Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ask Gabe: Should I Buy a Used Helmet?

This picture of a crash-damaged Quantum is off the Arai website; the rider took out a street sign with his head. He doesn't remember much of that day, but he suffered no permanent injuries. I'm guessing he's a lifetime Arai customer! 

I read this question on BARF, and thought my reply would be useful to post for the fans of my Blog, in case there are any.

Given the economy right now, I'm watching every dollar I spend (working for a startup right now is a bit hairy...). That being said, I'm debating if I should buy a new helmet or if a pre-owned (never crashed, good condition) helmet is worth it. I'm a bit hesitant to buy a used one, but given how much money you can save, it'd seems stupid to not consider it. Anyone have good or bad experiences buying used? 

Most of the other BARF posters hated the idea of buying a used helmet to the point of silliness. The poster wasn't asking if he should buy a fucked-up, shitty, smelly, dipped-in-pigshit helmet, but about buying used in general. 

First off, is the helmet clean and well-maintained? If it looks and smells clean, what's the problem? Nobody ever died from cooties. I wasn't even worried about them in 6th grade.

Second, look for signs of obvious damage. If there are any bad scratches or scuffs on the shell, (other than little nicks from rock chips or rub marks from hanging on a bike or just being bounced around in a closet), you should probably pass. BUT: blows to a helmet, even severe ones, sometimes don't show up on the shell, as the quality of paint and shell are so good from companies like Shoei and Arai. So remove or gently pull back the comfort liner (one reason not to buy a helmet with a non-removable liner) and look for signs of compression in the EPS lining. And if the helmet has been painted or "customized" in ANY way, pass! Just like customized sportbikes, a likely reason for painting a helmet is to cover crash damage.

Finally, look at the manufacture date. Some helmets have it embossed on the safety strap, others have a sticker in the shell somewhere. If it's more than 5 years old, it really is worthless, and not a good deal at any price, unless you know for a fact it spent some portion of that time in a sealed box in a climate-controlled warehouse.

But many posts brought up a good point: with so many excellent $100 (and less) helmets on the market, why bother buying used?


Zachary Royce said...

In terms of looking for damage to the EPS lining, after you pull back the comfort lining, it usually shows up pretty easy because the white EPS is often spray-painted black on its inside surface. When it's been impacted to any significant depth, the white is generally revealed, usually in a ring around the circumference of the impacted area (e.g. the rim of the crater). A really bad crash will actually crack the liner. Scratches are probably not a big deal, as long as they aren't really deep. Shallow impacts reduce the impact-absorbing capability of the helmet at that point, but do not necessarily render the helmet worthless.

Gabe said...

Good point, Zack-o! But I didn't mention that because I wasn't sure how much normal wear and tear from your head's shape would look like impact-related damage.

Zachary Royce said...

I think normal wear and tear would produce scratches but not impacts, lines not circles. Little dents from hanging on a mirror excepted.

bt said...

- Another sound tip (from actual experience) -- run your finger tips lightly over the entire outer surface of the helmet -- if you feel ANY divits at all -- forget buying it.

I sustained a grand whollop on the side of my helmet a couple of years ago -- my head bounced off the pavement good (at least once, probably more). The helmet showed NO visible damage. However, the pavement surface was implanted into the surface of the helmet and you could feel it with your fingertips.

This helmet went straight into the trash with a big black circle drawn around the area w/permanent marker, "CRASHED".

It was a 19-year Shoei that I bought new and wore for all those years. Very well taken care of and did it's job well regardless of age.

I replaced it immediately with one of the latest Shoeis ("customer for life"). It cost $400. And I could care less. No scrimpin' on the noggin' after this experience.

Not that concerned much about dying -- however, I'm scared to death about surviving w/a tragic brain injury.

- On painting a helmet. I did have one of my helmets painted years ago -- not due to damage, but due to Moving Violations. While riding briskly w/friends one day, we got pulled over and ticketed for speeding. The officer said, "It was the Red Helmet..." My friend took the helmet and painted it white. It was that or lose my riding buddies.
Never bought Red again.