Choosing The Right Motorcycle Helmet
The right motorcycle helmet must be comfortable to wear and provide the level of protection and safety it advertises. Only helmets that meet local or international protection-level standards (e.g. DOT-approved, Snell-approved) can be legally advertised as motorcycle helmets. Choosing the right helmet involves weighing protection against comfort and esthetic preference, and finding the right size and fit.
Types of Motorcycle Helmets
There are five basic types of motorcycle helmets: full face helmets, modular helmets, motocross helmets, open face helmets, and half helmets. Each type of helmet offers different levels of protection. Protection doesn’t always go hand in hand with comfort. Many riders find the less safe open and half helmets more comfortable.
Full Face Helmets
Full face helmets are the safest because they cover the entire head. A study conducted in Hannover Medical University in Germany found that 35% of motorcycle crashes involved significant impact on the chin and jaw area which is covered by full helmets. Many riders, however, dislike full face helmets for the increased heat, reduced hearing, and low level of ventilation they provide.
Modular helmets, also called flip-up helmets, are a hybrid between full face and open face helmets. A fully-assembled modular helmet (with the chin bar down) looks like a full face helmet. When the chin bar is removed or flipped up, the full face design turns to open face. Unofficial tests show that modular helmets have the ability to protect the chin and jaw. But the level of protection has yet to be proven in official studies.
Motocross helmets, or off-road helmets, are full face helmets designed specifically for use by off-road riders. Motocross helmets have a longer sun visor and elongated chin bar which provide additional protection in a face-down fall.
Open Face Helmets
Open face Helmets, or three-quarter helmets, have the basic components of full face helmets but they don’t offer the chin and jaw protection.
Half helmets don’t cover the lower part of the head and provide the least protection. They are popular among riders of American-style cruisers.
Finding the Right Fit
Motorcycle helmets are not one-size-fits-all—heads have different sizes and shapes. A helmet that doesn’t fit well can shift during an accident and compromise the level of protection it offers. Knowing your head size is a good place to start. Head size, or hat size, is a measurement in inches or centimeters. To find your head size, measure the widest part of your head—just above your eyebrows, over your ears, and around the back. Measure several times and find the average.
Use the table below to compare your size or convert measurements from inches to centimeters. Use head size as reference. Different motorcycle helmet brands and models have different shapes—a helmet that fits one person well may not fit another. You should try as many helmets of different brands and models as you can.
To test a helmet, follow these guidelines:
- Slip the helmet over your head. The helmet must feel tight but not binding. There must be no pressure areas and no gap between your temples and brow pads. If you have to choose between a slightly tight helmet and a slightly loose helmet, choose the tight because new helmets tend to loosen up after some wear. If you are trying a full-face helmet, make sure your eyes are in the middle of the eye port.
- Fasten the chin strap. Move your head side to side, forward and backward. The helmet should not slide, roll off your head, or come close to sliding or rolling. It should feel snug and comfortably tight. A well fit helmet should cause your skin to move as you move your head.
- Remove the helmet. If you feel any soreness, the helmet might have pressure points, which can cause headaches during long rides. Try a larger helmet or different model if you feel pressure points.
Choosing a color is a personal preference and most motorcyclists prefer to wear black. But wearing a white or brightly colored helmet makes you more visible. If you still have to wear a black helmet, make sure that it has at least some reflective material.
Brands reflect personality, just as colors do. Most well-known brand names of motorcycle helmets offer similar protection. As long as the helmet you are trying is comfortable, fits well, and is certified, the brand is less important. If safety is your primary concern, consider a brand such as Shark. The main consideration for the design of Shark helmets is racing—they are light but made of a very strong carbon fiber. Other helmet brands similar in quality are Shoei and Arai.
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