ChiCom Helmet Review

MiG Me in Beijing

story by Paul Garson, Created Apr. 01, 2008
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For some collectors, it’s stamps or coins or butterflies. I have a collection of Snapple bottle caps, 378 of 'em. Each with a different pithy factoid printed on the inside. For example, “You burn 20 calories per hour chewing gum,” and “Pigs can get sunburned.” I keep a big bowl of the caps in the bathroom in case I finish reading my People magazine.

I also have a collection of motorcycle helmets which I don’t keep in the bathroom. I have the leather flying cap once worn either by Baron von Richtofen or Snoopy depending on who you believe on eBay. I have an aluminum colander pasta strainer as worn by one of the bad guy bikers in the original Mad Max movie. (No wonder my ex-girl friend complained my fettuccine tasted like boot leather.) I have one of those scary French-made Roof Boxer helmets that give your head the look of a mutant Praying Mantis.

And then I have my MiG 21 helmet. Maybe MiG 16. I get my Chinese fighter planes mixed up ever since I started wearing the Red Star-emblazoned, refrigerator-white, oh-so-cool helmet. Probably because the helmet was air freighted from somewhere in the People’s Republic encased in a sold mass of compacted mothballs. My mind gets mushy...

Here, Paul Garson tries the ChiCom on for fit...
Oh wait! Is this Garson?
Interior of a '78 Eldorado Biarritz.

In any case, the helmet cost $19.95, which seemed a bargain when viewed on eBay’s section on vintage motorcycle parts. Yes, I’m a Cosmic Market Consumer. Where else can you buy everything from the entire inventory of new Ducatis to the KGB’s collection of Lenin’s extra eyeballs? So $20 for a brand new, cool-looking fighter-pilot helmet seemed a bargain. But there had to be a catch. Reading the small print, it stated $60 for shipping costs. So it came to $80 total. Still not that bad. A signed Manfred Spitz helmet can set you back $800. But then came the waiting. Was it an eBay scam or flim flam?

Praise PayPal and pass the ammunition, the “crate” showed up in about three weeks. Not bad. I did wonder why the mail person had tossed it up the stairs to my doorway when he usually carefully deposits by monthly supply of male enhancement capsules neatly on the doormat. I actually thought I heard the sound of a punting foot and there was an indentation in the heavily taped, bound and gagged Styrofoam container. Well, what looked like Styrofoam until I got downwind. Whiffles, my neighbor’s pug-faced Persian cat, ambled over for a sniff before I could retrieve it from the doorway, and I swear its eyes spun in its flat furry face. It wobbled in a circle then staggered back to its own apartment. (Whiffles has never returned, even for the tasty liver snaps I always keep in my back pocket. If you see me somewhere, ask me and I’ll toss you a couple.)

As I began opening the package, first with my trusty Leatherman multi-tool, then resorting to the serrated teeth of my Sawz-all, I was able to extract the helmet from its Mother of All Mothball encapsulation. Despite the painful odor, on initial inspection it looked good. Apparently brand new.

Now, whether or not it was actually made for a Chinese jet pilot is unknown. It didn’t seem very high tech. No electronics or plugs. It did have convenient padded receptacles for speaker phones which could come in handy. Maybe it was “early” jet pilot vintage. Korea? Who knows?

But it had some cool features. First being that it actually fit my head(no easy task!), and it was well padded with comfy quilting. The weakest link was the chin strap, a length of military drab green webbing with a padded chin section. No O-ring closure, but a hook and clip design that didn’t seem too secure. I was already thinking of how to scavenge a better chin strap and closure. Since rather simple screws and washers (read: primitive) were used to retain the strap, it would be a simple matter to “upgrade” it.

The nifty feature was the dual clear and sunshield dark green flip-down eye shields making it a quick change from day-to-night helmet. The plastic shields didn’t seem to be impact resistant although I had no way to tell as there was no were tags or markings, even in Chinese, on the helmet. That would include no Snell, TUV or DOT markings.

This raised a question: is it legal or not? Probably not. Unless I “acquired” one of those DOT stickers you see being sold at bike shows and swap meets. Or I could cut out the DOT logo from a box of that popular candy. [Ha!–Ed.] Or I can just make a sticker on my computer. Of course, none of this illegal stuff is recommended or encouraged by this writer or Motorcycle.com, so no phone calls or snarky emails, please.

At this point I only needed one bit of equipment to test my white ChiCom helmet. A white ChiCom motorcycle. Lo and behold, there was one that fit the bill. It’s a 300cc water-cooled twin-cylinder Police Special sold by JohnnyPag.com, one of several models offered by that veteran SoCal custom bike builder who took his expertise to mainland China and began producing customs and cruisers and has been selling them across the country to both individuals and police departments. Mark that up to Yankee design, ingenuity and entrepreneurism plus Chinese mass-production/low-cost, and you have a successful combination. I’ve ridden the bikes and frankly don’t know why we aren’t seeing more of them on the road, especially considering their price tag.

You, Motorcycle.com reader, stop there! This is an April's Fool's joke!

Riding around whilst wearing the helmet proved interesting. The ability to choose instantly between the two lenses was a major plus. It rode well in the wind, although the strap and closure detracted relative to safety issues. Earphones could easily be attached via Velcro, so that added music and communications. Worries about a police inspection finding it illegal and somewhere near the “novelty” helmet level was a concern, although it appears to be closer to a “safety” helmet than those beanies a certain faction of the riding community chooses to wear. The price is reasonable and the helmets turn up on eBay in a choice of colors. I’m looking into replacing the strap, probably transplanted from another donor helmet, and adding a chin cup.

The helmet, with its red ChiCom star against white, stands out in a crowd and gets a fair amount of attention. Definitely a conversation item at your local bike hangout, perhaps with the local police as well. Strangely, every time a jet zooms by, my head snaps skyward.

 Highs:     Sighs:
  • Reasonable Price
  • Dual shields
  • Headphone apertures
  • Well-padded and comfortable
  • Solid construction
  • Flimsy strap and closure
  • Not DOT
  • Minimalist hardware
  • Maybe safer as display item
  • Limited availability – if you can find one on eBay, or maybe at Beijing Olympics souvenir shop

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Johnny Pag

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