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About Postcards from the Hedge

Always on the cutting edge of the motorcycle industry, Bill Heald’s Postcards from the Hedge provides readers with an exceptional look into all things motorcycle. From racing to design to day-to-day riding, Heald has a grasp on it all.

Name: Bill Heald

Current Rides: Honda VFR and V45 Magna, Kawasaki Ninja 500, Triumph Street Triple R

Favorite quote:

The Wand chooses the Wizard Mr. Potter. It is not always clear why.

- Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

It Came from the Helmet Company

“Oh, yeah, man, like I'm stoned, you know, man. But, like, you know, I saw a satellite, man. And it was going across the sky and it flashed three times at me and zigzagged and whizzed off! Man, and I saw it!”

-Billy in Easy Rider

In my possession at this time (but not on my head at the moment) is a stunning new state-of-the-art full-face helmet from a premium manufacturer. I will disclose all in an upcoming review, but suffice it to say it’s the best lid I’ve ever worn and a true testament to how far the breed has come in terms of safety, comfort, and features. As often happens when you deal with the latest and greatest of a piece of kit, this marvel got me thinking about all the motorcycle helmets I’ve been exposed to in my tenure on this blue ball. And the more I thought about it, the more I realize how much has changed, while other aspects have thankfully remained the same. While thinking back about the helmets of old it also brought back memories of how they showed up in movies and such, and how in their own way were part of the fashion of the times. Like motorcycles themselves, the helmet has been the beneficiary of the latest advances in material, design, and production technologies that have dramatically improved the breed. But looking back, helmets seemed to me much more a part of the style of the times more than they are now, but that could just be my perception of the way things were when I was a kid. Allow me to share what I’m talking about.

My first introduction to the motorcycle helmet was in the mid 60’s through my oldest brother, when his best friend (who happened to live next door) purchased a Honda 305 Scrambler. I was but a wee lad, and my brother started putting magazine pictures of every bike imaginable up in his room. One day he showed up with a helmet, for I guess my dad told him no riding with his friend without the proper headgear. My brother was on the football team so helmets were no big deal to him, and he had zero trouble with my dad’s decree. The lid was made by Bell, a company that in the 60’s (in Texas at least) was the Chevy of two-wheeled headgear and I will never forget its characteristics. It was an open face unit, coated in a very thick candy blue finish that was, of course, metalflake in composition that did wild stuff in the light and mesmerized my young eyes. I also thought it weighed a ton (compared to today’s helmets it did, too), and I think had provision for a snap-on upper visor. I also remember the interior was lined with the 60s version of EPS (expanded polystyrene) that is still used today, because they’ve not found anything better in terms of cushioning the head in an impact and/or the deceleration of sudden movement during shocks (which are the real culprit in head injuries). The style and shape of the helmet was quite iconic, and ultimately ushered me into the wide universe of motorcycle headwear.

HedgeLostSpaceDuring this period, a popular variation was this helmet with a huge bubble visor that found its way onto the silver screen and TV nearly as much as it did on the heads of riders. I’m exaggerating a bit, but as I was a devoted fan of science fiction and shows like Lost in Space, I observed how they would make an instant Alien Robot Death Servant of Evil by combining a wet suit with a bubble-visor Bell and HaZaa! You die, Earthman! Over the years, such an outfit (or variation thereof) would find its way into all kinds of ultra low-budget, post-apocalypse Sci-Fi movies shot all over the world, and the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000 visited these golden atrocities quite a few years later. If you want a more conventional cinematic wardrobe study of the helmets of the 60s, please visit Easy Rider. In this classic road movie you see a broad take on many styles of the period, worn by the likes of Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson. The latter’s lid is a football-style creation that suited the young, soon-to-be-legendary Nicholson like a glove (or a helmet that fits well). This movie really shows how the styles of the 60s were incorporated into everything man-made, and even the humble crash helmet was a canvas for expression. It’s really a full spectrum design ethos, too, as it wasn’t just the metalflake paintwork and other adornments but the shape of the helmet itself, too. Room for individual artistry is always found on personal attire of any type, but this off-the-shelf starting point was pretty rad back in the day.

A question arises here: did we lose something on the styling front with the passage of time? Not entirely. Amazingly, Bell Helmet still makes an assortment of classic designs including the legendary bubble visor that, delightfully, lives on. I haven’t worn a contemporary version, but I’m sure it’s a trip, man. As for my new lid, I will go into great detail in my review on why I think it’s the greatest thing ever. It’s certainly the best one I’ve ever worn, and I’ve always had premium lids that I didn’t think could be improved upon much. But improve it they have, and yet all the newness made me a bit nostalgic. To sum up: the helmet has always been not only a critical component of riding apparel for over half a century, but a damn cool one, too. It has also adorned many the noggin of alien stormtroopers and dudes and mamas of the road. These days the movies are influencing the design of some helmets (especially of the dual-sport variety), so the circle is complete. Even more fun is the fact that it’s not just helmets in cinema anymore because more and more post-apocalyptic and ultra tech Sci-Fi costume designers are using all manner of moto-garments in their wardrobe creations. Billy saw it happening, man! The space travelers dress like us! I’ve seen it!