My helmet his-story

Movin’ on up: a story of helmetz.

It was the late 1970’s. The Honda CB750 had just come out, and the magazines were talking of a Kawasaki with 900 cc’s about to hit the beaches. Craazzy baby; where will it end, was the question? I was riding a 1971 Honda CB 450, like a bat out of hell, and let me thank that bike right now, for letting me and my genes, live. I did don a skid lid committedly. Safety first. Actually, I did not, at that time, know what that meant. A regular open face helmet with a real snap on visor. Dropped repeatedly, it may have even been thrown at a vehicle or building or two. Not saying that happened; I just think it’s possible. I have some Scottish in me. We’re rock throwers. The only other protection that I had was the steel toed boots, leather gloves, and a leather “special apron”, (wore in the sawmills by lumber sorters) that gave me super powers. I wish. I did feel somewhat invincible in those days, apron aside. Off to the Weyerhaeuser saw mill that employed me. Twice a day, 50 km rounder, 5 to 6 days a week. Rain, shine, snow, hangover… whatever. What I lacked in experience, became more experience, every day. And a healthy dose of Energiser Bunny attitude. Don’t leave home without it.

I remember the day well even though it has been 40 years since. We were moving, to a house in town, God I love moving, doesn’t everyone?  Maybe a 10 mile drive; my mother, brother, and me, our version of a famdamily. Friends were helping, bless ‘em. Kelly M rode my Honda 450 into town, and I just assumed he had his bike licence as he drove his wheels just like the rest of us; Hill Billy style. He was competent. I don’t think it even crossed my mind to ask, actually. He was just ahead of us, and I drove the pickup, with the crew. He was a crazy young lad with an easy smile, blond hair and a swagger that seemed to attract the girls. Unlike me. To make a long story shorter, Kelly drove the Honda off of a sharp corner at 45 mph. He was barely 16. I can breathe in now, because he lived, very well thank you. I was the one who gently pulled the helmet from his bloody face. I kept that helmet for some time, but have misplaced it over the years. Kelly would spend 6 weeks in traction so that his fractured neck would heal enough to go home, and continue mending. That helmet was scraped up badly. He must have dragged his head on the ground, more than once, yet he walked away. Well, he walked to the ambulance. Obviously that old helmet may have been a game changer. Even a cheap flap of plastic on the crown of ones skull might do some good, if one lands correctly. Having said that, more head surface area covered probably means less chance of splatter or scrapes occurring. Las Vegas odds are that we may not be as lucky.  I drove the motorcycle home, after the ambulance sped away, and I had my old lid on. The bike was severely bent, yet ran great. That wouldn’t last too long. (Another story where even a broken bike is theft worthy!)

Nothing says freedom of choice like a helmet. The variety is only limited by imagination, not forgetting safety. From looking like eggs, to an alien fresh off the Enterprise, to something out of Terminator, there is a style for everyone. Nowadays, your helmet may have a speaker system that talks to you with a sexy feminine voice, stating that your camera is ready, or you’ve just got mail. Sunglasses are delivered with a smack. Remember that scene from the movie Easy Rider and Jack Nicholson’s helmet? “Oh, I’ve got a helmet,” he says, grinning maniacally. Beyond classic. I think it was a football helmet. The lid I wear right now is only a year old, and I would rate it on the lower end of the consumer scale, albeit a step up from Jack’s. Looks good enough, handles all my electronics, maybe not so solid, buuut … maybe I’m a butt man. My wife would say, butt head. Ha! She is such a kidder.

I need, and want, a new helmet. When a need meets a want… Asking for suggestions will most assuredly illicit responses as varied as there are helmet choices. I know one thing, I am a dedicated wearer of optical enhancement, aka, prescription spectacles and many helmets do not have a fitment that allows for eyeglasses to easily fit, and wrap the ear that cradles them. Longer hair can tangle that process more. Luckily my receding hair is also shedding. I like retractable shades in a helmet, but I’m not so sure that’s a deal breaker. If I’m out for more than a quick commute, I have my small, but wonderful selection of cameras with me. That’s a small pile, of which I have become accustomed to packing, and always have my prescription sunglasses nearby. I am somewhat of the mule mindset. My clothing is pocket littered, a Leatherman here, an eye drop there, a tissue dear. I’m a sensitive, poetic, guy, who may not live it, but remembers his Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared”. I was terrible scout. My helmet fits neatly into the trunk, next to my rain gear, making that compartment, pretty much full. I don’t like hanging me helmet off the side of the bike as I have too much electronic paraphernalia on it. I’m slightly paranoid concerning my fellow ship mates. I must say though, I’ve left my helmet exposed for long periods of time over the years and never had a problem.

At 18 the small open face helmet I used was the most secure protection I wore. Approaching 58 should mean I have learned something about that safety first bla bla. I have seen enough death and destruction to make me, at least, wary. There must be a boy scout badge that insists one wears a helmet, however useless, when wrapping ones legs around a tank of gasoline, attached to a hot, sparking engine, and then flying across some type of road surface well beyond a walking speed. Anyways, as it is written it shall soon be. I’ll wait until spring to open my wallet. All I have to do is live that long. Then I’m getting a new lid. Mamasan is due too. Her little pink HJC has got some mileage on it. Good for her.

Has to be a full face helmet. I aint eating no more bugs at 120 kmph. And with good ventilation. My current helmet is a heat synch on warm days. What make to get?  HJC, Arai, $ Shuberth $ ? Holy poop on the deck matey, helmet cornucopia. Too much for what’s left of my brain. The research begins, and it will take this entire summer, and as we’re not going too far this year, it’ll work out well. Wow, my wife, the accountant, will surely endorse the planning, procedure and policy, I have just laid out. I have already been warming her up to the expenditure, as she has a better helmet than mine, and she must surely be racking up feelings of guilt at the same rate that I am acquiring new arthritic aches. Damn you wet coast! Kidding, it’s pretty nice here, really. Even when it’s not. I know most people make the new helmet purchase Johnny on the spot, and patience is not my usual practise, but I am learning that it does have some value. Too oft I’ve bought on a whim, and the end result was not what I wanted. Such is our society today, wanting it all, and yesterday, and for free. No, this is one purchase I probably won’t buy used, as I like to do, or in a hurry. Hard to spot a cracked foam on a used helmet, and bed bugs are so hot right now. I want excellent fitment also, as I do more filming than I ever thought I could, thanks to retirement. And it must compliment my riding style, kind of a cross between Evil Knievel, Carl Fogarty and Bob Hannah, (I wish).  Now that’s dating myself.

Yep, I want a good one. And that does not have to mean the $1000 wallet spill. Helmets are technically, pushing there safe life span at, dare I say 6 years? Why spend a bundle on an item that already has a throw away date? I suppose that could be said about me. Ahem. I’m thinking of an upper mid-level, lower top end helmet. Electronics fit will also be a factor. I don’t need factory speakers pre-installed, as they will out date too quickly. We are currently Sena users, on our communications gear, and really like it. Hmmm, they have a newfangled helmet that is loaded with their own sound products. Sounds nice. Then again, that would most assuredly be a mail order item. Try sending that back because it don’t fit my peculiarly dinted egghead! As a comment I received a while back said, “Shite”! I think that’s pronounced ‘shhhee-ite. I know my lid will make the summer, and hope I do also, so with a hum and a haw here, a glance and a try on there, YouTube reviews a viewed, next spring’s purchase is well under way. That may seem like a long wait for some, but Crocodiles only get lovin’ once a year. And they have been around longer than us. Patience. Am I an adult now?  

Let me end with a few words for those lost souls who don’t wear a helmet just because they can, or it don’t feel good, or say they have no fear of death, or whatever misguided excuse they have. I’ll be exhibit A. Wasn’t too many years ago I had a very close brush with death, the reason I have been pretty much unable to work a usual job, or do a lot of the stuff I used to take for granted. I actually had a few chats with death, while in the hospital dyeing room, and God/he/she/it/entity/hallucination recommends helmets. Death is going to get you anyway, go ahead and take some the precautions. Over the years that I have been recovering, and still am, I have been a firsthand witness to the pain, stress and burden I have become at times. Death of course, is a brutal shock to those around you, but it is the easier way out.  Lotsa tears and you may have just left your kids and spouse completely on their own, but time will pass, and they will move on. Worst case scenario is you get seriously injured, unable to change your own shorts, or maybe no longer walking. This affects everyone around you long term. Friends, family, co-workers, even your banker will avoid you. You’ll start to spell Harsh with a capital H. If your possibly banged up brain still functions up to speed. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about those around you. Ripples in the pond my friend, ripples in the pond. To set an example you need to be an example. You can still be a bad ass. Join the marines. Although, they wear helmets, I might add. Just saying. Don’t be so greedy. You’re better than that.

This summer is already on us and we must get out there. As Uncle Mike always says, “we are one day closer to next winter”. Freakin’ Yukoners. Thanks Uncle Mike, now shut up. Let’s get out there and ride, and remember your lid, whatever it may be. That’s an order soldier.