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Open versus full-face and modular helmets

Helmet laws - helmet petition, helmet forum helmet forum right edge open

Some riders will only wear open-face helmets, some will only wear full-face, others wear different helmets in different conditions and some only wear flip-up or modular helmets.

So which is best and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of helmet?

We don’t want to preach to you about what sort of helmet you should wear.

We have provided you with a list of advantages and disadvantages of each helmet type so you can decide what to wear.

Just make sure you do wear a helmet and that it is in good condition and properly approved for your location.

Open-face helmets: AdvantagesFlying Eyes sunglasses cause no pain open

Advantages of an open-face helmet are surprisingly many.

For a start, it is way cooler in both attitude and temperature. I was once told that if you don’t wear an open-face helmet you are not a real biker.

Certainly you can look much cooler in an open-face helmet as well as feel much cooler.

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It also allows the rider to smoke, smile or poke their tongue at other motorists and scratch their face.

You can talk easier to fellow riders and pillions in nan open helmet and hear what they are saying more clearly.

It also allows you to hear what is going on around you such as the screeching of tyres which could be a warning. You can also hear horns and the sirens of emergency vehicles.

Open-face helmets are much lighter and therefore less fatiguing than heavy full-face helmets.

Because your face is visible, you can often fill up at service stations, sometimes even those that usually require you to remove your helmet.

But the biggest advantage is that you can see better and with a wider range of view. So there are no blind spots.

This is a primary safety advantage of open-face helmets which is of great use in heavy traffic.

Open-face helmets: disadvantages

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However, the secondary safety protection of an open-face helmet in a crash is low.

The Icon Airframe full-face helmet includes crash statistics printed on the shell to show the likelihood of that part of your head hitting the tar in a crash.

The chin bar area hits the ground in 19.4% of crashes! So open-face helmets will not protect your face.

Another disadvantage is that you have to wear glasses to protect your eyes.

You usually need to wear a face mask to protect your face from sunburn, windburn, rain, cold, bugs, stones and other highway detritus.

These face masks can be uncomfortable and annoying and if you cop a face full of rain, they can even impede your breathing.

While they may be lighter and therefore less fatiguing, the noise and wind can have their own fatiguing effects on a long ride.

And, if you’ve got an ugly mug, it is on show for all to see!

Full-face helmets: Advantages

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The obvious main advantage of a full-face helmet is the added protection it provides your chin and face.

Full-face helmets also offer more protection from noise, sun, wind, rain, cold, bugs and stones.

But there are many other advantages as well.

Sport and entertainment stars often cite the anonymity of a full-face helmet – plus a tinted visor – as a significant advantage.

Some of us older riders also like the fact that it disguises our age.

That’s probably why so many attractive young female motorists wave at me! For all they know, I could be Keanu Reeves.

There is also no need to wear glasses for protection if you have a full-face helmet with a visor and not even sunglasses if you have a tinted visor.

Because of their insulation from the environment, they are less fatiguing on long trips.

There is also a nice cocooned feeling about wearing a full-face helmet.

Full-face helmets: Disadvantages

Valentino Rossi Mugello AGV helmet open
Rossi’s Mugello AGV helmet

Conversely, the immediate feeling of putting on a full-face helmet after wearing an open-face helmet is one of isolation and claustrophobia.

You feel stifled and less free!

In hot weather, they can also get very hot and limit the airflow to your face.

That can make them very tiring on long rides on hot days.

Most likely you will be asked to remove your helmet at service stations, especially if it has a tinted visor.

A full-face helmet reduces your ability to talk to your pillion or riding colleagues. They can’t hear you and you can’t hear them.

It also restricts your ability to hear important traffic sounds such as screeching tyres, horns and sirens.

Full-face helmets usually provide a limited field of vision with blind spots to your rear three-quarters. The Bell Bullitt is an exception.

Harley-Davidson Vintage Stripe Bell Bullitt retro helmet
Harley-Davidson Vintage Stripe Bell Bullitt retro helmet

It can also be a pain to open the visor and wedge your finger in to scratch an itch on your chin.

Modular helmets: Advantages

AGV Sportmodular carbon modular helmet open
AGV Sportmodular modular helmet is made of carbon and lighter than most

Advocates of flip-up or modular helmets say they combine the advantages of open and and full-face helmets.

They feel they are safer, yet allow more freedom, especially if it is a helmet that you can legally ride with the chin bar in the open position.

To find out if your modular helmet can be used when riding, check the ECE22.05 label inside. If it has J and P in the serial number, it can legally be used with the chin piece raised or lowered.

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But usually the flip-up chin bar is only convenient when you are stopped.

It allows you to hold a conversation with people, take a photo and sometimes fill up with fuel.

Modular helmets: disadvantagesSuomy D20 modular helmet open

The main disadvantage of modular helmets is the extra weight of the hinge and locking mechanism.

This compromises the integrity of the shell, so they usually rate lower in crash protection than a lot of full-face helmets.

The two-piece shell also means there is a crack where the wind and noise can get in so they can be louder than a full-face helmet.

Their locking mechanism can sometimes jam shut or fail to lock.

Did I mention that some of them are very big and just look ridiculous?

  • Do you wear an open-face, full-face or modular helmet and why? Leave your comments below.

  1. Hey Mark, great article.

    I actually have at least one of each type of helmet, but more than one open face.

    One other advantage to modular helmets that probably isn’t legal in my case is that I can flip up and have a drink of water whilst riding. Great in the heat and better than a camelbak.

    I use my helmet based on the type of ride I’m doing and on which bike. Modular for a longer trip on my tourer, fullface on my MT01 when doing some nice twisty roads, and my openfaces when just cruising on either my vintage motorcycles or MT01 or TRX. Yep I’m lucky enough to have a few.

    Only other comment would be in relation to weather and temperature. Less likely to wear an openface in the rain and to a lesser extent, extreme cold. Having said that, it is enjoyable to use an open face in the extreme cold with a neck sock. I live above 800M, so can be cold riding to work.

  2. I have an open face and a full face. It is nice to have a choice. Which one I wear depends on various factors, not all of which are climatic.
    I’ve never had a modular helmet yet. Maybe one day.

  3. “I was once told that if you don’t wear an open-face helmet you are not a real biker.” That just shows that some people talk absolute rubbish. I remember Harley-Ferguson riders saying the same thing about bikes with electric start when that feature first appeared on Japanese models. Show me an HD now with kick start – I guess that means none of the people riding HD are now “real bikers” either!

  4. You’ve forgotten several of the advantages of a modular helmet. You don’t have to wrestle with your glasses (sun or prescription) when putting the helmet on or off. It’s also easier when refuelling. Several gasstations want you to remove your helmet (mugshot?), but I’ve never had this problem with a modular helmet. Just flip the chin, smile to the camera and fill her up. It’s also a lot easier when paying. At least, that’s over here in the Netherlands.

  5. Great article. However what many fail to recognize, is in the full face open face debate is some of us suffer claustrophobia, and its effects upon the rider to breathe normally, relax, and ride in an aware/safe manner.

    I have managed this type of phobia for many years, by using open face lids, but recently, especially for longhaul holidays, I purchased a Shark evoline 3. Which is used more than 99.9% of the time in the open position, only in the wildest weather events has it been closed, but even then, the visor remained only half closed to manage the effect of claustrophobia.

    Will I replace the Shark evoline 3 with another? With my inability to ride with the chin bar locked down and the visor fully closed, especially in wild weather, an open face with a good depth visor is what would seem, as the only sensible option for me.

    Just my 2 cents

    1. Hello! Same here. I am diagnosed with GAD, riding is really relaxing but I find full face helmets increase my anxiety, in part because of the lack of safety I feel about not being able to have a good vision.

      Even though I know this is a secuity issue, I preffer riding safely, not very fast and really aware

  6. I am on my second Shark Evoline3 in six years – first one was stolen off my bike. I also have a full face AGV – but seldom wear it. I ride with chin bar up most of the time except at highway speeds or if it’s cold. It’s a bit noisy but I’m used to that and wear Earmolds.

  7. I must wear prescription glasses and my license is so annotated. I find that a full face helmet is a pain putting it on and taking it off with glasses. I also find it uncomfortable whilst wearing the helmet with glasses. I prefer the open face helmet and find it much more convenient and less crowded. I use prescription safety sun glasses for my eye wear. I know the safety issue is always used in these arguments but I prefer to ride safely and avoid the need for extreme safety equipment.

  8. Ha, decisions decisions.

    Isn’t it good we have a choice and don’t have to conform to someone else s opinion about what we should wear. I worry when we start to argue among ourselves about which is the best this or the best that, or this one is safer than that one. The fact that we are forced to wear helmets is bad enough, lets not give the authorities any more ammunition to enable them to justify imposing more controls on us. Enjoy what little freedom we have and let’s not draw anymore attention to ourselves. Shussssshhhhh.

  9. After I had a accident , was taken to hospital, where the first thing the emergency trauma doctor asked was did you have a full face or open face helmet-reply open face-he then said good those full face can break your neck

    1. “Those full face can break your neck”

      100% guarantee that that never happened.

      Full-face helmets breaking your neck is a myth and doctors have known it since the 80’s. For some reason, riders keep on repeating it.

      But seriously, no doctor ever said this.

      1. Maybe he was treated by a witch-doctor and was confused from concussion. 100 kph in open-face makes me nervous and I’ve been riding 20 years never visiting the ER.

  10. I’ve got an ugly mug. I love my ‘new Shark flip face so I’m ready to go into inanity mode in one quick swipe. But seriously, it might be a little heavier but it means I can ride around town flip up. And when I hit the hwy, flip down. The modulars are definitely getting lighter and better. AND, I’ve got an ugly mug.

  11. I’ve been road riding since 1970 (legally since 1974), I’ve ridden in temperatures from -7 to 47 deg. I’ve ridden for a living as a courier. What you say about cool, hearing etc is just plain wrong. Open face helmets less tiring on long hot rides, what a crock of cow droppings. Have you ever ridden 8 hours at over 40deg? Just look at the HD clowns in open helmets, they are never smiling and on hot days have to ride with their underpants over their faces. Have you ever smacked a galah, swarm of bees or an owl with you face at over 100kph, hit the deck after clocking a kangaroo?
    I think that you should be far more responsible when writing about safety, people read what you write and believe it.

  12. Hay Mark I have both and I use both types one of my open face has a full screen on it for riding on a hot day and to keep the bugs from hitting my face . My full face helmets x2 one has little vents in it one to ducked air onto the inside of the screen the next one opens and allows air to flow onto the inside top of the shell ,And two more one each side and allows air to flow around the inside and out the back . I started riding when there were no helmet laws and you raped a scarf around your head and broke the ice off your eye brows and the scarf where your nose had been running and 3 or four sheets of news paper inside your jeans leg’s so it don’t matter which type of helmets you use as long as it suits your stile of riding ,Iuse the open face around the town so I can hear Them car drivers danger in four wheal’s .

    Hay Mark

  13. Hey Mark, Thanks for this great article.
    where the first thing the emergency trauma safety expert asked did you have to wear a full face or open face helmet.

  14. Hi
    Just come off my 125 motor scooter, wearing open face helmet. As sliding long on road could feel road rubbing away at my face. I needed stitches and my face looked a mess.. Now looking at buying full face or Modular.
    If I was going faster probably would have been down to bone.
    Think twice about open face if I was you.

  15. I have been riding for over 40 years now, starting with mopeds in Europe, going to 350 cc Yamaha, 750 cc Yamaha, 900 cc Kawasaki, 1000 cc Kawasaki, various Harley Davidson, and now currently a Triumph Speedmaster. Since also riding many years in Germany, with no or a few speed limits, before moving to the US, I sadly lost a few good riding buddies, due to motorcycle accidents. Many of them wearing Open Face Helmets, and dying of head trauma. I always did wear a full face helmet, and have stepped of bikes at various speeds, while hitting debris, sand, leaves on the road, or just by being young and stupid. Wearing leather clothing and a full face helmet always helped me to avoid any bad injuries. All that was needed, was to purchase a new helmet, learn the lesson and move on. Once I got hit on the autobahn, by a crow, smack in the middle of my helmet and face shield, while going over 100 miles per hour. It was a bloody mess all over my helmet and gear. With an open face helmet, it would have been lights out.

    Looking at some of those HD riders, wearing their chamber pot helmets , makes my cringe.

    It always comes down to personal preference, but one should also think of their family, and own personal well being, when riding a bike, and choosing the gear that goes with it.

    1. For sure. You could be minding your own business doing 50 MPH and a soccer mum taps you from behind and you’re in a world of trouble. Single vehicle incident risk I can take, but you can’t plan your ride round that, unfortunately.

      As regards the crow: was it front on? Did you have a fairing to duck behind?

      1. Iy was flying in from the left, and I had a racing fairing on my bike. However, I looked over it, to see better, and the crow almost took my head off. I was all over that two lane Autobahn, and nearly lost control of the bike. Any traffic besides me, and it would have ended in a nasty crash. My friends riding with me, thought I would be tumbling down the road. That helmet saved my life for sure. I had to change underwear thereafter, though. 🙂

  16. My wife and I attended a motorcycle prang outside our house the night before last. The young bloke lost little bits of bark here and there, nothing to worry about. But his face is a mess broken cheek bone and eye socket. He had a full face helmet on but not done up.
    I haven’t found a number of your observations true in my experience. I’ve been road riding daily since 1970 (licensed since 1974) come of that as a motor cycle courier. I ride in temp range -4 to 45 (24 – 115) full face helmets are just as cool in summer and Warmer in winter they do not in a practical way inhibit vision or hearing. In a personal view a full face helmet certainly looks better than some one in an open face with their under pants over their face which is the fad at the moment.

  17. I’ve been riding on the streets legally for 41 years and years before off road as a kid. My first street bike at 16 I bought an Arai full face and have been wearing the same since. They offer wide peripheral view, great air flow in the heat (road trip last summer was 45c on 10 hour ride and head stayed cool). This year’s trip through Canadian mountains, doing 120kmh a dead tree fell onto the road and hit the shoulder, when the top of it shattered and came right at my head. I turned my head to the right as a reaction and pieces hit the left side of my helmet. If I’d have been wearing anything but a full face it could have been catastrophic but I was able to just carry on with nothing more than a stomach ache from the adrenaline. I ride a large cruiser, Suzuki M109R/VZR1800 with a windshield that protects up to just below eye height. It’s mainly there to take the wind off the chest.

    1. Exactly. Full faces are the go. The article quotes looks for wearing open faces. There is nothing more ugly than form before function. Just look at the open face wearers in the article, it must be so embarrassing for then.

  18. 48 years ago I purchased a Shoei full-face when they were just starting to hit the market. A few weeks later I face-planted the roof of a small car when the drunk driver came straight through a Stop sign. My facial injuries were a cut lip where a snaggly tooth nipped my top lip against the inside of the chin bar.

    A clubmate had a very similar accident just a couple of weeks prior to mine. He was wearing an open face “jet” helmet which was standard wear at the time. He ended up with broken nose, cheekbone and jaw and lost several teeth as a result. Several teeth actually went through his bottom chin area, causing extensive facial scarring that required lots of plastic surgery.

    I know what I prefer !

  19. I find full face claustrophobic to wear. However I do recognise the safety benefits and have come off wearing one at low speed. I was all good! My compromise is a modular/convertible helmet made by Nolan. I wanted to buy a Shark, but sadly it won’t fit my fat head. The only modular helmet that does fit me is a Nolan. After I bought it I found that in the British tests, it was the only one that stayed shut in an impact test. When I leave home I start with the thing open. I just have to slowly get used to riding with it closed.. on a trip I like the fact that on hot days I can open it at traffic lights when stopped. Also riding at low speeds through country towns I often open it too for a breeze. My favourite helmet was my Bell Magnum from 1975 as I found it so very comfortable. Wearing the modular is a compromise between what I feel I should wear (full face) and what I want to wear, a jet style. My current Nolan is about due for replacement so unless other makes have expanded their sizing options, it will be another Nolan I guess.

    1. Have you tried the Shoei Ex-Zero? I passed one up for a FF Arai because I wanted protection from Winter and rain.

  20. Hi
    I use a Modular after falling off and sliding along road on my face in open helmet, made mess of my face
    the problem with the Modular is that you are tempted to ride with it open. I find it hard to see speedo with chin bar down.

  21. Wow – tough crowd against the open face helmets!

    I’ve worn 3/4 helmets, full face, and modular. I have to say, if it wasn’t for safety concerns, I’d definitely wear an open face. Having worn all of these varieties, I find that the open helmets are lighter, more comfortable, and have much better peripheral vision.

    But… I wear a full face when I ride. Why? Because if I do a face plant on asphalt at 50 KPH, I would rather have a chunk of plastic between my teeth and that asphalt.

  22. There’s another advantage to a full face helmet: you can easily lock it to your bike! Just pass a chain through the visor and some part of the bike, and it’s impossible to steal it without braking it.

  23. I use most of the time a full face helmet but if its really hot weather and/or if the ride is a slow or short one i wear a open face helmet

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