Frankly I don’t understand folks who can play bike polo without a helmet on. Whenever I forget to, I feel like naked, and pretty much ignore the game until I can protect my melon with the Bern Watts helmet I’ve come to see as a necessary piece of equipment.
And I think that most people are like that these days in our sport. We’ve seen so many times where the lack of a helmet would have caused a world of pain, and few, thank the elder gub, that demonstrated what happens when someone doesn’t wear a helmet.
So it’s no stretch to say that helmets are going to become (or have become) a standard piece of equipment in bike polo–but because we started out as smelly bike messengers and other hipster stereotypes, the type of helmet, much like the type of bike, is not a specific directive. It can be anything and everything. This is good, I think, but should there be certain standards?
One thing I believe in quite strongly is that people ought to start wearing face cages on their helmets. I have seen so many people get caught in the face/teeth/jaw/facebits in general that I really don’t care to listen to the complaints from people who say they don’t want to wear them. It’s dumb not to, frankly, and if you feel as though your game can be limited by a face cage, you’re probably just not that good of a player yes that’s a personal attack on your ability no I don’t care if you’re offended.
Let’s look at some of the helmets that people are using right now, the pros and cons, and so forth. I’m going to be working from these following premises of judgement:
1. Can it protect the noggin?
2. Can it have a face cage?
3. How much does it cost?
4. How long will it last?
5. Coolness factor?
Face Cage: Yes again, though it’s through a DIY effort on the part of the polo player. Fixcraft sells face cages specifically for the Bern Watts, and you can also buy them pre-attached, I believe. Though, to be honest, you can go to a re-use sports store (Play it Again in our case here), and buy a batter’s face cage for anywhere between $4.00 and $10.00, and just mount it yourself.
Cost: This is another place where the Bern fluctuates. I bought mine from Ebay for twenty bucks brand new (it has a black mark on the helmet), but you can generally find them around 60 bucks direct from Bern.I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than 50 on a Watts, though, so dig around a bit.
Longevity: My first Watts lasted for about a year and a half before the insides began to fall apart and smell horribly. I bought another (the 20 buck find), and so far it’s been holding up very well.
Coolness: Well, it has that brim to it, and that pretty much makes it awesome. It’s also the standard for bike polo players, though, so you’re losing out on that ever desirable individuality factor.
Bicycle Helmet (Road/Mtn)
Face Cage: I can’t say that I’ve seen many with a face cage attached, and I think you’d have to rig it just the right way to make it work. I’m going to vote no on this, only because it’d be a hassle and probably look horrible anyway.
Cost: Bike helmets can cost a pretty penny if you want one that is light and breathes well. But the cost is relative to the quality. I have seen some for as little as $15.00 and some for as much as $250.00 and beyond. I doubt any of you would go for the high-end just to play polo, right?
Longevity: I have no idea, as I never owned one. I hope if you get an expensive one that it lasts for a good long time, though. But another thing to consider is how bike helmets are made to take the impact of a hit (and by “take” I mean disintegrate to absorb the impact), so if you really get in a bad crash, you’re likely to need a new helmet–though that’s better than needing a new skull, really.
Coolness: Zero. A traditional bike helmet will never look cool on the polo court. Not even when the Riggs brothers wear it. Not even when Koyo beans kids with one on.
I don’t have any experience with these, either, but I did ask a few folks who use them for bike polo, and I’ll include their opinions where relevant.
The sound will scare you more than the hit. I’ve taken full arm extension, blind backhand “This is a good idea” ABS to the face cage from our local Bulgarian and didn’t even register what had happened until a couple seconds later. I was a little worried about the fact that one of the face cage’s two attachment points is my chin – and the notion that force from a hit could hurt my jaw – but it’s a total non-factor. Glancing blows are even less so.
This thing is intended to be hit full in the face by a baseball going 60 mph, and the batlike objects which propel it. Polo has nothing to rival that level of abuse.
In terms of padding, the thing is more like a peewee soccer shin guard than serious action sports armor. The shell is thin and flexible, and the foam is 1/8″ thick with the consistency of packing peanuts. These things are made to fend off blows to the head by sticks and balls, but not protect you from smashing your noggin on asphalt at 30mph.
I was struck pretty hard on the front top of my head with a full downward mallet swing. I noticed the hit but it didn’t inflict any damage.
Face Cage: It has a cage already attached, and that gives it a big advantage over attaching one yourself.
And there’s the rub. I think I paid 75 euros including shipping from Ireland. Mycro is the brand and you can order the helmets direct from their site. They’ve even got a bunch of cool semi-custom designs for no extra cost. Not sure where Mycro saw a market for an American Flag themed hurling helmet, but hey, I ain’t complaining.
Around $100 from American Gaelic
Longevity: The two folks I interviewed both indicated that their helmets were still going strong, so the jury is out. It’s a pretty slim, simple design, so unless it cracks, I think you’ll get the same life out of this that you would a Bern.
Coolness: Hurling is a cool sport, in that nobody really understands it. Hurling helmets are expensive and weird, which likewise makes them cool. I think they are cool.
Noggin Protection: Yup. These are beastly when it comes to protecting your dome, really. Might be the highest on the list for that.
Face Cage: Again, you can get these with or without a pre-installed face mask (or, I assume, you can readily add a hockey face mask if needed).
Cost: New, anywhere from $50.00 to $100.00. Used, it’s anyone guess. Though, really, buying a used hockey helmet is a horrific idea, as some hockey dude has sweated all his poutine into it already.
Longevity: As far as staying together goes, hockey helmets are made to last. The smell, though. If you can work out the smell (they don’t breathe super well, traditionally), they can last a good many years.
Coolness: They make you look like you mean business, so I’ll give them high marks, here. Plus I think most polo players have a deep-seated love and respect for hockey, so paying homage to the sport is a nice touch.
So those are the big ones that I know of. I have seen one fellow running around with a horse polo helmet, but he was the only guy and they can be so horribly expensive anyway.