The single most important piece of safety gear you can buy is a motorcycle helmet. It seems silly to write this, but facts sink in when repeated: statistics prove that by wearing a motorcycle helmet, a rider will greatly reduce the risk of death or traumatic brain injury in the event of an accident.
Of course, the purpose of a helmet is to protect the rider in the case of a crash or accident. However, helmets also protect riders’ eyes and face from debris—and yes—bugs, and provide protection from other environmental elements such as weather and wind.
Beyond safety and protection, there are several other factors to consider when choosing a helmet. So let’s explore various types of helmets available and the steps you should take in choosing the ideal one for you.
Styles of motorcycle helmets
A full-face helmet covers and protects your entire head and provide the best overall protection over any other. They are also the quietest because they reduce wind and road noise. Plus, many offer advanced features such as an internal sun visor that can be flipped down in the glaring sun. Because full-face helmets can get hot, causing riders to sweat, many manufacturers offer varying levels of ventilation and removable and washable liners.
An open face helmet protects a rider’s head and ears. But because there is no chin bar, open-face helmets do not protect the face. They look cool though, even retro or vintage. Think of Erik Estrada as “Ponch” in the 70’s and 80’s on the NBC series CHiPs. Some argue that open face helmets provide more visibility, ventilation, and because nothing covers the mouth, they are more suitable for drinking water or getting a bite to eat without taking off the helmet.
Modular helmets are like a hybrid between a full-face and open-face helmet. The chin bar is hinged so that when a rider wants to stop to eat or drink, read a map, or check their smartphone, it can be flipped up and raised out of the way. However, most modular helmets are not designed to be ridden in the flipped up position. While convenient, the hinge compromises the integrity of the helmet and makes for a weak spot in case of impact. Still, modular helmets are safer than a full-face or half helmet, and some include an internal flip-down sun visor, vents, and removable liners.
A half-size helmet simply covers and protects the top of a rider’s head. Also known as brain-buckets, half-helmets don’t protect ears, face, or chin. Nor do they have face-shields to protect faces and eyes from debris. They are lighter and provide more airflow than any other helmet, but lack serious protection. For those more interested in fashion, a half-helmet does project that ultimate ‘bad boy’ or ‘outlaw’ image of motorcycle freedom. They are especially popular with cruiser and Harley-Davidson riders.
What about face shields?
Full-face and modular helmets are fitted with removable and ratcheted face-shields that can be positioned from fully closed to open. And, some open-face helmets may offer a shield that can be snapped onto the exterior.
Choosing the right face-shield becomes an important consideration when purchasing a new helmet. In some cases, you may wish to buy several. Available in multiple colors and with varying levels of UV protection, mirrored or dark face-shields protect from glare and are best in very bright conditions. While, rose or yellow tinted face-shields can enhance contrast and definition in grey, overcast or dark conditions.
Getting the right fit
3 steps to choosing the right size helmet
Regardless of the helmet style you choose, if you haven’t properly sized and fit the helmet all bets for comfort, safety, and fashion are off.
1. The first step is determining the shape of your head. Typically, riders will have one of three common head shapes. The first shape is long oval shape is where the rider’s head is significantly longer front-to-back than it is side-to-side. Second is an intermediate oval where the rider’s head is just slightly longer front-to-back than side-to-side. Finally, a round oval shape is where a rider’s head is more or less the same dimension side-to-side as it is front to back.
Since some brands of helmets may be better suited to a certain head shape, consult with a reputable and knowledgeable dealer or retailer that can guide you to brands that fit better for the shape of your head.
2. The second step is measuring your head for helmet size. Using a cloth tape measure, measure from about an inch above your eyebrows and circle it around the largest part of your head. Cross-reference your head size with sizing charts provided by manufacturers to determine the correct helmet size.
3. Finally, and perhaps the most important step in choosing your helmet is trying them on. Your helmet should fit snug, have no hot-spots or pressure points, and be fastened at the chin with no play. With a properly fit helmet, you should not be able to slide your fingers between your forehead and the helmet padding. Plus, you should not be able to move the helmet by lifting the back of the helmet from your neckline, forward over your head. If the helmet moves and your head doesn’t, the helmet is too small.
Checking the certifications
Any helmet sold in the United States must be DOT approved. However, DOT-approved helmets are not all tested, they are simply manufactured according to safety levels and guidelines mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Other private testing and certification organizations such as Snell and Sharp publish its own guidelines and test helmets independently.
So when budgeting for your next motorcycle helmet remember that while a pricier model doesn’t always correlate to a safer helmet, however choosing a major and well-known brand is always a safer bet.