When it comes to motorcycle safety, it’s important for riders to know the rules of the road and to understand safety measures, like how to make themselves more visible to other drivers on the road. It’s also important that motorcyclists invest in the right safety gear. That means knowing what to look for, especially when it comes to understanding the different types of motorcycle helmets.
You likely spent time conducting research on the bike you've always wanted. It's just as important to do the same with a motorcycle helmet. There are a lot of factors to consider when making this worthwhile purchase, and our motorcycle helmet buying guide is meant to help alleviate some of the stress of deciding on the right helmet for you.
Understanding what your motorcycle will be used for
Finding the right motorcycle helmet for your specific needs involves knowing what kind of riding you’ll be doing, how much time you’ll be spending on your motorcycle and how much your helmet budget is. There are three very different types of motorcycle riding, and all three have separate features that are worth considering when selecting the right helmet for you:
Commuting and weekend getaway riding
If you are going to be using your motorcycle for everyday use, a helmet that is both versatile and helps reduce wind noise would be ideal.
Biking with friends
Riding alongside your friends is fun, especially when you can communicate on the road. If you’re going to do most of your riding in a group with friends, a motorcycle helmet with a built-in communications system that allows you to talk to one another might be a worthy investment.
If you’re interested in taking your bike to the track for some weekend racing, you may be required to get a high-performance helmet. These helmets focus on aggressive riders, who require a very different type of bodily protection on the road.
Motorcycle helmet ratings
After you know which type of motorcycle riding you will be doing with your new bike and helmet, the next feature to focus on is the type of safety standards your specific motorcycle helmet will need to meet. Each of these standards rate helmets on different aspects.
- DOT: The Department of Transportation has strict requirements about the safety of motorcycle helmets and requires rigorous testing for helmets to earn its sticker.1
- ECE: The Economic Commission for Europe’s standard is used by more than 50 countries in Europe, and it requires that helmets go through an extensive battery of tests in order to earn its approval.2
- SNELL: The Snell Memorial Foundation has been an aggressive tester of helmets; many riders consider this the gold standard of helmet certification.3
- SHARP: This newer rating system builds off the ECE rating, giving a more precise star system (one to four stars) instead of using the pass/fail method employed by the ECE.4
Make sure that safety is the number one consideration when buying your motorcycle helmet. Before making your purchase, you’ll want to ensure that any helmet you’re considering meets at least one of these safety standards. If there aren’t any stickers or certifications, you might be buying a novelty helmet that looks fun, but won’t protect you on the open road.5
What to look for in a motorcycle helmet
There are several different styles of helmets, including half, three-quarter and full-face helmets. For true protection, a full-face helmet is your ideal choice. Other designs don’t offer the same amount of protection, which significantly jeopardizes the safety of your face and skull in the event of a road collision. Even a so-called fender bender can become serious if you land away from your bike and don’t have proper protection for your face and head.
Even in the family of full-face helmets, there are plenty of choices. This is where it gets personal. The best helmet for you is the one that fits most comfortably and securely. Different riders have different head shapes and sizes. That's why it’s important to try on different models and shapes in person to see which one fits your head best.6
Shapes of full-face helmets can include a long oval, intermediate oval and round oval; some have a narrow fit, while others offer a fuller shape. The only way to know which helmet is best for you is to try them on and see how they feel. Make sure the chin strap holds your helmet comfortably but securely on your head, and that the helmet feels snug without feeling too tight.7
Work with a retailer to pick a helmet
Finding a good retailer who can work with you to find the right fit is important, particularly if you’re also buying your first motorcycle. While there’s no “best” helmet for beginners, you’ll enjoy the experience more and be much safer if you can find the one that fits you best.8
The right helmet can keep you safe on the road, and so can motorcycle insurance that's tailored to your needs. Make sure you have the level of coverage you need with a motorcycle insurance policy that suits your lifestyle.
1 “Motorcycle Standards Comparison,” Snell Memorial Foundation, https://www.smf.org/docs/articles/dot, downloaded June 20, 2018.
2 “Motorcycle Helmet Ratings for Dummies,” Motorcycle Gearology, https://www.motorcyclegearology.com/motorcycle-helmet-ratings/, January 24, 2018.
3 “Helmet Certification Links,” Snell Memorial Foundation, https://www.smf.org/cert, downloaded June 20, 2018.
4 “Motorcycle Helmet Ratings for Dummies,” Motorcycle Gearology, https://www.motorcyclegearology.com/motorcycle-helmet-ratings/, January 24, 2018.