A motorcycle helmet is more than a fashion statement. It’s what stands between you and serious injury, or even death, in an accident. Not only that, but helmets also offer important protection against flying debris, pesky bugs, gusty wind, noise, and the ever-unpredictable weather.
There’s an art and a science to picking the right motorcycle helmet. Here’s what you need to know.
First, ask yourself these questions.
- What type of motorcycle riding do you do?
- What material do you want around your head?
- How much of your head do you want covered?
- How much money do you have to spend?
If you primarily ride on pavement, you’ll want a full-face, modular, or dual sport helmet. If you go off-road, you’ll need a dirt helmet. If you do a little of both, you’ll want to consider a dual-sport helmet that can handle the speed of the highway and the flying debris of gravel roads. You’ll also need to decide how much of your head you want covered. Helmets range from full-face to the top of your head. The more coverage, the more protection your helmet can offer.
Helmet shells are made of a variety of materials. These include hard plastic, carbon fiber, carbon Kevlar, and woven fibers with hard shells. Some materials are more costly than others. Helmets can range from a couple of hundred dollars to thousands. The price also depends on features like built-in communications for riding in a group. Just remember that double the price doesn’t necessarily mean double the safety.
Choose a helmet style.
Full-face helmets cover your entire head and face. They are made to offer full protection for street use, highway riding, and racing. The downside is that these helmets can get hot. They also may have a smaller field of vision than a dual sport helmet. Full-face helmets may be fitted with removable face shields or have vents that open and close to address these issues.
Dirt helmets are designed for off-road use. They are typically lighter than full-face helmets, offering more ventilation. They have a peak like a baseball cap that protects from sun. Instead of a closable shield, they have an opening where you can fit pair of motocross goggles.
Dual sport helmets are where road helmets meets dirt styles. They offer the comforts of road travel with the practical elements for off-road rides. There’s a larger field of vision than full-face helmets. The visor cuts down on sun glare.
Open face helmets protect your head and ears but not your face. They provide more visibility and ventilation than full-face and dual sport. There are even some open face helmets that have shields that can be snapped on. The downside is that, without a shield, your face is exposed to the elements. An upside is that you can eat and drink without taking your helmet off.
Modular helmets are a cross between full-face and open face helmets. The chin bar is hinged so that it can be flipped up out of the way. You can drink and it with it on. However, the chin bar must be down when you ride. Modular helmets are good for hot climates where a full-face helmet gets too hot after a short ride.
Dome Helmets/Skull Caps cover just the top of a rider’s head. While lighter and allowing more airflow, they lack serious protection. They don’t protect the ears, face, or chin.
Determine your head shape and size.
The shape of your head is different from the shape of your face, and just like faces, heads have different shapes and sizes. Knowing yours will save you a lot of time when finding the perfect fit.
The three basic head shapes are:
- Long oval where the head is longer front-to-back than it is side-to-side.
- Intermediate oval where the head is slightly longer front-to-back than side-to-side.
- Round oval where the head is about the same front-to-back and side-to-side.
To find out your head shape, take a selfie from above your head or ask a friend to do it. If your head looks long and thin like a wide football, you probably have a long oval. If it resembles a slightly squashed soccer ball, you probably have an intermediate oval. If your head looks more like a soccer ball, you probably have a round oval.
To find out your head size, measure your head with a cloth tape measure:
- Start the end of the tape about an inch above your eyebrows.
- Circle it around so it goes above your ears and meets at the front, like you are wearing a headband.
- That is your side-to-side measurement. Take the measurement in inches as well as centimeters as some brands use the metric system.
Try helmets on for size.
Now that you know your size and head shape, and the type of helmet that you want, you’re ready to try some on. Find your measurement on the size chart. Try different models and brands for the best fit possible. Some may be better for your head shape.
- A well-fitting helmet should fit snugly.
- Hold the helmet by the chin straps and roll your helmet onto your head from front to back. Don’t pull it straight down onto your head.
- Once it’s on, try to roll the helmet forward off your head. You should not be able to do so.
- Hold the helmet at the sides and try to move it up and side to side. The helmet should move your scalp and cheeks along with it.
- Wear the helmet for as long as possible. There should be no pressure points or hot spots.
- After trying it on, take it off and note any red spots or sore spots.
Check the safety certifications.
Helmets in the U.S. must be DOT-approved and manufactured according to safety guidelines. To qualify for DOT certification, they must pass four tests: impact test, penetration test, retention strap test, and peripheral vision test. DOT-approved helmets have a sticker at the back that includes the manufacturer/brand name, model number, and certification number.
Look for organizations like Snell that also test helmets. Snell is a third-party independent nonprofit standard and testing organization. They test in addition to DOT, but manufacturers must pay them to do so. The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the European Safety Commission FIM also do additional testing. The more testing, the more assurance that your helmet meets safety requirements. However, additional testing also can raise the price of a helmet.
Pro Tip: Beware of imposters who sell novelty helmets with fake DOT labels. These helmets will be less than an inch thick and weigh a pound or less. By contrast, reputable helmets weigh about 3 pounds.
When to replace your helmet
Motorcycle helmets wear out after use. You should replace yours every 3-5 years or if your helmet sustains any damage. For added peace of mind, protect yourself with the right motorcycle insurance so that if you do get into an accident, you’re fully covered.
With the right helmet and the right gear, you’re ready to hit the road. Safe travels.
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.
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