Two things got me thinking about this post. The first was Valentino Rossi retiring recently and the images in his last race of all of his VR46 Academy riders wearing just a few of his replica helmet designs from of his previous 26 seasons. The second trigger for this post was the acquisition of a white, New Old Stock (NOS) 1980s Swiss made, Kiwi K7 helmet. Whilst I’ve never owned a Rossi replica helmet, I do have a Rossi T-shirt and cap that I bought at Mugello one year when he was riding for Ducati (rather unsuccessfully?). However, I did once own a Kiwi K7 helmet, and it was a race replica, but more on this one later. First, I wanted to know a bit more about the origins of the racer replica helmet and its history.
As helmets first started to become mandatory in the early post-war years in motorcycle racing, and as not many people wore them on the road, there wasn’t really much demand for the race replica. If you wanted a replica of the helmet worn by your racing star of the 1960s, it was quite easy to create your own replica on your kitchen table. This was mainly due to the actual riders themselves only having access to basic materials for their own helmet design. For example, the helmet design created and worn by top 1960s British motocross star, Bryan Wade, was pretty easy to replicate. All anyone needed to do was to buy a white helmet and some black electricians tape and after some careful application of the black stripes, an exact Bryan Wade replica could be created. Brian’s helmet design was very simple, and very noticeable.
TV coverage of what was then called ‘scrambling’ was in its infancy and covered for the first time in the UK in a new series called ‘The BBC Grandstand Trophy’, which was beamed live to black and white (and one or two colour) TVs all over the UK on a Saturday. This televised series ran from 1963 to 1970. Scrambling was also a winter sport at the time and it hadn’t got the motocross or MX titles that we know of today, so these events were always muddy, unless it snowed of course, and the race still went on. Brian Wade’s helmet design stood out more than anybody else’s at the time, and even when it was quite muddy. A black and white design on a black and white TV just worked really well. If you want to know more about this BBC covered series, there is a great book called ‘On Air’ by Ian Berry (link at the bottom) and below is an image taken by Brian Holden from the book, and showing Brian Wade wearing his simply designed, made, and easily recognised race helmet.
The first ever commercially available motorcycle race replica was the AGV Ago’ in 1972, and has been available to buy from AGV in every decade ever since, and probably will be forevermore as a tribute to Giacomo Agostini. The design and colours remain the same with the Ago’ replica, they just get added to the latest helmet design. It wasn’t long before the race replica became one of the ultimate marketing and branding locations on a riders outfit. It also wasn’t just a statement of the rider’s individual helmet design, it soon became a place for sponsors to advertise, which means cash! Today, the racers always have the highest specification helmet of the day, but most race replicas are sold using more basic and much cheaper models of helmet for road use. However, if you want a Rossi replica helmet, you can buy the ultra-premium and performance one as worn by VR himself, or you can buy one for half the price or less. In addition to the favourite replica that I owned and which the next paragraph is about, my next favourite helmet design is that of 1970s Formula 1 start Peter Revson. His father was the creator of the Revlon Cosmetics company and sadly, Peter never got to the point of inheriting the business as he was killed in a racing accident in 1974, as life expectancy in most motor sports wasn’t that long in the ‘70s. Peter’s legacy in what I believe to be one of the best helmet designs ever, is still available to buy from the specialist replica helmet company, F1 Helmet (link at the bottom).
So far, so what? Well, back in 1981, I spent more than two weeks wages on a Swiss made, Kiwi K7 helmet, which was a Mick Grant race replica. I don’t know how many of these replicas were ever sold, but I never came across anyone else wearing one. Whilst I’ve never been someone who has idolised any one person, I was/still am a big fan of Mick Grant, and have been since I first saw him racing in Scarborough at the Oliver’s Mount circuit, and riding the green and white (some might say; fearsome) 750 Kawasaki. I could relate to Mick Grant as he not only rode the Grand Prix and road races, he was also a pretty keen and competitive trials rider. Mick had, and appears to still have, that great Yorkshire approach to expressing himself, and from what I’ve seen of him on video, there’s never any confusion at the end of a conversation regarding what he wants to message to his listeners. Mick was one of those racers of the 1960s that saw the evolution of the safety helmet and he also was an early adopter regarding the space on the helmet with which to recognise his first ever, and notable sponsor, Jim Lee. Mick’s helmet design had Jim’s initials in a symmetrical JL arrow-style pattern, painted onto a white helmet and to this day, that JL design is ultra recognisable as Mick’s helmet. The colour of the JL logos has evolved over the years from a grey and green JL arrow combination to a mix of grey and red logos, which are what he uses to date.
Mick raced for Honda during the 1980s and with some rides on a Suzuki as well, and the Kiwi helmet design and colours matched both brands as well as maintaining his signature design in recognition of Jim Lee. Kiwi Helmets were a Swiss company who believed that they had pushed the boundaries of helmet design with their fully faced Kiwi K7 helmet. This very specific design was claimed by Kiwi to be light, very aerodynamic, quiet for the rider and primarily, the latest technology made to meet the highest safety standards of the time. Mick Grant used this helmet for several years and he was a great advertisement for a continental company trying to launch helmets into a U.K. marketplace that already had some very successful helmet manufacturers like Kangol, Stadium and Griffin. As Mick raced successfully in the national and international races in the U.K. as well as the Grand Prix, he was the perfect fast moving advertisement for Kiwi Helmets to focus on their geographic expansion.
For all of the reasons above, I ‘ate lightly’ for a few weeks to pay for my new Mick Grant replica back in 1981 and rode around the streets and the race events with my fabulous (in my opinion) helmet. Having a specific replica helmet puts you into a group of people straight away, so whilst Mick battled on the circuits with other riders like Barry Sheene, I was obviously a rival to anyone else riding around on the road wearing a replica of Barry’s helmet, or any other riders helmets for that matter, but I did it with pride!
Kiwi Helmets saw a relatively successful 20 years in business, which saw them exporting their helmets all over the world. Unfortunately, Kiwi Helmets closed down in 2000 and were eventually bought by a French company who still use the brand today. I have a Swiss friend who has a very special garage in Avenches, Switzerland, and he basically buys up stock from closed down car, Motorcyle and bicycle shops. His garage is one of the most amazing places ever, and which I visit regularly. On my last visit, he had cleared out a motorcycle and bicycle shop that had closed down in the early 1990s and which still had old stocks of things from 10 years earlier. There were a number of new helmets that had never been out of their boxes, with visors still in their protective film, and one of them was a white Kiwi K7. Imagine my excitement!?
Sometime ago, I wanted to make up my own Mick Grant replica using a modern helmet and as the logos arn’t available off the shelf to buy, I thought I would get some good quality stickers (or decals) designed and printed. I bought a French GPA helmet and adorned it with the stickers/decals that I’d had made and it looks fabulous. I was recently sitting on my 1975 Yamaha RD250 at a pedestrian crossing red light in North Yorkshire and the man walking across the crossing, stopped mid-way and said to me “nice Mick Grant replica mate”, then carried on walking, so it is a recognisable design to this day. There was a minimum order of 10 sets for the stickers to be made. I used a few sets and sent the remaining to Mick Grant fans all over the world.
Having a white NOS Kiwi K7 meant that I could ‘replicate-the-exact-replica’ that I bought over 40 years ago, and the same as the one Mick Grant wore in battle at places like the Isle of Man TT races and the infamous, North West 200, is really Great! Except this helmet is one size too small for me and also, would I really wear a helmet of last century’s technology? Nope! ‘So what?’ then I hear you ask. Firstly, there can’t be many NOS Mick Grant replicas in the world, so that makes me feel special-ish, and secondly, it represents a period of fabulous racing memories for me at circuits like Oliver’s Mount.
Anyway, as in the early days of replicating your hero’s helmet design at your kitchen table with some tape and scissors, it is possible to still do this in your kitchen (or posh shed/workshop/atelier).
Mick Grant has written a few books, which I obviously have on my book shelves, but none of them go into any detail about his helmet experiences, the technology behind them and the associated rider deals during his career, so maybe somewhere in Yorkshire one day, I might be able to do one of my ‘Interesting Interviews’ with him about his ‘Life inside a Helmet?’. You can switch to the cycling site at the top of the page to read some of my ‘Interesting Interviews’ and you’ll see what I mean, or you can try this one as a taster…..https://diaryofacyclingnobody.com/the-interesting-interview-series-no-9-francis-glatz/
Here’s the link to that great scrambling book, ‘On Air’:https://motorsportx.com/products/motocross-on-air-the-bbc-grandstand-trophy
Here’s the link to Formula 1 Helmets: https://f1helmet.com