Motorcycle Helmets: Most Common Helmet Issues

Is there anything better than riding your motorcycle on an open road? Just you, the sky and the 800 pounds of machinery over which you have complete control… Is this the first time you got a motorcycle and want to stay safe?

Or are you a veteran, who’s been on the road for years, but still have some issues you want to clear up? Whether „Born to be Wild“ has been your life’s theme song for years, or you’ve just recently joined the club, we suggest you read our detailed FAQ for the most common helmet issues about surrounding motorcycle helmets. Everything you need to know and learn about motorcycle helmets can be found below.

Most Common Motorcycle Helmet Issues

Q: Do I really need a helmet?

Yes. Yes, yes and yes. There is no situation or valid enough reason for you to sit on a motorcycle and not wear a helmet! Remember that you’re sitting on 800 pounds of moving metal traveling at speeds between 50 and 150 miles per hour. Any small crash, any pull, and type of collision and you will be gone.

Research has shown that the area that is always the first one to get hit during a crash is your head. Unless you have a death wish, never ride without a helmet. You’re already moving much faster than the human body was ever made to go, do you need to test its impact resistance too?

However, if you need further convincing, there is one more thing you should know. While you may be lazy enough not to wear a helmet because it annoys you or because it’s not comfortable, look at it these way- bugs. Yes just that one word, bugs. Just imagine a million tiny impacts splattering all over your face when you’re riding 100 miles per hour on the highway. Not only do you not want do pick out mosquitoes and flies from your teeth (we assume, if that’s your thing, that’s OK, we won’t judge), but also, it may cause you to crash. A mosquito flying 100 miles per hour and hitting your eye during a ride is a guarantee for a crash.

Another factor is the wind. No matter how fast or slow you’re riding, and no matter the temperature outside, the wind will be a simple nightmare for you without the helmet. The faster you go and the colder it is outside, the more painful the wind will be. After an hours drive, the wind will feel less like simple air, and more like a steel knife. As an added bonus, looking tough is all nice and cool, but do you really want to look 10 years older on account of your rough and air-bruised skin?

And the last part? Honestly, helmets just make you look pretty cool.

Q: Which type of helmet should I get and why?

So, we hopefully convinced you to get a helmet. It can be overwhelming to choose which type, as there are so many. However, they all can be split into five categories: Full face, off-road (or motocross). Modular, open face (or ¾ helmet) and half helmet. After you read all their advantages and disadvantages, you can decide for yourself which one suits your needs the best.

The full face helmet, guess what protects your whole face. It covers the entire head, its rear watching out for the base of your skull, while also having a visor protecting your eyes and a section over the front of your chin. They also offer you a quiet ride, as they usually mute out the actual sound of the road and your motorcycle. They are probably the safest type, though they can be a bit heavier (as they have much more material), and are a bit warmer. They’re also a godsend for your neck and shoulders, as they have little wind resistance. All around, probably your best bet.

motorcyle helmetThe motocross helmet is a bit different than the full face one. It has a longer, drawn out chin and visor part. As it’s mostly used for off-road riding, its shape helps deflect debris that is often caused by the environment in which you ride in. They’re also often combined with goggles that you really should get, on account of the bugs and dirt. This may seem like a hassle, but it’s what actually makes these great, as you have the greatest amount of flexibility and movement when you ride.

You can move your head more than you could with the full-faced type and its design allows for a wider and greater field of vision. The sun visor is very important as it does wonders if you ride during the day, in hot, sunny place. The vents are specially designed to help you cool down and just let the heat escape the helmet. They offer less protection than the full-faced type, and are best used on, you guessed it, dirt roads.

Modular (or flip-up) is basically a hybrid between the open face and the full face helmets. What makes them special is that they have, basically, the best of both worlds. As the full face type, they protect the base of your head, your chin, and your eyes. However, if you want to talk to someone or want to breathe with a bit more ease, just remove the chin bar and slide the visor up. Both the chin bar and the visor are easy to replace and to move, depending on the situation. However, keep in mind that this is the heaviest of types, as it has so many added and movable pieces. It’s also not as snug as a full face type, which while making it more comfortable, will make it less safe and offer less protection. We do suggest that you always ride with the modular helmet fully assembled and closed, and open it up during slow rides, or when you simply stop (since you don’t have to actually take the thing off to breathe). Another problem could be the wind drag or the high wind resistance. Because of their design, they are less aerodynamic than other types.

motocycle helmet 2Open face helmets cover the ears, back of your head, and your cheeks, but leave open the chin (and basically the whole front of your face). However, they can, and often are, made with an added face shield. Some countries even demand that you have a face shield or goggles, as you can seriously get hurt and get into a crash because of debris flying into your eyes. Trust us, you’re not that pretty, you don’t need to show your face everywhere. Plus, the wind will make you even less pretty (unless you’re going for that aged-like-fine-wine old man look). On the upside, they offer excellent visibility, like you’re not even wearing a helmet. It will also make it much easier to actually eat and talk to people. Another plus is that they are very light.

Half helmets or the skull cap. Unfortunately, they are not called that because they’re cool (or at least shouldn’t be). They offer the least protection possible, as they cover only the top of your head. Some Motorcycle safety foundations actually prohibit using these things now. If you get into a crash, you need to be very lucky and actually hit the pavement with the top of your head; otherwise, you might as well have „helmet hair” for nothing. Another problem is that these don’t even protect your eyes, as most models don’t have visors, and so you have to get goggles. They also have very high wind resistance, which will make your neck muscles sore like they’ve never been before. At least they’re very light and offer the most head mobility. However, unless mobility is really that important to you (or you want to get a neck like a wrestler after a few months of riding), there is little reason to actually get this type.

Q: Is my helmet safe? What do all those motorcycle safety ratings mean? What are SHARP, SNELL, DOT and ECE?

Now that you’ve decided which type of helmet you want, let’s look at the most important factor- actual protection. You’re basically looking for proof that your helmet will actually save your life during a crash, and not crack like a piece of plastic. You need to keep in mind thought that tests for motorcycle helmets are a lot more difficult to plan and to carry out than, let’s say, car seatbelts. There are a few ways seatbelts can act during a crash, and a million ways (one for each angle of impact) a motorcycle helmet can get hit.

First off, you need to keep in mind that safety rating does vary from country to country, but at the same time, there are a couple that are valid for the whole of Europe, the United States and for Australia. These are, respectively, the ECE 22.05, the DOT and the AUS 1698-2006.

These represent the bare minimum a helmet needs to have in order to actually do what it’s supposed to do, i.e. protect your head. However, there is another point, and that is that manufacturers often send their helmets to third-party testers. This allows them to actually have more proof that even in the worst of conditions, their helmets will save your noggin.

motorcycle helmet 3The test is not just for the actually impact resistance and durability, but also for checking any defects around the straps, the field of vision and the general construction of the helmet.

The DOT motorcycle helmet safety standard is the minimal (though very thorough) test, and you can rest assured that at least your helmet will do its job. If you don’t see this (or the ECE, or AUS) related to your helmet, you shouldn’t buy it, as you have no way to prove the helmet will save your life until you actually get into a crash.

The best and guaranteed proof of your helmet actually being safe is the SNELL guarantee. Known as the Snell Memorial Foundation, it was made in honor of William Pete Snell, a race car driver who died in a crash because his helmet was not enough to protect him. What makes this special is that is actually used by taking into account actual race track crashes. It demands a very low maximum energy transfer during testing (low means good in this instance).

This is tested by using the so-called anvil which basically hits the helmet at different angles and speed in order to see how strong it is. All certifications use anvils for its testing, but few use an edge anvil, which is the most serious of types. The SNELL certifications basically take into account the worst situation possible, and make sure your helmet will survive that. It even tests how easy it is to remove the helmet in case of an emergency.

Besides these three, there is also the SHARP certification. It’s different from other types in that it does not have the binary pass or fail rating, but actually, issues star ratings. These ratings give you much more flexibility and knowledge about the resistance and strength of your helmet. In order for a helmet to even be tested on the SHARP level, it needs to already pass the ECE. This also means its exclusive for Europe. This certification is much more thorough than other types and gives you information, based on its color coding and stars, to know where your helmet is the most vulnerable or durable.

Q: I can’t find a helmet that fits me. What should I do?

This can be a very serious issue. The above-mentioned certification also tests for how well helmets fit, or helmet retention. It may seem like it’s only about comfort and looks, but actually, this can impact how well you’re protected by your helmet during a crash. On a lighter note, it can ruin a wonderful and fun ride. That little annoying tightness can cause massive headaches after a few hours on the road.

Not only that, but the helmet can cut off circulation in your temples, cause chafing and even make you overheat if it’s too tight. There are two elements you need to keep in mind, those being the size and shape of the helmet (or, rather, your head). These can be altered a bit, as some helmets have removable and adjustable pads, but these can only do so much for a poorly fitting helmet. It can also make wind noise absolutely maddening if it fits poorly.

motorcycle helmet 4Now, the most obvious way you can check is to simply go to the store and try on every single helmet until you find the one that fits. This can prove to be problematic, though, as you would actually need to have the helmet on for at least half an hour, before you determine where its pressure points are. However, there is an easier way, and more sure way. Almost every manufacturer has measurements for its products, and it’s up to you to determine whether those are ok or not.

First off, either fiddle around with a mirror or have a friend take a picture of the top of your head. This will help you get a general idea of your head shape. The other thing you should do is to take some measuring tape, place it slightly above your eyebrows, and measure the circumference of your head. Then, you can compare this data with the one provided by the helmet manufacturer.

In general, you should remember that while the helmet can move slightly, it should still be snug enough that any movement will feel like it basically pulls your face in that direction. Also, it should feel tight on the cheeks and snug on the crown (or the top) of your head. To go into more detail about the cheek tightness, you should not be able to, for example, chew gum or speak clearly, but also you should not feel any pain.

Now, some helmets are more oval, some are more round. In order to make it easier to find out which one suits you best, you can determine if you need a wide or narrow helmet by simply seeing where you feel pressure. If you feel pain evenly around your head, then it probably means the shape is good, but the size is too small. On the other hand, if you feel pressure in your forehead, then you need a helmet that is a bit narrower. If you feel pain on the side of your head and your temples, then the helmet is too narrow.

Never, ever, think that just because the helmet is the wrong shape that you can just get one that is one size larger than it should be. This is a recipe for disaster, as it will offer you minimal protection in case of a crash.

Q: How do I repair, clean and maintain my helmet?

Let me start by saying that if your helmet was in a crash (on your specific head or not), it’s basically done. They are designed to actually be destroyed during a crash, as this allows them to dissipate the energy more easily and thus save your life. Even if it seems like its OK on the outside, without any noticeable cracks, dents or weird sounds, you still can’t rely on it ever again.

Even dropping it often, and using it as a joke in fights or whatever else your hyperactive mind can think of, can damage it. It’s not a toy; it’s supposed to save your life one day (that will hopefully never come). It probably won’t get damaged, but it can, and there is no reason to expose yourself to such a risk. Another important point is that the polymers and materials that are used in assembling a helmet degrade over time. The average lifespan of a helmet is five years, after which it should be replaced. The visor should be replaced once a year.

Try to develop good habits when handling your helmet. Don’t drop it, store it in places where there is a lot of humidity, dust or fumes. Don’t hold it by its chin bar as it can damage the straps and seals of the helmet (this is extra important for Modular helmets). Always let it sit on a clean and stable surface.

Because of all those bugs that commit suicide by crashing into your visor leave quite a mess, you should regularly clean it. Just take a warm, wet, towel and gently leave it on your visor. Let it sit for a few minutes and then gently wipe it down. Do not under any circumstances scrub the visor with a rough surface, or use strong, irritating detergents. This will ruin the plastic and destroy your field of vision.

motorcycle helmet 5So no dish soap or ammonia-based cleaners. You can follow the same principles for the rest of your helmet. The other parts are less susceptible to this kind of damage, but all the above-mentioned chemicals can ruin the paint and the shine. We also suggest you use automotive polish, and automotive wax, to keep it looking as good as on the day you bought it.

Next, the hardest part, the lining. As a general tip, never put anything inside of your helmet except your head. Your gloves, for example, are covered with sweat and bacteria, and will ruin the insides of your helmet quite quickly. Another general tip is that you wear a bandana. This will make the helmet be in less contact with your sweat and grime. Also, let you helmet air out overnight- you do not want to ride for a few hours while wearing a helmet that stewed in a stuffy bag overnight after the previous day’s sweaty road trip.

If the lining inside your helmet is removable, then you’re in luck. You simply take out the pads and the liner (be careful not to tear or damage them). Put it in the washing machine with a very mild laundry detergent on a weak cycle and then let them air dry. Or, simply, you can just hand wash them.

However, if the lining cannot be removed, then we suggest you do the following. First, remove any pads that can be removed, the visor and any other added and removable parts. Then, put the helmet in a container full of warm water mixed with a mild laundry detergent. Dunk it completely, and make sure you have a towel on the bottom, so the shell won’t get damaged. Gently massage the liner so the detergent can enter. After you’re satisfied with doing this, rinse it off thoroughly. Let it air dry, but try to pat it down with a towel and remove as much moisture as you can. Also use cotton swabs to clean the vents and the joints. Don’t use a blow dryer; just let the helmet air dry. The heat from the blow dryer can, after repeated use, seriously damage the helmet.

Miscellaneous questions:

Q: If my glasses don’t fit, does that mean I need a different helmet?

No, it means you need to either get specialized glasses or goggles if you’re serious about your riding, and vision is that poor.

Q: What is helmet loudness?

Helmet loudness is correlated to wind resistance. The more protrusions, wings and other knick-necks the helmet has, the louder it is. This is especially the case with helmets that have a lot of vents. If this is a serious issue for you, try to either find helmets that are more aerodynamic (smooth) and have fewer vents, or helmets that have their vents built into the Styrofoam liner.

Q: Are there any accessories I should get?

While there are not obligatory, there are some that are very useful. First, specialized earplugs. These drown out helmet noise and other annoying sounds from the highway, while not minimizing the sounds of cars and sirens much.

A tinted visor is always a good idea.

A padded helmet bag.

Communicators are amazing additions that let you talk to your fellow riders without distracting you from the road.

Duct tape to let you tape over air vents on very cold winter days.

Q: Won’t helmets increase the chance of me breaking my neck?

No. No, no and no. This is a myth that may at first make sense. Of course, there is danger of you breaking your neck when there is a helmet place there, giving it perfect leverage to snap. However, this time, common sense fails. The helmets are specifically designed to carry away the force of impact away from your neck and onto the helmet itself.

Conclusion:

We hope we have answered and dealt with any helmet issues you may be having. These are all the most important points you need to know when buying or taking care of your helmet. Keep it safe, keep it clean, and respect it. The helmet might just save your life one day.