In today’s world of motorcycle racing, sponsors and corporations have had so much influence on the way a motorcycle racing team looks that the riders themselves have had very little opportunity to express their own personal style. Helmets are the one area it seems where riders still have the ability to express themselves – and boy do some riders get creative!
In this week’s Top 10, we bring you a very subjective list of my 10 favorite racer helmet graphics. Personally, there are two criteria I took into account for this list. The first is that the lid has to be brash and loud, making it easier to spot on track. Bonus points if the helmet also has detailed artwork, making it fascinating to inspect up close. In the case it doesn’t fall into the first category, if, upon seeing it for the first time, the helmet makes me laugh, then it also makes its way here.
Most of the helmets here are currently in production or were at some point, meaning they have been available to the public. However, there are a few one-offs. Clearly, limiting this list to 10 meant many deserving lids ultimately got left behind. That’s where you chime in with your picks in the comments section. Here, then, are my favorites.
10. Scott Russell Screaming Chief
If there were two things you could count on with Scott Russell during his heyday, it’s that he was going to win at Daytona, and his helmet would rock the Screaming Chief. Even after having long been retired, Russell is still active in the industry. From TV commentating to instructing at the Yamaha Champions Riding School, Mr. Daytona’s presence is strong.
So strong that Arai has not one, but two commemorative Screaming Chief helmets. My favorite is this matte white version. The white base color really makes the colorful feathers and skull pop, and the matte finish is best appreciated in person. Pictures just don’t do it justice. I might be biased since I’ve ridden and instructed with Russell in the past, but his replica lid is one of the favorites currently in my collection.
9. Ben Bostrom Wood Helmet
Ben Bostrom has had many cool helmets during his career, but when I first saw this one I was puzzled. What … is … that? Turns out B-Boz drew inspiration from, of all things, hardwood floors, and wanted to decorate his helmet in a similar manner. Hence the “wood” helmet was born. I really shouldn’t be surprised at its, um, uniqueness considering Benjamin’s free-spirited nature, but the wood helmet strikes a chord with me in a way I really can’t explain. It just makes me laugh. Considering that was the second criteria for making this list, I had to include it. It’s too bad this graphic never made it into production, because I’d wear it every chance I got.
8. Riyuichi Kiyonari Dragon
If you don’t know Ryuichi Kiyonari, here’s a quick run-down: he’s an All-Japan Superbike champ, three-time British Superbike Champ, and winner of the Suzuka 8-hour. He also had a brief stint in MotoGP, with the unenviable task of replacing the late Daijiro Kato following his tragic death. Racing resume aside, Kiyo’s lid has long been a favorite of mine. Its bright orange base is distinct and easy to spot, but more to the point, the dragon design on either side just looks mean. Kiyonari has been having a rough few seasons lately, with good results not coming as easily as they used to, but at least his dome still looks like the most intimidating in the field.
7. Daijiro Kato
Speaking of Daijiro Kato, the 2001 250cc World Champion also makes this list as having one of my favorite lids. I really became immersed in motorcycle racing around this time and Kato was one of the guys I’d always cheer for. This was based mainly on his riding talent, but also because I thought those eyes on the back of his “head” were so cool. It was as if Kato was staring at all the riders behind him (of which there were many), and daring them to pass if they possibly could. Fittingly, on this, the 11th anniversary of his passing, Shoei has re-released this graphic on its latest racing helmet, the X-Twelve.
6. Chris Walker
At 42, Chris Walker is seemingly the ageless racing wonder. Having competed on all sorts of machinery, he’s best known as a Superbike guy, having won a World Superbike race and come runner-up in the British Superbike championship four times. Through it all, his bright and jagged yellow/red helmet design has been one of his mainstays. I like the jaggedness of the criss-cross pattern – for some reason they remind of me dinosaur teeth chomping at Chris’ head. Sure it sounds gruesome, but there’s no mistaking “The Stalker’s” helmet for anything else. Instantly recognizable and slightly intimidating, I’ve long been a fan of the design.
5. Nicky Hayden Stars n Stripes Arai
Channeling his inner Peter Fonda, Nicky Hayden really outdid himself with this one. With the stars and stripes, complete with the clever three-quarter helmet outline and a print of the lower half of his own face, Nicky successfully got a big ‘ol laugh outta me when I saw him wearing this lid. It’s funny, it’s cool, and best of all, it’s being reproduced by Arai so the rest of us can share in the good times.
4. Marc Marquez Motegi Helmet
Winning has a way of smoothing over tensions. And in the case of Marc Marquez, the boy can practically do no wrong these days. This is good, because the special-edition Shoei he wore at the Motegi round of MotoGP last year, Honda’s home race, raised a lot of eyebrows – and not for the right reasons. You see the picture above. You know what I’m talking about. Marquez thought he was paying his respects to his Japanese fans, and his manufacturer’s home country, when in fact the caricature carries with it racist overtones. Maybe that gesture doesn’t carry the same impact in other parts of the world, but I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.
Not one to take things too seriously in life, I give Marc the benefit of the doubt, as he clearly didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It was a naive and innocent mistake, clearly without any malicious intent. In the end it gave me a chuckle simply because I couldn’t believe he had done it. Shoei reproduced the helmet graphic in limited runs, though wisely decided not to include this specific piece of artwork on the back.
3. Gary Nixon
Though my list is made up of mostly current racers, I have a ton of respect for the badass that was Gary Nixon. The guy was all kinds of cool, both on and off a motorcycle, but his simple yet classic helmet design is still distinct today. This point was driven home for me when Jason DiSalvo paid tribute to Nixon at Daytona a few years back by running his livery on his bike, leathers, and helmet. No matter where he was on track, DiSalvo, with his Nixon replica paint job, was impossible to miss. And though he didn’t win the Daytona 200 that year, he without a doubt had the best looking colors that day. All thanks to Gary.
2. Valentino Rossi Double Face
Is this the front or the back? That’s the beauty, and hilarity, of Valentino Rossi’s “Double Face” helmet design he used for winter testing this year. Thanks to the shape of the AGV Pista, the rear section of the lid has a profile that’s similar to the front. Noticing this, Rossi, ever the jokester, spotted an opportunity to have designers paint over this section with a mockup of his own face from inside the helmet: hazel eyes, puffy cheeks and all. I think the result is hilarious, but I really shouldn’t be surprised considering how funny some of Rossi’s helmets have been in the past. AGV recently announced it would produce a limited number of the Double Face helmet, so you too can join in on the joke.
1. Kevin Schwantz COTA helmet
As much respect as I have for Kevin Schwantz, I never really fancied his helmet much. That changed a couple weeks ago, when I happened to be at the Circuit Of The Americas during MotoGP weekend and stayed a couple days later for the Suzuki MotoGP team test. There, Schwantz was testing a Yoshimura Superbike in order to prepare for his upcoming Suzuka 8-hour race later this year. He also whipped out this gorgeous new take on his classic design. The above photo really doesn’t do it justice, but, like the Russell helmet at the start of this list, the detail work is exquisite. The combination of colors pop to my eye, and the matte finish, which is hard to see in this photo, looks stunning up close. Until two weeks ago I had Rossi coming out tops in this list, but I think, being the student of the sport that he is, he’ll gladly step aside for number 34.