Thinking of buying a new helmet? Don't just go on the graphics or colour. There are far more important aspects to choosing a new motorcycle helmet than those. Any sensible rider will ask these questions while selecting a helmet are -
Let’s answer these questions one by one.
Here are different parts that make up a helmet:
Internal Padding and liners
The liners / padding inside the helmet is what actually defines how well the helmet fits you. Like we already discussed above, one shell size is used for multiple helmet sizes. First thing you need to ensure that there are no pressure points / hot spots after wearing the helmet. Pay close attention to temple, forehead, cheeks.
For weather conditions like India, you need to see that the liners are moisture absorbing and easy to remove / refit for cleaning. Otherwise, you would end up with a smelly helmet.
Wearing a balaclava inside the helmet is recommended. Ideally it should be 100% cotton (for better sweat absorption). Avoid nylon/polyster balaclava. They may be cheaper / look better but they are completely useless for soaking up your sweat. They help you keep the helmet liner clean. Just make sure that you can comfortably wear a balaclava inside the helmet. In case of snug fitting helmets, wearing a balaclava won’t be always possible. Don’t worry in that case.
Straps and attachment
First thing you need to check is whether the chin straps have sufficiently soft and thick padding below them. So that once the chin straps are attached, your neck won’t be irritated by constant rubbing of the straps.
Another thing to look for is the “hook and loop” system for the extra piece of chin strap that’s usually left dangling after the helmet is secured. You won’t like constantly fluttering strap while riding.
Usually the classic “D-Ring” (also known as Double D-Ring) system is the one seen on most high end helmets and that is for a reason. They are lightweight, infinitely adjustable, there is nothing to break / wear out. Nothing wrong in micrometric buckles. We just think that it is something that just adds weight and complexity to a solution for which there already is an excellent solution available; in form of D-Ring.
First thing you need to check in a helmet is field of view i.e. how much you can see after wearing the helmet. Most sportsbike riders need a wider field of vision simply because of their crouched riding position. More the vision, better it is.
Having a helmet that enables tool-less visor replacement enables you to replace the visor as per your need on the go. Now a days, most of good quality helmets offer this facility.
Following options are usually available in visors:
- Clear Visor – This is what we recommend for any and every rider / ride. Your ability to see is the most critical part of your riding. If you feel that the ride will be throughout the day, then carry a spare dark visor with you. As soon as sunlight starts getting harsh, change to dark visor and vice versa.
- Smoke / Dark Visor – These visors range from light smoke to completely dark visors. They are good in broad daylight riding but are extremely bad in low light riding. Do you want to keep the visor open to see the road and get assaulted by insects?
- Iridium Visor – These are reflective visors and are usually available in Silver or multicolour options. These are good only if you want to keep looking at someone of other sex. Other than this, these visors really are more for show than go.
We suggest that if you are purchasing a new helmet, get an additional visor at the same time. Later on, the helmet model might be discontinued, may be the visors are out of stock. Better to stock up on it right at the time of purchase.
If you want to clean the visor, wipe it with soft cloth. In case of scratches, replace the visor.
Pin-Lock ready Visors
Like the name suggests, these visors are Pin-Lock “ready”. These aren’t Pin-Lock visors. Pin locks are two small pins on both sides of visor. They help you in installing an “Anti-Fog” insert on it. Anti Fog inserts are like a super thin extra visor stuck inside the helmet visor on those two pins.
They are very soft and would scratch easily (if not handled with care) You can change from clear anti fog insert to dark anti fog insert as well.
What should I look for when buying a helmet?
You buy a helmet for protection it offers. Colour, graphics are second priority. You should buy a helmet carrying at least ISI mark. If you can afford to spend a bit more money, you should opt for DOT / Snell / SHARP rated helmets. We have explained about this point in detail later in this article.
Out of these standards, we typically come across DOT, ECE and ISI standards. Indian laws make it mandatory to wear a helmet of ISI standard. Anything below that is not permissible. But why not go one step up? There are several helmets who sport DOT and ECE certification and if they are available at similar or slightly higher price, go for it. Paying a bit more may prove far more beneficial in case of a crash.
We feel SHARP rating should also be checked (if the helmet is tested for it) because for SHARP testing, helmets are purchased from open market and tested. So the results are much more in line with what you can expect from your helmet.
Please keep in mind that a more expensive helmet may not necessarily mean more safe / better helmet.
After certification, next important point is correct fitting helmet. If a helmet does not fit correctly, it is little more than useless.
What happens if your helmet is too big?
If your helmet is too large, it will move around and up and down on your head; it can be noisy; worst of all, it may come off in a crash. So loose fitting helmet is mostly useless; to put it bluntly.
How do I know my helmet size & how tight should a full face helmet fit?
If you are the guy who prefers watching a video than reading, have a look at this Video Guide about choosing correct sized helmet-
Helmet Sizes :
When we talk about helmet sizes, there are two sizes to consider. External size and internal size. Let’s talk about the external size first.
External shapes / sizes :
External shape/size is the shape and size of the shell that the helmet uses. Companies reduce the cost of creating shell sizes for every helmet size. eg. If a company is offering helmet sizes from S to XXL (5 sizes), you can be confident that the company has created only 2/3 shell sizes.
Different thickness of internal padding makes the helmet suitable for different sizes. eg. X shell size will be used for S and M size helmets. Company will use thicker padding in S size to make it properly fit.
While there is nothing wrong with this, one thing you need to check and consider – is the company trying to pass off just one shell size for 4-5 different sizes? If yes, rest assured that for riders with smaller head size, the helmet will look oddly big.
Internal Shapes / sizes :
Many riders don’t realise that helmets come in different internal shapes. Helmets are expensive, and if you can only own one, it should be the highest quality, best fitting helmet you can find within your budget constraints. So check-up whether the helmet internal shape is matching that of your head.
Human heads come in an infinite range of shapes and sizes. But these are some of the shapes.
This doesn’t mean that there will be a different helmet for each head shape. In fact, helmet manufacturers have been moving towards a “neutral” internal shape.
It’s also important to understand that not every helmet will fit the same, and almost every helmet brand and even the helmet models within the same brand may fit quite differently.
Most motorcycle helmets have a “neutral”, “oval” or “round” shaped internal profile (when looking at the head from the front or rear). It’s up to the rider to map his or her head shape to those three categories.
You have to keep in mind that there is no universally recognized standard for describing head and helmet shapes.
Now let's talk about internal sizes of helmet:
Knowing your helmet size is very simple. Just have a look at this short video.
- First of all, the head at its largest circumference or the hat size is an important factor. Most manufacturers have sizing charts that indicate head size compatibility with one of the shell sizes that they manufacture.
- Hat size should be measured with a measuring tape just above your eyebrows. One should measure it a couple of times to get the right size.
Once you have identified the size, wear it, secure the chin strap; adjust it if it is loose. It should be tight enough to squeeze in a finger. The helmet should fit snugly and it might feel a bit tight unless it is in place correctly. Ensure that the helmet sits on your head squarely.
Once you have gone through all the above steps,
- The cheek pads should touch the cheeks comfortably,
- There shouldn’t be any gaps between temples and brow pads,
- There shouldn’t be any pressure points on any part of your head.
Safety is THE most important thing but comfort in second most important thing that you should consider before buying a new helmet.
Comfort is directly related to safety. Yes. It’s true. Even a small distraction because of uncomfortable helmet translates to lesser concentration. To borrow from Keith Code in his book “A Twist of the Wrist”, you start out with, say, 10$ worth of concentration. You can’t have any more, but you certainly can have a lot less.
Small distractions can cause a 2-3$ worth of loss of concentration just when you need all ten bucks worth. Since lack of concentration and focus is one of the causes of motorcycle accidents, this becomes a serious issue. We aren’t saying that uncomfortable helmets cause accidents or comfortable helmets can prevent accidents. But uncomfortable helmets can be one of the reasons why single vehicle accidents happen.
The perfect helmet would be so comfortable that the rider would forget that it’s there. Sadly it is as rare as unicorns.
Now let’s see which factors makes motorcycle helmet comfortable?
- Soft internal padding that feels comfortable against your skin.
- Liner shape perfectly matching your head shape.
- Chin strap with smooth padding that does not irritate neck.
- Good visibility through visor. No obstruction to your peripheral vision.
- Adequate air vents to take away hot air from your head.
- Low ambient / wind noise.
- Many helmets feel comfortable at first but pressure points develop over time.
- These pressure points can result in headaches, pain. Ensure that you don’t find any pressure points.
- Ensure that your chin isn’t touching the chin bar of helmet
- Enough room should be available for opening and closing your mouth.
Typically you need to ride about an hour with any helmet to decide on its comfort factor because you need that much time to ensure –
- that pressure points don’t develop
- that the helmet isn’t too noisy / hot
Now there is not much chance that one can “borrow” a new helmet and try it for an hour or so to know if it is the right fit. So you need to pay close attention to helmet measuring guide and sizing chart provided by the company.
Some more check points:
If the above check points are ok, here are further steps to ensure proper fit of helmet:
1. On full face helmets, press on the chin part of the helmet and see if the helmet or any internal part touches your nose. If it does, it means the helmet size is too big.
2. Move the helmet from side to side and up and down with your hands. If the fit is correct, your skin should move as the helmet is moved.
3. Always remember, that a helmet loosens up a bit as it is used. A new helmet should be as tight as you can comfortably wear it.
4. Now, try rolling the helmet forward off your head. You should not be able to take it off. If you can, the helmet is large for you.
5. Take off the helmet. Does your head feel sore anywhere? Are there any red spots anywhere? Pressure points can be uncomfortable and can cause a headache after a long ride. If it is, choose the next largest size or try a different brand of helmet.
6. Also ensure that you are comfortable with visibility offered by the full face helmet. Due to its nature, full face helmets offer lesser visibility than open face helmets. However, a good helmet should offer you wide view of the road ahead.
How do I choose a good helmet and Which motorcycle helmet is safest?
The certification for DOT / ECE/ Snell / SHARP is more stringent and helmets carrying DOT / ECE / Snell certification or SHARP rating above 4 stars are far safer than helmets passing just ISI standards. Most expensive helmet may not be the one with better safety rating and a lower priced helmet may fit you better than a more expensive helmet. So how to decide on which helmet to buy…Let’s take a detailed look at every aspect that would help you in purchasing the safest and most comfortable helmet in your budget. So you should choose helmet carrying these certifications.
Here is a list of some of the standards across the world
- DOT – USA standard
- ECE 22.05 – European
- NBR – Brazilian
- CNS – Taiwan
- AS 1698-2006 – Australia
- SG or JIS – Japan
- KS G 7001- Korea
- SIRIM – Malaysia
- TIS – Thailand
- IS 4151 – India
- Snell – USA
- BSI – UK
- SHARP – UK
One aspect you should consider is the type of riding you do. Do you ride off-road, on track, inside the city on a scooter or on highways? Your helmet choice would depend on how and where you spend most of your riding time. Motorcycle helmets are designed for specific purpose and they work best if used for the purpose they are designed for.
- Full Face Helmets–For enthusiast riders who want good protection. Most safety cautious riders opt for this helmet. It covers head, face and the jaw. These helmets typically are the safest of all types. Full face helmets offer you a quiet ride by cutting down wind noise and are sealed to prevent rain water leaking in ,also are more aerodynamic. They are also usually heavier than other types of helmets.
- Open face helmet/Half face helmet – For riding scooter inside city limit at slow speeds. These helmets cover your head but do not cover face / jaw. They offer more visibility than full face helmet but you will find lots of wind noise, rainwater seeping in.
- Modular helmets/ Flip up helmets – For Tourers who love to do day long rides. Modular helmets are hybrid of open face and full face helmets. They have a movable chin bar that, at the push of a button, slides up over the top of the helmet. They usually offer a perfect balance between Open face and full face helmets but are usually heavier due to the latches.
- Off Road / Motocross helmets– For riders who venture off the beaten track.These helmets can be recognized by their sun visors and elongated chin section. These helmets usually don’t have a visor. Off-roaders prefer to use a separate goggles for eye protection. They are not much aerodynamic and should be avoided for on-road riding.
In a country like India, ventilation is a very important aspect in choosing any helmet. Most of India has 3 seasons- summer, harsh summer and don’t get out of home summer. So unless you want to be cooked / soaked by sweat inside your helmet, pay close attention to the ventilation available in a helmet.
There are no standards for vent shapes or sizes. So every manufacturer goes with own design language and puts in vents that look good and are effective. Effectiveness of these vents varies with their location (where they are placed on a helmet), shape and size and there is no easy way (short of testing in wind tunnel) to calculate that.
Ability to close the vents (during rains / winter) is a necessity.
Effectiveness of ventilation can be seen only after riding for half an hour or so. Since this really isn’t possible, use a rule of thumb – “More the vents, better the ventilation ” (we know it isn’t true in all cases so don’t start bashing)
Now this brings us another issue: Noise
We all have a friend who complains about his noisy helmet. Noise is one of the most important aspects that induces fatigue in a rider.
Again for finding out if there is lots of noise inside the helmet, you need to ride it at decently high speeds in different wind conditions. Several factors like shape of helmet shell, vents, direction of wind, speed of riding, whether riding a fully faired or naked motorcycle etc. come into play for noise level inside the helmet.
Again this won’t be possible before purchasing the helmet so use a thumb rule “all other things being equal, a helmet with chin curtain will be less noisy than a helmet without it”.
One cheap and effective solution is to use ear plugs sold by 3M. They cost some Rs.15/- and are most effective in reducing the sound level. You can buy them at any nearby sports goods shop.
Now this is one aspect that people tend to ignore. A helmet is the highest point on a motorcycle/rider. So a brighter / fluorescent colour of a helmet will make you more visible to others in low light conditions (night / rains / fog). Bright orange, fluorescent yellow, red are the colours that provide higher visibility.
A camouflage helmet may look drool worthy but honestly do you want to hide your presence on road? Are you playing hide and seek with other users of road? Would you be happy if someone hits you from behind because he/she didn’t see you? If the answer is NO, then avoid the camouflage colours of helmets.
Having pointed out all this, in our opinion, one should get full face helmet for any kind of riding, be it city or highway or track. Because one can get into any kind of nasty accident anywhere and at that time only the safest helmet will save.
And the last but most important thing to consider is you should look cool in it.
When to replace your helmet
Most helmets have EPS (Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is a crushable foam) as primary safety measure.
If one EPS cell is crushed under impact, the surrounding cells assist with the energy absorption; thereby providing it safer for the rider (similar to crumple zones in cars). The EPS is made for one time use as once crushed, it will not provide same level of safety again. So if you have crashed, you should immediately inspect the helmet.
Most helmets won’t show the damage when you look at them from outside. So Check inside the helmet to see if you find any damage to EPS. If yes, replace.
While most manufacturers recommend that you change your helmet within 5 years, Bell recommends changing them every 3 years. Keep in mind, that this recommendation is for “well looked after” helmets
The first item of riding gear that a serious rider buys is always a Helmet. A Motorcycle helmet is the important part of a motorcycle riding gear and for the helmet to be effective in case of crash, it has to fit well.
Although it was once speculated that wearing a motorcycle helmet increased neck and spinal injuries in a crash, recent evidence has shown the opposite to be the case that helmets actually protect against cervical spine injury.
So choose wisely and ride happily.
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