Buyer's Guide to Motorcycle Helmets
Welcome to the new Buyer’s Guide on Motorcycle.com. Here you’ll find the best retailers and manufacturers specializing in the most essential piece of riding equipment (besides the bike itself): a helmet.
Did you know?
Most manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every 5 years, whether it bounces off the pavement or not! (And if it does ever bounce on the road, it should automatically be traded in.)
A helmet’s shell is generally made from either a molded polycarbonate plastic or a fiber composite that can consist of fiberglass, Kevlar and/or carbon fiber. A polycarb shell is cheaper to produce, so this construction is usually found at the lower end of the price spectrum. A fiberglass/Kevlar/carbon shell results in lighter weight and is usually found in pricier name brands.
The stuff that actually absorbs the hit to a crashed rider’s flying head is the expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner. Yes, it’s the same kind of stuff as in your well-used beer cooler. This part crushes as it absorbs energy from a hit and it doesn’t bounce back, so this is a big reason why you should always replace your lid after a crash.
Fit and Comfort Features of a Good Helmet
- Removable cheekpads that can be replaced with other sizes to customize fit.
- A lined chinstrap for comfort and a cushy neckroll to reduce wind noise.
- A removable, washable liner is a big plus, as no one likes riding around in a helmet that smells like a gym bag.
- Vent systems, which can vary from effective to useless.
- Well-known brands are generally more comfortable.
- Anti-fog inserts for the face-shield are great and can save you some dough (the alternative is an anti-fog spray; check out 2003 FogCity vs. SuperVisor).
The Fit Test
When you’re trying on a helmet, take this quick test to ensure that you’ve got a good fit: First, fasten the strap snugly (you should feel some force on your chin). Next, grab the back of the helmet and try to lift it up and pull it forwards off your head. You should not be able to get the helmet off even with significant effort. Also, the cheekpads should allow only minimum movement when twisting the helmet from side to side. Many riders buy a helmet too large for their heads – a good-fitting helmet should be on the snug side, and the fit will become looser as the padding breaks in. A loose-fitting helmet will transfer a greater amount of impact energy to your brain – haven’t you already made your grey matter suffer enough?
That’s D.O.T., for Department of Transportation. Don’t even consider wearing a helmet if it doesn’t have the little DOT sticker on the back, as it is the minimum standard for street use. If a helmet’s not DOT-approved, it’s considered a “novelty” helmet. And unless you have a novelty skull, stay away! DOT-certification means that helmets will soak up a significant amount of impact energy, prevent most penetration, and have a fastening system that will withstand significant force.
Many racing organizations in the United States insist a helmet must meet Snell standards in addition to DOT compliance. To meet Snell standards, a helmet and its liner must be able to withstand higher and repeated impacts, which sounds safer. But recent studies suggest that the Snell standard is unrealistically high and actually results in a helmet that is less able to absorb initial impacts. It might be notable to mention that America is the only country in which Snell-standard helmets are sold. The European Union has its own standard (ECE Regulation 22.05), and Great Britain has itsBritish Standards Institute certification.
A good helmet not only fits your unique-shaped noggin (some more unique than others, Fonz), it also expresses your style and personality. You’re gonna take it everywhere you go, so pick one that you won’t get sick of by next week. You won’t get years of service out of your K-Fed tribute lid.
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