For decades, motorcycles have been a symbol of a rebellious or free-spirited lifestyle. And while many riders love that aspect of their bikes, safety and responsibility are critical in order to continue to enjoy your time out on the roads.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcyclists are much more likely to experience a deadly accident while riding than those driving a car.
A helmet can be an important aspect of motorcycle riding. Read on to see when and where you will be required to have one and how to choose the best type of head protection for you.
Choosing the Right Helmet
Helmets come in several shapes, many sizes, and nearly infinite colors. Choosing the best option can seem like a daunting task, but there are a few ways to break down the process of purchasing the best helmet possible.
All helmets should include four basic components that make up their protection features, including:
- The outer shell.
- The outer-most layer of the helmet, this is usually made of fiber-reinforced composites, which will allow the material to contract during a hard impact. That will help lessen the blow of the force before it reaches your head.
- Impact-absorbing liner.
- Usually made of Styrofoam or similar material, this layer continues to absorb shock and deflect the power of a hard hit away from your head.
- Comfort padding.
- This is the layer that touches your head. It helps for comfort, but also ensures the helmet fits snuggly on your head.
- Retention system.
- Also known as a chin strap. This piece will ensure the helmet stays on your head in the event of a crash.
When selecting a helmet, make sure it meets minimum safety standards by looking for a DOT sticker or a Snell sticker, which represent the seals of approval from the United States Department of Transportation and the Snell Memorial Foundation, respectively.
Both organizations will run thorough tests for:
- Impact—The helmet's shock absorbing capacity.
- Penetration—How well the helmet withstands hitting a sharp object.
- Retention—How well the chin strap can stay fastened without breaking.
- Peripheral vision—To pass, a helmet must allow minimum side vision of 105 degrees on each side.
Helmets come in several different general designs, including:
- Full-face helmet.
- This design does what the name suggests, covering the full face and head. It typically includes a movable face shield to protect the eyes, as well as a chin strap.
- Three-quarter/open-face helmet.
- Similar to the full-face type, but does NOT include a movable face shield. It's recommended to buy a snap-on face shield or goggles that can withstand hard impact if you purchase this helmet type.
- “Shorty" half-helmet.
- Simply protects the top of your head. This type of helmet is not typically recommended for motorcycle riders.
To ensure comfort, try your helmet on before buying it. Getting the right fit will not only help with your comfort level, but also with your safety.
Getting a properly sized motorcycle helmet is more involved than guessing “Small," “Medium," or “Large."
In general, a brand new helmet should feel slightly tight, coming into contact with most of your head and the sides of your face, but not putting too much pressure on any specific area.
Once you've worn it for a while, your helmet should be “broken in" and adjust to the specific shape of your head, but it should never become loose.
To find which size of helmet to start with, grab a tape measure and get the measurements for the largest circumference of your head, which should be just above your eyebrows and above your ears.
Consult a sizing chart (you can find several online or through your motorcycle equipment retailer) to see which size helmets you should be trying on.
Trying on Your Helmet
To further ensure your helmet is the best fit possible, look for these things after trying it on:
- Cheek pads—They should touch your face without pressing too hard.
- Gaps—Make sure there aren't any between your temples and the brow pads.
- Neck roll—If the helmet has one, it should not push the helmet away from the back of your head.
- Chin piece—When pressing on this with full-face helmets, your face shield should not touch your nose or chin.
While wearing your helmet, you can also perform some simple preliminary tests to ensure your helmet will protect you, such as:
- Moving your helmet from side to side.
- Do this while it is securely fastened. Your skin should move as the helmet is moved, with an even amount of pressure being placed on your entire head.
- Try rolling the helmet forward off your head.
- Do this with your chin strap securely fastened. You should not be able to pull the helmet off.
- Take your helmet off.
- See if your head feels sore anywhere and check for red spots on your forehead. These can indicate pressure points on the helmet that could become problematic after a long ride.
Helmets are typically expensive, so to get the most out of your important safety investment, make sure to take good care of it.
To start, you should consider purchasing a new helmet if:
- Your current helmet was involved in a crash.
- You've dropped your current helmet and think it's damaged.
- You purchased your current helmet a few years ago.
- You can't remember when you purchased your current helmet.
Once you have your helmet, make sure to:
- Follow the manufacturer's care instructions.
- Clean it only with mild soap.
- Avoid any petroleum-based cleaning products, which can cause the outer shell to decompose.
- Keep the face shield clean.
- Replace the face shield if it gets scratched.
- Store your helmet in a flat, secure area.
- Avoid keeping your helmet too close to:
- Cleaning fluids.
- Exhaust fumes.