Motorcycle Helmet 101: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Motorcycle Helmet 101: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

As the single most important piece of safety gear, a motorcycle helmet is one thing on which you don’t want to skimp. The old Bell Helmets advertising slogan still rings true. It read, “If you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet.”

A motorcycle helmet is the most vital safety equipment for a biker. Well, proper gear for a biker from head to toe is essential, but a helmet stands out to be a gear offering the most critical protection in case of a collision or a fall. Protecting your head is serious business; therefore, the utmost concern should be taken when choosing a helmet.

The right helmet can be a life-saver during the most petrifying 10 seconds of a fall or a collision, while a wrong helmet can make you go through a terrifying experience that leaves you injured. As you can see, it all trickles down to what is the perfect helmet.

With so many brands and styles of helmets in the market, picking a helmet can be a formidable task. With the technological advancements, helmets now vary in shapes, styles, and sizes based on your head size all of which have been designed to satisfy the most complex riding requirements. In this guide, you’ll get to know the essential things to look for when purchasing a new helmet. Before that, let’s take a look at how helmets protect you.

How do helmets protect you?

Despite the many types, styles, features, and materials used in making helmets, some basic principles apply in all the helmets. In other words, these principles are all based on some critical parts directed to offering protection to your head. The key elements include the hard outer shell, a crushable section, a comfort section, and a chain strap. Here’s how all the sections function;

How do helmets protect you?

Hard outer shell

It is the section that everybody can see as it makes the outer layer of your helmet. The outer shell is rigid and robust and protects your head from the impact of hitting the ground. Moreover, it protects your head from abrasions in case you skid across the ground. It’s made of carbon fiber, hard plastics, and Kevlar.

Crushable layer

It is a thick foam layer that makes up the second section of most helmets. Made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) which is a light material, allows it to crush under pressure. This is important as the helmet absorbs lots of energy in an impact which may directly impact your brain during a crash. Therefore, by the crushable layer crashing your head is safe from the impact of high-g forces absorbed in a collision.

Cushioned comfort layer

This layer is lined with a padded interior making the helmet comfortable and snug. From the name, one may confidently say it’s all about comfort. Well, that’s not the case. By the layer being snug, ensures the edges of the helmet are not projectile out to hurt your head during a crash.

The chin strap

It is an essential component but very vital. It’s because the chin strap clinched down with a pair of D-rings ensures the helmet is positioned correctly. Therefore, by it holding the helmet in the right position, you are assured all the other parts effectively play their role of ensuring you are protected during a crush.

Benefits of wearing a motorcycle helmet

Now that we know the essential parts of a motorcycle helmet and how they protect you, let’s proceed to what you get from putting on a motorcycle helmet. Most bikers would agree that riding their motorcycle without putting on their protective gear is freedom to them. Is it fun right?

Well, as cool as it may look, you are exposing yourself to the risk of injuring yourself and even losing your life. It’s sad how many people lose their life or injure themselves from day to day due to ignoring the need for putting on their protective gear.

The same way your seat belt protects you from going through the window in a car crash, a helmet is no different from that as it protects the wearer. Below, is what you get from wearing a motorcycle helmet.

Protection from disastrous head abrasions

A helmet is primarily designed to protect you from the danger of deadly accidents that leave you injured. When riding a motorcycle, you are the windscreen, rear screen, and the bumper. That means your body is fully exposed to any danger that you may face. In most cases, a biker gets most injuries from a crash and of which most of them are inflicted to the head. With a helmet, the biker is safe from the head injuries that in most cases cause long-term health problems.

Visibility

There are no separate roads for motorcycles; therefore, they share the same roads with other vehicles. Most of the accidents between motorists and motorcyclists occur because the motorists do not see the motorcyclist. However, when a biker wears a helmet and particularly a large one with reflective trips enables the biker to be visible to motorists. Such type of helmets does not only make the motorcyclists visible to motorists during the day but also during the night.

Additionally, a biker with long hair is likely to get his or her in front of their eyes when riding and not to wear a helmet. This, of course, impairs the vision of the biker. With a helmet, the hair is in place, and there will be no such distractions that can cause an accident.

Protection from weather

Wind and dust blow in any direction and can get into your eyes easily when riding your motorcycle. A motorcycle helmet solves this problem. The visor from the helmet deflects wind and dust or any other thing that might impair your vision. Nonetheless, the helmet keeps your face warm during cold seasons, keeps water out when it rains, and blocks the glare from the sun.

In addition to that, a helmet ensures the roaring sound of wind does not reach your ears. Therefore, making it comfortable for you to ride your motorcycle with less sting of the wind blasting in your ears and face.

Reduces your medical bills

From recent statistics, most bikers who do not wear a motorcycle helmet do not have health insurance. Well, an accident in most cases is evitable and happens with seconds. For non-helmet riders, they are more likely to pay higher health care expenses compared to riders who have their headgears on in the event of a tragic accident leading to abrasions.

Helmets ratings and what they mean

Motorcycle Helmet Ratings
Motorcycle Helmet Ratings: DOT, Snell, Sharp.

A helmet may have all the cools graphics, but the question is, does it do its job? In the helmets market, there have been several discussions about the safety helmet ratings, so let’s take a look at some of the basics of safety standards of helmets.

Helmet ratings are divided into two main categories; they include ratings required by law in a specific location (state, city, or country) and ratings conducted by a third party organization.

Some of the safety standards required by law in specific locations include DOT used in the United States, AUS 1698-2006 used in Australia, and ECE 22.05 used in Europe. These safety standards work by going around and testing every helmet in the market; for instance, DOT will test all the helmets in the US market.

The second category that is ratings conducted by a third party organization feature bodies such as SHARP and SNELL. These bodies work by testing the helmets manufactured by a specific manufacturer for approval so that the helmet receives certification.

After the certification process is complete, the helmet then undergoes a robust testing process that determines the right size for each shell done in several batches. If they all pass, the manufacturer has to pay so that their helmets bear the SHARP or SNELL certification sticker. When you see this sticker, you are pretty assured that that helmet went through vigorous certification process; therefore, meeting all the required safety standards.

One thing that may be wondering is which is the best rating. Well, that’s a complicated decision since no one knows the kind of crash they are going to have. However, if your helmet bears the sticker or certified by DOT if you are in the US, then that helmet will undoubtedly do its job.

What to look for when buying a motorcycle helmet?

The wrong helmet can expose you to significant head injuries in case of a motorcycle accident. Therefore, there is need of getting the right one. The challenge comes in buying a motorcycle helmet as it can be quite confusing due to the many helmets available to choose from.

Certainly, there are several elements to consider when buying a motorcycle helmet. Some of these elements include the following;

Safety

It is the far most important thing to consider before any other thing when buying a motorcycle helmet. As said earlier, protecting your head is serious business; therefore, the helmet you will pick should not compromise on safety.

At a minimum level, the helmet should pass the regulations put up by your local authorities. For instance, if you are in North America, the helmet you are purchasing must pass regulations placed by DOT. With that, it means the helmet ratings are listed as safe and road legal. Additionally, you can check on SNELL or SHARP certification.

Fit and Comfort

A helmet that fits well will be comfortable and provide maximum protection to the wearer. The fit of the helmet is affected by the following;

  • Materials: The most common material used is foam, and it comes with different densities; therefore, ensure the foam is thick enough.
  • Your head: The shape of your head is either long oval, intermediate oval, or round oval.
  • Size: The size is based on the shape of your head.
  • Customisation: Based on what customisation you need; it affects the helmet fit.
  • Weight: A lightweight helmet transfers less energy upon impact; moreover, it is much comfortable and enjoyable to wear for long periods compared to a heavy helmet.

Type

The type of helmets available is based on their defining style or use. Some of the common types include full face, modular, open face, off-road or motocross, half, and dual-sport helmets.

Price

Well, the price should not be the primary factor for you to consider when purchasing a helmet. It’s because the price is influenced by factors such as the technology integrated into making the helmet, the certifications, the material used, and brand. An average amount that you would get a right helmet for you is between $280 and $350. However, remember that protecting your head is worth every penny.

What are the different motorcycle helmets types?

In the market, there are several types of helmets. It becomes a daunting task when it’s time to choose the motorcycle helmet type that’s best for you. What causes this difficulty in choosing the best type of helmet, are several factors starting from the safety ratings to other factors such as the type of riding you do.

With all the options of helmet manufacturers, styles, and categories, we’ve come up with a list featuring all the motorcycle helmet types. They include;

No Helmet

There are states where motorcyclists are not required to wear a helmet while others require their motorcyclists to put on a helmet approved by DOT. Therefore, for the states that it is not a requirement, the motorcyclist has to wear some sort of eye protection to prevent distraction caused by the blowing wind or flying objects getting to his or her eye. 

Open face helmet or half helmet

It offers protection to the top, sides, and back of your head. It’s similar to the full face helmet type; however, it lacks protection for your eyes. Therefore, it is recommended to buy googles in addition to this helmet.

The open face helmet is typical to police officers as well as other cruiser types of riders. Despite this helmet leaving your ears, base of your head, and face exposed, it has two significant advantages which are great visibility and increased comfort due to the increased airflow and little weight.

Full face helmet

It’s considered a helmet that bears all the protection features you need. The full face helmet protects all the sides of your head that include your chin. Additionally, it has a sturdy face that ensures you are protected from asphalt and bugs. Due to the most protection they offer, it is the first option for most motorcycle racers.

When it comes to aesthetic looks, it passes the test as it comes in several exciting designs. All the designs give you the ‘cool’ look. Visibility is also not a problem when it comes to the full face helmet as you can see everything happening around you.

Nonetheless, when choosing the full face helmet, there are several factors for you to look out for. They include;

  • Easy-on/off face shield: Ensure the full face helmet allows you to remove the face shield easily.
  • Safety ratings: The helmet rating should be indicated. Ensure the rating is from a known organisation.
  • Removable helmet line: Sweating while wearing your helmet is a common thing. A removable helmet lining is essential because it extends the life of the helmet, ensures you are comfortable and maintains hygiene.
  • Chin bar skirt: The presence of a chin bar skirt helps to prevent air from swirling up into your helmet as soon as it hits the visor or front of your helmet.
  • Wide and high eye port opening: Go for a full face helmet that offers you a high eye port opening especially if you are a motorcycle racer. It is essential as it will compensate for the low handlebars.
  • Spaced inside bars: If you are looking for a snug fit, choose a full face helmet with added variable-sized pads. In this way, you will be limiting your head bouncing around inside the motorcycle helmet.
  • Ventilation: As stated earlier, sweating is a common thing when wearing a helmet. It becomes even more when wearing a full face helmet. Therefore, go for one which has air vents to keep you cool.
  • Multimedia feature: Here, pick one that allows you to listen to music or make calls.

Dome Helmet or Skull Cap

It’s the go-to helmet for cruiser riders and usually worn in a state that requires their riders to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. This type of helmet offers minimum protection as it only covers the top part of your head. When it comes to the looks, it has nothing to offer as they look very unprofessional.

Touring motorcycle helmets

These types of helmets are manufactured to offer protection in a comfortable way for long distances. When talking about comfort on a long ride, you have to consider factors such as ventilation, weight, and ride noise. Having an ordinary snug helmet will not offer this; therefore, do your homework well when choosing a touring motorcycle helmet.

Riding for long rides in hot weather is totally uncomfortable. Look for a touring motorcycle helmet that has ventilation on the top as it will cool you in the long rides. Since the touring motorcycle helmet is meant for long distances, one with Bluetooth connection will do you justice as you will stay connected all the time.

Dual-sport motorcycle helmet

It is a type of helmet developed due to the rising popularity of dual-sport, hyper-motard, and adventure-touring riding. With so many definitions of the dual-sport motorcycle helmet, the best way to describe them is by combining a dirt helmet and a standard sheet to get a dual-sport helmet.

The helmet features off-road features; however, in a more aerodynamic way that enables the rider to experience the speed on the road. Additionally, the helmet features multiple configurations that match any changing condition on the road. The dual-sport motorcycle helmet is ideal for adventure and dual sport riders.

Modular motorcycle helmets

They are best of all worlds due to the versatility they offer. A rider can wear the helmet as an open-face helmet while lifting the chin bar up or wear in full-face configuration while placing the chin bar and face shield in place. Moreover, the helmet comes with a flip-up style chin bar that enables the rider to change between an open face and a full face helmet easily. The modular motorcycle helmet is popular with touring riders due to the versatility they offer.

Hi-Viz motorcycle helmets

The high-visibility gear helmets are popular in the helmet market. They mostly come in yellow and orange colors, which are distinct in the visual spectrum. Therefore, a rider is assured to be always seen by other motorists.

With $100, you can get your basic hi-viz helmet. Or if you wish to get the super-premium one, you can pay more than $700. These helmets make sure the rider stays safe and visible to other motorists, particularly now when there are too many motorists on the road compared to several years ago.

Motorcycle race helmets

As a racer, you know what you require from a helmet. Of course, you need a helmet with no distractions or discomfort with the lid. A motorcycle race helmet is comfortable, lightweight, aerodynamic and robust, and has proper ventilation.

Off-road or motocross helmets

They feature a full chin bar along with an opening for googles rather than a shield. Moreover, they have visors that help in deflecting debris, rain, sun, and roost.

Bluetooth helmets

As most of the full-face helmets have Bluetooth, ensure it has a high rating with all the functionality needed.

Questions to ask before buying a helmet

For you to settle for the best helmet, you need to have a clear picture of what you need. You will reach a final decision after going through a series of tough questions. Well, we’ve simplified some of the things to think about before purchasing a helmet.

What type of bike do you ride?

There are different types of motorcycles. If you are honing on a race-style street or cruising on a touring bike; you definitely require different sets of motorcycle helmets. Let’s say you are touring bike rider; you’ll need a helmet with excellent ventilation particularly at the top of the helmet as well as with sound insulation. If you are a sport-bike rider, then the perfect helmet will be one with excellent aerodynamic profile.

What is your experience level?

Are you a beginner or an experienced motorcycle rider? If you have the answer to this, you’ll find out that spending around 600 bucks on a helmet for the first motorcycle is not the wisest idea. Therefore, if you are starting to venture into motorcycles, match all the equipment you need with your experience level.

What type of riding are you going to do?

If you are a rider who rides each day, then go for a helmet which features adjustable functionalities such as a drop-down visor, a photochromatic shield or easy to change face shields. If you are a once in a while rider, then aesthetics should be a concern for you. Furthermore, if you are a long distance rider, then pick a helmet that offers maximum comfort.

What duration of riding your motorcycle?

If you’ll be riding all year long or you are living in areas where the weather conditions are not that friendly, then you’ll have to consider picking a helmet that can withstand such conditions. In warm weather, choose a helmet with excellent venting to keep the airflow in and out steady. In cold weather, the helmet’s screen fogs up; therefore, go for a fog-resistant face shield.

Are you going to ride a lot or commute to work?

If riding your motorcycle is the primary mode of transportation, then higher end helmets are the best helmets for you. It’s because they provide you with reduced wind noise and better dynamics.

What terrain and roads will you be riding your motorcycle on?

For a sportbike racer, performance and safety are the first things to consider. Additionally, a sport bike racer can look for an aerodynamic lid with proper ventilation to keep you cool and comfortable in that rough terrain.

How much are you going to spend on the motorcycle helmet?

Prices of helmets range between $100 to $900. As serious as protecting your head may be, spending close to $700 to others may not be realistic. The reality is that every person has his or her own budget and of which they have to stick to. One thing to clear off is that an expensive helmet does not mean it’s safer or better. Do your homework well, and you’ll find a helmet under $100 with DOT approval.

What are the types of material? Do you need on the motorcycle helmet?

Materials used in helmets keep on advancing as technology progresses. Today, most manufacturers are going for materials that keep the rider comfortable. They are choosing lightweight materials that are stylish and still offer maximum protection. Some of the materials you can choose from include carbon fiber, fiberglass, Kevlar, and mold injected plastic.

What about racing helmets?

When going for the racing helmets, be assured that you’ll get exotic styles compared to the usual ones. These helmets are made from materials like carbon fiber and Kevlar. Moreover, they are efficient in absorbing great impacts.

Helmet sizing and fit guide

For your overall safety and happiness, helmet fit is a vital factor to consider. A well-fitting helmet is essential as the safety rating on the helmet. A too tight helmet or a loose one will not offer you the maximum benefit of putting on a helmet.

A well-fitting helmet follows two key factors. These factors include the shape of the helmet and the shape of your head. When you understand these two factors, you’ll avoid issues like trial and error, whereby you have to wear all the helmets in the store for you to get the right fit.

Let’s begin with the shape of your head as well as your jawline. The shape of your head may fall under one of these three categories;

  • Long oval: Here, the head shape is longer from forehead to the back of the skull than side to side.
  • Round oval: This shape features the same measurements for both fronts to back or ear to ear.
  • Intermediate oval: It is the most common head shape, which features longer front to back measurements than an ear to ear.
Motorcycle Helmet Head Shape

The second factor to consider in picking the right fit is the helmet interior and liner. The material making up the helmet’s liner should feel comfortable against your skin. Ensure the helmet has internal padding that functions as a cushion between the helmet internals and your head. Additionally, the shape of the liner should match the shape of your head.

The more helmets you try on, the better your chances of getting a proper fit. This is why it’s best to go to a local dealer. Don’t buy mail order unless you know for sure that you fit a particular model.

Keep in mind that retailers hate nothing more than being used as a fitting room for a mail order sale. So, try to support your local retailer if he deserves your business by giving you good service.

Don’t forget to keep the helmet on for as long as you can in the store because some comfort problems won’t show up in the first minute of wear.

Average Helmet prices

With several manufacturers in the market, the prices of helmets vary. However, the average price for most helmet brands falls between $100 to $700.

Helmet cleaning and maintenance

Spending your hard earned money to purchase a helmet going for $500, only to leave it dirty and not taken care of is not the wisest idea. Putting aside the money, it is safety equipment; therefore, it requires all the attention. That is to say, check out some tips on helmet cleaning and maintenance.

  • Clean the helmet with only soap and avoid using petroleum-based cleaning products as they can react with the outer shell.
  • Maintain the face shield clean at all time and replace if it gets scratched.
  • Ensure your storage area is flat, secure, and free from chemicals.
  • Any time you have a crash, replace the helmet.

Despite what some manufacturers say, a good helmet can provide up to 10 years of worthwhile protection if, and this is a big if, it was taken care of properly. You can increase the life span of your helmet by never putting it on top of your gas tank and never leaving it in the garage where gas and solvent fumes can degrade the foam liner.

Proper care also means never resting the helmet on a mirror, sissy bar, or anything else that puts pressure on a small area of the liner because this will create an indentation. It’s also a good idea to periodically clean the comfort liner. Plus, you should also refrain from wearing the same helmet every day so that your helmets will have a chance to breathe.

Helmet accessories

There are tons of helmet accessories as well as add-ons available in the market. Some of the helmet accessories include;

  • Lights
  • Mohawks
  • Spike strips
  • Bows
  • Cameras
  • Horns
  • Cat ear helmet upgrade
  • Ponytails and pigtails

Unlike 15 years ago when there were just a small handful of high-quality helmets, there are now a variety of great brands to choose from. The important things to keep in mind are that they all fit differently and have various features.

Go with the model that best fits your head and has the comfort/features/aesthetics that you desire. And never buy a helmet over the Internet that you have not tried on before, regardless of reviews.