Head Case: Shouldn’t Your Helmet Have as Many Performance Upgrades as Your Car?

Buying a helmet was relatively easy 10 or 15 years ago. You picked a budget, a size, one or two desired features, maybe a preferred brand, and that tended to narrow down the selection quickly.

Today, though, we have options–all the options. But these options aren’t about jacking up the price, explains Toto Lassally, co-founder of Roux Helmets. In the end, he stresses, the buyer can actually save money if those features are added up front during construction.

Take the ever-popular in-helmet radio as an example. “The typical helmet wiring kit costs anywhere from $100 to $170,” Lassally explains. “However, if you want a helmet kit with a good, proper, noise-canceling mic, it’s going to cost over $200.”

Then there’s the installation. “Installation is usually complimentary from whoever you purchase the helmet wiring kit from,” he continues, but there’s an added cost: shipping and insuring the helmet for the round-trip voyage. (A custom paint job can easily cost several hundred dollars to a few grand, so you’d probably spring for shipping insurance.)

The radio kit can be installed at home, but do you know how to do it without damaging or compromising the helmet? And is that helmet even designed for speaker pods, or should you use simple, less comfortable earbuds instead?

So, in this case, what’s the price difference between Lassally’s radio-equipped helmet and the option-free one? Just $150, and that covers the premium noise-canceling microphone plus those desirable speaker pods.

What other options and features are available on today’s helmet market? Here are some of the popular ones.

1. DRINK TUBE

After the 2015 Brickyard 500, NASCAR driver Landon Cassill showed his Twitter followers how he shed 8 pounds of body mass during the race–and that was while taking in nearly 7 pounds of water from behind the wheel. Does dehydration affect driving performance? England’s Loughborough University has conducted such a study. “Drivers who are not properly hydrated make the same number of errors as people who are over the drink/drive limit,” summarized the school’s Ron Maughan, professor emeritus of sport and exercise nutrition and chair of the European Hydration Institute Science Advisory Board. This is why some helmets now contain a built-in drink tube.

2. AIR INTAKE

Today’s helmet blower systems deliver chilled air to the driver’s head. More extensively equipped helmets feature an intake duct for this air.

3. WATER COOLING

Water-cooled shirts have become common in racing, but Roux now offers water cooling for helmets. During development, the company found that placing the capillary tubes right next to the scalp chilled the head a bit too much. Now the tubes are embedded in the lining. The goal, Lassally says, is to pull the heat out of the helmet.

4. RADIO GEAR

Two-way radios require some kind of receiving device on the driver’s end. Low-buck foam earbuds start around $30, while custom-molded earpieces run closer to $200. Some higher-end helmets come equipped with built-in speaker pods fitted with speakers.

The driver needs to talk to the crew, too, and a microphone is typically included in helmet wiring kits. Budget $100 for a basic setup and $200 or more for a kit featuring a noise-canceling microphone –unless it’s fitted at the factory.

5. HEAD AND NECK ANCHORS

The threaded inserts for a head-and-neck restraint are now required by the latest Snell SA ratings, but not all helmets include the actual anchors. Those typically cost $55 to $65.

6. VISOR GASKET

Foam gaskets used to be common on lower-priced helmets, but in recent years most manufacturers have switched to more durable, better-sealing rubber or silicone gaskets.

7. RELEASE SYSTEM

Yanking off a driver’s helmet can worsen a spinal injury. That’s why IMSA included this line in its rule book: “Drivers must have the ‘Eject HelmetRemoval’ kit, the Stand 21 ‘Lid Lifter Balaclava,’ or the Roux helmet removal system as installed by the manufacturer, installed in their helmets.” These three systems are tasked with delicately raising the helmet off the head, but they accomplish that in different ways.

The Eject system, now manufactured by Simpson, places a small air bladder inside the top of the helmet, and its inflation tube peeks out of the shell. After a crash, an emergency responder pumps up the Eject bladder with a bulb inflator, lifting the helmet. The Stand 21 and Roux systems, meanwhile, are both self-contained; two flaps, one on each side of the helmet, are pulled outward. This action uses simple leverage to raise the helmet.

8. RATING

For track events and wheel-to-wheel racing here in the States, the current common standard is Snell SA2015, with the older SA2010 spec usually also allowed–of course, always check the applicable rule book for specifics. Some professional sanctioning bodies, though, will require a helmet meeting the latest FIA standard, 8860-2018.

OTHER OPTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Aero Aids: Driving an open car? Aero aids–commonly a mix of a front chin bar, rear duckbill and maybe some top flaps–are designed to reduce buffeting and keep the airflow from sucking the helmet off the driver’s head.
  • Extra Shields: How many shields are included? Just a clear one, or do they also provide a smoke shield? Figure at least $40 per tinted shield.
  • Extra Pads: Not everyone has the same head size or shape. Are extra cheek pads included to allow for a personalized fit? And if not, can they at least be purchased separately?
  • Weight: A carbon-fiber shell will typically weigh less than a fiberglass one.
  • Color: For decades the choices were white or white. Today’s shopper has some more options. Raw carbon is popular, and some models offer a choice of colors.
  • Bag: Does the helmet include a bag for lugging it around? And is it a fancy one?
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