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Modern Sports Helmets

Modern Sports Helmets - wBW Book Review

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by: James A. Newman
Hardcover: 256 pages
Dimensions: 22.5 x 28.5 x 2.5 cm
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Atlen, Pennsylvania USA
ISBN: 978-0-7643-2718-6
List price: $49.95
Available From ($37.96)

This book is not just about motorcycle helmets; it’s part history and part technical guide to the evolution of head protection from ancient times to the 21st Century.

The author worked as an engineer for many years in the area of head protection for Bell Helmets and others.

The title is a clue to the focus of this book, which describes both the science of head protection and the art of trying to make head protection look like it’s not head protection.

Sports covered include motorcycling, bicycling, equestrian activities, skiing and contact sports.

The book Modern Sports Helmets: Their History, Science and Artbecame noticed by the print motorcycle press in 2009, but why it took them so long is not known. The book was actually first published in 2007 by the author, a mechanical engineer who worked in the head protection industry for many years.

Large photographs of motorcycle racers grace the front and rear covers of the book and two-page spreads of motorcycle racers are located on the inside of the front and rear covers also. This led me to believe that it was a book about motorcycle helmets, but I was surprised to learn that there is coverage of many other sports also.

Head protection for all sports is related to a certain extent, but I do feel that the publisher should have made this more clear, as my interest is solely on motorcycle head protection. However, on the flip side, the author does explain that a lot of modern sports helmet and head protection technology for everything mentioned above and also the military comes from initial research and development of the motorcycle helmet.

In fact, there’s an interesting story about the very first motorcycle, said to be invented by Sylvester Roper in the U.S. in 1867, believe it or not. A coal-powered steam engine was attached to a bicycle, and old Sylvester died on the bike at the age of 73!  So the first person to invent the first motorcycle ends up also being the first person to die on one.

Who knew?  Maybe this is why Moms around the world are so anxious about letting their kids ride a motorcycle!

The book actually starts by describing the history of the “sports helmet” from way, way back. The first photo in the book is of a Greek bronze helmet from the 5th Century BCE!

Following this are many excellent photographs of various types of helmets and other types of head protection through the years, including some very strange-looking prototypes.

The prototype photos are interesting. We get many emails from webBikeWorld visitors who have what they think is a new idea for a motorcycle helmet, and I’d suggest they look in this book first, because it was probably invented, tested and prototyped by somebody somewhere, sometime.

I am a little disappointed that the author doesn’t go into more detail on the technology and mechanics of motorcycle helmet head protection. In fact, this topic was the main reason I bought the book.

There aren’t many books written specifically about this topic, so I figured that for sure this book would cover in intricate detail all of the science behind head protection.

Alas, this is not to be. Yes, there are many chapters and paragraphs that generally discuss the science, but it all seems very general and not specific. So I have to wonder, who will spend $40.00 or so on a relatively obscure book about a very specific topic like this, yet not be interested in a very detailed description and analysis?

It’s almost like the book has confused its audience. The “coffee table” format and the many photos and even the layout of the print and photos inside seem very much aimed at the casual reader. The expert or the person who really does want to know more about helmet technology will probably also enjoy the photos, but my guess is they will not learn much that is new about the science that they don’t already know.

There is actually only a brief section on helmet standards with some information on testing methods, but to me, this is the part of the book that is the biggest letdown. I expected much, much more, with an analysis on pros and cons of different testing methods and world helmet safety standards, but it is not there.

And even though the book was published in 2007, the author only lists the Snell 2000 standard as most current, a strange oversight. Indeed, I think an entire book could be (and should be) written on just this topic alone.


So I end with mixed feelings on Modern Sports Helmets. It is enjoyable to look at the photos of helmets and other types of head protection, and many of the photos have not been previously published.

But on the other hand, I expected much more from this book. The publisher, Schiffer Books, deserves credit for bringing this to market. They have a couple of other books on helmets, including The Motorcycle Helmet: The 1930’s – 1990’s by Rin Tanaka and U.S. Combat Helmets of the 20th Century: Mass Production Helmets by Mark A. Reynosa.

By the way, the publisher also lists a book entitled Motorcycle Jackets: Ultimate Bikers’ Fashions by Rin Tanaka, which sounds interesting.

If it was up to me, I’d encourage the publisher to release some type of updated version of Modern Sports Helmets but with much more technical detail and featuring an in-depth comparison of world helmet standards and testing methods. I think a book like that would be of interest to many readers.

This book is available from ($37.96)

Review Date: February 2010

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