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It’s unthinkable that a MotoGP™ rider would be seen on track without the most essential of safety items – a good crash helmet. MotoGP™ helmets, along with the riders’ boots, leathers, gloves and reinforced chest and spinal protection pads, are developed to the highest safety standards with the latest technology.
In a sport where the participants reach speeds of more than 340 km/h, and crashes are a regular occurrence, reliable protective headgear is of paramount importance for all World Championship competitors.
Racing helmets have the same basic structure as retail helmets and the specific differences depend on the needs of the rider concerned in terms of comfort, shape and size. Also, the internal accessories required may differ, often depending on weather conditions.
For the helmet manufacturers, the MotoGP™ World Championship - with its global media exposure to millions of fans - is a great way to market their helmets, whilst the data they gather from the riders helps them to improve the products they make available to the public.
Most riders have at least four helmets with them at each event, with one being rain specific and modified to prevent ‘fogging’ or ‘misting’, and replacements always being required should the main helmet become damaged.
In addition to protecting the lives of the riders, the helmets they use have become the key element of the riders’ outfits through which they can express themselves creatively. Many riders have flamboyant helmet designs reflecting their personalities and tastes.
The distinctive colours and the clarity of the respective race number or name of the rider on his helmet are essential for identification by everyone from the race officials and teams to the commentators and fans – the view otherwise blurred by the intensity and speed of MotoGP’s busy race circuits.
The drawings and designs with which the riders personalise their helmets can reflect their character, display their favourite mascots and national colours or send messages to fans, loved ones and rivals. Valentino Rossi’s famous Aldo Drudi designed AGV helmets are the stuff of racing folklore with a new design seemingly every other week, while his rivals also have the occasional gem in their collection such as Nicky Hayden’s “Easy Rider” edition or Jorge Lorenzo’s “Green Mamba”. Helmets also carry the name of their manufacturer and occasionally sponsor names, making them true explosions of colour.
Of course the most fundamental purpose of a helmet is to protect the face and head of the riders should they crash. With regard to technical specifications the key elements affecting a helmet’s design are aerodynamics, comfort, security, visibility and weight.
The materials used to produce helmets must be lightweight yet ultra resistant to impact. The lighter and more comfortably fitting around the face a helmet is the better the rider will feel. The shape and aerodynamic design should permit penetration of the air efficiently while a good ventilation system and well constructed interior will allow the rider to breathe, hear and see correctly.
Helmets are composed of four parts: outer shell, interior padding, visor and fastening mechanism.
For the exterior, materials such as glass fibre, carbon, Kevlar and polyurethane are combined to produce a casing that dissipates energy after a collision, avoiding the transfer of the impact to the head. Manufacturers undertake rigorous collision tests, including the use of hammers, to assess the strength of the outer layers.
The interior padding and covering is of course just as crucial to the protection of the skull, and the cushioning material must be adhered to the outer framework securely whilst also measured up perfectly for the shape of the respective rider’s head and facial features, such as the temple, brow, nose and jaw. Acoustics are also important for the rider in order to hear his bike and those of any nearby competitors, so the helmets have special features to allow in the right depth and level of sound.
The visors on the front of the helmets are constructed of specially treated plastic, which serves two purposes. The first is to protect the rider from any airborne objects such as insects, raindrops, debris from the track or other bikes and occasionally even birds. The second function is to avoid misting or fogging, especially in humid or rainy conditions, something which is aided by the high-tech ventilation systems the manufacturers build into the helmets.
Even with the best ventilation technology riders will always perspire, so many use helmet dryers to reduce moisture from the interior of their headwear during breaks or after sessions.
Finally, the fastening mechanisms have to be absolutely failsafe – keeping the helmet in exactly the required position, without being uncomfortable.
The following helmet manufacturers have a regular presence in the MotoGP World Championship: AGV, Airoh, Arai, HJC, Nolan, Scorpion, Shark, Shoei, and X-Lite.