This Was A Dumb Idea
The past weekend during Thanksgiving, I decided to do something I’ve always wanted but never had the time or the equipment to do so.
I painted a helmet.
I’ve always enjoyed custom-paint designs, especially the stories behind the layout and the little intricacies in each helmet. Helmets are a rider’s identity, and it strikes me as odd that kids these days don’t go for one design and make it their trademark, rather than changing helmets more than they change their underwear. My design, however, would involve almost no intricacies, as I had not painted something since kindergarten when using just my fingertips.
Ever since the Kawasaki Z900RS was unveiled at the EICMA Show in Milan a couple of weeks back, I thought that retro theme would look great on a helmet—the thick white stripe adorned by black pinstriping, with the lime Kawasaki green flanking both sides. It didn’t seem too hard to accomplish—even for me at my less than elementary stage of painting—so with a bit of time, I figured, “stuff it, I’ll give it a go.”
The first thing was to find a donor helmet. Looking at the retro bodywork of the Z900RS. There was only one lid for the job in my old Biltwell Gringo S, the same one I’d worn on the Moto Guzzi MGX-21 and Yamaha SCR950 intros last year. The Gringo S sports the same old school shape and the screen hangs over the front of the eye port, meaning it’ll allow for a few discrepancies as far as accuracy in lines against the rubber seals.
Next was the paint. I’d set myself a budget of $50 for the whole thing, and as I was not about to invest in an airbrush (nor have anything like the skill to use it), the Gringo S would be treated to a few cans of the finest $3.50 Rust-Oleum acrylic spray paint from Home Depot.
In all, four cans were used in the making of this disaster—two for the white base coat, one for green coat that was the closest I could get to Kawasaki green and a can of clear coat. I also picked up some 60 and 120-grade sandpaper, a small can of $4.99 black acrylic paint for the pinstriping, some $3.99 brushes and some painters precision tape for the bargain (not) price of $14.99 from Michaels.
Taping up the base chrome liner, the eye port and the bottom of the lid to ensure no particles got in; it was time to dive head first into the project. The first time to you take sandpaper to a perfectly good helmet is a bizarre feeling. Like deliberately wrecking a nice painting, you know the second that sandpaper touches the red surface of the Gringo S it’s never going to be the same. Once you’ve made that first big scratch, it’s game on, and before I knew it I’d taken off the majority (but not, as I would later find out, all) the red paint and covered myself and everything around me in fiberglass dust.
The Gringo S is relatively simple to get ready for paint because it has no air vents, and after giving the helmet a good wipe down (and enjoying a well-earned beer) I was ready to give the Gringo its first coat of paint.
Following the first two base coats, I realized the sanding job I’d done wasn’t really going to cut it. Scratches all over the Gringo S started to seep through, meaning the only way I was going to dull them was to add lots more paint or, start again, like a real professional, and get everything smooth. Cue more paint.
With the white coat now in place, I set out to draw the boundaries for the green paint. This was surprisingly easy as I got a bunch of tape, strapped it onto the Gringo, measured the distance I wanted and simply cut it out. I wanted the lines to be identical in distance from the top of the eye port to the base of the helmet as it curved around. As I still work in the metric system, I measured 2.5cm from the top of the eye port and carried that around the port, down the side of the helmet to where I wanted the curve to come in, and around the back where the two lines would eventually meet. And just to add another headache into the mix, I thought I’d paint in my race number—33—into the back of the lid. Why, oh why…
Now it was time for a can of green paint, which equaled about three coats. The project was starting to come together—it’d been seven bloody hours since I started—so at that point I gave up and came back the next day.
I needed to mark down the areas for pinstriping. The idea was I wanted to re-create the flowing line of the Z900RS, but I soon realized I may have been out of my depth when it came to arranging the curving corners. For me, trying to make four identical curves on different parts of the helmet, which itself is not the same from top to bottom, was like asking a blind donkey to take an algebra exam. This, as it turns out, was the most labor-intensive part of the painting process, because every time I thought I got the lines right, one looked different to another and thus I had to start again.
Eventually I got it to a point where I was happy enough with the lines, and I broke out the paintbrush. I should add that the previous day’s Thanksgiving dinner and the subsequent induction of alcohol at Chris Fillmore’s place had left my right hand a little quivery and not in the best condition for precision pinstriping, but I was determined to see this damn thing through.
I can think of at least three spots on the Gringo that have tiny little black grazes as I ventured off the track limits with the paintbrush, but I think the result looks, well, it looks okay, shall we say.
I figure this helmet will look good in photos as I glide on past on the new Z900RS, but if you look closely at it, the Gringo S will resemble something of a dog’s breakfast with a face shield attached. I have decided not to show the finished product here as it still needs a clear coat, but I have promised myself I will wear it as the Z900RS intro in a few weeks. Dear God, what have I done?
There are two things I have learned in this experience. The first is painting a helmet is way, way harder than it looks, even for an elementary design like this. It takes lots of time and patience—both of which are in short supply at my place—but I did have a surprising amount of fun throwing up all over a Gringo S.
The second lesson is that guys like Tag Gasparian, Troy Lee, and Brett King are absolute gods when it comes to painting helmets. Just even creating something as basic as this helmet was a ball ache, so to do this as a profession and do it to their level, is nothing short of amazing. Gents, I salute you and no, Tag, I won’t be applying for a job any time soon. CN