Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What helmet best suits Royal Enfield?

A real Jet Helmet of the USAF variety.

I needed to buy a helmet before I picked up my brand new Royal Enfield Bullet. There never was any doubt what kind of helmet I would buy. I knew that the best protection was afforded by a "full-face" helmet, the kind of Knights-of-the-Round-Table model that provides protection for your face and chin.

I would not buy one of those. I would buy a "Jet Helmet." This may have a plastic visor, but its bottom is not anchored in anything. Basically, your skull is protected but your face and chin are in the breeze.

Nervous as I was about getting hurt when I went down, I felt the Jet Helmet was the statement I needed to make. It seemed to fit the retro image of the Royal Enfield itself. Better yet, it reminded me of the real "Jet Helmets" I'd seen on TV in shows like Steve Canyon. In my new, white Jet Helmet, I felt like a jet ace. Childish? Absolutely.

So far, so good. I do not recommend that anyone follow in my foolish footsteps and leave their chin dangerously exposed to pavement. But I can not resist recounting a story of the one time I did get to wear a full-face helmet.

My brother in Los Angeles invited me out to do a bit of riding in the mountains. I tried to beg off. We don't have mountain roads where I ride in Florida. We barely have curves. My brother's motorcycles are all bigger, heavier and more powerful than my Enfield, the only motorcycle I had much experience riding. He persisted. He even had helmets we could use, he said.

The helmets were beautifully made. Sleek, ebony-black plastic. But unlike full-face helmets I had seen, they did not have visors that opened. In fact, the plastic window in the front of the helmets was fixed and barely a slit a few inches wide. What sort of helmets were these?

"They're not motorcycle helmets," my brother advised. "They were left over from some Olympic event." Maybe the luge. Some sport, in any case, where peripheral visit wasn't important. Wearing this helmet was like peering through a mail slot.

I considered backing out, but I was already astride a running motorcycle in front of his house. This was insane, but I would have to make it work by constantly looking about. I would "put my head on a swivel" as fighter pilots are said to do, to watch for threats.

Everything went fine. I was so afraid, I think I was more aware of my surroundings than usual.

But, after awhile, I began to enjoy the limited vision. It was great to be able to concentrate only on what was straight ahead. Dangers to the sides, below and above no longer existed, since I couldn't see them.

This was a tremendous danger to a motorcyclist, I could see. Or, rather, I could not see. But it would have been a terrific advantage to whatever kind of athlete (tobogganer?) who was supposed to wear this helmet. All attention was focused on the finish line. No distractions.

I survived this experience with a "full-face" helmet, aware that it was unrepresentative of the motorcycling variety of helmet. It was an interesting experiment. How you experience life really does depend on your point of view.

Stay safe out there.


  1. I remember riding in the heavy Indian rains, with the same peek through the mailbox, especially on a really wet August day near Mumbai, with our crazy Indian traffic.

    Been riding full face for nearly eight years now, but for the next bike, I definitely see sense in the Jet helmet, though getting an original will be quite a search.

  2. rrusston5/23/2012

    The above helmet is part of an exotic partial pressure suit worn by early U-2 and interceptor pilots. Extraordinarily uncomfortable.

    The normal jet pilot's helmet is far more common and works okay as a motorcycle helmet. It is however very expensive if fit for use.

    1. Mr. Russton, you're no doubt correct. I was just wondering if you get your information first hand. Are you a pilot? The helmet I photographed for the article was on display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

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