Motorcycle Helmet FAQ
The webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmets page is one of the most popular destinations on the site.
The subject of motorcycle helmets generates a significant amount of email
That includes questions and comments about fitting and sizing, noise levels, safety standards and more.
There’s also the occasional Zen-like question: “What’s the best helmet?”
Our team of volunteer webBikeWorld product reviewers are very fortunate because they have access to a wide variety of motorcycle helmets.
We evaluate and compare more helmet brands and models over the course of a year than many motorcyclists will own during a lifetime of riding.
The experience has helped us to understand some of the subtle differences in motorcycle helmets which might not be immediately apparent during a quick evaluation in the local motorcycle shop.
We’ve come to understand some of the issues that, in our opinion, are important to consider when choosing a motorcycle helmet, and this page is an attempt to convey that experience into something meaningful for those who don’t have the same opportunities.
Check back often for new information and updates as we learn more — motorcycle helmet technology is continuously evolving, so there’s always something new to learn about and to report.
Motorcycle Helmet Safety News
▪ Ruminations on motorcycle clothing safety standards
▪ New ACU Five Star motorcycle helmet safety standard to replace the ACU Gold sticker; combines Snell and ECE 22.05 helmet safety standards.
▪ SHARP motorcycle helmet testing scheme and rating system now available in the UK
Safety Standards: Is DOT Better Than Snell?
Read this detailed webBikeWorld article DOT vs. ECE Helmet Safety Standards, which includes videos illustrating the helmet tests, ECE headforms and more.
An old (2005) Motorcyclist magazine addressed this controversy in a now-famous (or infamous) article entitled “Blowing the Lid Off”.
But the big unanswered question is, would you want to wear a Z1R?
Read our review and you may agree that the answer is “no”.
Could it be possible that a motorcycle helmet doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive to provide good protection?
Well, as always, there’s much, much more to the story, and we strongly suggest that you study this subject before you jump to conclusions.
It is possible that a “softer” polycarbonate DOT-only helmet may provide acceptable levels of protection or even transfer less energy to the head.
But there’s a lot more to a helmet than the shell…
Motorcycle Helmet Sizing, Shapes and Comfort
Choosing a motorcycle helmet would be easy if it was simply matter of picking out a size and a color.
Unfortunately, different brands of helmets or even different models within the same brand can have a completely different fit and feel.
And cost has nothing to do with it, because some of the least inexpensive helmets may fit better and feel more comfortable than helmets costing two or three times as much…or more.
Apparently, many motorcyclists don’t realize that in addition to size, motorcycle helmets come in a variety of different internal shapes.
Internal shape is one of the most important factors to understand when purchasing a motorcycle helmet.
Helmets are expensive, and if you can only own one, it should be the highest quality, best fitting helmet you can find within your budget constraints (we’ll discuss head shapes in more detail below).
In fact, it’s almost impossible to find the “perfect” fit, or even an acceptable fit, without trying on at least several different helmets and wearing each one for an extended period of time.
Even a helmet that feels great in the shop may feel like a medieval torture device after only a few minutes on a motorcycle.
Obviously, the problem of finding a helmet with the correct fit will be compounded when purchasing from an online vendor, because the sale is usually completed without actually seeing the helmet and without trying it on.
Safety and Comfort Are Related
Safety is the primary reason for wearing a motorcycle helmet, but one of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a new helmet is comfort. Any protection that a helmet can offer is of no value if it is too uncomfortable to wear.
Comfort is related to safe riding because the motorcyclist must remain focused and alert at all times.
The high levels of concentration and focus that are necessary to pilot a motorcycle mean that any distraction, such as an uncomfortable helmet, can actually become a safety hazard.
To borrow from Keith Code in his book “A Twist of the Wrist“, you start out with, say, $10.00 worth of concentration. You can’t have any more, but you certainly can have a lot less.
Start taking away a few bucks here and a few bucks there, and before you know it, your subconscious stress levels are building and you’re focusing more on the distractions than on the ride.
Some distractions may be barely noticeable at first, such as an uncomfortable glove, a leather motorcycle jacket arm that has a slight binding, or a wet boot.
But enough distractions can cause a five-dollar loss of concentration just when you need all ten bucks worth. Since lack of concentration and focus is one of the causes of motorcycle accidents, this becomes a serious issue.
This is confirmed by the famous Hurt study of the causes of motorcycle accidents.
The study found that approximately one-fourth of the motorcycle accidents were single vehicle accidents involving the motorcycle colliding with the roadway or some fixed object in the environment.
Of these accidents, the majority were caused by rider error, typically a “slideout” (their words) and fall due to over-braking or running wide on a curve due to excess speed or under-cornering.
How many of these accidents are caused due to a loss of concentration on the job at hand?
We’re not claiming that a comfortable motorcycle helmet can prevent motorcycle accidents. But the goal should certainly be to create an environment that minimizes unnecessary distractions by trying to gain as comfort as possible during the ride.
What Makes a Motorcycle Helmet Comfortable?
Comfort has several factors: the material that makes up the motorcycle helmet’s liner should feel comfortable against the skin.
The internal padding of the helmet should act as a comfortable cushion between the head and the helmet internals, and the liner shape should perfectly match your head shape.
The perfect helmet would be so comfortable that the rider would forget that it’s there.
The internal helmet shell structure on poorly designed helmets can have protrusions or shapes that press through the padding and into a sensitive area on your head and cause pain, rawness and headaches, so there should be no pressure points from these areas.
The chin strap should be comfortable and have smooth padding that doesn’t rub the neck.
The visor should have an opening that doesn’t block the vision and which can be easily adjusted for air flow. And the helmet shouldn’t be too hot or too drafty.
In our experience, it can take at least up to an hour of actual riding to determine whether a motorcycle helmet will have an acceptable level of comfort. Therefore, we recommend that you try before you buy.
Forget about being self-conscious, and try wearing the helmet at a local motorcycle shop for at least 30 to 45 minutes to minimally determine if it will be comfortable.
Many helmets will feel comfortable (or not) for the first minute or so, but be aware of any “hot spots” or pressure points that develop over time. Make sure there’s enough front-to-back room so that the chin isn’t pressing up against the inside of the chin bar.
Try clenching your teeth — the helmet should provide enough room for you to keep your mouth closed without undue discomfort. And buckle it up, to see how the attachment system works and to make sure the chin strap is acceptable.
Note that a comfortable fit in the motorcycle shop still can’t duplicate the riding experience, because of factors like noise and wind pressure that can greatly affect helmet fit and comfort, but it’s better than buying a helmet site unseen.
Know Your Head Shape!
Although human heads have an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, they unfortunately can’t be custom ordered or exchanged — at least not quite yet! You’re stuck with what you came with.
It’s our opinion that head shapes can be grouped into five basic categories with infinite variations thereof.
This doesn’t mean that there will be a helmet for each head shape; in fact, motorcycle helmet manufacturers seem to have been converging towards a “neutral” internal shape over the last few years.
For example, Arai, who used to be known for making helmets with quite varied internal shapes, have eliminated the “round” shape Quantum II in the U.S. market, while other Arai helmets that once had a very narrow internal shape now tend towards a more neutral internal profile.
It’s also important to understand that not every helmet will fit the same, and almost every helmet brand and even the helmet models within the same brand may fit quite differently.
Human head shapes vary, and other factors are at play, including jaw shape and profile, cheek bones, forehead and even the neck can affect helmet fit. But in general, head shapes fit more or less into a normal distribution.
There are very narrow, “long oval” head shapes, and there are very wide “earth” head shapes, and every combination in between. It’s possible to have combinations of any and all of these shapes in an infinite number of variations.
There is more on this topic in the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet Reviews by Shape page.
Theory vs. Practice
Note that the 5 head shapes shown in the chart above are theoretical. Since this very popular article was first published, way back in the mid-2000’s, helmet manufacturers have converged on basically three different shapes that can be characterized as “Narrow”, “Neutral” and — rarely — “Round”.
Thus, the discussion of head shapes is somewhat theoretical, as no helmets are made that fit cleanly into all 5 categories.
Most motorcycle helmets can be characterized as generally having a “neutral”, “oval” or “round” shaped internal profile using the elevation view (i.e., looking at the head from the front or rear). It’s up to the motorcyclists to map his or her head shape to those three categories.
Indeed, many helmet manufacturers have, for some reason, not admitted that there are different head shapes or that they make helmets conforming to particular internal shapes.
To simplify matters, and since the vast majority of helmets are either some form or “narrow”, “neutral” or “round”, webBikeWorld has developed the following characterization and chart to describe all of the helmets reviewed on the site:
Example: wBW Helmet Internal Shape Estimator
All of the helmets reviewed on webBikeWorld are listed by shape on the Motorcycle Helmet Reviews by Shape page. Here’s an example of the helmet internal shape chart appearing in our helmet reviews:
The internal fit of some helmets can be modified by changing the cheek pads or crown liner.
This is another reason why buying a high-quality helmet from a well-established manufacturer is a good idea; the higher quality helmets will usually have two or three (or more) cheek pad thickness options.
The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be much logic to the design of motorcycle helmet internals, especially at the lower price points. Color, graphics and cool-looking features apparently drive sales, rather than important factors like comfort, shape and perceived noise levels.
The webBikeWorld Motorcycle Helmet Shape Descriptions
For a list of all of the helmets reviewed on webBikeWorld, organized by internal shape, see the Motorcycle Helmet Reviews by Shape page.
Keep in mind that there is no universally recognized standard for describing head and helmet shapes.
And in fact, there are probably helmet manufacturers who will disagree with our opinions regarding the most common shapes (there are standard head forms used for homologation; see the webBikeWorld article “DOT vs. ECE Helmet Safety Standards“, which includes a video showing some helmet tests).
It’s possible that manufacturers might be concerned about liability problems if they sold one of their “round” helmets to someone with, for example, an “oval” shaped head. If the rider became injured in a fall, who knows what liability issues might arise?
The bottom line is that if a manufacturer claims that their helmet is designed for a round head, there’s no real way of knowing what they mean by “round”.
Profit issues motivate the helmet manufacturers, especially at the lower end, to sell helmets with a generic shape that will meet the minimum fit requirements for the maximum number of potential customers.
This is an important factor, because the generic internal helmet shape may not fit your individual head.
This problem is compounded because each helmet manufacturer may have a slightly different idea of the generic shape, and each model within a brand can fit differently than its shelf mates.
That’s why the chances of finding a good fit increase as the number of different brands and models of helmet are tried on prior to purchase.
Some manufacturers, like Arai, have developed helmet models that are specifically engineered to fit different head shapes, and they use this as a market differentiator.
As far as we know, Arai is the only manufacturer to capitalize on internal helmet shapes as a selling point.
It remains a mystery as to why other manufacturers don’t exploit this obvious market need, or at least offer a variety of helmet liners for riders to develop their own semi-custom shapes.
Here’s the Arai Tecs III document (.pdf) from Arai Europe with a huge amount of information on how Arai helmets are made, head shape information and more.
Note that sometimes the same helmet model may have different internal shapes, depending upon the country where it will be sold.
Note that our description of helmet head shapes is different than the shapes described by Arai. Arai describes their head shapes based on head circumference (front to back or side to side).
Our head shapes (illustrated above) show the head in an elevation plan view; i.e., looking at the head from the front or back.
Our opinion is that matching both described head profiles to the helmet is crucial for a comfortable fit, although many helmets seem vary in the elevation view dimensions more than they do for circumference.
Both methods of describing head shapes are somewhat compatible. For example, Arai states: “The traditional Arai fit – the “Long Oval” – For heads whose length is distinctly narrow side-to-side, combined with a longer front to back measurement”.
Consider that a side-to-side profile is similar to what is described in our illustrations by looking at the head shape from head-on.
Our descriptions are based on years of experience with several webBikeWorld evaluators who help with the product reviews. We evaluate many helmets during the course of a year, which helps us develop a good understanding of shapes.
And our feeling is that the top-to-bottom head shape is very important with regards to fit.
Don’t forget that all the information we provide is our opinion, based on experience, and your experience may differ!
The webBikeWorld Motorcycle Safety page has much more information on issues related to motorcycle and helmet safety, including links to articles and information on helmet safety standards and testing.
And don’t forget to visit the webBikeWorld Motorcycle Books page, with information and reviews on books about motorcycle riding, racing and skill development for new and seasoned riders.
The motorcycle riding skills books are very popular webBikeWorld destinations.
Motorcycle Helmet Standards and Certifications
Here’s a brief discussion of the three most common helmet safety standards and certifications: DOT, Snell and ECE 22.05. More information can be found on the Motorcycle Safety page and in the webBikeWorld article “DOT vs. ECE Helmet Safety Standards“.
The most common certification procedure for motorcycle helmets is outlined in the U.S.A. is the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) standard.
A listing of motorcycle helmets meeting DOT standards is available for download from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
To obtain the right to place the “DOT” sticker on the back of a motorcycle helmet, the manufacturer must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) known as FMVSS 218 (49CFR571.218).
FMVSS 218 describes in great detail the requirements for meeting the “DOT” safety standards for all helmets sold in the United States for use by motorcyclists. Helmets that do not meet the minimal DOT standards may not be sold as “motorcycle helmets” in the U.S.A.
Note that many motorcyclists refer to a “DOT FMVSS 218” approved helmet, which is incorrect. There is no mandatory DOT approval process; like many other standards in the U.S.A., the system is a self-approval process.
The manufacturers must have the helmets tested at a laboratory that is approved to do the testing. This is one of the biggest criticisms of the DOT standards.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have proposed new motorcycle helmet labeling requirements for the familiar “DOT” sticker in 2008. See this wBW page for more information.
The Snell Memorial Foundation is an additional source of helmet safety standards in the U.S.A. Snell standards are somewhat different than FMVSS 218. Meeting Snell standards is voluntary, and doesn’t avoid the necessity for every helmet sold in the U.S.A. to also meet DOT standards.
A helmet that passes the Snell tests may be listed as a “Snell approved” helmet by the Snell Memorial Foundation.
As of this writing, the Snell certification is called theSnell M2010 standard, first published in the Fall of 2009.
Snell also lists a comparison of DOT vs. Snell vs. BSI 6658:1985 vs. ECE 22.05 requirements for certification.
Snell revises their standard on occasion, and the Snell 2010 standard is a fairly dramatic evolution of the previous Snell M2005 standard.
Snell has an information page describing some of the differences.
They say that the “Snell M2005 helmets sized for the ISO J head form may continue to meet the requirements” of the Snell 2010 standard, “but helmets intended for smaller head sizes may have difficulty in flat impact testing and helmets for larger head sizes may have difficulty with hemispherical impact testing.”
Here’s the final draft of the Snell 2010 standard.
Again, all motorcycle helmets sold in the U.S.A. must meet DOT standards, but they are not required to meet Snell standards.
A motorcycle helmet that meets both DOT and Snell standards may have gone through different testing schemes.
But it may not necessarily be superior to helmets that meet only the DOT standard, although many motorcyclists look for helmets that meet both DOT and Snell standards. Snell publishes alisting of motorcycle helmets that are Snell certified on their website.
There’s some level of controversy regarding which standard or testing regime is the “best”, and it gets more complicated if you consider the European ECE 22.05 standard or the SHARP testing scheme in the UK.
For example, it’s our understanding that Snell uses an edge anvil test that is not required in the DOT standard.
You may hear different opinions about this particular test, and some manufacturers claim that a helmet designed to meet the Snell edge anvil test may end up being heavier than the same model designed to meet DOT-only or ECE 22.05.
Heavier helmets may not be as desirable as lighter helmets (see below), and may cause different types of trauma in case of an accident.
One more certification standard that you may also come across is the British Standards Institute (BSI) standard BSI 6658:1985.
Here’s an interesting comparison study (.pdf) by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation comparing the forces transmitted to helmets that meet different safety standards. It’s our understanding that this certification is being superseded by ECE 22.05.
SHARP – Safety Helmet Assessment Rating Programme
The new SHARP (Safety Helmet and Assessment Rating Programme) website is up and running in the UK and it describes the new 5-Star motorcycle helmet safety standard; see our SHARP pagefor more information.
Other Motorcycle Helmet Safety Standards
Hong Kong takes an interesting approach to motorcycle helmet safety standards; they accept many worldwide standards, according to Chapter 374F, Schedule 1 of the Traffic Safety Regulations. The standards that are accepted include:
Motorcycle Helmets and Noise Levels
Helmet noise is a topic unto itself, and we have recently developed an entire page devoted to this subject (the section on helmet noise formerly seen here has been moved to the new page).
See the wBW Motorcycle Helmet Noise page for more information and for a comparison of motorcycle helmet noise levels.
We have started to experiment with recording helmet noise, and you can download MP3 files that were recorded in stereo inside a helmet while riding.
Also, be sure and visit the webBikeWorld Earplugs and Hearing Protection page for information about choosing and wearing earplugs and for a listing of webBikeWorld earplug reviews.
Helmet noise can be somewhat mitigated with a wind blocker; read the webBikeWorld review of the Windjammer helmet wind blocker
Motorcycle Helmet Ventilation
Back in the old days, motorcyclists didn’t have to worry about venting and air flow, because all helmets were open-face.
Bell claims to have designed the first full-face helmet in 1966, and full-face helmets started appearing on the heads of motorcyclists in the 1970’s.
The first full-face helmets were heavy and they had shapes that made the rider look something like a deep-sea diver. Venting? Sure, open the visor!
Motorcycle helmet air vents now come in all shapes and sizes, and the flow of air through a helmet is considered to be an important comfort factor.
No standard for vent shapes exists and there doesn’t seem to be any particular system that works better than others. The most common air flow methods used are variations on chin bar vents, top vents and exhaust vents in the back of the helmet.
Unfortunately, the efficacy of a helmet’s venting system can only be judged during a ride, not in the motorcycle shop.
It’s impossible to comment on the design or number of vents and their effectiveness without trying the helmet, either behind a fairing or windscreen or on a “naked” bike.
Some features to consider include simple opening and closing mechanisms that can be easily and smoothly operated with gloved hands and that positively shut off air flow, and direct paths for the air to flow on to the rider’s face or head.
Visibility and Peripheral Vision
There’s a myth that has been perpetrated by the anti-helmet law faction that claims that motorcycle helmets decrease peripheral vision. The truth is that no motorcycle helmet would last very long in the marketplace if it blocked the owner’s view of the road.
Most of the helmets we have reviewed have an eye port opening that is perfectly acceptable for peripheral vision.
This is easy enough to check when trying on a helmet, but make sure the helmet fits correctly and the shell is not too large for the head (hat) size!
Some helmets have a greater top-to-bottom vertical visor height than others. Sportbike owners sometimes need wide visors due to the lower handlebars and the sportbike “crouch” necessary when riding, so keep this in mind when choosing a helmet.
Helmet Attachments and Straps
The tried-and-true “D-ring” attachment system is widely used, very reliable and is used on every racing helmet that we are aware of.
Other “quick release” systems have been developed, but like trying to build a better mousetrap, none have improved on the basic double D-ring attachment system, and most of the newer systems are more complicated, failure prone, and fussy to operate.
Our advice is to stick with the D-ring system.
The double D-ring system is an elegant engineering solution. It is very lightweight, infinitely adjustable and there are no springs to wear out or plastic and metal latches to break.
All of the quick release mechanisms we’ve tried make it very hard to adjust the tightness of the helmet straps.
Accessory quick release latches that are user installed should also be avoided, because they can add too much length to the helmet’s strap, making it difficult to adjust correctly.
Our opinion is that quick release latches are a solution in search of a problem.
One thing to look for is a button or “hook and loop” attachment for the extra piece of chin strap that’s usually left dangling after the helmet is secured.
Sometimes, this extra piece can be tucked up under the attached chin strap, but it’s usually more comfortable to have a method of securing the end of the strap. Make sure you know how your system works and that it fits correctly before purchasing the helmet.
The Motorcycle Helmet Liner
Motorcycle helmet liners can vary in design, comfort, materials and shape. Since the liner is the primary interface between the rider’s head and the helmet, make sure that it’s compatible with your needs.
Most liners feel comfortable the first time the helmet is worn; if it doesn’t, that’s a sure sign of problems later on. Make sure there are no “hot spots” or pressure points, especially against the temples, forehead and cheeks. This is where it pays to try the helmet on in the local shop.
We recommend purchasing a helmet liner “skull cap”. These are usually specially designed for wearing under a motorcycle helmet, and they’re very inexpensive.
They can usually be found made from either silk or cotton; both work well, and we’d avoid anything that isn’t made from 100% natural fibers.
They can help keep the helmet liner clean and can improve comfort. Silk liners are especially comfortable and can be found in Balaclava style for cool-weather riding.
The motorcycle helmet weight comparison chart is now on the wBW Motorcycle Helmet Weights page. This page also includes a discussion about motorcycle helmet weight factors.
The Helmet Color Safety Factor
Helmet colors are a personal choice, but remember that the ability to be seen in traffic is one of the most important safety issues to consider. A rider’s motorcycle helmet is usually the highest point on the motorcycle, so a bright color that is visible to traffic has the potential of going a long way towards increasing visibility.
Some motorcycle helmets were once available in a “Safety Orange” color that was helped make the rider really stand out in traffic.
Unfortunately, the trend seems to be in the opposite direction; we’ve even seen motorcycle helmets available in a green or gray camouflage pattern. Our opinion is that these and other dark or matte helmet colors should definitely be avoided.
Modular and Flip-Up Motorcycle Helmets
Volumes could be written on the subject of flip-up helmets. They can be especially useful for motorcyclists who wear eyeglasses, because it is sometimes easier to fit the eyeglasses under the helmet prior to closing the visor (see our article on eyeglass modifications to fit a full-face helmet).
Unfortunately, the pace of evolution for flip-up helmets by the motorcycle helmet manufacturers seems to be much slower and more deliberate than for other helmet styles.
Some flip-up helmets are ECE 22-05 certified, and many are DOT FMVSS 218 in the U.S.A., but the Snell Memorial Foundation has not, as of this writing, certified any flip-up helmets.
There are also no studies that we are aware of that compare the differences in potential safety between open-face, flip-up and full-face helmets.
Unfortunately, the result is that the motorcyclist is on their own when trying to make a purchasing decision relative to the efficacy of this type of helmet. This can lead to decisions made solely on the basis of marketing hype.
Which Flip-Up Helmet Should I Buy?
This is a frequent question from webBikeWorld visitors. In general, my response is this: I no longer wear flip-up helmets other than for webBikeWorld evaluations.
I’ve worn many flip-ups — probably way more than most riders — brands and models sold in the U.S., Europe and Japan and, in general, I find them to be less comfortable, louder and heavier than full-face helmets, and they have questionable – in my mind – protection.
They also offer no advantage for me for my type of riding. I don’t think they have any convenience for me, so I can’t justify the issues that I have with them.
I used to wear them because I could fit my eyeglasses underneath.
But ever since I discovered the trick of using a cut-down pair of eyeglasses to fit inside any full-face helmet several years ago, I have not found a full-face helmet that doesn’t work with the modified glasses, so the only flip-up convenience that might have existed for me was gone.
Another option is something like the Randoloph Engineering Aviator eyeglasses (review), which have straight temples, designed to fit inside a helmet.
The only possible advantage I can see in wearing a modular helmet is maybe being able to flip up the visor at a fuel stop. But I fill up all the time with a full-face helmet with no problems.
Is a full-face helmet inconvenient? Maybe…but so are full leathers, back protectors, gloves, race boots… and I wear those all the time. It’s part of motorcycling for me.
Other than for the webBikeWorld evaluations, I always wear what I consider to be a high-quality full-face helmet, made by a reputable company. The most important safety factor after meeting the standards, in my opinion, is correct fit.
This is absolutely crucial for both safety and comfort. If the helmet doesn’t fit correctly, it may not offer the protection it should or could, and abnormal temple or other damage could, in my opinion, easily occur.
And I’d venture to say that most or the majority of riders don’t own helmets that fit. I base this on our experience — we have over 80 helmets here, and I can name only 2 that fit me correctly. Those two were found by accident, in the course of evaluating many, many helmets over the years.
So if this is the case, I can’t believe that a single rider who goes into a store and buys one helmet every few years will ever be able to find a really correct fit. I’d even venture to say that most riders don’t even know what a correct fit feels like.
This is based on the many, many emails we receive on this topic. – Rick K.
Wearing Non-DOT Helmets in the U.S.A.
Good question: it’s our understanding that a motorcyclist could potentially be cited for not wearing a helmet that meets DOT standards while riding in one of the states (U.S.) that requires a motorcycle helmet.
Also, check with your insurance company – there may be some way they could avoid paying for health care after an accident if you were not wearing a legal helmet.
What’s not so black and white is which standards offer better protection for the rider. Many helmets available in Europe are also available in a DOT version in the U.S.
The helmets I am skeptical about are the ones that are originally designed to meet ECE approval and then are re-designed to also be Snell approved. Personally, I’d much rather wear a DOT only or DOT/ECE helmet. In my opinion, there’s nothing at all wrong with DOT standards and, in fact, the article indicates that DOT helmets may offer just as much protection.
Until a respected, neutral third party conducts ongoing scientific work, combined with statistics from real accident follow-ups, we’ll probably never know which helmets offer better protection.
I, for one, would be willing to pay a motorcycle tax on every motorcycle related product I buy that would go into a fund to support such work.
When to Replace a Helmet?
Here are two questions from webBikeWorld visitors:
“As you review tons of helmets and I respect your thoughts/findings on these helmets, I have a general question after owning a number of helmets (variety of expense levels) that the foam liner or portions of the liner becomes loose and move a bit in the external shell.
This has happened with chin sections on full face, ear sections on open face, and most recently on a Nolan open face that has never been crashed or dropped, but the whole foam liner shifts fore and aft. The helmet is beyond the warranty period.
Are these helmets “done” or is there anything that can be done to the liner and keep it from shifting?”
“You offer a lot of information on the purchase of the right helmet for the individual, but I am looking for some sort of guide or suggestion for inspecting a helmet a person already has. How do you go about a helmet inspection to determine if it is time to replace the one you already own? What signs (or problems) should a person look for that would suggest they need to start shopping for a new helmet?”
It’s difficult to know exactly when a helmet should be replaced and there are varying opinions on this topic. Some helmet manufacturers (e.g., Shoei) provide a free inspection service where you can send the helmet to their representatives for a free inspection.
Rule of thumb is generally around a 5 year max life expectancy, but this can depend on usage, wear or helmet quality.
Also, helmet technology, styling and comfort features change fairly regularly over time, so 5 years would be about max for me anyway and at that point, I’d consider buying a new helmet.
For example, my Arai Quantum II was my regular “go to” helmet but after 4 years it started to look a bit seedy and the liner felt like it was becoming compressed, so I replaced it even though it had never been dropped or damaged.
If the helmet has been dropped or if it is damaged from chips, cracks, etc. on the outside, then it may need replacement. But the most important part is the liner and especially the EPS.
The EPS balls deflate on impact, essentially giving up their life to dissipate energy. If the EPS is at all damaged, compressed or feels loose, it is definitely time for a new helmet.
Want more? We asked Shoei about the “5-year helmet life” rule and here’s what they told us: “The service life on our helmets is five years from purchase date or seven years from manufacture date, whichever comes first.
The warranty covers the helmet for the same period.
Glues, resins and other materials used in helmet production can affect liner materials. Hair oils, body fluids and cosmetics, as well as normal “wear and tear” all contribute to helmet degradation.
Petroleum-based products present in cleaners, paints, fuels and other commonly encountered materials may also degrade materials used in many helmets possibly degrading performance.
Additionally, experience indicates there will be a noticeable improvement in the protective characteristic of helmets over a five-year period due to advances in materials, designs, production methods and the standards.
Thus, the recommendation (for 5 year) helmet replacement is a judgment call stemming from a prudent safety philosophy.”
General Information on Helmet Care: MSF “What You Should Know About Motorcycle Helmets” (.pdf)
Know before you buy. Learn all the facts. Don’t buy a motorcycle helmet based on perceived image or marketing hype.
It’s important to try on a helmet and wear it for an extended period of time to compare fit and feel. Wear earplugs. And wear the helmet on every ride!
Revised: February 2016
For More Information
Owner Comments and Feedback
See details on submitting comments.
From “H.F.” (October 2014): “Guys, you do a great job of defining head shapes and helmet shapes, but I cannot find anywhere that you actually link the two together in your FAQ.
You describe the general shape categories of heads, and you then rate each helmet from narrow to neutral to round. But i cannot find where some head shapes fit into those categories of helmet shapes.
For instance, where does the egg shaped head fit best? Slightly round? Does reverse egg shape fit best in narrow with thinner cheek pads? What about oval? Is neutral the best fit for an oval shape head?
I think I might even have these assumptions right, but it is not really apparent — unless I just plain missed the connection on your site somewhere. If you are able to add some general guidelines to your FAQ along these lines it might help. BTW, your reviews are invaluable.”
Editor’s Reply: Actually, the head shapes are somewhat theoretical and there are no helmets made that match them. Helmets basically come in narrow, neutral and (rarely) round and choosing one all comes down to individual comfort and choice.
There are just no black-and-white rules on it unfortunately, so it’s impossible to say, for example, what type of head shape a “Neutral” helmet will fit.
In other words, there just are no rules that can specifically match an exact head shape to an exact helmet.
Of course, this makes it very difficult. I have an odd head shape that is widest in the middle and after wearing about 300 helmets, only one has ever fit me correctly, the old Arai Quantum II that is no longer made (and Arai no longer sells a “Round” helmet in the U.S.).
Bottom line: try as many as you can to develop a personal mental database of what works and what doesn’t…and hope you find one that fits and is comfortable over time.
From “J.M.” (10/10): “I enjoy reading your reviews, and have purchased two helmets based on them. I have a problem understanding what is round, narrow, and so on.
I offer this suggestion: Measure your head, with help from a friend, measure front to back, side to side, at the point where a circumference measurement would lie. This should give you a ratio.
I may be 1/1.5, one being the side and 1.5 being the front to back.
With this ratio, I would be able to assess from your review how close this helmet might fit me if you find out a way to measure helmets in a similar fashion. I realize there are more subtleties to the fit, but it gets me closer to a choice.”
Editor’s Note: This may help but note that there are several factors involved in helmet fit, thus choosing a helmet is more of a subjective than objective decision.
From “S.K.” (7/09): “Hi. Let me comment on your website in general as follows: Somehow I always seem to end up here when I look for a product, and for unknown reasons, I have TOTAL confidence in what is written there!
Lots of points for you guys!!!
I still like to figure out, why you defend so adamantly the old “Double-D-Ring” Helmet Closure System! DEFINITELY not useable with Winter-, Rain or other gloves, worth wearing for protection!
Someone makes big bucks selling Quick Release Helmet Buckle as an accessory! European Helmets have long gone away from the DD, and using it for bra-size-definition ONLY!
Would be delighted if someone could enlighten me about the advantages of aforementioned Helmet Closure System!
Keep up the good work!!”
Editor’s Reply: There are a few reasons why we like the double D-ring system:
I have personally have never taken a helmet off or put it on when wearing gloves, and I guess I’m not sure why or when someone would do this, so I don’t have a problem with that.
Anyway, those are the reasons!”
From “T.S.” (7/09): (Regarding our helmet reviews) “More info on shell sizes would be useful.
I have returned two helmets in the last year (one by HJC and the Scorpion 700 series open face) when I realized that the shell was the same size with just more padding in it to fit a medium or large (my fit, depending on the manufacturer).
The Scorpion in particular looked ridiculous on me. I eventually found a left-over HJC AC3 that works reasonably in terms of size, weight, and comfort. Thanks and keep the helmet reviews coming!”
Editor’s Reply: Thanks for the feedback – shell sizes are very difficult to determine; for some reason, the manufacturers don’t make that information readily available, so we almost never know.
Usually if the helmet is offered in a size range from XS to XXL, there are two shell sizes, XS to M and L to XXL.
If the helmet is available in XXS to XXL or XXXL, it’s a clue that their may be 3 shell sizes spanning that range.
Arai is one of the few manufacturers that usually makes at least 3 shell sizes for each helmet type. Since each shell must be individually re-tested to meet the safety standards, the expense is probably one reason why the manufacturers don’t use a wider range of shell sizes.”
From “CC”: “According to the illustration (head shapes above), I have an egg shaped head. Which helmet models best fits a person with an “egg” shaped head?
Editor’s Response: Our Motorcycle Helmet Weights page has a table with head shapes for the helmets we’ve reviewed. The shapes above are for illustrative purposes — helmets are most often designed with a “neutral” shape that fits an “average” shaped head.
There are no helmets that I know of designed to specifically fit an “egg” shaped head, but some helmets can be customized with different sized cheek pads to fit.
Arai is the only helmet manufacturer I know of who specifically designs helmets for different shaped heads. Try one size smaller and larger than you think you need and make sure you wear each one long enough to know if it feels comfortable.
You can customize each of their helmets with different thickness cheek pads to fit.
The more different types of helmets you try, the more you’ll start to understand which ones fit and what shapes work for your head… Unfortunately, it’s never easy to find the “perfect” helmet, and even harder if your head shape doesn’t fit the helmet manufacturers’ idea of “neutral”.
From “W.H.”: “I stumbled across (a .pdf file) after reading your review of the Arai Vector. If you flip to page 37, there’s a little section on shell shapes and internal shapes.
It seems the internal shape of their helmets vary according to the different markets they are sold in (which may explain the different names in different markets). Taken from Arai’s PDF;
“One of the characteristics of Arai is the use of different shell shapes. There is for instance the G-shell for a more rounded human head and the L-shell for longer, narrower faces. Arai even produces different shaped shells and liners for different continents: rounded for Asian countries, longer and narrower for North American customers and wider at the front for the European market.”
This is information that I think should be passed along in your reviews of Arai helmets.
Although it is very tempting to go online and buy a helmet from a different market for a paint scheme that isn’t available here or simply because it may be less expensive, the helmet is not likely to fit the same as the one you may have tried on in a local store.
As you know, once someone shells out several hundred dollars for a helmet, they are likely to wear it even though it does not fit correctly, or worse, compress the styrene liner to alleviate “hot spots” which reduces it’s ability to absorb the energy from an impact.”
From “D.L.”: “I read some of your reviews and found them helpful, but I’ve run into a problem with respect to local access to a variety of helmets sufficient to find one of excellent fit and function, though I was able to try several you recommended.
Unfortunately, the best fitting, and possibly the only functional fit of those I tried, was the Rossi Ti-Tech. . . which is a lot more helmet than I need. I was wondering if you might be able to recommend a helmet that offers a similar fit, since it seems I may need to order one.
Unfortunately, they (have no) Arai helmets locally, so I could not try them. The helmets I did try ran fairly true to size and I was wearing mostly medium.
My head profile appears to be somewhat oval, as opposed to round. I would appreciate any further recommendations, thank you.
Editor’s Reply: I don’t remember the internal shape and fit of the AGV Ti-Tech. We weren’t consistently recording that information back when that review was published (2-3 years ago?).
I would suggest though that if the Rossi version fits, you may want to try other AGV helmets (and as many helmets as you possibly can, to narrow down the choices), as many companies use a consistent fit and shell shape throughout their product line.
Unfortunately, most companies don’t list the internal shapes of their helmets, for some reason. And I wish they would invent removable liners with different style fits that could be customized for individual riders….maybe some day in the future?
If you’re having problems with fit, I wouldn’t recommend buying a helmet sight unseen without trying it on first.
Thus, you may want to spend the extra money and get one that you know fits, like the Rossi model you tried or an Arai, which is the only helmet company I know of that makes several different types of internal shapes for their helmets.
Most riders tell us that in the long run, they saved money by not paying for returns, restocking fees, helmets that don’t fit, etc.
In the meantime, not sure if you’ve seen our Motorcycle Helmet Weights page which also lists the internal shapes for many helmets.