Motorcycle Helmet Types & Safety
A motorcycle helmet is the most important purchase you’ll make as a rider. It’s more important than a jacket, a pair of gloves or boots. A helmet can save your life. It is also not this time to look for the lowest budget options. When you buy a more expensive helmet from one of the more prestigious names, you are buying a safer helmet because the big companies test to a much higher standard and randomly test helmets as they come off the production line in the way that the budget brands don’t. In Canada, helmet laws are stipulated by the province or territory. Usually, they only require that a helmet meet one of the DOT, Snell or ECE ratings.
What do you need to consider when buying a helmet?
The fit is important for a number of reasons, and what constitutes as the best motorcycle helmet is subjective. That being said, a well-fitting helmet will be safer. A well-fitting helmet will not give you a headache; and a headache when you’re riding is to be avoided at all costs. A well-fitting helmet will be quieter, and it will last longer. But getting a helmet to fit you is not solely about the circumference of your head; it’s not like buying a cap. We all have differently shaped heads. And all helmet brands have different internal shapes. With some brands, the shape even changes from model to model.
Comfort is crucial, but not at the expense of safety. A helmet that is too large will often feel comfortable, but that doesn’t mean the fit is right. What you need to look for is some space between the visor rim of the helmet and the forehead, because as you get hotter your head will expand; and this is when you can experience a headache. The cheeks we want to be as tight as you can bear.
Let’s look at the differences between different types of helmets:
Open Face Helmets
This helmet is popular with scooter riders and cruisers. It has quite a vintage feel. It’s still safe but provides less coverage, as there’s no chin bar and no face shield. It has an airy feel that can be nice, but may be a may be problem in rainy or dusty weather. You may need a bandana to protect your chin if the helmet has a flip down visor. Also, you could consider wearing glasses in sunny weather, but you’ll need goggles when conditions are tougher. Some manufacturers offer snap on eye protection designed to work with their helmets. Here are some highlights:
- No eye protection
- Better visibility
- Easier communication
- Flip down shields
- More affordable
- No rain or wind protection
A modular helmet turns a full face functioning helmet into an open face helmet by flipping up the chin bar. This type of helmet is popular with adventure and sport touring riders. It’s particularly good for those who may want to grab a snack, call a friend or stop for a cigarette on their travels. It is not recommended to ride in the open face position, as it can be dangerous.
This helmet tends to be slightly weaker than full face as the flip up motion introduces a hinge, which weakens the structure. However, it’s still safer than open face or half helmets. Here are some highlights:
- You can have the best of both worlds
- Mobile chin bar
- Comfortable use
- Easy communication
- Not lightweight or sealed
- High safety ratings
- Modern style
Full Faced Helmets
This is the most popular and well-known type of helmet. It will cover the front, back, and top of your head. The eye port allows you to see clearly as you ride. Special aerodynamics on this helmet stops it from lifting up at high speed. It’s slippery against the wind, making it very effective. Having a well-ventilated full-face helmet is crucial – you need to be able to breathe. The visor must be closed to stop things getting in your eye, so this makes good ventilation important. It will stop you from spontaneously combusting as you ride. Anti-fogging systems are good to keep your visor clear too, although they aren’t always the only answer. Here are some highlights:
- All round highest level of safety
- Quiet ride
- Weather protection
- Clear visor
- Little wind resistance
- Slightly heavy
- Higher price tag
- Everyday commuting
- More features than other helmet types
The half helmet is popular with cruiser and vintage riders but they offer minimal coverage. They lack in safety features but they are DOT approved which makes them legal on Canadian roads.
You’ll probably associate this type of helmet with the Iconic image of motorcycle freedom! Here are some highlights:
- Extremely lightweight
- Superior visibility
- Least protection
- Wind resistance
- No protection from the elements
- Very comfortable
Things To Consider When Selecting Your Helmet:
When it comes to coverage, people say dress for the crash not the ride. Coverage is crucial, and you don’t want to take any chances. A full coverage helmet is the safest you can buy.
You want to make sure your helmet has passed safety standards and is legal to use wherever you are. Make sure you double check this before you buy a helmet!
Always look for an ideal fit for you. It’ll be totally different to the ideal fit for somebody else. If you can try a helmet on before you buy, that’s great. Make sure it isn’t loose as it needs to stay snug on your head. However, it should not be too tight as your head can begin to hurt. Loose helmets will come off during a crash so bear that in mind. Loose helmets can also increase wind resistance which can cause neck ache. Be smart and make sure yours is a snug fit.
You must always keep comfort in mind regardless of the type of helmet you think you’re going to go for. This is something that may be worn for long periods of time, so ensure it is as comfortable as it can be while fitting snuggly. It shouldn’t cause any more pressure on your head than it needs to, so you don’t get a headache or neck strain.
Aerodynamics impacts the comfort and safety of a helmet, and can help in avoiding injury. Air is pushing towards you as you ride, so your neck muscles will work against the force to keep your head up. This can cause strain if resistance is too excessive, and any protruding features can catch the wind making it worse. Riding on the freeway often should mean that this is a huge concern of yours. Cutting wind resistance is crucial.
Your neck muscles can be overtaxed when wearing a heavy helmet. This means you can get headache, neckache, backaches, and even cause other injuries. The lighter the helmet, the less strain you’ll experience. Things like latches, visors, and hinges can add weight to a helmet, so bear that in mind.
You must be able to see obstacles and any dangers well. The size of your eye ports are important. Larger ports mean better viewing as you ride, however, they also make the surface area of the head parts that are protected smaller. May also leave more room for flying debris to hit the face. A visor can help to stop this but doesn’t offer much in terms of protection. Also, if you need to wear prescription eyeglasses you must check that the helmet is built for that as some can make it difficult.
There are an abundance of features you can choose with your helmet. Reflective material can increase visibility to other road users, which is helpful if you ride at night. Reflective shields look cool and can keep the sun at bay. There’s also communication gear, helmet cameras, breath deflectors, shock absorption, anti fog shields, decals and designs, and more.
The terrain you ride on most often will impact the type of helmet you choose, for instance, you may choose a motocross helmet for off road riding. Commuting means needing features to keep you safe alongside cars each day, so consider this carefully.
Most brands, like Bell, Simpson, Biltwell, Shark and others provide a fitment guide on their websites. Its important to remember these size charts and conversions are only a guide – ideally, even if ordering a helmet online, you try it on before riding to ensure full comfort and performance.
To measure the correct helmet size, measure around the head, one inch above the eyebrows and match the inch measurement in the chart. If between sizes, it is suggested to go with the smaller size. The interior padding of your helmet will loosen and form to the shape of your head the longer it is worn. A helmet that is loose when new will get even looser once broken in.