The perfect motorcycle helmet? The great brands define the perfect helmet as …
There is no other form of transport that gives a sense of speed and being connected to the road as does the motorcycle. With that freedom comes the risk of a spill. Combining protection with comfort, leaving you (and me) to enjoy the open road to the maximum is the ultimate goal of any motorcycle helmet.
In Shoei’s words: Our philosophy is to combine safety, comfort and passion into a first class motorcycle helmet. Easier said than done! Here are some of the details that make the whole lid better than the sum of its parts!
What makes a motorcycle helmet: The parts that matter every day as well as during a spill
Protection against wind, dirt and UV radiation on the one hand. A genius piece of kit to guarantee clear vision without optical distortion on the other hand. Its tight seal when closed is of critical importance to the internal noise levels inside the helmet. The ratchets and safety screws have to guarantee failure-free functioning through thousands of up and down pivot movements.
The helmet shell
The shell absorbs the initial impact energy during a fall and its task is to distribute the force across the largest possible area. It is also the heaviest part of the helmet and responsible for a great proportion of the wind noise.
The inner EPS liner
The different layers of the inner EPS liner absorb the remaining shock. The inner liner also provides the ventilation channels to ensure good airflow inside your helmet.
The inner padding
The inner padding consists of polyurethane foam, ideally with various levels of stiffness to ensure a clear fit around your skull when you first buy the helmet and throughout its useful life.
To avoid a hot head, a good ventilation system works by drawing warm air OUT of the motorcycle helmet through the rear vents (as opposed to pushing fresh air into the motorcycle helmet).
The chin strap
Yes, a bit boring but it is worth bearing in mind that ‘Double D-Ring’ closures are preferred on the race tracks. Originally, ratched and seat-belt style closures were deemed ‘less secure’. While this is not a view that is held as strongly, and even Shoei offer motorcycle helmets with ratchet closure chin straps, some of the traditionalist will still tell you double D-rings are the only way!
Mine is lighter than yours: Always choose the lightest motorcycle helmet you can afford
Being the heaviest part of the motorcycle helmet, the shell is responsible for most of the kinetic energy generated over the pivot point of your upper neck and spine. And this is the part of the motorcycle helmet most stressed by the forces of an impact. Lighter is therefore better for you, and that applies to every riding day not just a spill! Why? Because it means less stress on your upper neck during braking and acceleration. Don’t believe it? Watch the video below to see how a heavier motorcycle helmet could mean your neck must withstand the kinetic force equivalent to catching a bowling ball every time you stop at a traffic light:
Reducing the weight of a motorcycle helmet comes at a cost. It all boils down to materials science and manufacturing processes. While lower priced thermoplastics helmets can simply be poured into a mould and the job is done, lighter, fibre-based helmets are built up in layers by hand and then heat-injected with resin using incredible force in order to create a durable shell with predictable impact behaviour. The manual element and the specialist equipment required to resin-inject tightly woven fibre matting all means additional cost and a more expensive product.
Case study: Ullrich Holzhausen, the then owner and operating officer of Marushin Helmets, estimated that after getting the initial weight reduction between thermoplastics and fibre glass and organic fibre compounds, the cost of reducing the weight of a helmet by a further 25 grams DOUBLES with each additional 25 grams lost! For him, the point of the economically viable minimum weight was 1,250 grams for a motocross helmet with a full internal EPS liner and a complete set of comfort padding.
Note: The company MSP Multi Sport Protection GmbH is unrelated to the company operated by Ullrich Holzhausen, other than in name.
Always choose the lightest helmet you can afford!
Mine is quieter than yours: Actually, it probably isn’t!
Regardless of which motorcycle helmet you buy, whatever brand or style, prolonged exposure to the noise level inside the helmet without the use of ear plugs will damage your hearing. Fact.
The noise level inside your motorcycle helmet depends on a vast number of factors. Some are myth others are half-truth, yet again others could be a big factor on your lid and not your mate’s lid. Consider this: Tourenfahrer Magazin, one of Germany’s most respected motorcycle monthlies, undertook a test of 36 helmets (July 2013). Because they are Germans, the whole thing was done properly with sensitive acoustic measurement probes and recording equipment. Ta-dah, the results were:
1. Full-face helmets are quieter than Flip-up helmets (on the whole true & not exactly surprising);
2. No helmet manufacturer is significantly better at producing quiet helmets (not even the one that advertises itself as the quietest, now that was surprising);
3. Lesser known helmet brands beat the performance of better known brands on one helmet model, even if they then underperform on another helmet model;
4. At 60mph, the noise level inside the tested helmets measured around 100dB(a), which is 20dB(a) more than the level considered ‘safe’ for your hearing – or about the noise level of a hand drill doing what it does best: drilling.
There you have it: Clear as mud, other than that having only a helmet shell between you and the world outside means your ears are exposed to quite a bit of noise. The quick response is: wear motorcycle ear plugs!
More in line with the question, there are factors that you should consider when choosing your motorcycle helmet, because they do affect noise levels inside:
- Fit matters: a motorcycle helmet that fits more closely to your head shape will allow less noise to travel inside the shell; some brands have bespoke padding in order to get the fit absolutely right (more of that below).
- Shell sizes matter: Avoid motorcycle helmets that use only one shell size to ‘fit all’; that means the shell is designed to fit size XXL and the larger the shell is, the more air has to be displaced while riding, and the more opportunity there is for creating mini air turbulences left, right and centre, each of which has the potential to be noisy or make an irritating sound; see if you can afford a helmet that has 3 or more shell sizes to cover off sizes XS to XXL.
- Avoid helmets with ‘bits’ sticking out on the side or top: that is why full-face motorcycle helmets overall are quieter than flip-up helmets, that is why helmets with large levers to operate drop down visors on the whole are noisier.
- Aerodynamics matter: If you regularly munch the miles, for fun or for the daily commute, buy one of the brands with wind tunnels for testing (eg Shoei, who was one of the first, but also Arai or SchuberthAerodynamics matter AND enhanced aerodynamics will help to reduce noise but deliver so much more than that, including being able to turn your head more easily at speed.
- And, if you only do town journeys at low speed and less than 20 minutes in duration, you do not have to worry as much about the noise exposure – although you may still prefer a quieter helmet, why wouldn’t you?
case study: No one helmet performs and sounds exactly as the next. In 2015 we sold a flip-up helmet from a well-known brand that had been sold a thousand times before: Established model, quality brand, no issues. 2 weeks later the rider, a blood biker, returned complaining that the helmet made an unbearable noise on the motorway. Sure enough, when tested by another person (me, in this instance) I could also hear the noise between 58mph and 72mph. It was the same helmet model, same colourway even, as the flip helmet I had been wearing for the previous 12 months as my daily ride with no complaint (and, in truth, I thought it was quieter than the helmet I had before!). So, what’s the point in this? No two helmets will perform exactly the same – riding a motorcycle is a noisy business, so please wear ear plugs! For the blood rider in question: GetGeared exchanged the helmet as part of our after-sales service, obviously! 🙂
Helmets are noisy inside – choose carefully which features you need & want in order to minimise the helmet related factors that increase the noise.
A solid fit: A correctly fitting motorcycle crash helmet feels great on
One motorcycle helmet brand sells itself like so: “If a customer puts our helmet on, they will buy it because it is so soft and comfortable”. Please avoid the ‘comfort’ trap: It is true that brand is really comfortable when you first put on the helmet, but it is also true that internal padding that is too soft without the benefit of stiffer foam layers means the foam padding retracts quickly during use and makes the helmet unsafe well before it should be. Soft and squidgy is nice, but it not necessarily a sign of a quality crash helmet.
For a well fitting helmet, you are looking for 3 areas of contact between your skull and the helmet lining:
Area 1 & 2 – Left and right hand cheek: the padding should follow the line of the cheek bone, from just in front of the ears to where the padding stops just above the mouth opening, and the cheeks should be pressed in just a bit to give the impression you have a slight ‘hamster’ look (don’t worry, we will never laugh!);
Area 3 – On the back of the head (about level with your eyes and lower eye lid) there should be a good, broad area of contact with your skull, strong enough you know it is there but not so strong it is uncomfortable;
How the padding feels and performs should not change after you started wearing your motorcycle helmet. The helmet must fit tightly through its useful life to avoid your head moving independently from your helmet during a crash: That is why soft padding likely to flatten and retract under use is bad news for you! Below is a redrawn diagram from a Shoei technical guide, explaining how the internal padding contributes to the passive safety of your helmet as well as its comfort:
When your internal padding no longer provides a firm fit, change your helmet!
For long-term comfort, also check for these two factors:
- Your nose does not come into contact with a raised piece of the chin section and venting, and it does not interfere with a drop-down sun visor, if fitted in the helmet – wiggle the helmet round like it would do on a bike while riding to make sure!
- Your chin does not come into contact with the chin piece of the helmet; push the helmet a little towards your face to ensure that even at faster motorway speeds your chin still easily clears the chin piece of the helmet.
solution: 3 points of contact, Shoei padding diagramPiling on the pressure: Avoid pressure points inside your crash helmet [Pressure Points] While a helmet should feel very close fitting in specific areas, you should feel no particular pressure on:
- the crown of your head,
- your forehead, and
- the very base of your skull where it joins the spine
In most cases there will be enough space to slightly slip your finger between skin and padding on your forehead and at the base of your head at the back.
Some helmet brands offer a service where the internal padding can be adjusted for thicker or thinner pads in order to perfectly adapt to your head shape. Shoei, Arai and Bell offer this option through GetGeared and other approved retailers.GG Takeaway 4:
Why not book your appointment with your GetGeared store to have your helmet fitted?
Spread the love: Motorcycle helmet shells are designed to spread the impact forces
It would stand to reason that a helmet constructed tough as a coconut is the answer to your safety. Not so! It works just like the crumple zone on your car, it must deform to absorb the impact from the crash.
While the helmet shell is the tough barrier between you and objects that could hurt you, it also must absorb the energy from a fall and distribute the force over the largest possible surface area of the outer shell. This is critical to protect you and your brain. To achieve that, hard-core materials science comes into play: far from being a tough nut to crack, the shell needs to be tough as a barrier and have enough elasticity to stop the direct transfer of the impact forces onto the inner lining and your skull; in fact, while being protective it needs to be fragile enough to fracture as far and wide as possible to carry the forces away from the point of impact. This is why dropping your helmet is a bad idea: A helmet that is designed to protect you to the max is prone to also incurring impact damage from a drop; this is even more so true for thermoplastics helmets (the lower priced end of the market), that do not show impact damage quickly but whose impact absorbing qualities deteriorate even more quickly, directly following the first light impact.GG Takeaway 5:
Choose a specialist helmet manufacturer and choose a fibre shell helmet – it makes better sense in so many ways.
The devil is in the detail: Small things that make BIG differences in everyday use
Flip-up helmets: They are not all the same!
One of the benefits of flip-up helmets is that you can ride with the chin piece flipped open. Well, not quite true: Some of flip-up helmets you can ride flipped open, others are not legal to ride with the chin piece raised up. The key lies in the homologation (the road licensing of the specific helmet model, to you and me). If you want that feature and be sure you can laugh in the face of an overzealous representative of the law, look out for this label clearly showing P and J approval (P stands for approval use as a full-face helmet, J stands for approval use as a full-face helmet).
Visors: These are also not all the same!
When constructing the helmet so it meets all its impact requirements, the visor opening is a tough area: Make it too big, it weakens the helmet; Make it too small, and a whole section of the rider’s field of vision is shut off! As a rule of thumb: cheaper helmets have smaller fields of vision (or apertures), the more premium helmets are all working towards ever larger apertures to improve the field of vision and therefore passive safety. Look out for MaxVision visors as a brand name for larger visors with larger PinLock ‘double glazing’ inserts against fog; And, try on the helmet looking sharp left and right to see how wide your field of vision is. Certainly, for commuting and urban traffic, the largest possible field of vision is essential.GG Takeaway 6:
Make sure the field of vision is as wide as possible!
Ventilation: It’s all about the exhaust vents
It is tempting to think, ventilation works by way of the front vents allowing wind from riding to enter the helmet shell and keep you cool. Far from it: Ventilation works by way of using atmospheric under-pressure at the rear of the helmet to suck warm air out of the helmet through the exhaust vent(s).
What it means to you is: Only if you see rear exhaust vents at the top back of the helmet with at least a slight fin to create the under-pressure is this helmet likely to be comfortable in summer. A couple of vents on the front forehead with nothing else going on just simply does not provide the ventilation you deserve and require! Again, the rule of thumb is that cheaper helmets have fewer vents and certainly no tested air stream to remove stale air from the inside of the helmet; On the other end of the price scale, Shoei and Arai helmets have developed super-effective rear spoilers and exhaust vents for their race helmets to ensure their sponsored riders retain a cool head and sharp judgement throughout the race.GG Takeaway 7:
If you munch miles in the summer, make sure your helmet has got exhaust vents that expel hot air!
Buy like a boss: Use 0% APR finance to buy a better motorcycle helmets
Especially when you are starting out or have just shelled out a few thousand pounds for a new bike it is tempting to make do with a helmet that is ‘in budget’ – or with the helmet you already have, as ‘it’ll last a few more years’.
I am a firm believer in buying the right kit and then working out how to make that purchase. “Buy while you ride” is the tool I suggest when your budget cannot quite stretch to the helmet you should be buying for the journeys you take.