Is An Expensive Helmet a Safe Helmet? A Look at Helmet Safety Ratings and Price

“If you have a $10 head, buy a $10 helmet. If your head is worth more, buy a Bell.” That was the famous ad that Bell ran in the 1970’s and it’s still often quoted today when people talk about motorcycle gear, especially motorcycle helmets. It sounds right – who puts their faith in something cheap over an expensive item, especially when it comes to safety? But how true is that today? Is that $700 Shoei really what you need to keep your head safe or can you get away spending only $150? We’ve collated as much data as we can and analysed the correlation between helmet prices and their safety and the results are pretty surprising.

We took our data from the UK Government organisation SHARP, the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme. It provides by far and away the most comprehensive motorcycle helmet safety testing data available freely online. It’s obviously UK centric though, so we’ve stripped out the helmets that aren’t readily available internationally. We also removed all models that appear to be discontinued and finally only included brands that had at least three helmets rated once the above criteria was met.

Below we have charted those remaining helmets, and you can them see by each helmet listed individually and by a brand as a whole. Hover your mouse over the individual circles to see the helmet name, its rating and its price. Note that the prices on the Y-Axis are in Pounds Sterling (£).

Now let’s do some analysis.

If we put a trend line through the graph like below, you can see that the trend is that the higher the helmet rating the higher the price, but only marginally. In fact the most expensive helmet in our data, the Arai RX-7 GP only receives a 4 star rating from SHARP, but costs £589, or around $1,000. Compare that to either the G-Mac Pilot or the Viper RS-33, both of which are the equally cheapest helmets in our data and cost only £40 or around $65. Like the Arai, they also receive a 4 star rating.

Helmet Safety and Price All Helmets

To demonstrate it even more starkly, the Schuberth S1 Pro is listed at £450 and only received a 2 star safety rating from SHARP. It received ‘Poor’ results for both left and right side impact tests and yet it is more expensive than all the 5 star rated helmets except three.

The cheapest 5 star helmet you can buy is the Nitro Aikido which costs £70 or around $120 on Amazon. The Nitro Aikido was first released back in 2011 and is still produced today. They’re a good example of why you shouldn’t take brands on face value either. If you’d previously heard about the Aikido and it’s great value for money, you may have assumed that the rest of the Nitro range was as good.  And while the Aikido is damn good for the price, it’s the company’s only 5 star helmet – they even have a few 2 star rated helmets for sale. In fact,  the safety of Nitro’s helmets almost increases as the price decreases:

Helmet Safety and Price Nitro Helmets

On the flipside, the most expensive helmet money can buy if you want a 5 star rated helmet is the AGV Corsa.  The AGV Corsa is listed at £550, or around $750 at Revzilla.  But if safety is your only concern and you really want to wear the same brand Rossi wears, you can save yourself $450 and buy the AGV Stealth. Again, this shows that helmet price doesn’t necessarily correlate with helmet safety.

Helmet Safety and Price AGV Helmets

Of the major brands by far and away the most disappointing is Schuberth. Not only is the average price of their helmets the most expensive of all the brands featured here, they also have no helmets with a safety rating of 5.  But they do have two helmets with a safety rating of 2. If there’s any example of expensive helmets not equalling safety then Schuberth is it.

Helmet Safety and Price Schuberth Helmets

So how much is your head worth? Well, if you’re short on funds, about £70 for a Nitro Aikido. But while a helmet like the Nitro Aikido provides the same amount of safety as the AGV Corsa or Shark Race R Pro which cost up to seven times more, does it make it necessarily a good helmet?

Of course not, and safety and price are just two of many factors you should consider. But don’t be fooled by the price (or brand) of a helmet. Never is the phrase ‘Buyer Beware’ more important than when it comes to protecting your head. If someone had asked you before reading this article if you thought a $700 Schuberth S1 Pro was safer than a $120 Nitro Aikido, I’m sure you would have gone for the former.

In part two of this story which will be published later in the week, we’ll take a look at the best five helmets that are rated 5 stars, including comfort, noise levels and price.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Jacket – An Airbag Jacket You’ll Actually Want to Wear

Alpinestars has released details of their brand new airbag system under the Tech-Air name and it works in a way no other motorcycle jacket airbag system has worked before. Everything is integrated into the jacket – you put in on and away you go.

Up until now, there have been two different systems used for motorcycle jacket airbags available for street use. The first and cheapest was by way of a tether attached between the jacket and the motorcycle. When the rider comes off the bike, the tether is pulled out of its clamp and the airbag inflates. It’s a cumbersome system that requires the rider to attach/reattach every time they get on and off the bike, and it would’t inflate if you lowsided and remained within a short distance of the bike.

The second system was offered by Dainese which involved sensors in the jacket wirelessly communicating with a second system installed on the motorcycle.  This system had to be installed by an authorized technician and is currently only available in continental Europe (though there is one dealer in the United Kingdom). Dainese has more recently teamed up with Ducati which has the D-Air system built into some of their bikes.

But the Alpinestars solution is by far the most elegant. First of all, it can be used on any bike. There’s no requirement to tether the system to your motorcycle or have a seperate computer installed on the bike. This allows you to easily switch between bikes without re-configuring or re-initializing the the setup. The system is completely housed within the jacket and is self-contained, requiring no pre-configuration and is immediately ready for use. As a result, no sensors or equipment needs to be installed on the motorcycle and no time is needed in setting up electronic pairing between rider and/or passenger and motorcycle.

 

So, how does it work? Obviously Alpinestars are keeping things close to their chest because this is a big leap forward in the technology. But they state that they have formulated some very sophisticated software algorithms to predict the impact, ensuring the airbag is deployed before the rider hits an obstacle. Amazingly, the jacket will work both on the street and off-road and there’s no need to deactivate the system if leaving the road for off-road trails or to stop in between to change settings. Changing surfaces while adventure riding therefore presents no problem

It gets even better. The actual unit will be interchangeable with other compatible Alpinestars jackets, so theoretically you can have a jacket for winter, one for summer and even I suppose one for the track, and switch the airbag and control unit between each.  At launch they’re offering two jackets, the Valparaiso touring jacket and the Viper street jacket with more to come. The electronic unit is protected by a durable and water-resistant casing which, when worn under a compatible outer jacket, means the airbag system is fully weatherproof.

There’s a few downsides though. Like the Dainese offering, you will need to charge the control unit. It offers 25 hours battery life and one hour of charging equates to about four hours of operation. Also, if you are in a crash, you’ll need to send the jacket to Alpinestars (or a licensed dealer) to have the airbag and inflators replaced. That’s not something you’ll obviously (hopefully) need to do often, but it is a hassle. Regardless of a crash or not, the system needs to be serviced once very two years.

But given the benefits of this, that extra hassle and cost is worth the added protection. The new Tech-Air will be available in Spring 2015 with pricing yet to be disclosed and will potentially offer the first leap forward in rider protection in decades.

Ride to Live – New Motorcycle Safety Campaign

Ride to Live is a new safety initiative just launched by the State Government of New South Wales. In addition to the usual tips and and pointers that are good for new and old riders alike, there’s some great interactive tests on the website and excellent videos on things that we sometimes take for granted.

The campaign was created around the premise of what keeps motorcyclists safe – making good decisions. The campaign gives riders useful information about the risks they face on the road and how they can best manage them. What’s really good though is that the Ride to Live campaign hasn’t been created by a group of desk bound bureaucrats that hate motorcycles and motorcyclists. It’s had strong input from the main motorcycling organisations in New South Wales, including the NSW Motorcycle Alliance and the Motorcycle Council of NSW.

Another great aspect of the campaign is that it also targets drivers. “Right from the start, it was essential for us that this motorcycle safety campaign did not just talk to motorcyclists, but to drivers as well,” Margaret Prendergast, Centre for Road Safety General Manager said. “This is why we have developed a television ad that specifically speaks to drivers.

“The ad challenges drivers to think about how closely they look for motorcyclists. It reminds drivers to check blind spots and look out for motorcyclists, so they can help them ride to live.”

A sobering statistic is that there were almost 2700 motorcyclists killed or injured in NSW last year and even though motorcycles only represent 4 per cent of motor vehicle registrations, they account for 21 per cent of all road fatalities and 12 per cent of all road injuries. The campaign targets commuter and recreational riders and addresses the different risks they face. Commuter riders are more likely to have crashes with other vehicles and at intersections, while recreational riders are more prone to single vehicle crashes or incidents on curves.

Visit the website here, which also features some great ideas for motorcycle trips, and also check out the YouTube videos here.