Davida Helmets: the history, the reality

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Photos: Ben Part

The sharpest looking lids come from the Birkenhead docks, across the Mersey from Liverpool. Davida’s rocker heritage has been admired – and copied – by fashionistas and outlaws the world over. Check out the exquisite paint jobs on offer: the pudding basin classic race series resembles a sequence of objects d’art. Their promotional imagery is simply different class. Partly because of their style, partly because they’re England’s sole surviving helmet manufacturer, Davida justifiably hold a special place in Brit Bike Culture – augmented by Fid the Lid, their charismatic MD. Party animal of legend and resourceful culture vulture, Fid established Davida’s incredible visual archive, and curated the motophoto exhibition, based on historic press material. It’s exactly the kind of project you would associate with the Birkenhead crew.

Editor’s note: this article was written by Nick Berkeley, a freelance journalist and photographer based in England and a longtime friend of Hell For Leather. All the photos come from Sideburn’s Ben Part. 
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Less well known – but of increasing significance – is the extent of
Davida’s relationship with safety. There’s still an assumption that open
face helmets are little better than a chamber pot when it comes to
protection. These days the Davida style comes with safety: their Jet
(the top of the range model) has the same EEC accreditation as the most
expensive full face helmet out there, and the company comply with
national standards worldwide.

Like several other notable British companies, Davida’s manufacturing
roots can be traced back to the ’70s and the emergence of unwieldy
Japanese behemoths on our unsuspecting highways, laying the foundations
of the superbike technology that has dominated motorcycling ever since.
Stopping and turning ‘em was quite another matter: enter Harris and
Spondon in the UK with bespoke frames to contain the Zeds and big CBs.
 Plus one David Fiddaman. Fiddy and a couple of mates – including Alan
Davenport, currently head of design at Davida – started fabricating
swing arms in a shed next door to his mum’s house in the Wirral, on the
other side of the tracks to the docks.

By the early ’80s, Japan was experiencing domestic demand for
traditional pudding basin lids: it was one of those curious retro
fashions that the Japanese suddenly and inexplicably take to with
fanatical enthusiasm. There was no credible home grown product in the
land of the rising sun, but the market was there. Fiddy started
exporting another manufacturer’s helmet to fill the gap. Before grasping
the real opportunity: manufacturing them himself. Davida was suddenly a
viable business.

The same basic principals are followed to this day.  The shells are
sub-contracted out to specialist GRP manufacturers; glass reinforced
plastic making is a tricky business requiring highly specialized plant.
The foam likewise; Davida add to the manufacturer’s quality control
procedures by testing the materials themselves (finished helmets are
regularly submitted to the appropriate authorities for ongoing testing, a
requirement of the EEC standard). What happens in Birkenhead is that
the shell, the foam, the liner and the leather are put together to
create the product, which is completed by the artwork – all done by
hand, in-house. You can order your own bespoke paint job, or choose from
the thirty or so classy designs available for each product. The
resurgence of retro in Europe and the expanding cafe racer scene in the
States have cemented Davida’s place in the pantheon of biker ware: the
lids are also very popular with riders of contemporary Italian nakeds.
Their range is complimented by an array of eye-ware: goggles, open face
visors, shades with interchangeable lenses.

The best bit is that you can contact Davida and send em your own design:
not only it cracking value, your lid will benefit from the very latest
paint technology, materials and a degree of quality control seldom found
in the world of custom spraying. It is impossible to imagine Arai or
Shoei offering the same service, or bettering the finish.

– Nick Berkeley

  • phar

    at least they save your brain when you loose your face.
    but hey: wind in your face + beeing seen while riding.

    still wouldn’t dare – I like my face – It’s a shame no one can see it in my full face helmet.

    • Cameron Baum

      There is no such thing as a 3/4 or half-helmet IMHO. Yeah, they make these silly things that LOOK like a helmet -but they are missing all the necessary parts (like face protection) so I won’t call them “helmets.”

      Form follows function.

      It’s a piece of safety equipment -not a fashion accessory.

  • ACohen

    http://motorcycleinfo.calsci.com/Helmets.html

    About halfway down, there is a diagram, with citation, of where helmet damage was found after motorcycle accidents. About 35% is on the chinbar and shield. They should call them 13/20 helmets, they sure aren’t 3/4 the protection of a full face.

  • Zach

    They might meet EEC standards, but do you really want a $300 half helmet that doesn’t meet SNELL or DOT standards? Even companies that oppose SNELL M2005 (like Suomy) are DOT legal.

  • Papasan

    As a surviver of multiple crashes, you’d think I’d have taken up knitting by now. Half Helmets? You might as well go without…
    ACohen has a point, my personal experience is that the bulk of the damage is in the frontal & shield area, how else would I have preserved my handsome face if not for my Full Face Helmet.
    Many thanks to Bell, HJC, Arai, and a host of other manufactures of great brain-buckets!

  • http://cynic13th.livejournal.com/ Cynic

    Very cool looking helmets. Some fairly attractive models.
    That being said, I will never wear anything but full face helmets.

    • robotribe

      Fullface? How are you going to sip your latte with a fullface on? I didn’t buy this bar-mounted cupholder for nothing!

  • telekom

    If you go into a shop and look at top of the range full face Arais, Shoeis, AGVs etc and walk out with a retro styled 3/4 helmet, then you basically make a bigger statement about your attitude to survival than you do about fashion and style… but what you THINK you’re doing is being stylish.

    It’ll be nice when your friends are reminiscing about what a stylish guy you were… at your funeral. It’ll be much nicer to have a beer with your friends and reminisce about the accident you survived because you were wearing a full-face helmet which prevented your face from being smeared nine feet down the tarmac.

    These are really stylish photos, really nice looking bikes and people and gear… I’ll never be one of the cool dudes in these pics, but I hope to survive long enough to be able to look back and laugh about my lack of style.

    • Cameron Baum

      Telekom,

      They might survive the accident all right but they’ll never be so “pretty” or “stylish” again with sever scarring, reconstructed noses and lips, or perhaps even missing a jaw (I met a guy like this once -hard not to stare).

      Look at this post-crash helmet:

      http://yfrog.com/0efullornofacej

      Now imagine what the guy’s face would have looked like had he not been wearing it.

      They’d be LUCKY if they just died…

      3/4 lids are not helmets -they shouldn’t even get the liberty of being called that.

      I googled up a few gory pictures of facial trauma but I won’t post any links here because it is just too graphic. Anyone who wears a 3/4 lid is in denial over the basic facts of physics. The first thing you hit when you fly off a bike is your face if you go head-first. I bet they think it’ll never happen to them.

      • telekom

        Hi Cameron
        Agreed, that picture says it all. There seems to be broad agreement in these comments that style over safety is not a great idea, but I’m sure there are still plenty of people (in the US anyway – it’s illegal here in the UK) who don’t even wear a dome or a 3/4 when they’re out riding their bike and being “stylish”.

        It’s a really great collection of pics – they look excellent. I guess I’ll just have to live with the sad truth that I’ll always have to stop and take off my huge, unfashionable Arai before I can drink my latte…

        • Cameron Baum

          I think that anyone who rides without a helmet (and I don’t even count 3/4 and half ping-pong lids to BE helmets) is a complete fool.

          Still, I’m not in favor of a law telling people how they must protect themselves. IMHO, laws against riding without a helmet might save lives -but laws banning riding altogether would save even MORE. If saving lives is the #1 priority, then why isn’t the natural thing to do just ban the bikes?

          In a free world people can be as foolish or wise as they wish with their own bodies and lives. I prefer to choose my own level of risk. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think people who ride without proper helmets have enough sense to come out of the rain. Let ‘em get wet. I’m not their mommy and I sure as hell don’t want a law telling them they must wear a helmet.

  • BL

    ever done it? gone for a decent ride without a lid?
    I have.
    70mph bumblebees are delicious!
    no wonder everyone here hates harleys (the only kind of motorcycle to ride helmetless) all you need to do is throw on a do-rag, chunk the shifter about 4 inches, and let the wind blow…it is a pretty surreal feeling if you’re use to wearing a full face. i think it’s something that motorcyclists should experience at least once…just so you can appreciate the feeling….and i recommend a flaming american flag do-rag….unless you think you can’t make one ride without falling on your face….flame on.

  • DC

    Yeesh. You had to know all the full-face, stegosaurus looking jerks would come out of the wood work on this one.

    No one cares that you have a $1000 helmet made entirely from atoms split by the Large Hadron Collider. Get over it.

    • Cameron Baum

      With the average price of bikes creeping well over $10k these days I still am amazed how people get so cheap with it comes to protective gear -especially the helmet which covers the most expensive 10lbs of meat you’ll ever own.

      I got my Shoei TZ-R at NewEnough.com for something under $300 on clearance. It’s the lightest, most quite, comfortable, easy to remove/clean faceshield, coolest helmet I’ve ever owned. $300 is atom-smashed unobtanium?

      Most squids these days will drop 5 figures on a bike without batting an eyelash and then go right back out and buy a hugger, rear fender-relocate kit, pipes and power commander before it even has the broke-in oil removed. Yet something like basic gear is just too much of an economic hardship to swing.

      Good gear, if taken care of will outlast a bike and give you many years of use. Averaged over a decade $2500 in riding gear isn’t even one interest payment on your typical new-owned-by-bank bike. It’s not even one set of loud pipes or even a set of tires for dog’s sake.

      Or you can save a few bucks and buy an open-faced Bell™ POS at Walmart and save money for the power commander that you just “gotta” have…

      • amsterdam

        The max lifespan of a lid, at least according to Arai is 5 years. That is if you don’t drop it etc.

        Am I the only one who has both? I always wear the fullface when I’m going on the highway/speeding but I love wearing the open face on short trips into the city and on b-roads. It is a totally different and in a way superior experience.

        • Cameron Baum

          You are going to go with some unmeaurable “lifespan” as advised by some (but not all) manufacturers who WANT you to buy a new product from them every 5 years? Show me how the materials in a quality helmet “age.”. My GF is a materials engineer -she specializes in plastics and foams. I’m not buying Arai’s claim. It’s mostly lawyereze anyhow. Perhaps a helmet may degrade after 5 years slightly, but I’d rather wear an old full-face helmet than a brand new 3/4 poser hat any day.

          And if you ever rode/raced in the dirt then that might change the way you thought about the silly manufacturers recommendations. I laugh at people who replace a helmet that fell off the bars. It’s like a helmet is a magical talisman and all the magic escapes the moment that bonk sound is heard.

  • chili sv

    There is a spectrum of available safety products. As long as people have free will they will make their decisions based on their priorities which may or may not align with those of others. I support any advancement in the art or science of safety equipment. In this specific instance, true it is not the safest product one could buy, nor is it the least safe. It is however, an object of desire and for any safety product to reach that status is worthy of admiration. There are also brands (we all know which ones) that provide a viable alternative for those who would otherwise go without; this too is admirable.

  • PeteP

    I have a 3/4 helmet to wear when riding my old bikes (XS650, SR500) and my DT50 moped.

    A full face helmet would just be silly.

  • Barrabas

    Its about choice. Simple as that. Some choose no helmet at all. No one is pretending that the Davidas offers the same protection as a decent full face. Then again you could die crossing the road on foot.

    So its pointless saying “they aren’t as safe as XYZ”. We know that.

    Telekom is incorrect. All Davida lids are legal in the UK bar the retro race pudding basin which is not sold as street legal. The article points out that the JET model in the main pic has full EEC accreditation.

  • Jason

    I wear an open face fully approved helmet and I think your nuts if you don’t!Open face or full face is up to the rider as long as it reaches the safety standards of the country in which it is sold.In Australia we have strict standards.I read recently that some stats are showing that you have a higher risk of breaking your beck with a full face then an open face.Something to do with the chin bar impacting and pushing the helmet back and snapping the neck.Whereas with the open face the jaw breaks.Early days yet of course as they are still doing the maths on this one.Don’t wear the Davida classic (pudding basin style)on the open road they are not approved and are extremly dangerous.HCI make a pudding bowl type (model 50) which is DOT approved.If you like pudding bowls get one of these.Always remember safety first.