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Carbon Fiber Helmets

Mar 31, 2008
Carbon fiber helmets have become very popular in today's motorcycle world. The reasons for that popularity are easy to understand. Carbon fiber helmets tend to have a distinctive look and that look has become fashionable. Carbon fiber helmets are lighter and their shells are more durable than other helmets for carbon fiber helmets often make use of a combination of Kevlar and carbon fibers and this combination produces helmet shells that are as strong as they would be if they were made out of metal. This is an attractive feature for many buyers of carbon fiber helmets and the caché that attaches to Kevlar, a material used in military helmets, constitutes a strong selling point.

However, there is a caution in order with respect to the issue of the relationship of carbon fiber helmets to head protection. In motorcycle helmets, including carbon fiber helmets, the heart of the protection system is the liner--usually made of Styrofoam or a Styrofoam-like material--not the shell. This is so because the shell material absorbs the impact energy that arises from a motorcycle accident and thereby prevents that energy from doing destructive damage to the head. It is the energy absorption, not energy resistance, that protects the head from trauma. Put another way, if one were to wear a motorcycle helmet carved out of a solid block of steel, that helmet would be less effective in protecting against head injury than would a helmet made entirely out of Styrofoam. This is counter-intuitive, but, nonetheless true. Safety, if not the only reason for purchasing a motorcycle helmet, is by the far the most important reason for such a purchase and carbon fiber helmets do not increase safety to any great degree. They make the helmet itself less prone to the effects of wear and tear, but it is the liner inside the carbon fiber helmet's shell that is the most effective safety component of the system.

Nor is the technology used to make carbon fiber helmets particularly advanced. The carbon fibers that go into the shells are made by subjecting certain acrylics to great heat. When combined with other materials, these fibers produce materials that are extraordinarily tough, but, once again, it should be mentioned that because the surfaces of carbon fiber helmets are extraordinarily strong, this does not mean that they better protect the head than do more traditional materials, such as fiberglass, that are used in the making of motorcycle helmet shells.

It is to be noted that some carbon fiber helmets are not, legally speaking, "motorcycle helmets" at all, but rather, they are "novelty helmets" or "beanies," helmets which do not meet the standards for U.S. Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) certification. This points to the fact that purchasers of carbon fiber helmets should always look for the D.O.T. sticker that is placed on the back of the shell of helmets that do meet D.O.T. standards. There is certainly nothing wrong with carbon fiber helmets per se and their light weight and fashionable looks make them desirable. But carbon fiber helmets do not guarantee better safety. Carbon fiber helmets constitute the use of a technology that is ancillary, not central, to the issue of safety and the smart consumer will purchase carbon fiber helmets if, and only if, they are D.O.T. and/or Snell certified for safety.
About the Author
John Daniele is an expert on motorcycle helmets. For information or to purchase a handcrafted, light-weight, fiberglass novelty carbon fiber helmets see www.helmetsrus.com
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