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Thomas Tilley
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Halo Motorbike Helmet

2008


Tom wearing the Halo Motorbike Helmet on a Honda 125cc What do you get when you cross a full-face motorbike helmet, a foam mat, duct tape, spray paint, buttons and a toilet brush? A Halo motorbike helmet.

In January 2008 I started riding a motorbike to work and I thought - if I have to wear a helmet I may as well have some fun and be completely geeky while doing it. Read on for some information about what it's like to ride a motorbike in Thailand and for details of the helmet hack.



Riding a Motorbike in Thailand

Often, one of the first things that visitors to South-east Asia notice about the traffic - apart from the general chaos - is the number of motorbikes on the road.

Shopping centre motorcycle carpark
"Now, where did I park my bike?"

Two people and a dog riding a motorbike. In Thailand most of the bikes are 100, 110 or 125cc step-through Honda motorcycles and although you are now required to wear a helmet by law - most people in Chiang Mai still seem to think it's optional - especially if you don't want "helmet hair". The police hold regular crackdowns on offenders but less than 50% of people appear to wear helmets regularly.

Man and a small child with no helmet riding a motorbikePeople also often ride single-handed while talking on a mobile phone, holding an umbrella (if it's too sunny or if it's raining), or so they can hold their dog! At least this guy has his helmet in the basket - even if he's not wearing it.

Glazier riding a motorbikeIt is very common to see three university students or even a whole family on one bike with children in front of, behind, or sandwiched in between their parents.

Even the local glazier rides a motorbike. Hmmm - a motorbike, panes of glass and no helmet. I guess if you are riding a motorbike loaded with panes of glass and you have an accident then the helmet may not do much anyway. Motorbike and sidecar full of cabbages

In addition to people, dogs, and glass, motorbikes also carry a wide variety of loads including: gas tanks (being a gas delivery driver is perhaps the only job even more dangerous than being a glazier!), computers, ice-cream, eggs and cabbages.

Riding a bike here is dangerous (you never know when you're going to get hit by a loose cabbage) so I always wear a leather jacket (even during hot season) and a full-face helmet. But being safe doesn't mean you can't have any fun.

Design

When designing the helmet I started with this picture of the now legendary Mullet Chief wearing a Halo 3 Legendary edition helmet as my main reference image. There were four main design goals:

  1. the modified full-face helmet should look cool and at least vaguely like Master Chief,
  2. you should still be able to raise the visor,
  3. the existing visor should be easily replaceable, and
  4. the existing helmet ventilation should remain useable.

Along the north side of the seven hundred year old moat in Chiang Mai are a number of stores that represent the ultimate in convenience shopping because in addition to stereo equipment, lawn mowers, and guitars they also sell motorbike helmets (if you are looking to purchase a helmet but you're not in Chiang Mai then check out bikebandit.com motorcycles and search through one of the web's largest selections of helmets). It was here that my son and I went to choose a helmet while trying to keep the above design goals in mind. We settled on a matte black "Fighter" full-face helmet made by Space Crown. Not only did the standard helmet look cool, but it also had a cool sounding name! The helmet had a reflective blue visor and although it's not the classic gold of Master Chief it looks yellow if the lighting is just right.

I took the helmet home, took some photographs, ran some edge-detection software over the images, inverted the colours, and cleaned them up a little so they looked like the image shown below in the middle. I then printed out the side and front views so I could get sketching. The helmet design I came up with (shown right) is a little bulbous - but hey, underneath it's really a motorbike helmet.

Side profile of black Space Crown motorbike helmet right arrow Black and white edge-detection image of Space Crown motorbike helmet right arrow Master Chief motorbike helmet design sketch

Helmet Hacking

DISCLAIMER: Don't do this. If you do, you do so at your own risk. In the pamphlet that came with my helmet the manufacturer explicitly states that you should not modify the helmet in any way. Additionally, your local law enforcement officers may be less than happy to see Master Chief, Bobba Fett, a Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Iron Man, or even a Klingon riding a motorcycle down their streets - even if they are wearing a helmet!

Most of the modifications to the helmet are built out of high-density foam cut from a camping mat (blue in this case). Some initial experiments showed that yellow contact adhesive was far stronger than clear contact adhesive so this is what I used to attach the foam to the helmet. I started with the back of the helmet which was built up using two layers of foam.

Unfortunately the "machine green" coloured spray paint I had chosen didn't provide even coverage over the foam so I first covered it in grey duct tape to provide a sprayable surface. The image on the right shows the helmet masked up and ready for it's first coat of paint.

First piece of foam glued to the back of the helmet Rear view of first foam layer Helmet masked ready for spraying

In addition to the blue foam I also used some slightly thinner black foam which I purchased from an office supplies store. Two pieces were glued directly on to the sides of the visor. I thought carefully before adding these because side-vision is important but there was no appreciable loss with these in place. A center piece was also added onto the visor above the front vent.

Keeping the design goals in mind, I carefully built up the details on the side of the helmet so that the visor could still be opened and also removed if necessary. This meant that the two black plastic screws on each side of the helmet would need to remain accessible so the visor side covers and locking mechanism could be removed. The body of the two larger side pieces were glued directly onto the visor side covers and I added some velcro to help secure the longer "ear lobes" onto the helmet while still allowing them to be removed (the white square visible in the right-hand image).

Building up the side features The freshly sprayed side pieces

One of the great features on the Master Chief's helmet are the two black re-breathers, or vents, or whatever they are, located on either side of his jaw. I initially thought about using some sort of flexible, ribbed hose but hadn't seen anything suitable. So I went to the Thai equivalent of the 2 dollar shop looking for inspiration - which is where I saw this toilet brush:

Green toilet brush

Using a hacksaw I was able to make the two cuts shown and then very carefully cut it down the center to create two bright green re-breathery things. I spray painted these black and then attached them to the side of the helmet using two-part epoxy resin. The blue sensors on the side of the helmet are rounded buttons and a piece of flat white plastic was also glued onto the front of the helmet to square-off and build out the jaw. The sides were then smoothed out with the thin black foam which was then duct-taped and sprayed.

Reflective visor and detail parts The helmet with details in place but no jaw or peak yet Building out the helmet's jawline

At this stage the helmet was starting to look pretty cool but adding the peak really gives it that Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 feel. The peak was only going to be attached to the top 1cm of the visor and I was unsure if it would be able to withstand the air pressure at highway speeds (around 90km/hour on a 125cc Honda) so the forward pointing ribs were added to provide support by pushing against the "brow" of the helmet. To help reduce the pressure under the peak I also made the bridging piece between the two peaks narrower to allow air flow up at the center of the visor (the red arrow in the center picture).

Helmet with foam cutout for the base of the peak Front of helmet showing airflow up through the peak Side view of the foam peak before covering

Here are another two shots of the peak before and after duct-taping. Once sprayed the peak was glued to the top of the visor using yellow contact adhesive. The right-hand side picture shows the helmet prior to final assembly. The two white pieces in the foreground help keep the visor locked in position when it's open. They are part of the original helmet but come off when the visor is removed.

Closeup showing the ribbed foam construction of the peak The peak covered with duct tape before mounting All the helmet pieces prior to final assembly

The images below show the completed helmet. The re-breathers could have been angled a little lower but I was pleased with how it turned out overall and it was quite close to the original design drawings I made. I thought about using some fine black spray paint to add some "detail" but I never quite got around to it.

Side view of the completed Halo motorbike helmet Front view of the completed Halo motorbike helmet Front view of the completed helmet with the visor open

After a year of riding, including through the rain on a few occasions, I am surprised at how well the helmet has held up. Some paint has worn off, particularly along some of the sharper edges, but because the tape underneath is grey it actually gives a really nice aged metal effect and adds to the overall look. Perhaps using the helmet with a bigger bike would looker cooler too but that's what we ride here.

Halo isn't very well known in Thailand because the Xbox has very little market penetration here. I still get plenty of interesting looks from people though - even if they don't recognise the helmet. I've also pulled up at the traffic lights right next to a policeman on a number of occassions and wondered if they were going to say anything about the helmet. To date they haven't and I think they are most probably just pleased that I am actually wearing one.

Other Projects

You may also be interested in reading about my Powerpuff Girls motorbike helmet, my Stormtrooper motorbike helmet...

PowerPuff Girls motorcycle helmet Stormtrooper motorcycle helmet

...and/or some of my other projects:

hacked joysticks PVC water pipe Guitar Hero TRON/motorbikes mercury switch
Halo Motorbike Helmet
Halo Motorbike Helmet
Asteroids Cabinet Fish Tank
Asteroids Cabinet Fish Tank
Hovercraft
Hovercraft
Wooden DDR Mat
Wooden DDR Mat
Everyday uses for PVC water pipe
Everyday uses for PVC water pipe
Bug-zapper Guitar Hero Controller
Bug-zapper Guitar Hero Controller
PVC Water Pipe Tron Controller
PVC Water Pipe Tron Controller
Virtual Pinball
Virtual Pinball
Multiplayer Guitar Hero
Multiplayer Guitar Hero
Bamboo Racing Cars
Bamboo Racing Cars
REAL-Tron
REAL-Tron
Terminator Xeyes
T-800 Terminator Xeyes
Plasma Pong Table
Plasma Pong Table
Voting Machine
Voting Machine
Blossom Motorbike Helmet
Blossom Motorbike Helmet
Coffee Grinder Puzzle Bobble
Coffee Grinder Puzzle Bobble
Stormtrooper Motorbike Helmet
Stormtrooper Motorbike Helmet
Tron Handheld POV Display
Tron Handheld POV Display
Countertop MAME Arcade Cabinet
Countertop MAME Arcade Cabinet
Lollybot
Lollybot
Payap Pinball Machine
Payap Pinball