Why you shouldn't use motorcycle helmets in karting

Columns: Opinion
A superficial analysis of crashes, the helmets shape or their finishes might suggest equivalent performance, but it is not the case: for karting, a helmet specifically designed for motorsports is necessary. (fm)

The existence of licenses for Karting training outside of races, proposed by some National Sporting Authorities (ASN) for "hobby and sunday drivers”, brings to light a frequently overlooked issue – that of appropriate technical gear. While none of us would think of using a cycling helmet for skiing or riding a motorbike, the distinction between a motorcycle helmet and one specifically for karting is not as clear. As reported in a special feature published in our Magazine, the differences between the two types are significant, contrary to initial assumptions, as emphasized by a technician from a major helmet manufacturer: "It starts with the driver's position on the vehicle. Thinking only about the riding position of a racer on a motorcycle, which is leaning forward, it becomes clear almost immediately that in karting, the dynamics are completely different: almost opposite, we could say. A semi-reclined torso position, as is the case in karting, creates a different impact with the air. For this reason, the ventilation system of a karting helmet is completely different from that of a motorcycle helmet: a specific channeling of airflow entering the helmet structure allows, for example, avoiding visor fogging.

A separate consideration is given to the visor attachment. In a helmet with ECE approval (for motorcycling), a quick-release visor system is required. As seen in many spectacular motorcycle crashes, in the event of an impact, it is common for the visor to detach from the helmet even with non-direct hits. Although some manufacturers provide reinforcement screws (as an accessory) for the high-end models of these helmets, most motorcycle helmets do not come with visor fastening systems as standard. In karting, an inheritance from automotive helmets (from which karting helmets derive), the visor is instead fixed, as per SNELL specifications, using multiple screws to prevent detachment in the event of an impact. Consider cases where a driver is hit in the head area – even frontally or from the side – by another kart in the rather common scenario of a kart ‘flipping’ following wheel-to-wheel contact: in these cases, it is crucial that the visor does not detach so that the driver's face can be fully protected. In this critical helmet area, the visor closes differently from a motorcycle helmet: if you pay attention, the closure of a motorcycle helmet visor happens gradually – almost in clicks, one after the other. In the case of a karting helmet, there are no intermediate clicks; the visor closes hermetically without the possibility of 'intermediate' positions between open and closed. It should also be added that the helmet's shape itself takes into account the unique dynamics of our sport: consider the chin guard. Since the driver has a 100% frontal position to the air hitting them (while on a racing motorcycle, the rider mostly has their head tilted downward), the chin guard is wider, aiming to limit the air that directly reaches the driver through the front opening. Finally, the fastening system: all karting models feature the double ring, which is the standard for racing use (also in motorcycles), while many motorcycle helmet models, despite being of high quality, use the micrometric system where, over time, a malfunction cannot be excluded." You can find the list of helmets currently undergoing approval by the FIA here, a list also referenced by ACI Sport in its forms and website for competition and training in Italy..


Created by: fmarangon2 - 02/02/24

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