head and found that an $80 helmet was the best at absorbing or redistributing the forces of a crash. If I remember, some of the bigger names in helmets refused to supply helmets for that testing as they knew their stuff might not measure up. Something to think about when buying a high dollar lid from one of the big boys.

    As for the comments regarding ICON helmets, they don’t feel the need to parrot the same things as the other people have been saying for years. Their target market doesn’t care about that stuff. They are advertising to their target market, young hot shoe males and females who all know helmets work and want something that fits into their riding look and culture. Those helmets are extremely well made and look pretty cool with some of their artwork. I won’t wear them as I’m not their target, but I can admire their designs in conjunction with who they are selling to. They recognize their market and advertise and sell to it and they’ve been very successful in a short period of time. The fact that Wendy chose to include them in her article shows how visible they’ve become.

  16. wmoon Says:

    What I found most interesting about the Motorcyclist piece was that they (and the British mag Bike) took that idea from an interview I did with Harry Hurt in MCN and ran with it. The second most interesting thing is that an inside source told me that the helmet manufacturers pulled a million in advertising from the mag.

    But it is true–that’s what Harry had found at HPRL–cheaper helmets were better because they were softer and absorbed more energy–not as comfortable, not as quiet–but safer.

    Icon helmets do look cool–but that doesn’t negate the fact that they, by advertising to their demographics, do so by encouraging reckless behavior.

  17. Some helmet manufacturers forsake the quality of their products. That’s why Dalia Gentallan and Dexter Lamparas chooses the finest quality helmets.

  18. Monster Says:

    I think the reckless behavior has been there for a long time. I remember doing wheelies on my Bridgestone 90 in 1966. You could even pull them going into second gear. However, it was much easier on a Honda 65. It had a shade more torque and very little front end weight.

    ICON has just found a way to capitalize on that particular segment of the riding market and they’ve done very well with it with both their helmets and their clothing. Look at all of the others who have introduced like products. Is it a trend or a fad. Longevity will prove which it is. At least their gear is first rate for providing protection. They even have more subdued models for those of us who don’t want pictures of the “subhuman” on our heads, or, dragons or skulls on our jackets.

  19. irondad Says:

    I usually just lurk. This time, though, I had to comment. Never thought I would see Trojans linked to motorcycle safety. What’s next, impact absorbing liners and retention straps?

    Seriously, you really make people think. Which seems to be a lost skill. Nice.

  20. Dave B Says:

    Hey Wendy:

    You OK? Haven’t heard from you in awhile.

  21. wmoon Says:

    Dave, Hanging in there. It’ll be awhile before I can get back to this. Thanks for asking. W.

  22. DataDan Says:

    Can helmets contribute to brain injury? Perhaps.

    It may happen by reducing impact severity to the point that the wearer incurs repeated impacts that don’t produce traumatic brain injury, but which cumulatively result in long-term, chronic brain disease.

    I’m not talking about motorcycling here, but football:

    “The brain of the late Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry contained so many signs of chronic disease – sludge, tangles and threads associated with late-in-life dementia or Alzheimer’s – that it shows a football player can sustain life-altering head trauma without ever being diagnosed with a concussion.

    “The brain damage might have contributed to Henry’s troubled behavior and, ultimately, his death in December at age 26.”


    I’m very skeptical of attributing a long history of behavioral problems to this effect, but the physical evidence described by Drs. Bailes and Omalu seems pretty convincing.

  23. wmoon Says:

    Data Dan, There’s been a lot of research that shows that having experienced earlier concussions can result in more damage from a later one–even if the later one was less severe than the former ones. Iirc, the damage can be exponential even up to more than a year later.

    I hadn’t read anything on that affecting behavior–but it doesn’t surprise me. There’s also something called Post-concussion syndrome. I had that after my last concussion and it certainly affected my behavior. My family and true friends and co-workers were very understanding and over time the symptoms disappeared. But it was miserable while it lasted.

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