Friday, July 01, 2016

Equipment - An Old Friend Returns (Brancale Giro helmet)

So an old friend came back into my life the other day. It's a 1983 or so Brancale Giro helmet, the "aero" version of the ubiquitous Brancale helmet out there at the time, the Sport.

I rediscovered the helmet out of the blue, really, because I didn't realize I didn't have it. I mean, okay, I'd looked for it briefly here and there and couldn't find it. I was trying to set up a series of posts on the helmets I used to have. I'd naturally start with my first real racing helmet. Thing was that it was so bizarre and off that I usually kept it separate from the helmets that actually saved me from injury - those are stacked in the bike room, all bashed and cracked. When I couldn't find my first real race helmet I just figured I put it "somewhere else" and figured I'd look again "later". I repeated this a few times while living at the old place and then a few more times after we moved up here about 10 years ago.

Then it appeared in the mail, absolutely and totally unexpectedly.


So to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here's some info.

Brancale Giro in stock form, from eBay listings:

Stock front Brancale Giro helmet.

Stock rear Brancale Giro helmet.
I distinctly remember removing the red/green Brancale decals.

The Brancale Sport helmet, which many riders had, from here:

Many of the Sports I saw had a blue sticker over the top.
I remember these as "the white and blue helmets".
Note that these have twice as many metal rivets. I probably thought that it'd be better to have fewer rivets.

The Brancale Giro is about the thinnest, most fragile helmet you could possibly imagine. From what I can tell it's made with ABS plastic and it has some comfort foam pads, like the ones inside normal helmets to pad the styrofoam.

There is zero crush zone in this helmet. If it was a car it'd have a zero star crash test rating.

Case in point. One of my first bike mentors, I think it was Tom (or Ken, but I think it was Tom), he and I did a training ride where we finished by doing a sprint.

It involved hammering down the main road in our town, a pretty big artery road. We'd normally wind it up just before the high school which had a crit-like two-90 degree bend one-way driveway. We'd fly into the first 90 degree turn off the main road, accelerated down the short, 2 lane, one way 100 meter straight there, blasted into another 90 degree turn, then sprinted along the three lane, one-way, 120 meters to a crosswalk over the driveway. It was a perfect way to practice a two corner crit finish while at the limit and in a somewhat controlled environment.

The problem was that on that day we came around the second corner and had to slam on the brakes. A wall of school buses blocked the way. Apparently there was some after school activity requiring a dozen or so busses and the parked buses forced us to slow to a walking pace.

We threaded through the buses and crossed the road at the end of the driveway, rolled into a parking lot, climbed off our bikes, and sat on a wood fence lining the lot. Tom (or Ken) theatrically hit his helmet on one of the wood fence posts, a light hit, expressing his frustration at this whole miles long effort to get to the "final two turns" only to be thwarted by the unexpected busses.


We both jumped, startled.

His helmet tap had cracked the thing straight across.

He looked up, now more glum than mad.

"I guess I need to buy a new helmet."

Or, as the case may have been, just glued it back together, because that would have been okay back then.

1984 Uniroyal Training Series, in Southbury or Middlebury, CT.
I'm wearing the Brancale Giro.
The other guy, Nathaniel Ruhlman (younger brother to Paul Ruhlman) is wearing a Brancale Sport.

When I started racing I had gotten the "aero" Brancale Giro, over the ubiquitous and hockey-helmet looking Sport. Even back then I really enjoyed geeking out over the technical stuff. I dreamed about owning a Miyata-Aero road bike (in 1983!). I wanted ovalized tops on my road bars, available at the time, and only got them a few years ago when I got my FSA Wing Compact bars. I wanted aero wheels in 1984, after Francesco Moser blew away the Hour Record using disk wheels, and my dream was to have the first set of tall profile wheels I'd seen (not Zipps, I can't remember the brand, I want to say Aero-something or something-Comp). 

As far as helmets went it was all about ventilation because in those days ventilation was a significant problem. I thought that it would be beneficial if I had more ventilation in my helmet. I couldn't afford a Dura-Ace AX group or an aero Miyata bike but I could increase ventilation in my helmet - all it would take is a sharp knife and some time.
Therefore I enlarged the vents already there while adding four more vents (two on each side up front).

I remember thinking as I was carving the vents, "Okay, I think that's about it, I don't think I can take more out without weakening the helmet."


Now I look at my cut outs and think "Wow, every corner is a stress raiser!"

I was also in some Rising Sun stage of my life and I wanted to put the Rising Sun on my helmet. I didn't realize it wasn't really a good thing, but at the time I didn't know. It's not quite as bad as putting a swastika on your helmet but it's sort of similar.

I asked my mom to write down the Kanji for various words. I don't know the list (I'll have to ask someone that knows Kanji) but I think they were things like Speed, Strength, Victory, Endurance.

Bike race things.

I even used my primitive sewing skills to embroider the strap with my name in Kanji.

Then, for two years or so, I raced the helmet. Its time came to an end when the USCF passed the helmet rule where the helmets actually had to work. I believe that was 1986.

Right side.
My Rising Sun wasn't planned well so this beam had to end abruptly.

You can see the two extra vents, compared to the stock Brancale Giro at the top of the post. You can also see how big the vents got. Big is relative, of course, but compared to the helmet up top the vents are like the "bold" version of the "normal" vent.

Does that make sense?

Note that the two outermost vents in the front were hand cut.
All the vents were enlarged.
My name in the front, as the "head badge" if you will.

I cut the center vents pretty deeply. I debated cutting vents across the middle but I was doing all the cutting with an X-acto knife and it was very slow going opening a new vent. Therefore I nixed the idea of adding two more vents in the center.

The "good side".

The left side was where I hand painted the Sun part of the Rising Sun. It's what I'd consider to be the good side. Again, note the vents.

I vaguely recall enlarging the vents on one side only, riding outside, and "comparing" the difference in ventilation from left to right.

I'm sure there was a substantial difference.


The Back.
All vents were enlarged.

In the back I knew I needed to let the air out. Therefore I enlarged the vents a bit. However, after all the agony of adding vents to the sides, I decided to leave the vent count alone.

"Kamikaze" is not really an appropriate thing to put on the helmet. I wouldn't do it again.

Close up.

I'll update when I know what the Kanji means.

The rear.

You can see my attempts at neatening up the red beams. The helmet faded, exposing the white touch up paint. It was all hand painted. Since I built a lot of plastic models, generally in the 1/72 scale range (so a tank was a couple inches long, a big plane might be 10 inches long), I only had small paint brushes. It wasn't an ideal way to paint a helmet.

My name in Kanji

I wonder if anyone does this. I forgot I did this until I saw it. Makes me want to do it again.

The inside.
In this picture the right two vents I carved out, and all of them got enlarged.

You can see the rough cuts, my attempts at making the cuts the same angle, etc.

The foam padding is all the padding in the helmet. Soft foam, not structural.

Rear vents. Again, enlarged.

The rear vents were shaped to the outside, not inside, so they didn't look as big from the  inside. I remember convincing myself that the larger vents made a difference.

Carving the vents was sort of a cathartic thing. I'd sit at home and carve out the vents a bit more before some of the big races because "another millimeter of ventilation would help". Or, probably more accurately, another hour of me sitting quietly and carving my helmet would calm me down a bit and help me focus.

The other evening, when I pulled out the helmet, the Missus asked me to put it on. She cracked up when I did, so I had to run to the bathroom to see what I looked like. It was a bit ridiculous because it fits so closely to my head. Aero, though, I have to admit.

I went back and joked to the Missus that I should put it on and roll up to the start line of a race, just to get a reaction from people.

Then I realized I'd be fined for not wearing an approved helmet while riding a bike.

Ah well. I think it'll go into my glass door bookshelf, where I have my various bike trophies on display. I'm not one that has a lot of trophies so luckily (?) I still have room.

I'm glad circumstances allowed me to reunite with my first real racing helmet. It was obviously very personalized, I'd put a lot of sweat equity into it, and really, when I saw it again, it felt like I'd reconnected with an old friend.


F16F22 said...

Hi Aki, neat story. How did the helmet show up in the mail when you weren't even searching for it?

Aki said...

It's an old friend that got back in touch after a long, long time, hence the title of the post (a play on words, sort of). It was almost 20 years since we'd talked, if it counts that we talked virtually this last time. I thought I was getting a picture, the picture in the post where I'm wearing the helmet (my friend sent me a scan of the picture). I didn't realize that I was getting the actual helmet. Not only that, I got it the day after we talked. At that point I had to post about the helmet; the Missus even commented to that effect when I pulled the helmet out of the box.

guerciottigirl said...

Glad to see you and your friend reunited! Warms my heart...

Aki said...

Me too.