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The Ultimate Helmet Guide

>> Ashley Benson

No matter what your views are on whether or not there should be a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, it's an undisputed fact that a motorcycle helmet is one of the most important things you should have in order to protect yourself in case of an accident. You may think that you're the safest rider in the world but when you're on the road, you're surrounded by millions of other people driving cars that are much bigger than your bike. In a perfect world, these drivers would always be aware of motorcyclists but the sad fact of the matter is that people who don't ride rarely think about whether or not a motorcycle is in the lane next to them when they start to merge. So it comes down to you to watch your back and be extra cautious. But your cat like dodging reflexes can only get you so far and when you can't get out of the way in time, you'll be happy when that helmet keeps you from being a gruesome picture that they show kids in driver's ed. class.

Full-face Helmets

So then what is the best type of helmet? No, we're not talking about which helmet looks the best for what kind of bike you're riding. The simple rule of thumb no matter what kind of bike you're on is that the more your helmet covers, the safer it is. Sure, slapping on a tough looking half-helmet that matches your chrome decked chopper may look the part, but it's the bare minimum when it comes to safety and will hardly protect your money maker if your bike goes down. On the other hand, a full-face helmet offers the best protection from unwanted spills. If you truly care about the well being of your noggin, invest in a full-face helmet and wear it with pride.

Worried about looking like a geek? Fun fact: full-face helmets are the only helmets to be worn by professional riders in MotoGP and the World and AMA superbike ranks. Most consumer full-face helmets are designed after replicas of the professionals' helmets. If that's not cool, we're not sure what is. Plus these helmets are perfect for colorful, unique and crazy designs like the one on this Arai Corsair Full Face Helmet.

There are a variety of helmet designs that are made for street riding but you might prefer to get dirty. Luckily, there's a specific type of helmet designed for exactly that. Off-road helmets are a full- face helmet with a few modifications for getting away from the pavement and to playing in the sandbox. Identifiable by their elongated visors and extra chin protection like on this Bell Moto-9 Legacy Full Face Motorcycle Helmet, these helmets give you all the safety you could possibly want while flying off jumps and leaning into tight turns. Off-road helmets also have an opening for goggles to protect your eyes from the dust, dirt and grime that you'll manage to find yourself in while off- road riding.

These helmets also feature a more scratch resistant surface since you might find yourself laying in the dirt more than if you were on a street bike (at least we hope) as well as replaceable parts for when your helmet takes the beating for your head. Because off-road riding is done in a typically softer terrain than the street, crashes and falls don't tend to have as hard of an impact. Because of this, you may not need to replace your helmet after every crash. However, if you do find that you had a particularly hard spill, it still might not be a bad idea to retire the helmet. Check with the helmet's manufacturer for the best guidelines on this for your particular helmet.

Because you'll also be working a lot harder on an off-road bike than you would on a street bike, you'll find that having a good ventilation system will be important in order to keep you from feeling like your brain is frying. And even with the best ventilation system, we're sure you'll break a sweat. In order to keep the inside of your helmet from smelling so bad that you can't keep it on for more than five minutes without passing out, off-road helmets feature removable pads that should be washed often.

Or maybe you're a bit more indecisive. You'd rather have the best of both worlds and need a helmet that can keep up. A Dual Sport helmet like this Aria XD's Contrast Dual Sport Helmet would be the perfect option. These helmets are a hybrid between the full-face street and off-road helmet designs. The dual sport helmet has a wider build in order to allow you to wear goggles underneath the face shield if need be and most also have a visor to help block the sun and debris. This helmet style is perfect if you want to go straight from the street to the dirt without missing a beat.

Open-face Helmets

You bought your bike so that you could feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face as you speed down the highway. That means that the last thing you want is a helmet getting in the way. So you've forgone the superior safety features of the full-face variety and are taking your chances with an open-faced one. This leaves you with three different choices on the type of helmet. Depending on the type of riding that you'll be doing, you can pick from a modular or a three-quarter helmet.

The modular helmet is the safest of the open-face helmet family. Also known as flip-up helmets, these brain protectors look a lot like their full-faced cousins. Designed to be a hybrid between a full-faced helmet and a three-quarter helmet, Modular helmets have a visor and chin piece that protect the face but can be moved up when the rider prefers to have an open-face helmet or when it would be more convenient than taking off the whole helmet. Many touring riders like these helmets such as the THH T-796 Solid Modular Helmet because they allow you to quickly flip up (hence the nickname) the restricting face cover to take a picture or stop for a snack.

Though modular helmets look just like a full-face helmet when the front is down, they're not as safe. A modular helmet may cover your whole face and be better than a helmet that doesn't, but the structure of the visor is not as strong since it isn't secured as well to the helmet. In the case of a crash, a modular helmet will be less likely to protect the front, lower part of the face such as your mouth and jaw. While these helmets can be more convenient, it's important to know that they don't offer as much protection even though they look similar to a full-face helmet.

The next step away from the full-face helmet design is the three-quarter helmet. This type of helmet has the same structure as the full-face helmet but is missing the face shield and chin bar. This does expose your face to more of the wind whipping through your hair and sun shine on your face but also exposes your face more to the potential of becoming way too close to the asphalt. And while you may prefer the option to choose your own stunner shades to wear with your helmet, some three-quarter helmets come with a built in visor for eye protection like with this Aria XC-Ram Solid Open Face Helmet.

The Half Helmet

Then there is the bare minimum: the half-helmet. Also known as beanies, these helmets are perfect for looking like you don't care about whether or not your face might meet the road as they leave the face and base of the skull exposed. These helmets, like the AFX FX-70 Skull Half Helmet, are most popular with cruisers as they give you the closest thing to a helmetless ride while still protecting the top of the head. If you decide that this is the helmet of your choice, be sure to check its standards. With as little protection as these actually offer, you need to be sure that the protection that it does give is up to par.

The Standard

You may find yourself telling your best friend that they need to have some standards for the people they date but you don't need to worry about your motorcycle helmet having high standards. For a helmet to be legitimately sold as a "motorcycle helmet" it needs to pass a series of tests and trials to achieve the Department of Transportation's standard of safety, also known as the DOT standard. In order to try and reduce that amount of injuries and fatalities from head impacts in motorcycle accidents, the Department of Transportation implemented the DOT standard to make sure that people were wearing helmets that would have a minimum amount of safety.

Helmet manufacturers make the promise that any helmet they make that comes with a DOT sticker on the back of it meets the DOT standard. However, manufacturers use the honor system when making this promise. Unless asked to, manufacturers will not submit their helmet to testing by an independent or third party company. We're sure that most helmets with the DOT sticker do meet the standard, however, you'll want to use a dash of skepticism when buying a helmet. You'll also find that this standard applies for street helmets but that off-road helmets won't require the DOT rating.

The second standard that some helmets may have is called the Snell standard. In 1956, motorsport enthusiast Pete Snell died in a car racing accident. A memorial fund was then started in Snell's name and used to back a scientific study of the safety of helmets. In order for a helmet to have the Snell standard sticker of approval, the helmet must also meet the DOT standard and will then go through more stringent and severe testing. While this means a helmet with the Snell standard approval is better than some helmets that do not, it does not necessarily mean that it is better than all helmets that do not have the stamp of approval. However, because it is a third party that does the testing and not just the manufacturer's word, you can be sure that a helmet with the Snell stamp of approval will keep your brain happy if you are involved in an accident.

The Fit

Having the safest type of helmet is only half of the battle; it's just as important to have a correctly fitted helmet as well. A full-face helmet won't do you any good if it goes flying off in a crash and helmets that are too tight will just give you a headache every time you ride.

The best way to get the right size helmet is to measure your head size with a tape measurer. Take the tape measurer and measure your head horizontally about one inch above your eyebrows, which is the largest part of your head. Don't be discouraged if you have an unusually small head. It's not the size that matters; it's how you use it. Different types and brands of helmets will have different types of conversions so, when buying a new helmet, remember this measurement and use a size chart specific to the type and brand of the helmet you are trying on to get the correct size. If your measurement falls in between two sizes, try the smaller helmet first. A loose helmet will cause more problems than one that is snug but, ultimately, you should check with the helmet's manufacturer for their suggestion.

Once you've found a helmet in your size that you want to try on, pull it down over your head to see how it fits. If you're not educated in the ways of helmets, you may be reluctant to pull on a snug helmet because it may seem too tight at first. But helmets are supposed to be as snug as possible. If it's easy to get on and off, just think of how it will react if you're sent down the road doing summersaults. And since that would be the moment you'll need your helmet most, you want it to stay put on your head.

With the helmet on, check that the inner lining fits all around your head snuggly, that the top pad presses on the top of your head and that the cheek pads press up against your cheeks. When you close and open your mouth, the pads should push your cheeks just enough that your teeth drag along the inside of your cheeks. Also make sure that you cannot easily slide your finger into the helmet and along the side of your temple. If you can touch your temple, your helmet is still too big. While holding you head still, try to move the helmet up and down and side to side. If the helmet moves but your head doesn't then it is too big. A properly fitted helmet should slightly pull your head and face with it as it moves.

Now we understand that there are a limitless number of different face and head shapes and sizes. You may have the kind of cranium that's a little harder to shop for. If this is the case, remember that some helmets have removable cheek pads that allow you to adjust how thick or thin they are. This is perfect if you happen to find a helmet that feels comfortable everywhere but is a little too loose or tight on your face.

When trying on helmets, also be sure to pay attention to any points of pressure. Much like with a pressure point in a new pair of shoes, it may not bother you in the store but once you spend and hour walking in them, or riding in it, that spot will become more and more sensitive until it becomes very painful.

While reviews can sometimes be helpful when researching helmets, we advise that you not buy your helmet solely based on how great other people say it is. Because everyone's head shape can vary so drastically, a helmet can be extremely comfortable for one person but be a horrible fit for you. The best review is your own. Test out different helmets and choose based on how it feels to you, not to other people.


Just like everything else on your bike, your helmet will get dirty especially if you find yourself raging through dirt and mud. And after a few months of some serious riding, you'll probably notice that the inside of your helmet smells more like the gym locker room from your high school then you would like it to. But instead of tossing it and spending more to get a fresh helmet, there are a few things you can do to keep your trusty cranium cap looking and smelling like new.

When cleaning dirt and grime off of the outer shell of your helmet, use either just warm water and a gentle soap or only helmet wax or plastic cleaning agents. The parts of your helmet such as the shield that are plastic should only be cleaned with water and neutral cleaning agent. Cleaners that contain solvents or are acid or alkali-based should be avoided as they can deteriorate the plastic and increase the chance of breaking.

If the comfort padding can be removed from your helmet, they should be either washed by hand or in a washing net if you put them into the washing machine. Any padding that cannot be removed should just be wiped down with a damp cloth with a neutral cleaning agent as well. After being washed, make sure to thoroughly dry any removed padding before replacing it in your helmet. Putting wet pads in your helmet will only add to the funky smell you were trying to get rid of by washing them. Though the sun may speed up the drying process, we recommend keeping the pads out of direct sunlight.

When cleaning the impact absorption liner, be especially careful. Ruining the liner will ruin your entire helmet. To clean it, use only a damp cloth and gently wipe it down. Be sure to avoid leaving any scratches or indentations in the liner. Another way to clean them would be to simply submerge the helmet in water if liners are not removable. Try to avoid any soap while cleaning the inside and pads of your helmet. Soap can be stubborn when you're trying to rinse and may lay dormant in your padding until you start to sweat while riding. There's nothing worse than being on a ride with soap running into your eyes. If you feel as though your pads are too dirty for just plain ol' H2O, use baby shampoo as your soap. These shampoos are extremely gentle and are also tear free so they won't cause you problems if any residual soap tries to sneak attack during a ride"

Safely Storing

How you store your helmet can affect how well your helmet performs when you need it and how long it will last before needing to be replaced. Some simple rules for keeping your helmet stored safely when it's not busy protecting your head are to never hang your helmet on your bike's mirror. Gravity and your mirror will work together to create pressure points on the compression layers. These pressure points will make your helmet less effective if it ever needs to do its job. Avoid storing your helmet on top of your gas tank. You may not be able to see it but your tank is always leaking fuel vapors that will break down those important compression layers.

Replacing your helmet

If you have the unlucky experience of being in a crash, remember that your helmet is meant to take the brunt of the impact and therefore will take most of the damage. After an accident, you should always replace your helmet however, regardless of if you crash or not, your helmet won't last forever. Depending on how often and intensely you use your helmet, you should retire it and get a new one approximately five years after it was first purchased at retail.

Dropped helmets can also be compromised. With helmets, it's better to be safe than sorry. A single drop may not seem like that big of a deal, but any impact will affect a helmet. Even if it hasn't been five years since you bought it and your helmet hasn't suffered any type of impact, you should keep an eye out for certain signs of wear that mean it might be time to retire it. If the comfort padding or the retention system has become loose or show signs of deterioration or if the synthetic foam padding is worn, a replacement is probably in order. If your helmet starts to feel loose, trade it in for one that fits properly. After all, if you're going to wear a helmet, it might as well be one that is in good condition.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011 10:34:27 PM
Dennis Hammack said:

I am 64 and buying my first bike. a harley tri glide. what would a 7 1/4 hat size be a small or medium


Monday, August 29, 2011 10:57:39 AM
BikeBandit said:

Hey Dennis, thanks for your question. Because each helmet manufacturer bases their sizes off of different measurements, each helmet is a little bit different. You may be a small with one brand but a medium with another. In order to help you get the best fit, we've attached sizing charts to each helmet page under the "Sizing & Info" tab that will show you what size you are for that particular helmet. And congrats on buying your first bike!


Monday, September 5, 2011 7:50:30 PM
Lawrence R. Lueras said:

Can I wear My glasses while wearing a full face helmet?


Tuesday, September 6, 2011 9:06:38 AM
BikeBandit said:

Hey Lawrence, thanks for your question! Wearing glasses with a full face helmet depends a lot on the type of glasses you wear (how big they are) and the helmet. I have found that some of my glasses can be worn with my helmet while others cannot. And since full face helmets come in all different shapes and sizes, some helmets will be better for glasses. You can definitely wear glasses with a full face helmet as long as your glasses aren't massive frames and your helmet isn't super tight. Hope that helps answer your question! is the web's largest powersports store with more than 8 million factory fresh motorcycle parts, apparel, accessories and more online, including motorcycle helmets, motorcycle boots, motorcycle gloves and more.