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Don’t Lose your head


September 24, 2013 by Rider Newsletter Staff


Motorcycle helmet basics

It’s a bit surprising that we haven’t discussed this subject before, and it’s high time we did. Now, we’re not going to discuss whether or not you should wear a helmet. All we’ll say is that if you have a brain worth protecting, a helmet is the way to go. Also, if the state you’re riding in requires you to wear a helmet, you might as well get a good one. No reason to scramble your brains trying to make a point.

Basic design

Most helmets use a basic design created not long after World War II. It consists of a hard outer shell, an energy absorbing, crushable material, a comfort liner, and a chin strap. What sets helmets apart is the type of materials, the specific design, and the quality of manufacturing. High end helmets utilize costly materials and are difficult and expensive to manufacture. They also tend to fit better and offer more protection than cheaper alternatives.

Types of helmets

Although there are many variations in helmet design, there are really only a few styles. Full face helmets offer the most protection with a complete visor and a solid piece protecting the chin. Three-quarter helmets are basically a full-face model without the visor and solid lower face protection. Flip-up helmets allow the rider to choose when and if to use the visor. Half-helmets are the minimum protection allowed in most states that require them. They are better than nothing, but not very much.

How to choose

Choosing a helmet can be almost as difficult as choosing a new bike. Once you decide on the type, it’s time to check out what’s available at various price points and, most importantly, how they fit and feel. Clearly, your helmet needs to be comfortable. It must also, however, fit very tightly. Most quality helmets will allow at least some adjustment in the fit. The idea is to choose one that will stay put when you need it most. If you lift the front of the helmet and it slips easily backward, try a size smaller or adjust the padding. You may have to spend a considerable amount of time and visit more than one store to find the perfect fit, but remember we’re talking about the only brain you have and protecting it is worth the effort.

No matter which helmet you choose, be sure it is DOT approved. This approval means the manufacturer guarantees the helmet meets certain standards for protection. You might want to go one step further and get a helmet that meets the requirements of the Snell Memorial Foundation. This non-profit organization is dedicated solely to researching, testing and certifying helmets. Their requirements are more stringent than the government. You can find out if a helmet you are considering is Snell approved by visiting their Web site.

Replacing your helmet

There are some important recommendations on when you should replace your helmet. Most importantly, if it ever is required to do its job (protecting your brain), you must replace it. The foam material that absorbs energy from a crash is not designed to be used more than once. If your helmet sustains serious damage, such as being dropped onto the pavement from a moving vehicle, get a new one. Finally, most manufacturers and the DOT recommend you replace your helmet every five years. This is because of how some of the materials in the helmet can dry and deteriorate over time. Also, because research is constantly being conducted, newer helmets are typically lighter, more comfortable and protect better.

If you have a brain worth protecting, it’s worth taking the time and spending the money required to get a high-quality helmet that you can wear comfortably. Ride on, but ride safely.


The Snell Memorial Foundation has tons of information on helmets. They also provide certification of specific helmets.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation created a Web site called has a pretty comprehensive story about helmet selection here.

This article is a bit dated, but the basic information is useful.



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