Motorcycle Helmets Questions Answered
Are you thinking about riding motorcycles and enjoying the freedom and exhilaration it brings? But are unsure of what you kind of helmet you need to stay safe?
Or are you an experienced rider, and thinking about changing up your style or even motorcycle type? Everything you need to know and learn about motorcycle helmets can be found below.
Most Common Motorcycle Helmet Questions
Do I really need a helmet?
Yes. Research has shown that the area that always gets hit during a motorcycle crash is your head. Regardless if you hit another vehicle or not, your head will make contact with some object (most often it is the ground). Remember that you’re sitting on a moving engine with wheels, traveling between 35 and 75 miles per hour. Any small crash will throw you from your motorcycle. This is just the laws of physics and you cannot beat it.
The human body wasn’t designed to resist the impact of another car, telephone pole, or the road on its own.
If you need further convincing, there is one more thing you should know. Imagine all the bugs splattering all over your face when you’re riding on the highway. We’ve all seen the front of our cars and windshields with bugs all over them. I’m sure you’ve also experienced a rogue rock getting kicked up the car in front of you. Whether it is a bug or a rock, if it hits you in your face, mouth or eye, it is guaranteed to make you crash.
Another factor is the wind. No matter how fast or slow you’re riding, the wind will be a simple nightmare for you without the helmet. The faster you go and the colder it is outside, the more painful the wind will be. After an hours drive, the wind will feel less like simple air, and more like a steel knife.
And the last part? Helmets just make you look mysterious.
Which type of helmet should I get and why?
So, we hopefully convinced you to get a helmet. It can be overwhelming to choose which type, as there are so many. However, they all fall into five categories: full-face, off-road (or motocross), modular, open face (or ¾ helmet) and half helmet. After you read all their advantages and disadvantages, you can decide for yourself which one suits your needs the best.
The full-face helmet offers the best protection as it covers your entire head. It protects your face with a visor and the front section protects your chin. It also gives you a quieter ride, as it muffles the actual sound of the road and your motorcycle.
The motocross helmet is a bit different than the full face one. It has a longer, drawn out chin and visor. Its shape helps deflect dirt and debris that is often kicked up during the ride. They’re also often worn with goggles to block out the dirt, mud, rocks, and bugs.
You have greater head mobility with this than with the full-faced type. The larger eye port design allows for a wider field of vision. The sun visor is keeps the sun off your face and eyes if you ride in hot, sunny places. The vents are designed to help you cool down and just let the heat escape the helmet. They offer less impact protection than the full-faced type, and are thus, more appropriate for off-road use.
Open Face Helmets
Open face helmets cover the ears, and back of your head, but leave open the chin and the whole front of your face. But, they often have an optional face shield – think Bane from Batman. Some countries mandate you have a face shield or goggles, as you can sustain serious injuries because of debris flying into your eyes. On the upside, they offer excellent visibility and are light because of less material. It will also make it much easier to talk to people when stopped at a light.
Modular (Flip-Up) Helmets
Modular helmets are a hybrid between the open face and the full face helmets. What makes them special is that they combine the best features of both types. As the full face type, they protect the base of your head, your chin, and your eyes. Yet, if you want to talk to someone just remove the chin bar and slide the visor up. Both the chin bar and the visor are easy to replace and to move. But, keep in mind that this is the heaviest of types, as it has more moving parts. Moving parts for the chin bar means that it is also not as impact resistance compared to a full face helmet. We recommend that you always ride with the modular helmet closed, and only open it up when you stop.
Half helmets or skull caps offer the least protection possible, as they cover only the top of your head. Motorcycle safety foundations actually prohibit using these now in their courses. In the event of a crash, you would actually need to hit the pavement with the top of your head for it to offer any protection. Another problem is that these don’t protect your eyes so you have to get goggles. They also have very high wind resistance, because they are catching wind like a parachute as you ride. This will make your neck muscles sore and make your ride less enjoyable. Because of the limited material, they offer the most head mobility and are very light. But, unless head mobility is your top priority, there is little reason to get this type of helmet.
What do all those motorcycle safety ratings mean? What are DOT, Snell and ECE?
You’re looking for independent 3rd party proof that your helmet will actually save your life during a crash. You need to keep in mind that tests for motorcycle helmets are more difficult to plan and execute than car seatbelts. There are a few ways seatbelts can act during a crash, and a thousand ways a motorcycle helmet can get hit.
Safety rating vary from country to country. There are a couple that are valid for the whole of Europe, the United States and for Australia. These are: the ECE 22.05, the DOT and the AUS 1698-2006 respectively.
These represent the bare minimum a helmet needs to have in order to actually do what it’s supposed to do: protect your head.
The test is not just for impact resistance and durability, but also checking for defects around the straps, the field of vision and the construction of the helmet.
DOT, ECE, AUS Certification
The DOT motorcycle helmet safety standard is the minimal test. If you don’t see this (or the ECE, or AUS) related to the helmet you’re considering, you shouldn’t buy it. Without that you have no assurance the helmet will save your life until you actually get into a crash.
The best proof of your helmet actually being safe is the Snell certification. Known as the Snell Memorial Foundation, it started in honor of William Pete Snell. He was a race car driver who died in a crash because his helmet did not offer enough protection. What makes the Snell stand out is that it takes into account actual race track crashes. It requires a very low maximum energy transfer during testing (the lower, the better). The lower the energy transfer, the more the helmet will absorb and the less it will transfer to your head and brain – think of crumple zones in a car.
This is tested by using the so-called anvil which hits the helmet at different angles and speed in order to see how strong it is. All certifications use anvils for its testing, but only Snell uses an edge anvil, which is the most rigorous. The Snell certification takes into account the worst situation possible, and make sure your helmet will survive that. It even tests how easy it is to remove the helmet in case of an emergency.
I can’t find a helmet that fits me. What should I do?
This can be a serious issue. The above-mentioned certification also tests for how well helmets fit, or helmet retention. It may seem like it’s only about comfort, but actually, this can impact how well you’re protected by your helmet during a crash. It can turn a fun ride into a painful one as pressure against your forehead can cause massive headaches after a few hours.
Size and Shape of your Helmet
There are two elements you need to keep in mind: the size and shape of your head. Helmets can be adjusted a bit, as some have removable and adjustable pads, but these can only do so much for a poor fitting helmet.
Now, the most obvious way you can check is to go to the store and try on every single helmet until you find the one that fits. This can be time consuming as you would need to have the helmet on for at least half an hour, before you determine where its pressure points are. However, there is an easier way. Almost every manufacturer has measurements for its products, and it’s up to you to determine whether those are ok or not.
Measure your Head
First off, either fiddle around with a mirror or have a friend take a picture of the top of your head. This will help you get a general idea of your head shape. The other thing you should do is to take some measuring tape, place it slightly above your eyebrows, and measure the circumference of your head. Then, you can compare this data with the one provided by the helmet manufacturer.
In general, you should remember that while the helmet can move slightly, it should still be snug. Also, it should feel tight on the cheeks and snug on the crown (or the top) of your head. A quick test would be to nod your head up and down and shake side to side. Your helmet should not slide at all during either of those movement. If it does, you need to drop down a size. But, you also should not feel any pain.
Some helmets are more oval, some are more round. To make it easier to find out which one suits you best, you can determine if you need a wide or narrow helmet by where you feel pressure. If you feel pain evenly around your head, then it probably means the shape is good, but the size is too small. But, if you feel pressure in your forehead, then you need a helmet that is more oval. If you feel pain on the side of your head and your temples, then you may need a rounder helmet.
Never, think that just because the helmet is the wrong shape that you can just get one that is one size larger. A poor fitting helmet will offer you minimal protection in case of a crash as your head will rattle inside.
How do I repair, clean and maintain my helmet?
Let me start by saying that if your helmet was in a crash (on your specific head or not), it should be replace. They are designed to be destroyed during a crash, as this allows them to dissipate the energy around and away from your skull. Even if it seems like its OK on the outside, without any noticeable cracks, dents or weird sounds, you still can’t rely on it again. These are not like football helmets.
Dropping your Helmet
Even dropping it often can damage it. It’s not a toy; it’s supposed to save your life one day. Another important point is that the polymers and materials that are used in the manufacturing process degrade over time. The average lifespan of a helmet is five years, after which it should be replaced. The visor should be replaced once a year.
Handling your Helmet
Develop good habits when handling your helmet. Store it in places where there is low humidity, dust or fumes. Don’t hold it by its chin bar as it can damage the straps and seals of the helmet (this is extra important for Modular helmets). Always let it sit on a clean and stable surface.
Cleaning your Helmet
To clean your visor, take a warm, wet, soft towel and gently leave it on your visor. Let it sit for a few minutes and then gently wipe it down. Never use a rough towel or use harsh cleaners (dish soap or ammonia based cleaners) as it will ruin the plastic and distort your field of vision.
You can follow the same principles for the rest of your helmet. The other parts are less susceptible to this kind of damage, but the harsh cleaners could ruin the coating on the helmet. We also suggest you use automotive polish, and automotive wax, to keep it looking brand new.
Caring For The Inside of Your Helmet
As a general tip, never put anything inside of your helmet except your head. Your gloves, for example, are covered with sweat and bacteria, and will ruin the helmet lining quickly. Another tip is that you wear a bandana. This will make the helmet be in less contact with your sweat and grime. Also, when you are done riding for the day, let your helmet air out overnight. – you do not want to ride for a few hours while wearing a helmet that stewed in a stuffy bag overnight after the previous day’s sweaty road trip.
Removable Helmet Liner
If the lining inside your helmet is removable, then you’re in luck. You simply take out the pads and the liner (be careful not to tear or damage them). Put it in the washing machine with a very mild laundry detergent on a weak cycle and then let them air dry. Or, simply, you can just hand wash them.
Non-Removable Helmet Liner
However, if the lining cannot be removed, then we suggest you do the following. First, remove any pads that can be removed, the visor and any other added and removable parts. Then, put the helmet in a container full of warm water mixed with a mild laundry detergent. Dunk it completely, and make sure you have a towel on the bottom, so the shell won’t get damaged. Gently massage the liner so the detergent can enter. After you’re satisfied with doing this, rinse it off thoroughly. Let it air dry, but try to pat it down with a towel and remove as much moisture as you can. Also use cotton swabs to clean the vents and the joints. Don’t use a blow dryer; just let the helmet air dry. The heat from the blow dryer can, after repeated use, seriously damage the helmet.
What is helmet loudness?
Helmet loudness is most often cause by wind resistance. The more protrusions, wings and vents the helmet has, the louder it is. If this is an issue for you, try to find helmets that are more aerodynamic and have fewer vents. Many riders also wear earplugs to reduce the noise if they prefer venting capabilities.
Are there any accessories I should get?
While there are not required, there are some that are useful.
Specialized earplugs. These reduce helmet noise, while allowing you to hear the sounds of cars and sirens.
A tinted visor is useful, but be sure to carry your clear one with you or make sure you are done riding before evening. Riding with a tinted visor at night may make it harder for you to see in low light rural areas.
Duct tape to tape over air vents on very cold winter days.
We hope we have answered your questions about motorcycle helmets. These are all the most important points you need to know when buying or taking care of your helmet. Keep it safe, keep it clean, and respect it.