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Spare Parts: The Red Ball Jets Syndrome

By Ernie Copper

There are certain things in life that are better after the shine wears off, and until that happens, you feel like something of a marked man. What I’m talking about here is the feeling you had when you were a kid the first day you laced-up your new Red Ball Jets and wore them to school. “Run faster, jump higher,” they promised. A mixture of pride and humiliation came as standard equipment inside the box with new tennis shoes back then, and you just knew everyone was going try to step on your feet that first day to scuff them up.

 

Jeans and leather jackets can be the same way. As has recently been pointed out to me, most of my comfortable, decent-fitting jeans have some kind of petroleum-based stain on them somewhere, or at least a fray, rip or tear. And a well-worn leather jacket is a collection of memories, rainstorms and sun-drenched days that you carry on your back.

 

Not long ago I had someone comment on my nice “vintage helmet.” I perceived the comment to be legitimate, but that happened to be the newest helmet I owned. My Harley-Davidson “Quarter Mile” helmet must be at least five or six years old. The go-to helmet in my lineup was my H-D half helmet and it has well over a decade of experience. That remark made me consider the idea that maybe, just maybe, it was time for a new lid. I mean if you’re going to go through the trouble of wearing a helmet, it might just as well be one that has the best chance of protecting your head.

 

I wore my new helmet every day the first week without much thought about the Red Ball Jets syndrome. I admired its fresh, clean look as the reflection of the sun and fluffy white cumulonimbus clouds floated across its flawless shell. Friends and family were amazed at how the visor stayed whisper quiet, even in strong headwinds. The middle visor snap on my old helmet was loose and getting worse every day, so this was a welcome change. Technology has improved helmets a lot over the last 10 years or so, and I was reveling in those advancements. Removable liners for washing, retaining snaps on the chin strap, retractable half shield—all nice upgrades when compared to my older helmet. I was so impressed and satisfied that I actually threw my old helmet away! New stuff is great!

 

Then the day came when we wanted to check out a new place having a bike night. That’s when it hit me. As I rode into the gravel bike night parking lot, I felt like I was walking into the hallowed halls of John F. Kennedy Elementary School again on the first day of school in my new Red Ball Jets. Now, helmets are not ultra popular at bike nights to begin with. My estimate would be somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of riders attending in our semi freedom-of-choice state (Pennsylvania) wear them. While I didn’t expect anyone to stomp my head to break in my helmet, I did think it would likely be here when the helmet dropped off my parked bike and got its first character marks. We often joked that the first thing you should do with your new helmet is to roll it around the driveway to break it in, as opposed to waiting for a real gravity-induced incident to do it for you.

 

The helmet held fast to my mirror that night and I haven’t yet had to endure the sickening sound of new helmet wobbling to rest after dropping to terra firma. I’m continuing to enjoy the comfort, style and features of my new helmet on a daily basis. But it did make me think back to those Red Ball Jets days.

 

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