Motorbike Helmets are not Indestructible

What does your average non-motorcyclist do as soon as they get their hands on a helmet? Why smash it of course! They are designed to protect your head so surely they can take all kinds of punishment right?

Wrong.

At work I usually keep my helmet on my desk. Unfortunately that leaves it within arms reach of people who come round to chat. Usually they’re content to plaster their grubby fingerprints all over the visor, but recently a co-worker decided to pick it up and flip it upside down like basketball. “Watch it” I said in horror. Another co-worker (who is also a motorcyclist) jokingly suggested, “why don’t you see if you can drop it?”

In slow motion I turned to the helmet handler and yelled “NO, DON’T!” He then slammed the helmet top-first into the desk, and proceeded to grin at me like it was all a funny joke. He had no idea how motorcycle helmets actually work.

helmet crash dummy

Motorcycle helmets are not indestructible. If they were, they would be almost useless. Helmets work the same way as a car’s crumple zones do, by deforming to absorb the impact. Inside the fibreglass outer shell is a hard foam layer that compresses whenever an impact occurs. If you drop a helmet, this foam compresses slightly, reducing the amount of absorption available for the next impact.

After yelling at the offender for five minutes I explained this. The impact was minor so it’s likely that no significant damage was done, but helmets cost a lot of money (mine cost $350), so seeing someone nonchalantly chuck it around is infuriating.

A long time ago my brother tried on my motorcycle gear. He punched his gloved fists together and exclaimed that with all that protection he felt indestructible. I was surprised, because that is the exact opposite of what I feel when I don the gear. To me, nothing highlights the fragility of the human body more than the several layers of leather, kevlar and foam padding needed just to make a quick trip to the shops.

So let this be a public service announcement to you all – don’t touch that helmet! It’s not your head on the line.

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