06 October 2014

Making Our Heads Spin

I try not to repeat what other bloggers have already written.  But I simply can’t help myself (Well, I could, but it’s easier and more fun not to!) from talking about something The Retrogrouch noted: leather hairnets are coming back.


If you’re of a certain age, you remember them.  You may have even ridden one.  They are lattices, usually black, that look like pie toppings made out of leather (at least they were back in the day).  And they offer just about as much protection in a crash. 

For years, I owned one but never used it.  When I first became a dedicated cyclist—during the ‘70’s Bike Boom—it was pretty much the only kind of headgear, aside from caps, available for cyclists.  A few riders wore other kinds of helmets designed for ice hockey (which professional hockey players weren’t wearing) and other sports, or for construction.  But most of us didn’t wear any head protection (except for a cap) because those helmets were bulky, cumbersome or poorly ventilated and, even though many of us had “leather hairnets”, most of us didn’t think they would protect us in any meaningful way.

The original Bell Biker ("turtle shell") helmet, 1975

Not long after Bell introduced its “turtle shell” helmet, another company began to market something called the “Skid Lid”.  It looked like someone constructed a “leather hairnet" out of foam-lined plastic and removed the lid.  It may still be the best-ventilated hardshell helmet ever made, but as Retrogrouch notes, it probably wouldn’t protect you from anything more intense than a skid.

Skid Lid helmet, circa 1978

The first hardshell helmet I used regularly was the Bell V-1 Pro, which came out during the mid-80’s.  It tried to mimic the styling of the “leather hairnet”, but nobody was fooled.  At least it offered meaningful protection and was lighter and better-ventilated than Bell’s (and other companies’) earlier offerings.

Bell V1 Pro helmet, circa 1985: the first helmet I wore regularly (yes, in this color--don't you just love it?)

Now, it seems that some company in Taiwan is offering "leather hairnets", not only in classic black, but in a variety of neon hues and patterns as well as the tricolore and tricolori of the French and Italian flags. They're listed as "SPIN--Foldable Vintage crash hat", which may be just a very bad translation of something. It seems that someone’s idea of “retro” means combining the worst of two earlier eras:  the pre-Bike Boom days and the ‘80’s.  I fully expect they’ll be a hit with the wannabe hipsters!  Maybe those who have taste, or simply money or pretention, will buy the “authentic reproductions” Brooks will be offering.

"SPIN Foldable Vintage Crash Hat"

 Note:  “Leather hairnets” are very similar to headgear worn by American football players before World War II.  Some of us thought that Gerald Ford was, well, Gerald Ford because he wore one when he played college football during the 1930’s.

Pre-war American football helmet

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