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Motorcycle Helmet Basics


A motorcycle helmet is the NUMBER ONE protective gear item you could get for yourself, if nothing else.

In the event of a crash, you mostly likely will survive a bad case of road rash (though that will really really suck) if you don't have a good riding jacket, but the same can't always be said for a head injury if you don't have a good helmet. We're not discounting the need for other safety apparel - not at all - merely emphasizing the importance of a helmet.

With so many different styles of helmets out there, choosing the correct one is no easy task. We'll help you get ahead in your research with our guide.

Take a look:

Functionality of a Motorcycle Helmet

A motorcycle helmet is designed to take the impact so your precious head can keep its beautiful shape. Over 42% of motorcycle fatalities are due to head injury. Of course, there is no absolute guarantee that a helmet will save your life, but statistics show that riders without a helmet are 40% more likely to die in a crash due to head injury. Don't become part of that statistic!

Secondly, not only does a helmet protect you in case of a crash, it also aids your riding experience by reducing wind pressure and fatigue, thus making for a more comfortable ride. And plus, can we also say no bug splatters in your face?!

Let's take a look at what makes up a motorcycle helmet in the most basic form:

- The outer shell is made of a tough material that is designed to compress upon impact, thus diminishing the force of the impact before it gets to your head.
- A dense impact-absorbing liner (kind of like Styrofoam) just inside the shell absorbs the shock
- The padding is what surrounds your head and provides a soft layer for comfort. It should fit snug, but not so tight that you feel excess pressure.
- The retention strap (chin strap) is what keeps the helmet on your head. We don't want the helmet flying off in a crash!

Testing procedures often test for the helmet's shock-absorbing capacity, its ability to withstand a blow from a sharp object, and the chin strap's ability to stay fastened. In the event of a crash, the helmet may crack and break, but that just means it has done its job! Sometimes, even if you don?t see any visible damage, there may be damage to the internal layers and thus has little protective value left. You should always replace your helmet after a crash!

A Word on Safety Ratings:

Make sure you look for a helmet that is certified by DOT (or ECE in Europe), as it means that the helmet meets the Department of Transportation safety standards and is approved for use on the street.

Another type of certification is SNELL, which is a voluntary third-party tester that test random samples from each batch of helmets. Helmets with this certification means that all the tested helmets have passed.

Stay far, far away from helmets that do not have any of these stickers. Not only do they may NOT provide adequate protection, they may even be illegal to wear in areas where helmets are required!

Different Kinds of Helmets

Full-face/Sport:

Just like what it sounds like, these helmets cover the entire face and offer the highest degree of head protection. The rounded, completely sealed shape means that it?s very aerodynamic, which equals more comfort when riding at highway speeds. They also offer a good level of soundproofing against traffic/wind noises. Because of all this, full-face helmets are a good all-around choice for any kind of rider.




Race Helmets:

Full-face helmets specifically designed for racing are aerodynamic with strong ventilation for comfort. They're typically made of strong high-tech materials (such as space-age composites) that provide strength while being very lightweight. They're usually less concerned with soundproofing as racers usually wear earplugs anyway. Race helmets are the most technically constructed due to the extreme nature of the sport and thus are the priciest.

Off-road/MX:

Off-road helmets are specifically to be used for some dirt riding fun. Because of the highly athletic nature of motocross, these helmets are designed to be as lightweight and ventilated as possible, meaning that they are NOT ideal for street riding. They provide very little (if any at all) soundproofing against traffic and wind noises on the highway, and the extreme visor means that it will catch the wind at high speeds.

Style-wise, they are characterized by a visor edge to shield from the sun and debris, and a strong jutted out angular chin bar. Dirt bike helmets have an open eye port (no face shield), so they're lighter and you have the option of wearing goggles. Because dirt riding tends to be?well, dirty... googles with tear-offs are a great option so that when you?re hit with a face full of dust, you can simply tear off the top layer and have a clear field of vision again.

Dual Sport and Adventure:

Dual sport helmets are kind of a cross between full-face and off-road helmets. They're designed to be used on and off the highway, streets, and in the dirt? basically they?re a bit of both worlds! They're designed for riding across a wide variety of terrain and conditions.

They often come as a shielded helmet with style elements taken from MX helmets. They have the visor edge help shield the sun, a face shield that can be flipped up for goggles use, soundproofing, and ventilation. The visor is not as extreme as that of an MX helmet and are designed to be more aerodynamic at highway speeds.

Modular Helmets:

These helmets look like the full-face helmets, except the face shield can be flipped up. Modular helmets are a good choice for urban riding or touring because of how versatile and convenient they are. You can hit up the gas station and grab a drink, chat with your buddies, while letting some sun and air in, all without taking off your helmet. This is also a good around-town or commuter helmet.

One thing to note: even though modular helmets look like full-face helmets when the face shield is down, they don't offer as high level of protection. Because they're constructed of two separate parts held together with a hinge (as opposed to one integrated piece), the helmet won't hold up as well in a crash.

Half Helmets and Three-Quarter Helmets:

shown here a three-quarter helmet

Half-face helmets are popular in the cruiser world because of its look that says "I'm just cruising along with the wind in my face, and I have not a care in the world." Total. Freedom. It's as close to not wearing a helmet as you can get.

This is the bare minimum!! The top of the head is protected with this helmet, but if you were to faceplant into the pavement? well, we don't want to think about what your face will look like. And these helmets offer no protection at all against wind impact, sounds, bugs, or rocks in the air.

Three-Quarter helmets offer only marginally more protection than half helmets. They offer about the same amount of head coverage as a full-face helmet, but without the face shield or chin bar. You're still going to see some serious facial damage if you go down face first. Only you can say what your safety priorities are, but in general, we don?t recommend these kind of open-face helmets.

Picking a helmet

Now that you've decided the style of helmet to get, it's time to pick one! Choosing the correct fit is absolutely crucial in how well your helmet actually protects you. A cheap helmet that fits correctly is going to protect you more than a top-of-the-line helmet that doesn't fit right. A too-loose helmet may fly off in case of a crash (at worst) or let in wind and strain your neck (at best), while a too-tight helmet will just become a headache (literally).

A helmet should fit snug enough that your head is not bobbing around in there, but not create any excess pressure that causes a headache. An uncomfortable helmet could quickly turn into a nightmare on a long ride, and being in discomfort means that you won't be riding at your best.

Talking about helmet fit is an entire separate post (especially if you want to talk about helmets designed for different head shapes!), so check out our detailed helmet fit guide.

Conclusion

The helmet you chose will ultimately be a personal decision based on the kind of riding you do most and how much priority you place on safety. But just keep in mind that a helmet is the number one piece of protective gear you can get. A high quality ones means the difference between walking away from a crash and severe head injury. And can you really put a price tag on your life?

Still have questions? We're here to help! Feel free to call us, ask a question below, or hit us up on our Facebook page!
By Sir D

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