When shopping for your next motorcycle helmet, you need to know what to look for and how to choose the right helmet for you and your style of riding.
The Most Important Qualities of a Good Motorcycle Helmet Are:
Meets safety standards
Fits properly and is comfortable
Is well designed and suits your style
Is appropriate for the type of riding that you do
Riding without a helmet in most places is illegal. The law should not be your main motivation to do a good quality motorcycle helmet. Whether you are about to head down the road to the corner store or embark on an epic journey traversing multiple continents, you should be wearing a motorcycle helmet that has certain indispensable qualities.
Evidence from studies shows motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by around 69% and death by around 42%. Old assumptions that wearing a motorcycle helmet can increase neck and spinal injuries in a crash have been disproven. Evidence has shown that helmets protect against spine injury. An often quoted minor study from the mid-1980s, which stated the opposite, “used flawed statistical reasoning”
Riding a motorcycle is one of life’s greatest experiences. Whether you ride for weekend fun with friends, as a professional or commuter, getting along on two wheels is enjoyable. The satisfaction gained is like no other experience.
Before you tackle the traffic in town or head out on a weekend excursion you’ll need to invest in a good quality motorcycle helmet. You likely did some research before deciding on a motorcycle to buy. Now you’re at the best place to do the same before purchasing a motorcycle helmet.
At HelmetGeeks.com we offer an enormous range of quality motorcycle helmets. We also provide tons of information and educational resources to guide you on how to choose the best motorcycle helmet for you.
Most often people wanting to purchase a motorcycle helmet will consider first what style of helmet to buy. Choosing a style can some a little later. Safety must be considered first and foremost as this is the reason you are going to be wearing your helmet. Other factors are important, such as correct fit and comfort, but first, let’s look at the safety aspects.
If you prefer to learn about the different types of helmets CLICK HERE to jump to the section “What Are the Different Types of Motorcycle Helmets?”
What Are The Primary Parts of Motorcycle Helmets?
Knowing a little of how motorcycle helmets are made will help you make an informed choice when purchasing. Not all helmets are created equal, but there are aspects of what most helmets are made up of which are the same.
Motorcycle Helmets are Made Up of 4 Main Components:
The Outer Shell:
This hard covering is designed to absorb and disperse any impact.
The Inner Protective Lining:
This is typically made of EPS, ( Expanded Polystyrene foam) a material similar to styrofoam, but denser. This layer absorbs and softens the impact of the head into the inside of the helmet – reducing the shock to the brain.
Ensures the helmet stays on your head.
The Soft Lining and Padding – these elements work together to ensure a proper fit and extended comfort.
Each of these four components has some bearing on how safe the helmet is and how comfortable it will be for you to wear.
1. The Hard Outer Shell
The outer shell of motorcycle helmets is usually made of plastic or fiber materials. Some of the plastics offer very good protection from penetration. One plastic widely used in motorcycle helmets is Lexan.
What is Lexan, click here to learn more.
Lexan serves as an essential material for the creation of countless modern products, not only helmets. From kitchenware to DVDs and headlamps – even bulletproof glass.
Lexan is used in helmets because it will not crush on impact. In case of a crash resulting in impact, the outer shell will look undamaged but the inner EPS will be crushed.
Fiberglass is a cheaper alternative to Lexan but is heavier. Constructing helmets from fiberglass is also much more labor-intensive. Fiberglass or fiber shells will crush on impact offering better protection.
Kevlar or carbon fiber are used by some manufacturers to help reduce the amount of fiberglass. This process will help make the helmet lighter and offer more protection from penetration. Helmets shells made from the materials will still crush on impact. These materials can be very expensive.
Most motorcycle helmets are designed to distort in a crash expending the energy otherwise destined for the wearer’s skull. So little protection is provided at the site of their first impact. Continued protection is supported over the rest of the helmet. The hard outer shell protects the inner protective layer which is typically made of EPS.
2. The Inner Foam Lining.
The inner EPS layer is designed to cushion or crush on impact. This absorbs energy from the impact to help prevent head injuries. Different motorcycle helmets will have different densities of EPS. Overall protection will be somewhat dependent on the density of the EPS in your motorcycle helmet.
EPS foam is an extremely lightweight product that is made of expanded polystyrene beads. It is more than 95% air and only about 5% plastic.
The type of EPS used in helmet liners is of a higher quality than whats used in disposable cups, coolers and packing popcorn. The process of creating it is similar. EPS is created by placing small (.5 to 1.5-millimeter) polystyrene beads into a mold and applying steam and a blowing agent called pentane. The beads expand up to about 40 times their original size. They fuse together into a solid mass conforming to the shape of the mold.
The cell walls of EPS crush on impact and slow the head gradually. When foam crushes, it does not bounce so more effectively absorbs energy from the impact. EPS is lightweight and effective across a wide range of temperatures and conditions. It is highly effective at reducing the amount of energy transferred to your head during an impact.
One of the major design parameters of every helmet is the specification of foam density. That is what “tunes” the helmet for a specific range of impacts. High density for harder impacts, lower density for a softer landing. Lower density EPS has the possibility of bottoming out in a hard blow.
Modern motorcycle helmet construction hasn’t changed much since the 1960s when EPS was first used in them. New materials and construction methods are improving safety. In some cases absorbing 30 percent more energy than their EPS equivalents.
3. The Helmet Chin Strap
The chin strap is securely fastened to the hard shell of the helmet. A properly adjusted chin strap will ensure helmet safety and comfort. If your chin strap is too tight or too lose you will experience discomfort. If it’s too loose or not done up at all you may as well not be wearing your helmet, because it’s likely to come flying off in the case of a crash.
Chinstraps are often fastened with double D rings. These are one of the main, and best, types of helmet fasteners you’ll find on motorcycle helmets. They’re low-tech using solid components that won’t break. They make for great helmet fasteners.
Many new riders have trouble adjusting their helmet fit properly because of the D-rings generally found on one side of the chin strap. There’s plenty of online debate about which type of chin strap fastener is better. Typically riders used to using double D fasteners are more in favor of them than newer riders who are not used to them.
Pros and Cons of D Ring fasteners
Strong, reliable components
Ability to correctly tightening with every use
Difficult to tie in the first place
Tricky to loosen (until you’ve practiced)
Must be adjusted every time the helmet is put on
More difficult to fasten with gloves on
Not as easy to use as a micrometric fastener
Other Types of Fasteners:
If you don’t like a standard double D fastener there are many quick release fasteners available. Most of these have the advantage of not having to re-adjust your strap each time you put your helmet on. They are generally less fiddly and easier to use with your gloves on.
These fasteners are designed to fit the strap that’s on your helmet easily. Please take a look at the range of fasteners we offer on HelmetGeeks.com
4. Soft Lining and Padding
Having some understanding of how a motorcycle helmet works and what they are made up of will better equip you to make the right decisions.
The outer shell of your helmet makes the first contact in a crash. It will compress when it hits anything hard. This compression disperses the energy from the impact and reduces the force before it reaches your head.
Inside the helmet is an impact absorbing liner. This absorbs the shock as the helmet stops suddenly but your head still wants to keep on moving in a crash. This sudden stop is what causes most brain injuries. Imagine crashing at 60 mph and landing on pavement. Your head still keeps on moving at that speed, which is why there’s protective padding to cushion and absorb the shock.
Both the shell and the impact absorbing liner compress when hitting hard and spread the force. The more they spread the impact force, the less it reaches your head and brain.
The comfort padding is not designed to absorb energy from an impact. It is an important component of your helmet because it allows your helmet to fit snugly. If your helmet is loose it will not be effective in case of a crash. The padding and lining are also designed for your comfort.
For a more detailed explanation of how motorcycle helmets work to protect your skull and brain, please read this article.
What Are the Different Types of Motorcycle Helmets?
Open face (aka ¾ helmet)
Motocross (aka off-road helmet)
Dual-sport (aka crossover, ADV, hybrid, enduro)
Full Face Motorcycle Helmets
Full-face motorcycle helmets.
Full-face helmets are the safest. They’re also heavier than other motorcycle helmet styles. They can be hot in warm climates. They protect your entire face, including your jaw and face. If you crash and fall face-first, that extra protection could be the difference between life and death.
Full face motorcycle helmets usually come with a visor that generally swivels up and down to allow access to the face. Visors come in clear or tinted forms. Many full face helmets include vents to increase the airflow to the rider’s head. They are usually much quieter than open face helmets because most of the airflow is deflected.
Modular (flip-face) Motorcycle Helmets.
Modular helmets are a hybrid between full face and open face helmets. They are also sometimes termed “convertible” or “flip-face” helmets. When fully assembled and closed, they resemble full face helmets. They incorporate a chin-bar for absorbing frontal impacts. The chin bar usually pivots upwards to allow access to most of the face, the same as an open face helmet.
You can keep a modular helmet on while eating, drinking, talking or taking photos, etc. The flexibility is good, and modular helmets are safer than three-quarter helmets when the chin bar is down. The presence of a hinge does weaken its structure. It makes them somewhat less sturdy than full-face helmets when they suffer an impact.
Half helmets are more minimalist. They cover only the top and back of your head. This offers the least amount of protection, but it also makes for a very light and relatively cheap helmet.
Half helmets are often worn for style comfort as they are usually the lightest type of helmet. Safety-conscious motorcyclists will want to avoid this type of helmet as the offer the least protection. They’re especially not recommended for new riders. If you must buy one, a good, sturdy chin strap is needed.
Dual-sport Motorcycle Helmets (aka crossover, ADV, hybrid, enduro).
Off-road or motocross helmets have elongated chin bars and sun peaks that stick out above the forehead. They’re designed primarily for high-intensity sports biking. They maximize ventilation because off-road riders can get hot and sweaty because they exert more energy. They aren’t ideal for highway riding due to a lack of soundproofing or an aerodynamic shape.
Often this style of motorcycle helmet has a wider face opening than a regular full face helmet to allow goggles to be worn more comfortably.
Motocross Helmets (aka off-road helmets).
Dual-sport helmets are an attempt to combine the qualities of off-road helmets with those designed for highway riding. They have elongated chin and visor portions, a chin bar and a partially open face to give the rider extra protection while wearing goggles. They also allow the unhindered flow of air necessary during off-road riding.
The visor allows the rider to dip their head and provides further protection from flying debris during off-roading.
For people who don’t want or can’t afford to buy two helmets, they are a compromise. More specialized helmets will typically perform better.
How Do I Know if a Motorcycle Helmet Meets Safety Standards?
All helmets we sell on HelmetGeeks.com are properly certified for their intended use.
Currently, there isn’t a universally accepted organization or process for testing helmet safety. There are several safety standards that motorcycle helmets can get certified with. Different countries have regulations stating which standards motorcycle helmets must meet to be legal.
The three most common safety certification stickers you will see on the back of motorcycle helmets are DOT, Snell, and ECE. Every motorcycle helmet sold in the United States has to pass testing procedures and meet specific standards established by the US Department of Transportation (DOT.)
The Snell Memorial Foundation was established in 1957 after the tragic death of Pete “William” Snell. Snell was a popular motor racer who died in 1956 of head injuries received when his racing helmet failed to protect his head. This not-for-profit organization conducts scientific and medical research, standards development, helmet testing, and public education.
The Snell standard is a much tougher standard and involves a standard impact replication test with two strikes to the exact same spot. It measures the effect on the EPS liner and determines if the helmet passes. Testing is limited in real life effectiveness because it is impossible to duplicate how a helmet functions in a real crash. The DOT standard is a set of guidelines required of all helmet manufacturers for a helmet to be legal.
Many motorcycle helmet experts are critical of the Snell standard. They believe it causes helmets to be too rigid. They stress that the ability to withstand two hits in the same place has nothing to do with real crashes. By making a helmet too rigid, instead of softer, many preventable head injuries occur in more common lower impact accidents.
Helmets sold in Europe have to meet ECE (Economic Commission for Europe) safety standards in order to be deemed a legal motorcycle helmet. The ECE has its own testing procedures, safety criteria, and pass/fail thresholds that helmets must meet. ECE is the standard across more than 50 countries.
In 2007 the Department for Transport in the UK started SHARP (Safety Helmet Assessment and Rating Programme.) This program provides information on proper helmet fitment. It also conducts its own helmet testing beyond what is specified for ECE approval. They give each helmet it tests a star rating between 1 and 5 (five being the top rating) for safety.
Global Safety and Quality Standards for Motorcycle Helmets
The is no globally accepted testing or certification for motorcycle helmets. There is no universal system for establishing which are the safest helmets.
Based on design and coverage, a full face motorcycle helmet provides more protection. This makes them safer than a three-quarter or half helmet.