There are many things to consider when looking at what you want to wear or should wear when you hit the open road to ride, not only paying attention to the weather conditions but also to comfort and safety concerns. This post, which begins at the top and covers various considerations in helmet types, is the first in a series of posts that cover the basic information regarding apparel for motorcycle riders.
One of the considerations for choosing a helmet is of course style. Styles of helmets include full face, open face, half, modular, and dirt. Other considerations include the safety standards for helmets, size and construction. Let's look first at the various styles:
A full face helmet is exactly as it sounds, it covers the entire face. There is protection for the crown of the head, under the chin and along the back of the neck and head area. There is a cutout area for the eyes and nose that can be covered by a visor, which can be lifted and lowered. Some of these helmets have vents added for airflow through the helmet. While these type of helmets provide added coverage in the time of a crash, there are some that dislike the closed off feeling that the helmet creates.
The open face helmet is similar to the full face helmet without the coverage under the chin. A visor can be attached through the use of snaps. In a crash, this type of helmet does little to protect the face because of its open design. There is still the coverage and protection for the back of the head however. Additionally, due to the more open design, there is better airflow and an increase in the likelihood of being hit in the face by bugs while riding. Riders might consider extra eye protection in the form of goggles or a fuller face shield.
The half face helmet only covers the upper part of the head area. It is similar to the open face helmet but without the bottom portion. This type of helmet resembles a bowl. Safety wise, this helmet offers little protection in a crash and meets the minimum safety requirements for riders in the United States.
A modular helmet is a cross between a full face and open face helmet. It affords the coverage for the full face or the ability to flip up the chin area and turn the helmet into an open face design. This is useful when eating or drinking without the need to remove the helmet completely. These helmets are required to have the chinstrap down while riding.
These types of helmets have an elongated chin and visor area. Riders can use the visor area to protect their head from flying dirt and debris by lowering their head. Additionally, this protects the rider from sun glare as well. The elongated chin area offers extra protection during falls and from dirt and debris kicking up from the ground. Motocross riders wear this design.
DOT and SNELL
The Federal Government's Department of Transportation (DOT) has a designation that is required to be on all helmets that are worn for road use. This designation is shown with a DOT label. The SNELL Memorial Foundation is a non-profit organization that sets voluntary standards for helmets. The designation is shown as a SNELL label. Each of these designations show that the helmets passed the various standards that each of these entities set regarding impact limits.
While the SNELL designation is not mandatory, the label is usually found on the same helmets with the DOT designation. The difference between the two designations has to do with the safety standards that each employs with their testing. The DOT designation is more focused on crash impact minimization with more shock absorption, while the SNELL designation parameters result in the helmet being considered too rigid for proper shock absorption.
Another important criterion for the helmet is its size, or fit. The helmet needs to sit comfortably on the head making sure that the helmet doesn’t sit too high or shift around too much. The circumference as well as shape of the head should be noted. If the helmet is ill fitting, i.e. too tight, it could cause headaches. If the helmet is too loose, then it might not properly protect the head in an impact. It is advisable to try out a new helmet by wearing it for a length of time, about 30 to 60 minutes, to get a true feel for how the helmet sits and fits on the head.
Helmet material can consist of plastic, fiberglass, Kevlar and carbon fiber. Each of these materials has different impact strengths and costs associated with them. The most common helmets are made of plastic. The plastic helmets are designed to crush on blunt impact absorbing the energy of the crash, protecting the rider’s head. Fiberglass helmets are lighter in weight and have a greater ability to absorb shock from impact. These helmets are favored by motorcycle enthusiasts. On the higher end scale are Kevlar and carbon fiber. These types of helmets are associated more with racing than every day use. The impact they protect against is greater than what an every day rider would experience.