Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Motorcycle Helmet

January 27th, 2016


Motorcycle Helmet 101
Whether you just bought your first bike or have been riding for years, finding the right motorcycle helmet can be challenging. With a diverse range of brands, features, styles and prices it’s not always clear which one of the 500+ helmets on the site is best for you. As the piece of gear that very well can save your life, you’ll want to make an informed purchase.

Types of Helmets

To kickstart our guide, let’s familiarize you with the types of helmets you’ll see out on the road, at the track and on our store.

  • Full Face Helmets - Features a full wrap-around chin bar and a flip down shield. This style is by far the most common helmet on the road. Not just limited to sportbike riders, you’ll see Harley and even scooter riders wearing full face helmets for one reason alone: they offer the most protection.
  • Modular Helmets - Equipped with a flip up style chin bar which allows the rider to easily change between a full face and an open face helmet with just the push of a button. The versatility of these helmets has quickly made modular helmets a popular choice. Many riders enjoy both up and down positions for different speeds, conditions and routes.
  • Open Face or ¾ Helmets - These helmets cover the crown and back of the head. Often featuring a flip down shield similar to a full face helmet. Many touring riders enjoy this style helmet, as the wider field of view allows for better sightseeing and communication with other riders-not to mention being able to pump gas, or ask for directions without having to remove your helmet.
  • Half Helmets - Primarily covers the top of the head, with little or no coverage of the back. As the bare minimum option, these helmets give you some protection while allowing the riders to still enjoy the wind in their face.
  • Dual Sport Helmets - Mixing on and off road, dual sport helmets are great options for dual sport and adventure riders who want the comforts of a street helmet on an off road style helmet. Flip down or removable shields and closable air vents are the most common street features that make their way on to the helmet.
  • Off Road/Motocross Helmets - While full face motocross helmets are drastically different than full face street helmets, motocross helmets still have a full chin bar but also have an opening for goggles instead of a shield. Also, you will find visors on top to help deflect with debris, roost, sun and even rain.

How do I know my helmet fits?

Having a well-fitting helmet is just as important as any safety rating, and if your helmet is too loose or tight, even the Rolls Royce of motorcycle helmets won't do its job properly. A well-fitting helmet starts with sizing, and luckily that’s pretty darned easy measure. Most brands have a size chart available, and with a soft measuring tape, you can easily find the recommended size for that model.

Once the helmet is in hand, you can double check the fit with these quick tips (always try a new helmet on before you ride). First off, a properly fitting helmet should not be able to turn side to side freely when your head doesn’t. Also, it should not be able to slip-off or get loose if you push the helmet forward from the back when the chin strap is secured either. The fit should be a little snug—but not too tight. The last and possibly hardest factor to account for is head shape, and as you can probably guess, not all heads are shaped the same. It’s important to pay attention to any “hot spots” or specific areas of discomfort or pressure. One way to minimize the likelihood of this is to select a helmet that is shaped similar to the shape of your head.

These are the basic head shapes you’ll see referred to on our product descriptions or from the manufacturer:
· Long Oval – This shape is more aggressive with a longer length front-to-back, than side-to-side. The higher priced helmets aimed at competition typically fit the long oval shape best.
· Intermediate Oval – This shape is close to a round head, with just a slight length bias front to back. Typically shape for mid-range helmets.
· Round Oval – This shape suits those, whose heads are slightly longer side-to-side than front to back.

As a rule of thumb, the more expensive and sport oriented helmet, the more long oval shape the helmet will be. The best tool for gaging the head shape is often our customer reviews. Many riders comeback and report the shape and fit of the helmet after use, so be sure to read up (You’ll thank our fellow riders later !)

Checkout our more in depth guide on How to Size a Helmet.

Motorcycle Helmet Fitment Chart

Safety Ratings

For most riders, protection and safety is the number one differentiator between helmets, and we applaud this line of thought -heck, the reason we wear helmets is to be as safe as possible! “How do I know which helmet is safer?” you may ask, really the best answer is: safety ratings.

When browsing helmets, you’ll often see a sticker with “DOT Approved” “ECE Approved” or “Snell Approved.” DOT, ECE and Snell are safety standard certifications that are very important to have and are three primary certifications you’ll see on most lids:

· DOT (Department of Transportation)- Required for U.S. use, DOT will be the most common rating you see on motorcycle helmets. Testing involves various helmet drops that are then measured for impact.
· ECE22.05 (Economic Commission for Europe)- The ECE helmet rating is similar to the DOT rating, formed by the U.N. Over 50 countries have adopted the standard and enforce testing. ECE is considered the most intensive, due to a wider variety of test drops and even test chin strap strength.
· Snell M2015- Snell is a private, non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving helmet safety. Snell certifications are updated every five years and are more rigorous than DOT standards. Learn more about the Snell M2015 standard HERE

So which certifications do you need? The answer isn’t as black and white as you would hope. While ECE is considered the most rigorous, there is much debate on the testing environment from one organization to the other and whether or not each test conducted is an accurate simulation. Bottom line, any of the three certifications above are much better than no safety rating.

View the NHTSA safety standards HERE

What type of riding do I ride?

Helmet manufacturers don’t spend countless hours and dollars developing comforts and features for no reason. In fact, you may very well choose one helmet over another solely based on that helmet having a specific feature the other didn’t. To best understand what elements are necessary is to look at the type of riding you’ll be doing.

A few questions to ponder: “Will I be riding year-round?” ”How long am I usually on the bike?” “What roads and terrain do I ride most frequently?” By understanding what needs you have as a rider, you can then accurately take the right steps down the path of finding your match.

If you plan on touring, traveling long distances or riding for extended periods of time, versatility and comfort are the most crucial benefits you want your helmet to deliver. Comfort not only includes a plush interior, but also a light and quiet helmet can significantly reduce rider fatigue. For multiple riding seasons, you’ll need a helmet that can keep up. Flip down sun visors, modular flip-up helmets and adjustable vents can provide those essential creature comforts vital for longer rides.

For those who push the limits on sportbikes, performance and safety is everything. Riders prefer a well ventilated helmet to keep the cockpit cool, aerodynamics and a strong shell for high speeds. Typically you’ll want to look for a carbon fiber or a multi-material weave shell for strength that is also an aerodynamic shape. You’d be surprised how much aerodynamics come into play when really twisting the grip. Because high speed performance is the primary focus, these helmets tend to be louder and lack a few creature comforts than touring helmets.

Now if you don’t fit perfectly into any of the scenarios we touched on above, you’re in luck. Most features/options that have been developed, have made their way to just about every standard helmet. Everything from removable and washable liners to locking shields, sun shields, Bluetooth compatibility, and much more have found their way into virtually every budget. So if you’re not trying to set the lap time record or conquering the trans-American interstate, there are more than enough options for the casual rider or commuter.

How Much Should I spend on a helmet?

A common mantra of the more expensive helmet brands to justify cost goes like this: “What is your head really worth”. While we fully recognize the obvious quality and technology put into pricier helmets by brands like Shoei, Schuberth, Bell and Arai, you don’t always need to spend the total worth of your bike for a quality helmet.

As we mentioned above, helmets can have a variety of features, which may dictate price. If you have to have a removable liner, with a Snell rating and carbon shell, the price of that helmet will likely be more expensive than without. On the flip side, you can still get a very high quality, safe, brand name helmet at an affordable price by sacrificing a few nice, but not essential, bells and whistles.

At the end of the day, we can’t tell you how much to pay for a helmet, but hopefully we’ve given you enough understanding on the types of helmets, safety ratings and common features to make your decision on what you need.

When Should I Replace My Helmet?

Unfortunately helmets don’t last forever and a helmet is really only designed for one crash. The internal EPS liner (foam between the comfort liner and shell, is meant to breakdown and collapse and absorb the impact in place of your head. So with that said, does a small tip over or a dropped helmet make the helmet unsafe? That’s a personal decision, but we urge it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Now, if you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid any accidents, you’re next question will probably be “how long will my helmet last?” In general, a good helmet will last around five years. So Uncle Ted’s crusty old brain bucket from the shed out back is probably out of commission. On a serious note, the EPS liner tends to lose its structural integrity as the years go on, and is the main reason why you should buy a new helmet to replace the old one if there hasn’t been any impacts.

Our goal was to provide you a comprehensive guide to motorcycle helmets in hopes you’ll know more about the single most important piece of riding gear you can wear! If you have any more questions regarding fit, safety, features or anything else, don’t hesitate to give us a call (877) 668-6872!