What Do I Need To Know About Helmets?

[AWN] What is the difference, if any, between motorcycle helmets and car racing helmets? Motorcycle helmets carry Snell "Mxx" ratings, where "xx" is the year of the Snell Foundation specs to which they conform; auto racing helmets carry "SAxx" ratings ("SA" stands for "Special Applications").

The Snell specs are updated every 5 years, so the newest helmets carry "SA95" or "M95" ratings. A helmets must have a Nomex liner and are, therefore, more fire-resistant than M helmets.

In order to get the Snell rating, both types of helmets must pass a series of identical impact tests. In addition, the SA helmets must pass a test designed to simulate impact with a rollbar.

Also, the "SA" standard allows a minimum eyeport size that’s smaller than the minimum allowed by the "M" standard.

Some manufacturers include aerodynamic features on their SA helmets that wouldn’t make sense to put on an M helmet, and many SA helmets are available with provisions for forced-air cooling or emergency air supplies that are inappropriate or unnecessary for M helmets.

Manufacturing costs being what they are, most manufacturers build their SA and M helmets identically (with the exception of the inner liner), so it’s possible that a particular M helmet might meet the SA impact tests. You can’t RELY on this being true, however, and if your sanctioning body requires an SA helmet, you’ll need to have one.

[KS] Just buy SA95. Many clubs (not just SCCA and not just for racing) require SA ratings and will not accept M ratings. Also, the 90 refers to the year of the Snell standard. Most clubs stop accepting a Snell standard after a certain number of years, so that a Snell 95 helmet will be accepted at events five years longer than a Snell 90 helmet.

[KS – 99/11/21] Every five years the Snell helmet standards are updated. I’ve heard that the Snell SA00 standards are being delayed as usual, but I haven’t checked their website to find out more. If the past is a guide, the standards will be finalized some time during 2000, and the manufacturers will take a while tooling up and then filling back orders, so that Snell SA00 helmets won’t be easily available until some time in 2002. You can do a lot of track events between now and then, so I agree, if you need a helmet, there’s no need to wait until the Snell SA00 ones are out.

Choosing A Helmet

[AWN] First, you don’t need to spend more than three or four hundred dollars or so.  A lot of helmets are more expensive than that, but in general, their features are unnecessary. For example, you don’t need to buy the $850 Bell Feuling SS; it’s expensive only because its aerodynamic design is specific to Indy-Car cockpits. Similarly, you don’t need to buy a megabucks Stand 21 helmet; they’re extraordinarily light, but you’re not going to be pulling 3Gs in your car, so you don’t need to spend those outrageous prices for every last ounce of weight savings.

Light weight, within reason, IS sorta nice, though… So if you can afford it, pay a few extra dollars for a kevlar helmet rather than a fiberglass one. My helmet’s a kevlar Bell AFX-1 Pro; it cost about a hundred dollars more than a more-or-less equivalent fiberglass helmet.

Personally, I wouldn’t even consider buying a helmet made by anyone other than Bell or Simpson. I’m sure many people would disagree; this is just my personal opinion.

[KS – 99/9/7] I’ve been making calls regarding ordering loaner helmets for the club, and I’ve been told that Simpson helmets have a more comfortable fit than Bell, and Shoei more comfortable than either one. Our new mail order vendor carries all three brands plus Bieffe.

I’d probably go with one of the superlightweight helmets (it’s worth the extra money if you do this a lot).

[LE – 99/12/23] You can see Simpson’s products online at http://www.simpsonraceproducts.com

Properly Sizing A Helmet

[AWN] The salespeople at the shops should be able to give you some advice, but the important thing to remember is that there should be ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that you can remove a buckled helmet by reaching behind your head and pulling the thing forward. If you can remove the helmet this way, it’s too big and NOT SAFE.

POC members, of course, don’t need to worry about buying helmets too big for their heads… It’s a physical impossibility.

Anyway, when in doubt, go with the smaller helmet size.

Sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer (and model to model), so make sure that you find your size by trying on the specific model that you want.  After you put the helmet on, buckle it and make sure you can’t pull it off your head. Then grab it and rotate it left and right; if it rotates freely without deforming your face, it’s too loose.

Next, let go of the helmet and just shake your head back and forth. If, after a few shakes, the helmet doesn’t return to its original position (that is, if you have to reach up and re-center it in order to see out the eyeport again), it’s too loose. You should also try nodding your head forward and back.

Finally, leave the helmet on (with the visor up, if you like) for about half an hour and see if it gives you a headache. If it does, it may be too tight.

Also, if you wear glasses under your helmet, make sure that you can put them on through the visor… Some helmets (like my Bell AFX-1) have pretty small eyeports, so this can be difficult. You may want to check this even if you have perfect vision, in case you ever want to wear sunglasses under the helmet.

One more thing… Once you find a helmet that you think you like, get in your car while wearing it and make sure that the eyeport’s positioned/sized appropriately so that you can see your instruments. You do NOT want to have to crane your neck downward to see your tach or your oil-pressure light.

More stuff:

  1. These days, a lot of helmets are made of Kevlar instead of fiberglass. That AFX-1 of mine is Kevlar, and it's a lot lighter than my old fiberglass helmets.
  3. If you buy an extra visor (maybe a dark tinted one), spend an extra ten bucks and get the Bell pivot-screw hex wrench and "pivot kit" (two pivot screws, two washers, and a lock-down button)... The Bell wrench (actually just a little "key") won't let you accidentally strip out the threads, and you'll want the extra screws and washers in case you lose or break one changing visors.
  5. Helmet bags are nice, but a little expensive for what they are... See if the shop will throw one in with a helmet purchase.
  7. Even with built-in vents, etc., most helmets will fog up. I've always just used the Rain-X anti-fog products (or a little soapy water in a pinch), but a few months ago, I discovered something called the Fog City Fog Shield. It's just a clear film that you stick on the inside of the visor, and it's absolute MAGIC... It keeps the visor fog-free, with no re-application or special maintenance required.
  9. Even though they're hot and a bit uncomfortable, think about buying a balaclava (those Nomex "head socks" or "hoods"). Aside from the extra fire-protection it gives you (about which you may or may not care), it'll keep the inside of your helmet from smelling like a locker-room, and from soaking up whatever greasy kid stuff you put in your hair. Depending upon the series in which you plan to be competing, you may be required to wear a hood anyway.

What Helmets Do People Recommend?

[AWN] Stand 21 stuff is great… Their helmets are REALLY light. You’re not going to be pulling 3Gs in your NSX, though, so you don’t need to spend those outrageous prices for every last ounce of weight savings. If I were you, I’d buy a Bell or Simpson helmet. I wouldn’t even CONSIDER any other manufacturers. I assume that you already know to get an SA-90 or SA-95 helmet, and to avoid the "M" motorcycle helmets. M helmets are designed for different types of impacts, and aren’t required to be fire-resistant. Bell’s number is 800 237-2700; Simpson’s is 800 654-7223.


[BH – 99/2/18] When I drove at Charlotte Motor Speedway this week, SA90 or SA95 was required. The most common helmet on all drivers there was the Bell M2 or the Bell Sport 2. I had tried both of these from Racer Wholesale (http://www.racerwholesale.com) who seem to be a good company to deal with. The Sport 2 was what I really wanted (in black) but had too narrow of an eye port for my glasses (although I wear contacts when driving I wanted the option, this helmet will be with me for a while). The Bell M2 and Sport 2 are both around $260.

[KT – 99/6/14] I have an HPC brand helmet which is an open faced helmet that can be had for as little as $99. Snell 95 approved and seems like good quality. I’ve been using it for nearly 4 years now.

[KS – 99/9/7] I looked through the information and decided on the Bell M2 (liked the price and the enlarged eyeport for eyeglasses), did the measurement thing, and ordered one over the phone from Northstar Motorsports, a local speed shop (about 45 minutes away) with whom I had done business. It came a few days later. I cannot imagine a more uncomfortable helmet! It felt like my cheekbones were in a vise that someone had as tight as they could. Make a long story short, I went out to Northstar and exchanged it for a much more comfortable Bell Sport II. But this is why I keep telling folks to try on the helmets in person if at all possible (and yes, go ahead and pay a few extra bucks by buying it from your local vendor; he’s providing a valuable service by having them in stock for you).

[SA – 99/9/7] I will put in my two cents regarding the Bell M2. I purchased this helmet after going to a speed shop and getting fitted for a helmet. This involves measuring the circumference of your head, and then converting that to a helmet size, and then (most important) trying on the helmet to see if it fits.

First, the M2 is an SA95 helmet with a fiberglass (composite) shell. There are more advanced helmets that offer lighter weight (such as a kevlar composite), but they are more spendy. My understanding is that the light weight helmets are real important when driving a car with high G loads. The NSX has relatively low G loads (less than 1.0) making the more advance material not worth my money.

Also, I wear glasses. The M2 offers a wider eyeport. It is easy to put on your glasses (after you have the helmet on) and the wide eyeport offers excellent peripheral vision.

I had a chance to use the helmet for about 6, 1/2 hour track sessions and it was very comfortable. It fit tight (like it should) but there was no discomfort.

The M2 goes for around $275 – $300, but it seemed well worth the money.

[SE – 99/2/17] I bought the Bell Kevlar "Vortex TA" and would highly recommend it. The TA stands for "Turbo Air". The helmet comes with two fans in the front [connects to 2 9volts or can be hard wired] to help circulate air throughout the helmet. This is a great option for "Phoenix heat". The price…around $800, which I would gladly pay for my head and I would expect that anyone’s head who owns an NSX is worth at least that!

[BCO – 2000/8/9] I’m very happy with the M2, and I believe others own them – Marc, Doug, Chris. The M2s do run a little small, so if you have an "average to large" noggin, get the largest size.

Where To Buy A Helmet

[AWN] Pegasus Racing and Racer Wholesale are two mail-order companies that stock a large selection of helmets, but you really need to try a bunch of them on to find one that fits your particular head. Here in Southern California, there are a whole BUNCH of race-supply shops, but since I don’t know where you live, I can’t recommend one in your area.

[KS] If at all possible, buy a helmet in person at a motor sports outlet where you can try on a number of different models and sizes. I had mine shipped (from a local outlet about an hour away) and tried a couple before I figured out I’d be able to find a good fit much easier by going there in person (which I did today).

[AV – 99/9/8] The following vendor gives 15% off and free shipping to NSXCA members. Don’t forget to have your membership card and number handy when ordering.

Kyle Seipel

 Helmet City, 381 26th St, Oakland CA 94612
 888-343-5638, 510-893-4409 fax

[KS – 99/9/7] Those in the Chicago area who wish to try on and buy helmets in person can go to Northstar Motorsports in Barrington; check out their info at http://www.northstarmotorsports.com

[NM – 99/2/17] Several people ask me about where to get wholesale race gear over the Internet (helmets, suits, clothing, bags, etc) at prices MUCH lower then Racer Wholesale. The place I got my stuff was at Bell Motorsports at http://www.bellmotorsports.com where you can find Snell 95 helmets for as little as $79 and high top fire resistant driving shoes for $29 on closeout. Check it out. Even their non-closeout stuff is much cheaper then Racer Wholesale and they even give you their prices to compare.

[KS – 99/11/21] If you know exactly what you want you can get some great prices from Helmet City (http://www.helmetcity.com), which gives 15 percent off their already-low Internet prices to members of the NSX Club of America.

[BT – 2000/8/9] Best prices on helmets is through http://www.helmetshop.com 

[BCO – 2000/8/9] One of the best deals I found for a nice high quality fiberglass Bell M2 helmet is at: http://www.helmetcity.com/helmets/fiber_bell.html Retail it lists at $289.99, but Helmet City offers a 15% discount to NSXCA members. About $245 after discount, and they provide free 3-day FedEx shipping. Call 1-888-343-5638 and ask for Kyle Seipel. 

How Can I Paint A Helmet?

Herm Johnson, at Just Herm Designs (715 835-6026) charges a flat $450 to do a helmet, no matter how complex the design is. http:/www.justhermdesigns.com 

Troy Lee Designs’ prices start at around $300 and go WAY up from there, but he also sells decal kits that you can install and clearcoat yourself. Decal kits are around $30; you can reach Troy Lee at 909 371-5219.

Larry Ferguson, at The Art of Racing here in the San Diego area (619 744-8623), will do a basic design for around $300.

You can also paint your helmet yourself; if you buy a decal kit from Troy Lee, you can paint one or two basic colors, then apply the decals, then clearcoat the thing and end up with a real nice-looking helmet for very little money.

If you paint the helmet yourself, make sure that you do two things:

  1. Before painting, clean the helmet with one of the commercial wax/grease removers (available at your local automotive-paint supply store), then sand the helmet's surface (and, of course, clean it again after sanding).
  3. Use acrylic enamels, NOT lacquers; lacquers can damage the helmet shell.

[KS] My helmet was painted as follows, all on a white background. The back of the helmet has a huge painting of a red NSX with the Chicago skyline in the background (similar to the mousepad photo). One side has the NSX logo. The other side has the Acura logo. And across the top of the visor is my name. The thing is friggin beautiful. (This guy’s term for art appreciation.) You can see it at our April 12-13 track event in Indiana.

Warning: This is not cheap. We haven’t talked price this time around but I’m figuring several hundred bucks. You can pay less for a simpler paint scheme though. And I recommend using an SA95 helmet so the later Snell rating can be used for a long time to come.

The fellow who painted it can paint anything you want on a helmet. All the arrangements can be made via mail and phone. I’ve done all the arranging through his brother, Bruce Bender, who is reachable by phone after 6 p.m. Central time at 815-436-7256. He can also send you photos of mine.

[TSI – 99/8/11] A good friend of mine is an extremely talented graphics artist. Check out his work! http://www.blowsion.com/blowsion/pages/helmets/helmets.htm

How About Neck Collars?

A neck collar is a foam piece that goes around your neck and under your helmet. In an accident, the bottom of your helmet is slowed and cushioned by the brace before your chin hits your chest.

[KS] I like using this collar for two additional reasons having nothing to do with a possible accident. It prevents my head from leaning to the sides in turns. And by holding the helmet up it keeps the top of the visor area from pressing down on my glasses.

What About Communications?

[KS] When I was shopping for these two years ago, I picked up a copy of Cycle World and looked through the ads. The kind I wanted was the Nady PMC-2, which is a wired communicator (they also make a wireless version for more money). The cheapest price listed was $46.95 from:

Donelson Cycles Inc.

 9851 St. Charles Rock Rd.
 St. Ann MO 63074
 314-427-7642 fax

There are now two different PMC-2 models available, one for open-face helmets and one for full-face helmets; the latter has a two-piece mike that attaches to the inside of the helmet. Current Donelson price is $49.95 for the open-face model (which I think is what I have, and it works fine for any kind of helmet) and $59.45 for the full-face model.

You can find out more about the Nady communicators at their website, http://www.nadywireless.com.  Click on "Motorcycle Electronics" and then on "Nady Intercoms and Bike-to-Bike Communicators". But I didn’t see anything there about open-face vs full-face. Nady’s number is 510-652-2411.

[MCA] My instructor at the last school (MidOhio) used a Chatterbox HJC-40, which clips onto the side of the helmet (no bulky "walkman" unit). His had a built-in earpiece on his headset, but it accepts standard headset inserts

[WM] I just ordered 2 full-duplex intercom thingys for the track event at NSXPO. When I was at the NSX NY Fall Classic at Bridgehampton with the Porsche instructors, they had these things that fit inside your helmet and allow 2-way communication between the instructor and passenger. They are definitely worth it because you can’t hear your instructor yelling through a helmet. They are standard motorcycle pieces and I ordered mine through JC Whitney. The ordering information:

JC Whitney

 312-431-6102 (they don't have an 800 number)
 Page 155
 Item #: 03BF9802X - $69.95 - Standard
 OR #: 03BF9803N - $79.95 - With an FM Radio built in

If they ask, the yellow box on the catalog has 612J in it and the blue box has NCBF4

Both of the above are full-duplex but they do have a $40 cheap looking version (# 81BF4395B) that doesn’t mention whether it is full duplex or not and looks like it would be difficult to mount the mouth piece.

If you mention it, they will give you a 10% discount just for saying that you want a 10% discount.

At the Track