History of Motorbike Helmets
You’ll find the early styles of a ‘crash helmet’ dating back to the early 1900’s, after Dr Eric Gardner was seeing a frequent amount of head trauma’s and injuries from motorcyclists at the Brooklands race track near where he worked giving him inspiration.
Gardner asked Mr Moss of Bethnal Green to make ‘canvas and shellac helmets stiff enough to stand a heavy blow and smooth enough to glance off any projections it encountered’.
These designs were presented to the Auto-Cycle Union (ACU) but it was initially rejected, however they later warmed to the idea and it became compulsory for those riders taking part in the 1914 Isle of Man TT races – something that riders were not initially very happy about!
94 helmets were designed, created and sent to the Isle of Man with Dr Gardner – one rider hit a gate at high speed wearing a helmet and it saved his life.
It was noted that in the 1914 Isle of Man TT races there were no riders reported with concussion due to their new helmets. The results from the TT truly changed the perception of helmets for bikers.
It was only in 1935 following the death of T. E. Lawrence, more commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia, after he crashed his Brough Superior SS100.
Lawrence was suffered serious head injuries as he was not wearing a helmet. He sadly passed away six days later in hospital. It was Dr Cairns, a neurosurgeon attending to Lawrence, who began research to which lead to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists.
When did it become compulsory to wear a helmet on a motorbike in the UK?
In 1973 the ‘Motor Cycles (Wearing of Helmets) Regulations 1973′ was passed on 7th February to be put into operation swiftly by 1st June 1973.
However, the order of this regulation was debated in the House of Commons in April 1973 as many considered the compulsory wearing of a helmet as a ‘gross infringement of personal liberty’, although almost 88% of motorcyclists in the UK were already wearing motorcycle crash helmets at this point.
However the bill was still passed and it became a requirement for all riders to wear a motorcycle helmet.
UK helmet law
In the UK you are required, by law, to wear a safety helmet that meets British Safety Standards when riding a motorcycle or moped on a road. The standard of your bike helmet must meet one of the following:
- British Standard BS 6658:1985 and carry the SKI Kitemark
- UNECE Regulation 22.05
- a European Economic Area member standard offering that must provide the same safety and protection as BS 6658:1985, and carry a mark that is equivalent to the BSI Kitemark
You can find this information on the label on the inside of your helmet or on the shell.
For the UK, riders will choose helmets bearing an Auto-Cycle Union (ACU) Gold sticker as it defines a stricter standard than the legal minimum ECE 22.05 spec. Those helmets with an ACU Gold sticker are the only ones allowed to be worn in competitions or at track days.
Currently there are no laws about wearing other protective clothing like leathers, textile jackets or boots but it’s highly recommended that specialised motorcycle gear is worn to reduce injury, if in an accident.
In our recent survey, findings stated that 96% of bikers would continue to wear a crash helmet even if it wasn’t compulsory by law, it proves that bikers are very conscientious when it comes to their safety.
Introduction of SHARP
In 2007, the UK Department of Transport launched the Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme, commonly known as SHARP. Research was conducted by SHARP on the levels of helmet safety across the UK, with two objects:
- Clear advice on how to select a helmet that fits correctly and comfortably.
- Provide clear, impartial and objective information about the relative safety of motorcycle helmets available to riders in the UK.
Recent statistics shows that motorcyclists only represent 1% of road traffic, but 19% of casualties, so it is important that as one of the most vulnerable road user groups are being kept as safe as possible.
Especially when 80% of all motorcyclist fatalities and 70% of serious injuries are from sustained head injuries during the accident, this is why it’s vital that programmes like SHARP are in place.
SHARP rate, on average, 35 helmets in a year which are thoroughly tried and tested before they are given their rating, so it’s no surprise that over 50% of bikers surveyed knew how important the SHARP rating is when it comes to buying the helmet.
Motorcycle Helmet Manufacturers
There’s a wealth of choice when it comes to helmet manufacturers that have different styles, fits and colour patterns to suit you. Even when you pop down to your local dealer, the walls will be littered with different names.
Still not sure where to start with buying a new lid? Here’s a brief over cap of the most popular manufacturers…
AGV, the acronym for Amisano Gino Valenza, is named after the company founder Gino Aminsano who started the Italian company in 1947. Taking on the colours of the Italian flag, and styled on a helmet from the behind. Original AGV helmets were made from leather which was placed over a wooden mould, placed in the over at high temperature for over an hour to harden then painted.
AGV have many famous races who have won wearing one of their helmets, most notably; Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Robert, Barry Sheene and Valentino Rossi.
The founder of Arai helmets, Hirotake Arai, was originally a hat maker but also an extremely enthusiastic motorcyclist.
With the lack of motorcycle helmet safety in Japan during the 1950’s, Hirotake decided that using his professional skills he would design a helmet for himself and a few close friends. It was then that Arai helmet production began, with his very own testing standards and equipment created as there were no legal standards at this point.
Back in 1923, George Wight opens up Bell Auto Parts in Bell, California, who dabbled in selling and trade car parts, soon going on to create the race car ‘Betsy’ with co-worker Roy Richter.
Years spent working the car racing industry until a long-time friend of Roy’s died in a racing accident, it is then in 1954 that Bell began to manufacturer their first patch of helmets. Bell soon became a national success providing motorcycle helmets to race car drives and the Los Angeles Police Department; after years of success, in 1956 the Bell Helmet Company is formed.
Bell have been credited by many famous faces included Evil Knievel who crashed jumping the fountains of Caesars Palace, Las Vegas in 1968 and credited his Bell helmet saving his life. Bell also produces a wide range of bicycle helmets.
The number one brand in North America since the early 1990’s, HJC have been producing motorcycle crash helmets since 1971. The range of helmets created by HJC always promise comfort, high quality and style all at a reasonable price.
The best part about HJC is very state of the art wind tunnel testing lab that tests features including ventilation, noise, aerodynamics and much more.
Established in France, 1986 Shark have become one of the leading innovators of motorcycle helmets. Shark was founded by professional racers so they knew a thing or two about the design and technology that is needed for a safe helmet.
Racers that worked together in forming Shark include: Olivier Jacque, Raymond Roche, Carl Fogarty, Scott Redding and Troy Corser to name but a few.
With 350,000 helmets on the market each year by Shark, there’s over 5,000 outlets worldwide selling the brands!
Eitaro Kamata founded Shoei in 1958, with the first factory being built in Arakawaka-ku then soon followed the first motorcycle helmet to be approved in 1960. As the years went by, more Shoei factories were established across the globe enabling more specialist styled helmets to be created more efficiently.
Not only were Shoei behind the creation of the very first carbon fibre helmet in 1976, they were the first manufacturer to use Kevlar in their helmets. All Shoei helmets come with 5 year warranty so you can rest assure that their helmets are up to scratch.
2 comments on “History of Motorcycle Helmets in the UK”
Great article, very informative. If you are buying a helmet please try and buy a SHARP tested one. It will be safer and it isn’t neccessarily any more expensive. See this website for a full list: https://sharphelmetchooser.co.uk/
Safer than what? Testing doesn’t affect the safety of a helmet, simply running a specific limited set of standardised tests does not make the helmet any safer than it was before testing! Having a helmet that hasn’t had the same testing doesn’t mean it’s any less safe than one that has been tested. Not all helmets are tested. A tested helmet that rates poorly isn’t better than one that tests to other possibly higher/more relevant standards. And for helmets that aren’t tested outside of achieving the required certification (ECE 22-06 now) doesn’t mean they are any less safe than one that tests top of the class in Sharp – in some cases they are safer. Plenty of helmets rated ACU gold haven’t been sharp tested (for example).