Motorcycle helmets are arguably the most important piece of safety gear in your motorcycle gear arsenal. Choosing the right helmet that works for you depends on your needs and style preferences. Motorcycle save thousands of lives per year alone in the United States and hundreds of lives could have been saved if everyone wore a helmet. Depending on the state you live in you may not be required to wear a motorcycle helmet but it is HIGHLY recommended that you always wear one.
With that said, how many different types of motorcycle helmets are there? How do they compare in terms of safety? How can you even tell? What features do you require for your particular needs and riding style. Keep on scrolling and we’ll address all of these and more.
Safety Standards of Motorcycle Helmets
What good is a helmet if it doesn’t adequately protect you in the event of an accident? There are different certifications in different countries and of course there are some third party certifications that can be granted for certain helmets.
In the United States, in order for a helmet to be street legal it must be D.O.T. (Dept of Transportation) certified. If you look on the back of a helmet you’ll usually see a D.O.T. sticker to signify that this is a street legal helmet.
Another helmet safety commission issues helmets with a SNELL rating, which is named after a famous race car driver, named Pete Snell, who died in a car accident while wearing a less than ideal helmet. His family and friends decided to start a foundation to investigate the constant improvement in helmet design and create a rating system people could rely on when choosing a helmet.
If you ever cross the pond into Europe you have the ECE helmet ratings, which stands for Economic Commissions for Europe. This standard is multinational and is used by over 50 countries. If you see a helmet that is not only DOT certified and also has any of these other two certifications then you know the helmet is solid. A DOT only rating is still sufficient though. Perhaps they don’t sell the particular helmet you are lookin at in Europe. No worries. DOT does its homework.
These various certifications usually require the helmet to go through a series of tests to measure metrics such as its impact resistance, energy distribution, and the ability to retain shape under certain forces. If a helmet you are using does not have one of these ratings or stickers on it you need to make sure what you have on your head can protect you. Helmets without these ratings are considered “novelty” helmets and you might as well save your money, because they likely won’t be saving your life.
The Six Different Styles of Motorcycle Helmets
- Full Face
- Open Face 3/4 Helmet
- Half Helmet
Full Face Helmet
The Full Face Helmet offers the most coverage and is considered the safest helmet. It covers your whole head and face from impact.
The chin portion of the helmet is what protects the lower part of the face, head, and neck and is what other helmets typically lack. According to a recent study, chin takes up about 50% of the impact on most crashes so not having this part of your dome covered can be a serious mistake.
A full face helmet is a relatively versatile style of helmet. Your Harley-Davidson riders and the sport bike guys alike both rock full face helmets. Personally, I feel naked without my full face on when I’m out riding. Something about my face not smacking the ground attracted me to this option.
Full face helmets come with visors and often times come with a flip down tinted screen
Likewise there are many brands and options for full face helmets. Here at Cajun Harley-Davidson we carry the Harley-Davidson full face helmets with or without a built in Bluetooth option. Some other popular brands include LS2 and Simpson. For more information and to see what we have in stock please reach out to us at Cajun Harley-Davidson at (337)289-3030.
Modular or “flip up” helmets are a hybrid helmet between a 3/4 helmet and a full face and are becoming more and more popular. Essentially the chin bar that makes a full face helmet can be flipped up turning the helmet into a 3/4 helmet therefore allowing the riders face to be exposed. Fitment is very similar to full face helmets.
Modular helmets provide slightly less protection than full face helmets due to the hinge mechanism thus weakening the overall structural integrity that you get with a single molded full face helmet. With that said, it still provides more protection than a 3/4 or 1/2 helmet.
Modular helmets are mostly used by touring, adventure, and cruiser riders due to the upright posture and hinge mechanism that gives the rider multiple options for use.
In addition to choosing a modular helmet for the various riding styles and options, some manufacturers, like Harley-Davidson, have included 3-in-1 helmets in their lineup. These helmets have removable chin bars and lower ear protectors that can turn your helmet into a full face, 3/4 helmet. or half helmet just by removing some of these sections.
Open Face 3/4 Helmet
Open face, or 3/4 helmets, cover the top, sides, and back of the head and leave the face exposed. While these helmets are equally as sound on the areas where they cover the head, they do leave the most vulnerable spot of the head open, and that is the chin and the neck as mentioned earlier.Of course with less helmet material around your head the weight of an open face helmet is slightly less, but not significantly less. Unlike a full face helmet it doesn’t protect your face and eyes from road debris, bugs, or weather. Most open faces do come equipped with either a visor or face shield that can help shield your face from these elements, but in the absence of a visor or face shield it is imperative and often times the law that a rider wear some sort of eye protection. Open face helmets are popular among scooters, old school choppers, cruisers, and cafe racers as the face is left open to feel the wind.
Half helmets only cover the very top crown of your head and offer the minimal protection against crashes. Some half helmets cover more of the head than others but the side and front of the face is always exposed. While providing significantly less protection than Full Faces or Open Face helmets they still do make plenty of half helmets that are DOT approved.
Unlike the other helmets we’ve discussed half helmets usually do not come with any face shields or visors and some sort of eye protection will be needed. Similarly, bluetooth is often not an option unless you a set of bluetooth speakers that fit around your ears and stay on your head under the helmet itself. Harley Davidson does offer a set of half helmet bluetooth speakers just for this purpose.
What most people know as “dirt bike helmets” or motocross helmets, off-road helmets are designed for just that, to be ridden away from the street and on to dirt. These are not great options for street or highway use as they are not designed to withstand the impact of a collision with as hard a surface as pavement. The reason for this is they are made with weight in mind. They are kept light because the rigors of off road riding tend to be more demanding than that of the typical cruiser or street bike. Head and neck fatigue is more likely to occur.
Off-road helmets are designed a bit different than the other motorcycle helmets discussed. They have a bigger chin bar to help with increased airflow and a larger visor. They are designed pretty bare bones, again to save weight. They offer no eye protection at all. Most riders where off-road motocross style goggles with these helmets that fit perfectly between the chin bar and visor.
Of course, some helmet and visor combinations aren’t advisable. Best to try everything on in person to make sure your equipment all jives when it comes to offload riding.
Dual-sport, or “adventure” or “enduro” helmets are a blend between a full face helmet and an off-road style helmet. These helmets are made for the rider who prefers the road less traveled, but wants to keep all of their options open at the same time.
Dual-sports offer much of the same outside look of an off-road helmet but have a large visor instead of utilizing goggles. Of course this visor can be snapped up or removed for the use of goggles if the rider wishes. These helmets also have more cushioning on the inside of the helmet to protect the rider’s head both on and off the pavement. Added to the dual-sport helmets is a more tucked in chin bar, decreasing airflow for higher speeds on road, which in turn dampens wind noise more than an off-road helmet would.
We recommend dual sport helmets for those longe range adventure riders who plan on doing a fair amount of highway riding while also venturing along the road less traveled
At the end of the day helmet technology is pretty advanced and no matter what type of riding you do or what styles you prefer, chances are someone manufactures the perfect helmet for you. With that said, we recommend doing your independent research to find a few helmets that you would like to try and then actually try them on. It’s important to try them on because, like shoes, pants, or most articles of clothing, while the “size” might be correct, the shape might not be a good fit. Everyone’s head is shaped differently and each manufacturer uses their own molds for their own different styles when constructing helmets.
To try on some helmets or to simply find out more about what is available please contact the motorclothes department at your local Harley-Davidson dealer or call us, Cajun Harley-Davidson at (337)289-3030. We’d love to help keep you safe and comfortable while you’re out riding! Stay safe and have fun!