As far as I remember, for the first few months of my riding I wore an open-face helmet like the one shown in this picture. This was my first-ever ride on a bike on Bob Holden’s TX500 Yamaha, early 1974. No protective gear of any kind, not even a visor on the helmet. I believe that Bob had two of these, one for himself and one for his wife who he used to pillion. For reasons that I don’t remember, Sharyn stopped riding so I ended up with her helmet. I wasn’t quite tough enough to wear it with no visor so I went to the bike shop and bought a clear visor.
Actually, the second time I rode a bike was at home, just after I’d bought the 350/4. No permit at that stage but I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to ride the thing so I hopped on, no helmet or other protective gear, rode it up my driveway and out onto Fowlers Road. I couldn’t have gone any more than 100 metres when I heard a siren and looked in my mirrors to see a HWP car signalling me over onto the side of the road. The Sergeant was entitled to throw the book at me but, amazingly, he let me off with a warning and made me push the bike all the way back home, phew.
So, for a least a while, the open face helmet was all I used. I rode everywhere including several trips up the Putty Road to visit my brother and his wife, riding through both Summer and Winter and day and night. It seems crazy now but that was what I had so that was what I used. Then my family took pity on me and bought me some “proper” riding gear for Christmas. An ex-army greatcoat, a pair of Rossi fur-lined flying boots, a pair of rabbit-fur lined gloves and a new helmet, a Shoei S20, red like this one.
It was sheer looxury compared to what I had been wearing and it was the last time I wore an open-face helmet. It was great, especially for a rider who wore glasses as the visor was well away from the glasses, attached to the peak rather than to the helmet itself.
When my brother started doing a cafe racer job on his RD350 he lashed out and bought a new helmet, Shoei’s next model, the S25. Monkey see, monkey do, I bought one too. His was white and blue, mine was white and red.
I wore this helmet for a long time, far longer than I should have, I’m sure and, in the late 1970s it was replaced though by what helmet I now cannot remember.
Then, when I bought the CBX550 in 1983, I REALLY lashed out and bought a good helmet, an ARAI Freddie Spencer Replica, photos of which you have seen many times before. It was an excellent lid and, again, I used it for probably far longer than I should have.
But it was during this period of ownership that not just helmet technology but also helmet DESIGN technology really ramped up. Visors, while still mainly perspex, were made much better and lasted a lot longer than the cheaper perspex ones used to. That’s not to say that they had the longevity that today’s offerings have. To start with, the method of attachment was by use of plastic screws which could be tightened and loosened by the use of a 5 cent coin. Many a young player fell victim to this defect because, if you tried to tighten the screw just a bit TOO much, it would snap off leaving you with the screw head in your hand and the rest of the screw inside the socket. Getting the broken screw out was possible but it needed to be done carefully so as not to damage the threads. The manufactures plainly knew that this was a design fault and they usually supplied the helmet with a couple of spare plastic screws in case this happened.
A young tyro I knew thought he’d solve the problem by replacing the plastic screws with metal ones, cut down to the right length. It certainly solved the breakage problem but he looked a little askance when I asked him if he wanted a couple of steel screws in the shell of his helmet roughly adjacent to his temples.
The main problem with the early perspex visors, however, was that they scratched very easily. Sure, they were cheap to replace; I think my early ARAI ones were about $5 each, but that didn’t help if you found yourself miles from home with a badly scratched visor and you had to get home. I fell for this one once and it was a salutary reminder.
I’d ridden up to Oran Park for a C Grade day and it must have been Winter. After staying behind to help with the presentation and the clean-up, it was nearly dark by the time I headed out. It didn’t take me long to realise that I was in deep strife. My visor was really badly scratched and, as the night fell, it got worse. My visibility was down to almost zero and I still had to ride home to Canberra, another 200+ kilometres. The lights of the oncoming vehicles meant that I was substantially blind and it was starting to get more than just a little dangerous and scary. I tried riding with the visor up but it was Winter, as I said and it wasn’t going to work.
I navigated by Braille to Mittagong where I found the home of my mate, Mick Streeter and asked if he could help. He didn’t have a helmet I could borrow (I didn’t want to ask him to do that anyway) and he wore a different helmet to mine so he didn’t have the appropriate visor either. He DID, however, have a brand new ARAI visor that could be MADE to fit. The attachments didn’t match but it COULD be attached by affixing it to my helmet with duct tape. But, as Clarkson often says, there was a problem. If the visor was taped down I would not be able to flip it up to clear the fog off the inside of it and off my glasses. And, if I needed to take the helmet OFF, I would not be able to do so either as the glasses had to come off BEFORE I could remove the helmet. You want to talk about claustrophobia?
So, I set off, sealed up inside my helmet with imaginings of all the worse care scenarios that could ensue. It was a harrowing ride because, even though the visor had no scratches on it, it was mostly fogged up most of the time. Quite how I got home without having a “big one” I really don’t know but I did. And, even then, my problems weren’t over. Once I stopped in my driveway, the visor fogged up completely and that, combined with my frozen fingers, meant that I spent a panicked period of time (it seemed like minutes) unable to see and unable to remove the duct tape, take my glasses off and remove the helmet.
Not one of my happier memories of the Hume Highway at night, I can tell you.
Of course, visors have improved so much now. They’re made of polycarbonate that is very scratch-resistant, they have Pinlock inserts that prevent fogging up and they can be removed easily from the helmet without the use of any tools. They last WAY longer and come in varying degrees of tint to enable you to adapt them to your type of riding. They are, however, MUCH more expensive and, in some cases, difficult or impossible to get. The visor for my Shark Vision R used to cost $80 but, since the helmet is now a discontinued model, the visors are now unavailable. I accidently scratched mine and, even though the helmet is still perfect, I can’t replace the visor so the helmet is effectively useless. And, no, visors for OTHER Shark helmets do not fit it.
I look after my helmets very well, I clean the visors regularly and expect that they will last me a long time. Yep, they sure have improved, and for that I am surely grateful. But, perhaps the manufacturers need to re-VISE a few aspects of the design and supply.