Some riders might think it’s cool to ride without a motorcycle helmet, and that’s fine. What you choose to do with your head is entirely your business. But when you understand that 5,172 of us were killed on the roads in 2017, and that another 88,000 were severely injured, you have to ask yourself, is the feeling of the wind in my hair really worth my life?
All Lids Are Not Created Equal
For a motorcycle helmet to be legal, it has to meet some sort of safety standard. Here in the US there are (confusingly) several to choose from. DOT, Snell, and ECE are the current standards, so the first thing you want to check is that your helmet is certified by one of these ratings.
Which is the safest you ask? Snell and ECE are more modern, therefore safer, than the DOT standard, but there is some debate about which of the two is superior. If you’re like me, you don’t have the time to read through all the standards or look into the testing methodology. My goto answer for all things motorcycle is; “What do the MotoGP boys think?” ECE is the only helmet standard permitted in MotoGP, so there you go, I’ll have one of those please.
Keep in mind, if you’re looking for a helmet for track days or racing, the organization you’re riding with might have its own stipulations, so check with them before you buy. But in general, an ECE rated helmet will offer the rider the most protection, and will be legal in pretty much any country you want to ride in.
Are You Round Or Long?
Riders have all kinds of different heads, and as it turns out, motorcycle helmet manufactures have accounted for this. The typical head shapes are Round Oval, Intermediate Oval, and Long Oval. Check out the chart below to get a quick idea of the different shapes, and where you might fit in the spectrum. You can have a friend take a picture of your head from above and try to decide which oval is the closest match. Or you can take a picture from the front, and then from the side and compare that way. In the US, the majority of riders are in the Intermediate Oval category.
Full Face, Just For The Race?
So you’ve decided that riding without a helmet isn’t a great life decision, but you don’t want to fully enclose your head. Maybe an open-face helmet would work? Well, an open faced helmet is better than nothing, but not by much. Why’s that you ask? Take a look at the graphic below. It shows you vividly the probability of impact on any given area of a full face helmet.
And check it out, your chin is the most likely point of first impact at 19.4%. In a typical crash an open face helmet is not going to protect the area most likely to take an impact. Full face it is then.
My Helmet Has A Best Before Date
When I was young and stupid, I used to think the idea that a helmet would expire was just a gimmick for the manufacturers to get me to buy a new one. Now that I’m less dumb, I know that’s not the case. The reality is, underneath the sexy graphics and glossy paint of the hard shell, your helmet is essentially a styrofoam ball with a hole in it for your head. Ok it’s a little more complicated than that, but the thing is, styrofoam is a very stable product, but like anything that gets used, it will suffer wear and tear.
The biggest factor that impacts your helmet’s service life is how often you ride. A helmet that is ridden in everyday will wear out a lot quicker than a helmet that is only worn on Sundays. And it’s not just how much you wear it. It turns out a lot of the materials used to make your helmet are actually degraded by things like sweat, your greasy head, petroleum fumes and cleaning agents.
Make sure you check your helmet at least once a year to see if it’s showing signs of old age.
The Best Helmet Is Invisible
At the end of the day, you want to choose a helmet that you love, that looks cool, feels comfortable, has great airflow and low noise, and of course, protects you with at least DOT rating. It should fit so well as to be a second skin, hence, invisible to you.
I know as riders we tend to be the independent, rule breaking type, but you won’t be breaking any rules if you’re dead. Or brain damaged. So do yourself a favour, and if you don’t currently ride with a helmet, think about getting one. And if you already ride with one, check to see what rating you have.
Did a helmet save your life? What do you think the best helmet brand is? Any thoughts or comments, please leave a comment!