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MCN investigates fake crash helmet scandal

Published: 25 July 2019

Updated: 26 July 2019

Dangerous fake crash helmets that fail mandatory safety standards are posing a serious threat to British riders. Readily available to buy through online auction sites, international marketplaces and social media, the illegal lids promise big-name branding but offer frighteningly little protection in impact tests.

As part of an investigation by ITV News, two fake helmets – one branded as an AGV, the other carrying a fake Arai logo – were put through simulated 30mph crashes by the British Standards Institution. Both lids failed the lab tests dramatically, the helmets’ outer shells splitting apart on impact, with visors and other external parts immediately separating.

Wearing such a helmet on British roads is illegal, as it hasn’t been tested or certified to the necessary ECE 22.05 standard. But more critically, it also leaves a rider completely exposed in the event of a crash.

"For someone wearing that helmet, potentially after the first impact it’s going to disintegrate and then they’ve got no protection on their head at all," explained Mark Mayo, BSI’s Personal Safety Testing Team Manager, who conducted the tests.

But while wearing a fake helmet is illegal, buying one isn’t. It’s easy to do, too. The dramatic rise in online retail sites means that riders now have access to buy riding kit from all around the world, including countries where helmets are not designed, built, tested or certified to European standards. These also include countries where counterfeit helmets are far more common.

"There’s a lot of manufacturers pumping out really cheap helmets across Asia," explains Stuart Millington, senior brand manager for MotoDirect, the UK distributors for Arai and AGV. "But these fake helmets are clearly substandard products being passed off as premium brands – they’re stealing trademarks and even graphics. They’re a complete ripoff.

"A lot come from Indonesia. The market for helmets over there is so big, especially for Valentino Rossi replicas. And these are the ones that are making their way into Europe. But this is entirely an online problem – I’ve never seen a fake helmet in an authorised retailer or at a show."

While official helmet manufacturers and distributors can apply to have listings of fake helmets taken down from third-party websites, the scale of the problem is so vast as to make this impractical. The solution, Millington suggests, is to stop people buying them in the first place.

"Rider education is key," he explains. "We want to make sure people aren’t un-knowingly wearing illegal and substandard products. If someone’s wearing one in full knowledge that it’s fake, that’s their choice. But it’s young riders, new riders, or people who have them bought as gifts. Riders without the experience and knowledge – they’re the ones most at risk. They think they’re protected when they’re not."

How to spot a fake motorbike helmet

A fake helmet advertised for sale online

The most effective way to avoid buying a counterfeit helmet is to only purchase riding kit from reputable sites. Fake helmets aren’t finding their way into the UK via authorised retailers, but only through third-party sites that connect buyers and sellers, potentially on different sides of the planet.

If you’ve already bought a helmet and suspect it might be a fake, your starting point is to check the chin strap. A genuine lid will have a white label stitched onto it with an E marking and a serial number – this proves it has been tested and certified to European standards.

If you’re still not sure, send a photo of your helmet to the relevant manufacturer, importer or distributor, and ask their advice.

"One of these fake helmets could kill you" - Stuart Millington – Senior Brand Manager, Moto Direct

Stuart Millington, Senior Brand Manager, Moto Direct

"We’ve been aware of this issue for around 18 months. It can be really hard to tell a fake helmet just from the listing online. With some of the listings, you can see from the picture that the helmet’s fake before you buy it.

"But that’s us knowing as product experts. Someone who’s new to biking wouldn’t necessarily know what to look for. Sometimes a listing can use images of the real products, but what you actually receive is a fake. It can be really hard to tell just from the listing.

"It’s not a big volume, but it’s significant enough for us to have seen social media users tag our brands in photos, and we can see what they’ve bought is a fake. At the Isle of Man TT I’ve even seen people walking about with fake Arais and said, 'Do you realise that’s not real?' Some of them actually do – they say, 'Oh yeah, I know.'

"But even if just 10 helmets get in, that’s serious because we know how bad they are. The quality of the outer shell is way below what you would need to offer any protection in a severe impact. And on the inside it’s a one-piece single-density EPS, which is so basic.

"It’s not about hurting our sales, more about educating customers that one of these helmets could kill you. They really are that bad. From a moral point of view, we might be losing a few quid as a distributor, but that’s insignificant compared to if one person got killed or seriously injured wearing one of these helmets."

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