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This helmet absorbed so much impact energy that its wearer, ex-Bike staffer Simon Weir, had no head injuries. Would your helmet do as well? The new Sharp rating system aims to tell you just that.

Eminent helmet experts who won’t talk on the record... Government testing contractors refusing to speak at all... helmet importers rushing to airports to meet their Japanese overlords... motorsport technical chiefs who won’t answer the phone... just what is going on in Helmetland? The answer is Sharp, a new five-star rating system that aims to show buyers how safe each helmet is. No-one is arguing with the idea itself, but the initial batch of test results have just come out and all hell’s broken loose. The £450 Arai RX7 (as favoured by MotoGP riders) got just three stars, as did a £70 thermoplastic Vemar. And a £60 thermoplastic Lazer got five stars. So what’s going on? Are we finally getting the truth after years of splashing out a fortune on beautiful, credible but ultimately average helmets. Or is the new Sharp system fatally flawed?

What exactly is Sharp? Predictably it’s is a contrived acronym: Safety Helmet Assessment Rating Programme. We favoured the pithier Safety Helmet Assessment Test but no-one seemed interested. All helmets sold in dealers have to pass the basic British Standard or the equivalent European standard, so are legally OK. The Sharp system aims to tell you which helmets are much better than OK by grading them from one to five stars (five being the safest). And safest is a key word – one of the controversial aspects of the scheme is that it attempts to scientifically link its laboratory crash tests to real-world accident data. This means Sharp can argue that if

h e l m e t s a f t e y Sharp teSt winnerS and loSerS

See the full test results at http://sharp.direct.gov.uk/search/ winnerS aGV S4 Bell M1 hJC hQ1 lazer lZ6 Shark rSr2

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£180 £130 £249 £60 £319

✱✱✱✱✱ ✱✱✱✱✱ ✱✱✱✱✱ ✱✱✱✱✱ ✱✱✱✱✱

loSerS arai Condor Box BX4 hJC CS12 KBC Vr2r lazer tornado nitro n330VX takachi tK30 Vemar VSreV

£200 £80 £69 £180 £90 £50 £60 £190

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everyone wore five star helmets, 50 fewer of us a year would die from head injuries. In theory it’s a great idea. In practice it’s very, very hard to do.

So what do the ratings mean? In the original Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) report, the ratings related directly to the number of lives that would be saved if everyone wore that helmet. So if all of us wore five-star helmets 25 more lives would be saved than if everyone wore four-star helmets, which would save 25 more lives than three-star lids and so on. However, the latest explanation of how the ratings are arrived at (called a test protocol) has not been made public and the Department for Transport (DfT) have yet to reply to Bike’s questions. Given that the scheme’s first batch of results have been made public, this seems odd. Also, whereas the original TRL report claimed 100 lives a year could be saved by everyone wearing five-star helmets, the figure has now dropped to 50. No explanation has been given. Something has happened to the test protocol, but the DfT won’t tell us what.

So it’s a Government scheme? Yes. It was originated, paid for, and is the full responsibility of the Department for Transport. They looked at two statistics: 1) Bike accidents account for 18 per cent of deaths despite making up just one per cent of UK traffic. 2) Eighty per cent of motorcyclists killed die because of head injuries. If you’re under pressure to reduce road casualties, the conclusion is obvious: make motorcyclists wear safer helmets. Hence Sharp. The DfT also hopes the scheme will encourage manufacturers to make safer helmets in order to get more stars and – presumably – more sales.

It’s suspiciously like that car accident thingy, NCAP. Is there any connection? Yes. NCAP’s success in getting drivers to buy safer cars, and forcing manufacturers to focus more on safety, undoubtedly encouraged the DfT to try Sharp in the first place, and is probably why the rating system is so simple. But the Sharp tests are much more straight-forward than the vast range of NCAP ones. Helmets won’t be getting extra marks for beeping if your pillion hasn’t got both hands on the grab rail. However, the NCAP system was reviewed, agreed and implemented by experts from dozens of European countries and is based on bog-standard science. Sharp is a purely British scheme, some of the maths is adventurous (or dubious, depending on your viewpoint), and the way in which test results are linked to star ratings

photography by chippy wood

i n v e s t i g at i o n

Is your lid this safe?

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‘If the government is under pressure to reduce road casualties, the conclusion is obvious: make motorcyclists wear safer helmets. Hence the new Sharp safety ratings’

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‘Throughout The Sp-1’s development it was by no means set in stone that the rc45’s Replacement would be a V-twin – there was a strong feeling among honda

Anticlockwise from top: Saturday afternoon and the California Highway Patrol reinforcements have shown up; San Benito Street still looks a lot like it did in ’47; the Gypsy Tour drew an unexpectedly large crowd; the infamous ‘set-up’ Life magazine photo; the threat of tear gas dispersed the crowd.

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e y e w i t n e s s

The day biking went bad Hollister played host to a motorcycle ‘riot’ that inspired the The Wild One and turned American motorcyclists into pariahs. Now, 60 years later, Mark Gardiner unearths the real story…

By mark gardiner photography andrew wheeler

two wheels. Being present at the Hollister riot was just one of his stories. He also rode a ’67 Bonneville to Alaska and chaperoned a teenage Doug Chandler when he first started racing on the AMA Grand National Championship circuit. The old man was a cool dude. (although once I got him talking, he wouldn’t stop until it On July 4 1947, 4000 straight-pipers rode into Hollister in was time to close the shop.) California. Their plan was to spend the long weekend partying The Boozefighters and the Ramblers were very different clubs. and watching the races, but the partying got a little out of control. The old Boozefighters always told me the name was a joke and not Even the local police admitted that the bikers ‘did more harm to intentionally aggressive (‘we were fighting the booze, not other themselves than they did to the town,’ but the passage of time – people’) but they were, at best, a bunch of fun-loving reprobates. and the sensational treatment of the riot by US media – have The Ramblers’ president was Larry Ketzel, a pro hillclimber who made it hard to separate myth from reality. owned a Harley-Davidson dealership in Salinas Ten years ago, I went to a lot of trouble to talk (the next town south of Hollister.) Ketzel San Benito Street was to about a dozen people who had been there that choked with bikes. serviced the Harleys of the Salinas Police weekend. I focused on the original members of Eager to prevent locals Department and the California Highway Patrol. the Boozefighters MC. Although only a handful He was a law-and-order type who organized the from straying into the of Boozefighters rode up to the event, according Ramblers into a volunteer posse of the Monterey crowd, the seven-man to Hollister legend it was the club’s president, County Sheriff’s Department, complete with Hollister Police Wino Willie Forkner, who fomented the riot. It uniforms, badges and six-guns. Department set up Ketzel had sponsored Ted Ponton, as a flat was already 50 years after the fact and even road-blocks at either eyewitness accounts were hard to verify and end of the main street. track racer. He put Ted in charge of the races that took place at Memorial Park on the outskirts of reconcile, but I felt that I ended up with a pretty town. Ted spent most of the weekend at the track, but he was only good picture of events. As another decade passed, I doubted any a couple of miles from the scene of the riot, on San Benito street. new information would come to light... He knew what was going on. But I recently heard about Ted Ponton – an old member of the Beginning on Friday morning, thousands of motorcyclists Salinas Ramblers MC – who was the race director at the flat track poured into town. They came down from San Francisco, up from race that weekend. The Ramblers were the American Motorcyclist LA and San Diego, and from as far away as Florida and Association-affiliated club that promoted the races and hosted the Connecticut. By evening, San Benito Street was choked with Hollister ‘Gypsy Tour’, so it was their event. motorcycles. Eager to prevent the locals from straying into the Ted Ponton’s not only alive and alert, he still rides motorcycles crowd, the seven-man Hollister Police Department set up roadat 84. I went to interview him at his glass shop in Salinas. The blocks at either end of the main street. walls were covered with the memorabilia of a remarkable life on

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class of 2005 ImagIne walkIng Into a showroom and fIndIng a 180mph, 160bhp sportsbIke, freshly run-In, servIced, tyres scrubbed and brake pads bedded-In, wIth three grand off the askIng. no, It’s not a dream. It’s what happens If you go shoppIng for an ’05 blade, ZX-10r, gsX-r1000 or r1. By simon hargreaves PhotograPhy By kenny P

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BIKE Magazine Ultimate Rider UK 2008

In association witH

BikE’s Ultimate Rider 2008 We’re offering one rider the chance of a lifetime: a ride on Barry Sheene’s Suzuki RG500 GP bike. Only one will be worthy. Seven tests stand between our finalists and glory. Today, half will be eliminated…

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My first encounter with the power of the black leather jacket came when I was fourteen. I’d seen the

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My first encounter with the power of the black leather jacket came when I was fourteen. I’d seen the

Entente cordial:

The man behind James Toseland’s MotoGP effort, Tech 3 technical director, Guy Coulon

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1970/80s:

Lancer style side fastening, tassles and the essential denim cutoff with Metal patches

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Bike Magazine - August 2008  

A Sample issue of the August 2008 edition of Bike Magazine

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